Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Tales from Underground: Post no. 2, Death to the Kindle

A cold day, an ice in the bones day: whether it was this that brought out the hordes of book readers on the trains I don't know, but yesterday was a particularly busy one for those quaint types who read 'paper'. You can't even scroll down the page! Idiots. The Whitechapel platform, morning, contained at least four people stuck in their novels, including Mohsin Hamid's Reluctant Fundamentalist and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. One woman was reading a Kathy Reichs bigger than herself (almost.) Stepping into the carriage, I saw a man digging into the middle of a science fiction novel by Olaf Stapledon. He looked happy. Unlike, I must say, the man sitting in the seat that you're supposed to give up to elderly passengers, who was scrolling ferociously through a book on his phone. Its Borrower-sized screen meant he was never doing anything except scrolling. He seemed to be reading a book about Jeremy Thorpe and looked like he was about to have a heart attack. As the train slugged its way towards Hammersmith, a blonde girl got on reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Unfortunate, I know, but at least she was reading. We shared a moment over our raised novels, lifting our eyebrows in horror at the conversation of a fellow passenger. Nearby were another Kathy Reichs (these crime people seem to come in pairs) and a Jane Moore.

Post-lunch, I fittingly saw a woman reading Culinary Pleasures on the platform at Notting Hill. A man on the train was reading a book called 'Bang to ...' something. He was shaven headed and wearing a puffa jacket. I think it might have been called 'Bang to Rights'. But I was too scared to look.

So a good enough day already, but then two things happened which turned it into joy: at Victoria, on a train to Clapham Junction, sat a girl reading J M Le Clezio's Desert. She was beautiful, well-dressed. I almost proposed to her on the spot. If that wasn't enough, as I took the Circle Line back to Notting Hill, I spotted a tall, young, bearded man deep in Seneca's Letters from a Stoic. I decided against shaking his hand. His presence more than made up for the slightly sinister man reading a book sitting opposite me, who although he had his book open, had his eyes fixed mainly on me. Perhaps he was trying to see what I was reading.

Day edged into night. I was hungry, tired, on my way to supper at Moorgate. Surely nobody would be reading this late? Surely all those types heading homewards would be playing Angry Birds on their iPads? Not so. Perhaps it was an aberration. Perhaps not. On my carriage was a pixiesh blonde reading, fittingly, Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier; another, equally pretty blonde holding Joyce Carol Oate's The Gravedigger's Daughter; a stately brunette puzzling over The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson; and then, a turn up for Ish, another reading his recent short story collection, Nocturnes.

You'd think that would be it. And yet. Coming up the escalator at Moorgate, two men, one reading a book called The System of the World; another clutching the heavy MI6 tome that was recently issued. I ate my pizza with barely disguised elation.

As a final coda, my trip back home was enlivened by the sight of a young woman reading a book. Was it Millennium? Was it chick lit? No. It was Jim Crace's Devil's Bone. And what's more, it was a library book. Yes! People still take books out of libraries. Insane, isn't it?

So I make that: Paper 19 - Ereader 1. (Addendum: I myself wasn't reading much today; partly because I was so eager to see what other people were reading; partly because I have been reacquainting myself with the albums of Idlewild. But I did spend some time reading the Ellen Bryson.)

Death to the Kindle! Long live the Book! Keep a weather eye out, my friends. There's life in the old trees yet...


  1. I love these posts..I always look at what people are reading. I look over their shoulders at their e-readers if neccessary. Next time I go on the tube I'm going to write a post inspired by yours.

  2. Glad to hear it! I am thrilled by the state of the British reading habit. One day I hope to see someone reading my book. I can but dream . . .

  3. Oh yes, that's my dream too (about my books, obviously, but yours would be good too).