Friday 23 May 2008

The fine line between curiosity and creepiness

Now that spring has pretty much arrived in Toronto, I'm not riding public transit very frequently - I'm all about cycling as much as possible, if only because it's about 10 times faster than transit. But when I do ride the TTC (like yesterday, because it was raining), I always keep an eye out for readers.

Most people on the subway are breathing through their mouths for one reason or another (e.g., they're asleep or they have fewer than the recommended allotment of brain cells; no disrespect to the ill or allergy-plagued!) and are therefore not reading. Many of the people who are reading really disappoint me with their choices - and I am, of course, the arbiter of good taste and beauty.

Anyone reading anything with things like "Ya-Ya", "Sisterhood", "Icy Sparks", "Frilly Underpants", or "Pithy Contradictions" in the title makes me want to give them a stern talking to. (I did smack someone in the face with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in the subway in Seoul - but that's a different story, for another time.) Anyone who's been visiting this site for awhile knows what I think about books sporting Oprah's book club stickers. I also feel embarrassed for anyone reading anything by Mark Haddon, Khaled Hosseini, Margaret Atwood, Alice Sebold, or Wally Lamb, to name just a few of the authors I'd like to see "disappeared" from history.

You may be wondering how I can acquire such specific information about what others are reading on the subway or streetcar. Well, sometimes, it's so crowded you're almost forced to read with them; sometimes, riders like to pretend you're a nice coffee table and rest their book or magazine on your back. Most times, however, I skirt the fine line between curiosity and creepiness and have to try to get close enough to see what people are reading. Sometimes I'm thwarted by books printed without the title or author displayed at the top of each page. Sometimes I'm thwarted by super-small print (my magical powers have never included the ability to read minuscule type from a distance). Sometimes my flesh starts to melt when someone flashes their Danielle Steele at me as they turn to leave the train.

I've been pretty stealthy about it all and haven't creeped out too many people, but sometimes accidents do happen. (Dear 90-year old lady reading V.C. Andrews on the eastbound Bloor-Danforth line between Chester and Broadview: I'm sorry I glanced over your shoulder. Then scoffed. Then spat on your book. Then grabbed it from you and began beating it with a stick while yelling "Get thee behind me, Satan!" It wasn't my finest hour, true, but I really think I did you a favour. I hope you enjoyed the Collected Works of Karl Marx I left with you as a replacement.)

My surveys of the readers around me generally don't leave me feeling very optimistic, but about a year ago I was standing on the subway reading when I realized two kids, about ages 10 and 11, were trying to figure out what the book was that I was carrying; after they had done so, they began talking excitedly about it. Plus, someone reading over my shoulder on a train introduced me to David Mitchell (bless his precious name!). Plus, sometimes I see kids AND adults walking down the street reading (though not usually together), like I used to do when I was a kid. Plus, sometimes, I see someone who's clearly coming home from some exhausting manual labour job being totally absorbed in Dostoevsky (actually, the blue collar riders seem generally to have much better taste in books than the office workers).

. I just realized that I don't currently have the energy to read Dostoevsky AND I'm an office worker...does this mean I'm soon going to start craving books by James Frey or something??? Kill me if that happens, I beg you. I BEG YOU!!!!!


Anonymous said...

the other day i saw a middle-aged woman reading The Secret.
and i felt sad.
for her, for the world, for the english language.


Bookphilia said...

I see people reading that book all the time and it makes me feel sad about the same things. Le sigh.

I'll check out the website - thanks!