An interesting character on the train today (actual real-life character, not one from the book I was reading) reminded me today that we, readers, bookworms, bibliophiles, are a rare and perhaps dying breed. Maybe we’re just being replaced by these newfangled Kindle/Nook e-book readers. [Sometimes I wonder if an alien who was coming to observe our planet would think humans derived their energy from portable electronic machines, the way we’re all so dependent on them–myself included. (Think about it, our headphones are chargers. Music on, world off, *regains strength*. Anyway…)]
So I’m sitting on the train, I put lipstick on and then pull my book back out of my bag. [Currently reading How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu. I read his first book, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears last summer and loved it, so when I saw this at the library, it had to be mine for two weeks.] Out of the corner of my eye I notice this guy (middle-aged, overweight, semi-broke-down looking black man) drinking what appears to be a 1.5ish L bottle of Arbor Mist straight from the bottle alone on the train at 4pm, half roll my eyes, then open my book and continue reading along. A few minutes later, I have the distinct suspicion that I’m being watched, so I cautiously raise my eyes at the next page turn, and sure enough, Mr. Cheap-Fruity-Wine-o [I can’t hate too hard, though, I love Arbor Mist, haha. Fruitiness+alcohol=my favorite] is looking at me. *does not acknowledge him in any way, returns to book* Minutes go by, and the next time I happen to glance up to see where we are in my journey to Princeton, I notice that Mr. Cheap-Fruity-Wine-o is speaking, and looking in my direction…oh, is he trying to talk to me? *cautiously takes out one earbud*
This is a paraphrase of his spheel: “I was just looking at your book there. I was just saying how nice it is that you’re reading. Don’t think I’m some pervert, it’s just, that’s not something you see everyday on the train, a young girl reading. And I know you’re actually reading too, cuz you’re turning the pages, that’s how I know you’re reading. Otherwise you’d just be sitting there on some stupid shit. *realizes I might be offended* Oh I just–that’s just how I talk. These just my words, man. Yeah, but you readin. That’s, that’s what’s up.” Me, interjecting in my faking-being-sincere-voice: “Thank you!” *tries to put headphones back in* He beats me: “I could tell you some real good books to read. Books that’ll flip your mind. Cuz I read them a long time ago and they flipped my mind…” His phone rings. It’s his mother. I escape back into my book.
First off, what is it about me that makes strange men think they can just talk to me? Is there an invisible sign above my head saying Open to Conversation? Someone teach me to turn it off.
Secondly…he’s right though. I take the train to and from Princeton everyday, and I see lots of people on their cell phones. I see lots of people listening to music. I see people on their laptops. I see people sleeping. I see people chatting and drinking coffee. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone else reading. I even have friends at Princeton who simply do not, under any circumstances, read things that aren’t for class. And I mean, okay, guys, we are the raised-by-TV generation, but come on now. I love movies and music just as much as the next girl, but I’ve never reacted to any tangible object the way I react to a good book. I love the chance to be inside someone’s or someones’ head, to have their thoughts presented to me as if they were my own. I love wrapping myself up in their relationships, applauding their successes and dreading their downfalls. I love both being able to predict what happens next (because real life rarely works that way) and being surprised by a plot twist (because real life works that way). I have learned not to read series, because when they come to a close I feel almost as though I have lost a group of friends. I may never travel to India, or Pakistan, or [insert name of some random small Midwestern town here], but I can know the lifestyle and culture and feel of these places and their inhabitants from the comfort of my…wherever because a book is entirely transportable and will never run out of batteries or overheat. I love the ability to get lost in someone else’s life, even if I’m in love with my own–no other medium of entertainment can give me that.
Long story short: read. Evidently it sets us apart from the train-riding masses. Maybe it says you, sir/madam, are an intellectual. Maybe it says you’re a thinker or a dreamer. Maybe it just serves as an icebreaker for sketchy middle-aged men. Regardless, read. It will serve you greater purpose than solely being interpretable, I promise.