What Riders Read

About fifteen years ago, I was Associate Editor at Decision and worked in downtown Minneapolis. During the work week, each morning I caught the metro express bus from my home in Eden Prairie.  The bus made one stop then took off for downtown. When it reached the city, I got off at the first stop then walked a few blocks to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters. Day after day I sat on the bus with the same people on the same schedule for work. Inevitably each of us sat down, nodded at the other person and pulled out some reading material. With our books, we crawled into our own little world and the time flew for the ride to and from work. It was a great study to see which books people were reading on their way to work. I loved the experience and got a lot of my own reading done on those bus rides.

The current issue of The New Yorker had a short article that caught my attention called “Lost Property What Riders Read.”  (Follow the link to catch the whole piece). One section in particular caught my attention, “An employee of the M.T.A. named Anant Patel had called and said that the Transit Authority had been collecting books for a year and wondered if Housing Works would like them.

Blum and Moore parked on Eighth Avenue at Thirty-fourth Street, and went down into the subway. At the end of a long hall was a door on which was written “Lost Property Unit.” Beyond it was a cinder-block vestibule with a thick window, like one at a pawnshop. Moore knocked on the window, and a young woman opened the door. Among the people standing around and sitting at metal desks in a room behind it was Anant Patel. He gave Blum his card, which said, “Operations Specialist, Asset Recovery—Rejected Material, Material Division.” Blum and Moore followed him to a room where boxes of books were piled. Around them, on metal shelves lined up against each other like files in a doctor’s office, were rows of purses.

Moore began loading boxes onto a hand truck. “You guys take Bibles?” Patel asked. “We just got rid of Bibles, maybe a week ago. Ten boxes.”

“We’d probably have a hard time with that,” Blum said. She looked at Moore, and he nodded.

Patel shrugged. “We gave them to a Bible society,” he said. “They seemed glad to have them.”

Blum signed some papers on a clipboard.” (p. 45–46)

They found ten boxes of Bibles from people reading (then leaving them) on the subway. You can see how people were readng the Scriptures during their subway rides.

When I’m in New York (about once or twice a year), I love to ride the subway. It’s completely safe and millions of people do it each day (even if it would be hard to convince my wife to do it). I’m normally unsure where I’m going on the subway so I never read—since I hate to miss my stop. Several times I’ve gotten on the wrong side of the track and gone uptown when I was supposed to go downtown (or the reverse). If I lived in New York City, I would probably join the readers on the subway.

Since I don’t live in New York City, as a writer, I’m constantly looking to learn more about people’s reading habits. It’s part of my writing life.

3 Responses to “What Riders Read”

  1. Darlene Says:

    I’ve read the Bible on the bus before too. It’s nice to keep one in my purse so I can pop it out and read it anytime. I also like to keep a little notebook in my purse ~ coil bound and hard covered ~ so it opens well and I can easily jot down notes. That is one blessing of being a woman, I carry a purse around with me. It’s bigger than a wallet and smaller than a briefcase.

  2. C.J. Darlington Says:

    Interesting statistics, Terry. You know you’re a book lover when the first thing you do when boarding the train is glance and see what everyone’s reading. Or when you walk into someone’s house and hone in on the bookcase.

  3. Gina Holmes Says:

    I agree with CJ. Browsing someone’s bookcase is more personal that rifling through purse or wallet. What we read is a window into our hearts and minds.

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