Call me nosy, but when I’m riding the NYC Subway, I like to know what books my fellow straphangers are reading. It’s a more interesting cultural barometer than the NY Times Best Seller list. In addition to feeling the literary pulse of the train line I’m riding, forms of kinship can occur. When I was embroiled in The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo trilogy, on almost every car people were devouring the Swedish Thrillers. I created a game, to guess where in the story they were, what predicament was Lisbeth Salander facing? Conversely, during Harry Potter mania, I felt like a culture outcast (I still haven’t read any of the boy wizard books.)
There were also instances when I’d happen upon someone reading a less mainstream title like Karuki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase, at the same time as I. This might spurr an interesting conversation, a rare phenomenon in a place where people defend their personal boundaries with particular ardor. Ironically, a conversation about a book is an excellent way to bide the time, especially as alternative to homicidal rage, if you happen to be stuck in a tunnel due to train traffic, a sick passenger, or a police investigation.
But as more and more people move to eReaders; Kindles, Nooks, iPads or smart phones (which I’m guilty of, as I read from my Samsung Note on the Subway,) I don’t know what most people are reading anymore (and they don’t know what I’m reading.) It’s an entirely different question to ask; what do you think of that book?, when you can see what someone is reading, as opposed to; what are you reading?, a much more invasive question.
Maybe soon someone will invent an app to display what a person is reading. Or one that can scan devices in your vicinity, to see what people are reading, although I imagine there would be some privacy issues. I’m sure social book apps are in the works, but I doubt they will encourage real life conversation. So for now my only option is to risk being rude, or thought of as crazy, and ask people what they are reading, or just mind my own business.