Seen on the Subway

The Visible World by Mark Slouka

The Reader: A rather petite twenty-something blond woman wearing a very tasteful and fashionable combination of white blouse, black skirt, shiney gold flats, and a bright purple leather purse. She was close enough to me on the crowded train, and I am probably a foot taller than her so I could see that she had beige pumps in her Sephora carrier bag.

The Book: “…an evocative, powerfully romantic novel about a son’s attempt to understand his mother’s past, a search that leads him to a tragic love affair and the heroic story of the assassination of a high-ranking Nazi by the Czech resistance.”

The Verdict: This book sounds good to me. But unless someone tells me it is good and I should read it, I don’t think I will make the effort to get my hands on a copy of it. I mean The Glass Room was such a great Nazi-occupation novel, this one would have to be pretty amazing to not be disappointing.

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Reader: Slightly pudgy thirty-something guy wearing Dockers and what appeared to be fancy brown bowling shoes. (You know, the goofy looking American kind.) Funny thing about him is that I caught him trying to see the title of my book. I rather nonchalantly made it easy for him to see the cover of my Heart of Darkness.

The Book: An autobiographical novel about an 18-year old student who falls in love with a 32-year old divorcee while working at a radio station that produces a half dozen soap operas a day and buys scripts by weight from writers in Cuba. Set in 1950s Peru.

The Verdict: I am on the fence on this one. Reading a book set in Peru and one about a young scriptwriter kind of pique my interest, but the satirical look at soap operas, not so much.

The Help by Kathryn Sprockett ( x 2!)

The Readers: At the bus stop this morning there was a woman reading a hardcover edition of this novel. Since it is a bestseller, and now a movie, I wasn’t going to write about it. But then after we both got on the bus, another reader got on with a paperback edition. One woman was white, the other African-American. Given the plot I thought that was kind of interesting. I would like to get them together and hear what they have to say about it.

The Book: I don’t really need to explain this one do I?

The Verdict: I tend to not like reading novels that have considerable amounts of any kind of dialect. Not a hard and fast rule, but when I picked this one up last year I wasn’t in the mood for it. I don’t think I will read it.

Seen on the Subway


It has been several weeks (months?) since I last did a Seen on the Subway post. The only reason I haven’t done one sooner is that I haven’t really noticed anything interesting in anyone’s hands lately. Admittedly I haven’t been looking as much–too into my own reading material–but more than that I have just seen a lot of bestseller type stuff and what would be more boring than me telling you that I saw someone on the Metro reading a bestseller.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Reader: Late 30s/early 40s man in one of those grey suits that has kind of a green tinge to it with a non-descript green tie. His work ID lanyard was from the University of Florida. I actually saw this gentleman twice on successive days. Both times I saw him on the bus in my neighborhood going to the Metro station in the morning. But the second day I also saw later in my commute after I had changed from one train to another. Turns out we both got off at the same stop.

The Book: Rather than say anything about this classic novel that everyone is sure to already know, I will comment on the particular edition the man was reading. He had this very cool edition seen in the photo here, and coincidentally the exact same edition I have at home. But wait! Then when I saw him again the next day I noticed he was reading a different book and I thought “Hmm, this guy likes to mix it up.” On closer inspection, however, although he was reading a different book, it was the same title. For some reason he had another edition of The Sun Also Rises. He went from the edition shown here to something with a rather plain blue cover. I almost broke my rule of not speaking to my subject to ask him why he switched editions. The only thing I can think of is that given the unimpressive plain cover of the edition he was reading on day two, is that it probably was an annotated/academic edition.

The Verdict: I own the book and I generally like Hemingway so I will definitely read this one.

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

The Reader: A twenty-something pocket gay at the end of a work day with his bow tie untied, slouching way down in his seat. (For those unfamiliar with the term “pocket gay”, it was coined by Jack on Will and Grace when Jack referred to a rather diminutive guy (not just short, but petite) with whom Will had a date. Since then I have used the term to refer to any well groomed man of similar stature–whether they appear to be gay or not.)  The clip below has terrible quality video but still funny when Jack explains.

The Book: Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is one of my favorite books of all times. And I enjoyed the film Bright Young Things based on Waugh’s Vile Bodies. But in general I am not a big fan of his more satirical stuff. A little too whimsical and chaotic for me. This one, however, is billed as an Anglo-American tragedy, so maybe it will be more my thing. Still it is hard to picture Evelyn Waugh (or any Englishman for that matter) in Los Angeles.

The Verdict: This rather short novel was in the stack of books I was going to attack last weekend when I was going to have My Own Private Readathon. Since that never happened I am going to try and make this weekend (a long one at that) a reading weekend so I will probably get to this one soon.

Bits and Bobs + Seen on the Subway


The Blogger Lunch
Last week in the midst of a visit by my sister, brother-in-law, and niece, I was able to have lunch with a New Hampshire-based blogger who was in town for a few days. A frequent visitor to DC throughout her life, Margaret Evans Porter was willing to give up a few hours exploring the city to meet up with me at the delicious cafe of the National Museum of American Indian at the foot of the Capitol. I think I originally came across her Periodic Pearls blog via Nan’s Letters from a Hill Farm. Margaret is a true Renaissance woman. A novelist with 13 published works and a former member of the New Hampshire legislature, Margaret has lived and travelled all over the place and really seems to embrace life long learning. And she has two of two of the cutest dogs on the Internet.

Buying Books
I have already chronicled my delightful Persephone Triple Play, but in the past couple of weeks there have been other book buying binges including a discount bookstore going out of business where I got 9 books for $18. And then I finally made my way to the Borders liquidation where I brought home a big stack about which I will blog in due time.  And then this weekend is the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School used book sale. I have never been but I have high hopes.

Salman Rushdie is in love with his own celebrity (a personal account)
We have friends visiting from out of town who recently attended a dinner party with Salman Rushdie. Seated around the table were a bevy of university academics all set to engage in deep conversation with the literary giant only to be quietly mystified that the only thing Rushdie wanted to talk about was popular culture. One of my friends was seated next to him and is no slouch when it comes to popular culture. But he was surprised when it became clear that Rushdie’s only interest in popular culture was as it reflected on his own celebrity. The conversation was a one-sided litany of Rushdie’s many celebrity friends and the many terribly interesting things they said to him. The way my friend tells the story, it seems a little tragic that such an old geezer was trying so hard to be hip.

Seen on the Subway
Since there was a whole week when I didn’t commute I haven’t had as much opportunity to spot people reading. Add to this the fact that I was too into my own reading to look up much means I only have one example to offer this week.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

The Reader: The interesting thing about this reader is that I spotted him several weeks ago reading the same book and I am not sure he is making much progress. Even more interesting is the fact that both times I have spotted him he has actually been walking down the street reading the book. I would say he was mid-twenties with a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) bag.

The Book: Since this walking reader had the front cover of his book folded back I could only catch a little triangle of a saturated blue. And the back cover and spine was the palest green. I instantly recognized it. The pale green was certainly a Penguin and the blue cover was the blueprint motif of Penguin’s edition of Gravity’s Rainbow. I have never read the book, but I never forget a cover.

The Verdict: I have been tempted in the past to give Pynchon a go, but lately I have come to understand that his style of writing is probably not for me. So I have put him, at least temporarily, in the Joyce-Faulkner pigeonhole of authors to avoid.

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.

Seen on the Subway


Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
The Reader: Early thirties guy with a shaved head who looked like he should be on the tube in London. He had on a very nice herringbone coat, and one of those gigantic tie knots that are much more prevalent in the UK then they are here. He also was wearing a wedding ring on one hand and a thumb ring on the other. And, he wore his watch on right wrist rather than his left. Does this mean he is a lefty?

The Book: A classic novel that is on the Modern Library’s Top 100 List. From the B&N synopsis: “On a single, fateful day in Quauhnahuac, Mexico, 1938, a former British consul wrestles with his demons as his wife tries to rescue their marriage from his drinking problem.”

The Verdict: Since I am making my way through that top 100 list I will definitely get to this one sooner or later.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Reader: Twenty-something woman with a camel colored 3/4 length trench coat and a thermal mug of coffee which she drank from illegally. The Metro system here in DC is one of the cleanest in world because it is against the law to consume food or beverages anywhere in the system. Of course the law is not always obeyed but they occasionally hand out tickets for those who break the rules so people tend to abstain. You can carry the beverage or food, you just aren’t suppose to consume it until you leave the station.

The Book: What can I say about this one that doesn’t give too much away? Written by the author of The Remains of the Day.

The Verdict: I read and enjoyed this book. I look forward to seeing the film.

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriquez
The Reader: When I first saw this woman she wasn’t even reading anything, but she looked like Claire from Paperback Reader. And she had the tell tale signs of a reader like a Barnes and Noble tote bag. I must admit I followed her on the platform at Gallery Place to make sure we got on the same train car. It paid off when she pulled out a book (and even had a bookmark from a public library that read “Live, Read, Love”). And after all the effort to see what she was reading I had to include it here even though it is nonfiction.

The Book: The subtitle fills in what the title leaves out and makes it pretty self-explanatory: “An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil.”

The Verdict: Seems kind of fascinating but not enough to make me pick it up.

Seen on the Subway

Earlier this month I wrote a post called Seen on the Bus about books that I had seen in the course of my commute. It was based on a feature that Karen, of the now shuttered blog Bookish NYC, used to do on a weekly basis. Based on all the encouraging comments I got on that post, I thought I would give it a whirl.

Here are my ground rules:

  1. I probably will not post weekly. I am too busy reading on my commute to get a glimpse of what everyone is reading. As soon as I have at least three sightings worthy of a noting, I will post them.
  2. In general I won’t comment on anything to do with vampires, girl with the Steig Larsson books, or on blockbuster authors like Patterson or Koontz or other books too ubiquitous to be interesting.
  3. Even though I am calling this Seen on the Subway, I will post about books I see anywhere on my commute whether it is bus stop, bus, subway platform, or subway.

Since my Seen on the Bus post, I haven’t really seen anything that trips my trigger in the same way that the previous post did. In fact it was hard work coming up with three books over the past 12 days. Just hard to catch titles sometimes. I was probably trying too hard.

So here goes the first installment.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Veghese
The Reader: Twenty-something blond woman with briefcase and Lulu Lemon bag travelling on the Red Line. I must admit I actually had to follow this reader for a while before I could catch a glimpse of the title. I finally managed to catch it on the escalator. (We were both making the same transfer to the Green Line, so it isn’t like I went out of my way. I am trying hard not to be a book reader-stalker here.)

The Book: Publishers Weekly summarizes: “Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations.”

The Verdict: It sounds interesting especially since I am feeling a bit more international these days. But I don’t think I will go out of my way to find this one.

All Other Nights by Dara Horn
The Reader: Rather nattily dressed man with round spectacles, tweed jacket, sweater, and a rep tie waiting for the Yellow Line at Gallery Place.

The Book: A novel about the U.S. Civil War from a Jewish perspective.

The Verdict: A fascinating topic (and one I had never before considered) but not one I am likely to want to read. I would however watch a documentary on the topic or see the film adaptation.

State of Fear by Michael Crichton
The Reader: Stocky guy with a Federal Highways Administration lanyard waiting for the Green Line.

The Book: This one appears to be a novel about how wrong the scientific community is about global warming.

The Verdict: I liked Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, and long before the disappointing films I liked Jurassic Park, but this one seems to be an attempt to discredit the notion of global warming. Certainly helps explain why he was a “science” confidante of George W. Bush. I have no interest whatsoever in reading this one.

Seen on the Bus


Before she ended her blog Bookish NYC, I used to love reading Karen’s weekly post about the books she saw people reading on the subway that week. I have often contemplated doing something similar on my blog, but I know I wouldn’t be as good as Karen was at describing the people who were reading the books.

And then part of me didn’t want to do it here in DC because it seemed that most folks on the Metro here read either non-fiction, bibles/daily devotional books, or news periodicals. Non of which I find interesting enough to blog about.

But, since moving to our new neighborhood, I have been surprised to see people on my local bus to the Metro reading lots of interesting fiction. No “Girl with the Whatever” books, no vampire books. Instead I have seen things like Anita Brookner and Elizabeth Bowen and even a Barbara Pym. And sure, there are still plenty of people reading the previously mentioned stuff I don’t feel like blogging about. But given the rather wonky make up of my new neighborhood (25% have bachelor’s degrees and an additional 36% have graduate degrees) rather than the de rigeuer copies of The New Yorker or The Economist that are everywhere in DC, you see things like Meteoritics and Planetary Science. And, although it may be non-fiction I saw a young woman reading Mad World, the story of Evelyn Waugh and the writing of Brideshead Revisited.

I still don’t plan to follow in Karen’s footsteps, but on Monday on the morning bus I couldn’t help but note the following:

Trim, tidy, forty-something gentleman with briefcase reading Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos. If MT is anything like Dos Passos’ USA trilogy, I wouldn’t exactly call it light reading.

Casual thirty-something guy who looks like he has young kids and who usually has an e-reader had a wonderful. slightly ratty old Penguin Classics edition of V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas.

And then there was me with my copy of Heinrich Boll’s End of a Mission.