Books that cause looks (or start conversations) on Public Transit

May 3, 2013 – Note in Frommer’s Vietnam

subway reading

Ever notice that nobody reads 50 Shades of Grey on the bus? There are some books that just aren’t for public consumption. “Sexy” books don’t go over well – especially being read by men in trench coats. The Bible tends to be a non-starter, but enjoy the empty seat beside you. And admit it – the last time you saw a 30-something woman reading a book that had a shirtless man and a long-haired beauty on the cover, you judged. You did – and then looked for cat hair on her sweater!

Being a long-time commuter, it’s become clear to me that the book you read can isolate or invite conversation. In fact, when I think about it, whenever someone talks to me it is because I’m carrying a book (or I’ve accidentally stepped on someone’s toes).  So, if you want to start a real and engaging conversation in a public space, here are the 3 types of books you SHOULD be reading:

  1. Any travel book like this one. Every time I carry a  Frommer’s or Lonely Planet in my hand, someone sidles up to me on the subway and tells me about some awesome restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, or which hotel has the most bed bugs. People love to talk about their travels, and give you the 2-stop guide to wherever they’ve been. If you get to experience something new and cool, great!
    Even better, read the travel book about the city you’re visiting. I don’t know what it is about people with backpacks and tour books, but I always feel compelled to help, even if they look at me like I’m about to steal their luggage.
  2. Any high school syllabus title. I often review and reread my course books on the subway. We’re reading 1984 right now, and my copy is bloated with sticky notes. People are always stopping me to tell me about how long it’s been since they read the book, how much they loved/hated their high school English teacher, and their own personal Room 101 fear. It’s hilarious.
  3. The Steve Jobs biography. Or any book about Steve Jobs. Or Apple. People love to talk about Apple.  Although maybe you should read those ones on your iPad!



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