I ride the bus from the eastside suburbs of Seattle to downtown, and I’m loving how bookish the Seattle bus riders are. (Seattle is touted as one of the most literate cities in the U.S.) Because I am a book freak myself, I can’t help but try to see what other people are reading, and–very occasionally, as my fellow bus riders tend to be a quiet, private bunch–make a comment about it. Last summer it is was plainly obvious when the final Harry Potter book came out, because at least a half dozen people would be reading it on every bus I was on for a week or two (I counted 12 people reading it on one ride–it was spooky!). I talked to one man at the bus stop about it, and he told me he bought it for his son, but was racing to read it first while the boy was wrapping up the previous book. He was surprised at how fast his son was reading now, so he was using every free minute to finish up the final installment before his son started clamoring for it.
Come to think of it (I didn’t till now), most of my fellow rider-readers appear to be in their 40s or 50s. Those younger than that tend to be listening to iPods or scrolling through their smart phones, texting, or peering at teeny-tiny videos. Hmm. Don’t know if that signals the “death of the book” or impending eyesight and hearing damage. Whoops, is that crotchety? Anyway, as I’m sure all who read this are aware, there is that NEA survey that tells us what seems to be the situation around book reading these days, and it is interesting to compare that to real-life observation.
In the last week, I’ve seen Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Catcher in the Rye, and Sundays at Tiffany’s–all being read by men, FWIW (I was most surprised by the last one–isn’t that a romance novel?). I brought on The Hobbit a few days ago, and as I squeezed into the very back row of bench seats, the burly fellow next to me exclaimed, “That is a great book!” That led me to think, especially since I frequently see the same people on the bus every morning: we could have a Bus-Riders’ Book Club. Rather than feeling guilty for peering at the covers of the books our fellow passengers are clutching, we would hold up our book and announce, “I am starting Catch-22 today!” and then the conversation would be begin. Or we could recommend books that are best suited for commuting: ones that are small enough to fit into your commuter bag, that aren’t so depressing that you distress your seatmate by weeping, that take you far away from being stuck in traffic on a bus, that remind you that even though you had to get up at the crack of dawn in order to catch the bus, your life is pretty good. A book that I recommend for all those reasons is: Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell.