Adventures in Reading or the Perils of Reading on Public Transportation

Before this year’s personal reading challenge, I never considered reading on public transit a particularly perilous action. I’ve certainly done more perilous things on the train, like force myself through the inch gap between the train doors when they refused to open or pile into an already crowded train car where personal space is nonexistent and oxygen is limited. However, I’ve found that reading on the train can lead to any number of awkward, embarrassing, confusing, or otherwise perilous situations. Before bringing your most recent literary obsession on the bus or train, ask yourself if you are willing to experience one or all of the following risky happenings:

Falling on people

It never fails. You’re standing on the train during the morning rush hour, trying to get to the end of that last, suspenseful chapter before work, and the minute you reach down to turn the page, the train jerks around the corner. That’s right. One minute you’re flipping to the next exciting sentence and the next you’re reeling backwards onto some poor, unsuspecting phone gazer. This is the life of a public reader.

In the course of 5 months, I’ve fallen on three people and kicked another. (For some reason, when I’m falling, my first instinct is to kick out my leg in an attempt to steady myself and regain my balance. Thus far, that strategy has failed 100% of the time.)

This is a warning for book lovers and the non-readers who stand around them: pay attention. It will happen when you least expect it.

Missing your stop

More than once I’ve been burning through the pages, so caught up in the most gripping part of my book that I forget that I’m even on the train. Believe me, that’s generally a good thing. Or at least it is until I look up, realize I’ve gone two stops too far, and I’m now officially twenty minutes late for work or brunch with friends or a doctor’s appointment. On the bright side, though, you can continue reading while you wait for the train that will take you two stops in the opposite direction.

Crying in public

Books make me feel things. Really deep, emotional things. Unfortunately, when the majority of your reading occurs during your commute to and from work, you end up feeling really deep, emotional things while standing shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers.  Last week, my eyes began to well up with tears as I read one of the most emotional parts of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I tried to play it cool, casually dabbing at the corner of my eye as if it were merely a speck of dust or an eyelash that was causing it to water. When I looked across the train, though, I found a guy staring back at me with a concerned look on his face.


I happened to be on an Amtrak train when I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I didn’t even bother playing it cool then. Instead, I flipped the book shut, looked out the window, and just let the tears come down while the guy next to me desperately tried not to notice.

Being Judged

When you read on public transportation, you invite everyone sitting around you to judge you simply based on the title of the book you happen to be holding. This is more a warning for everyone else, since I happen to have excellent taste in literature. Yeah, I see you, Fifty Shades of Grey reader. I’m judging you so hard. 

Getting Caught Awkwardly Staring While Trying to See What Someone Else is Reading (or Admiring the Reader)

If you read on public transit, it’s likely that you’re interested in seeing what others are reading on public transit. Or perhaps you can’t take your eyes off the person reading the book. Really, what’s more attractive than a good looking guy or girl reading a good book? Admiring a book or its reader is all fine and dandy until you get caught staring. Of course, it might not be so awkward if you are social enough to pull off a quick one-liner, like, “Is that a good book?” or “I see you’re reading X author. Do you like her stuff?”  Me? I just quickly look away and pretend that it never happened.

Moral of the story: Reading on public transportation is risky business and you never know when danger could befall you. Stay safe out there, fellow readers.

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