On book covers in public places
The year is 2019, and efficiency is all the rage - my contemporaries obsess with optimization of their daily activities, trying to avoid burnouts with forced quiet periods of meditation. It seems everything became efficient - efficient learning with short YouTube tutorials, effective cooking with pre-packaged delivered-to-your-door meals, efficient exercising with 5-minute workouts. “Efficient reading” takes form of audiobooks to allow for multitasking and book summaries to expedite information consumption - more and more accomplished and digested for you in five times faster and 10 times less effort. And yet, in the world of Kindles and iBooks there is there is something to be said about exhibitionism of your reading preference in public by carrying a good old fashioned paperback.
A couple of days ago I was standing in line to the train Philly-NYC reading “The Captive Mind “by Czeslaw Milosz, when I heard someone addressing me “It is not frequent to see someone reading Czeslaw Milosz. Are you polish?”. I responded that one does not need to be of polish descent to appreciate the Nobel prize winner in Literature. It was a perfect conversation starter and within minutes he was telling me about his family that moved from Poland and how this book had a deep impact on how he would perceive post-war Europe from across the ocean. He told me about the trips he took to Europe, his nephews taking a summer trip to Eastern Europe and his research as a PHD student in political socialogy. We had to finish the conversation since they had started boarding my train.
Another day I was walking around New York’s Soho with “Towards a new architecture” by Le Combustier, when a man stopped me a told me that he read it during his freshman year. This sparked a spontaneous discussion about the new architecture projects in New York, somehow transforming into exchanging tips for the upcoming design week.
Another book, that was a huge success in igniting vivid conversations with strangers was “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro. People took pictures of me reading the book on the train, informed me on how long it took them to finish the book (1 person told me it took him a year, while another woman confessed that she just could not put it down until the last page.) and wanted to know if I have read the newly published autobiography of the author.
These recent incidents made me conclude that first people read, and read vividly (still, in spite of apps with nook summaries). Furthermore, it appears that indulging in public reading will result in delightful conversations with strangers. Public reading of paper books seems to be a kind of virtuous exhibitionism - we bravely demonstrate our tastes and interests in a way that does not require us to transform appearences and grooming.