Seen on the Subway

Loot and other stories by Nadine Gordimer
The Reader: An African woman wearing a purple knitted hat who works at the World Bank.

The Book: South African Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. This collection was published in 2003. The description of the title story in the New York Times using phrases like “whimsical allegory” makes me unsure if I would like it. I don’t do well with allegory. Even this description confuses me:

…death is a treasure, the mirror of the self. Set in the aftermath of an earthquake so strong that it ”drew back the ocean as a vast breath taken,” ”Loot” describes a world of lost things revealed: ”People rushed to take; take, take.” One among them, a retired man, long divorced, joins the crowd in search of a single unknown and unnamed object. It turns out to be a mirror, and even as he seizes it, he is drowned.

The Verdict: I read some Gordimer not long after she won the Nobel. I am not sure I was ready for it but I always meant to go back and read more. Seeing this one reminds me that I need to do that. I am not sure, however, if I would choose short stories.

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen
The Reader: A gentleman with longer than normal (for Washington) dark, curly, hair. He wasn’t very far along in the book and had a fidgety look on his face that suggested that he either didn’t read much or didn’t feel like reading at the moment. It was rainy this morning so he was wearing a really bright yellow rain slicker over a thick sweater. Now, it may not yet be balmy here in DC, but I was hot just looking at him in what must have been a very warm sweater. There is a disease here in DC that makes folks dress way too warmly despite what the weather is doing. Rain makes people think they need to bundle up. But if the temps aren’t that cool, and if the Metro car is toasty, why all the clothes? A variation on this is when, usually in the spring or fall, it is quite chilly in the morning but warms up significantly during the day. Yet, despite the warm afternoon weather they still put on the scarf, gloves, and hat for the commute home as if it was still cold out, apparently unaware that those items would easily fit in a bag or briefcase.

The Book: I don’t really like crime fiction but this one sounds kind of amusing. Man thinks he has killed his wife. Rather than come back from the dead and have him prosecuted, wife decides with the help of another to make her husband’s life unravel. The Washington Post thinks the characters could have been written by Evelyn Waugh. Somehow I am skeptical.

The Verdict: I have seen Hiassen’s books over the years, but, judging them by their covers, determined they weren’t for me. After reading the synopsis of this title I am inclined to think I probably made the right call.

Fresh Air Fiend by Paul Theroux
The Reader: Tall, skinny guy with glasses and an orange rain jacket. His copy was pretty battered and he was headed into the homestretch of this 422-page book.

The Book: Thank god for the powers of Barnes and Noble’s search engine because I only managed to see the first two words of the title and no author. Turns out it is a collection of travel essays and articles. From Maine to Hong Kong.

The Verdict: I read Paul Theroux’s novel The London Embassy years ago and kind of liked it. But I really have to be in the mood for this kind of episodic travelog. The man in the organge jacket reading it looked like he was ready to grab a backpack, get on a plane, and follow in Theroux’s footsteps.

9 thoughts on “Seen on the Subway

  1. agoodstoppingpoint March 12, 2011 / 8:54 pm

    Best “Seen on the Subway” post yet! Your descriptions of the readers complement your thoughts on the books nicely – I especially like what you say about the reader in your Theroux 'verdict.'

    I was on the metro yesterday, and didn't see many people reading around me. I saw a woman sitting on of the few benches in L'Enfant with a book open on her lap. Unfortunately, to determine the title would mean leaning in to read the header on the page, which would have been difficult to do without being noticed.

    So I hail you on your skills at surreptitious observation!

    – Christy


  2. mary March 12, 2011 / 10:04 pm

    You must have such good eyesight! I can never see the titles!


  3. savidgereads March 13, 2011 / 8:52 am

    I love this idea for a series of posts, I will have to check out the ones that I have missed. I don't know if you have tried any Gordimer but she is very good if rather bizarre.


  4. savidgereads March 13, 2011 / 8:54 am

    I don't know why I said if you have tried any Gordimer as you have, I meant if other people havent they should. I think I need to check back into the hospital, I'm clearly not with it.


  5. JoAnn March 13, 2011 / 10:25 am

    Just love these Seen on the Subway posts! I'm always interested in what other people are reading.


  6. C.B. James March 13, 2011 / 4:00 pm

    These post make me miss the days when I took the train to work. It was nicer than sitting in traffic, as long as I could get a seat.


  7. Thomas at My Porch March 14, 2011 / 10:25 am

    Christy: Well, it does take me about a week to come up with three titles. A lot of worthy books are no doubt hidden to my prying eyes.

    Mary: It can be difficult.

    Madam: Sounds ithcy, but I will look into it.

    Simon: It is the bizarre part that has me a bit worried. But it was so long ago that I did read some of her stuff that I think I need to keep an open mind.

    JoAnn: I am glad you enjoy these posts.

    CB: I agree. I could have gotten a ride this morning with John, but I had him drop me off at Metro instead. I wanted the reading time.


  8. Kerry March 14, 2011 / 10:29 am

    So glad to see Seen on the Subway continuing :-) Like C.B. James, though, it does make me miss taking the train to work. I now drive 40min-1hr each way, and though I listen to audiobooks in the car, it's not quite the same.


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