The joy of reading on the CTA

I never go anywhere without something to read. You never know when you’ll be stuck waiting for a lunch date or a movie time, for a doctor or a freight train (when I lived in DeKalb, the RR tracks crossed the intersection of two major highways). And there’s nothing nicer than sinking into a book or favorite magazine on a long bus, train or plane ride.

RS-billiejoearmstrongIt’s fun to see what other people are reading and to wonder why they’re interested in that subject. I’ve gotten into conversations with fellow travelers about reading matter. When I was in the middle of Eric Clapton’s autobiography, I debated who is the greatest rock guitarist* with the guy sitting next to me. And today I was reading the new issue of Rolling Stone with Billie Joe Armstrong on the cover (the front man for Green Day and now out of drug rehab) and had a discussion about changes in rock and drug culture with a young woman with purple hair peeking out of the hood of her down jacket.

Let’s face it. I love my technology; my Kindle, iPad and iPhone are part of my life. I often read the Kindle while commuting because it’s smaller and lighter than the iPad and no one will want to steal it. (CTA riders have to be vigilant.) But I still prefer stashing a book or magazine in my bag – and I enjoy the vicarious thrill of seeing what other people are reading. On a morning bus, you may see students reading law or business textbooks. There’s always a dressed-for-success person reading the latest business best-seller. But the most interesting are the fiction readers. When I see someone reading a novel I enjoyed, I want to talk to him about it – but I usually don’t. On other days I’ll note that everyone sitting around me is reading an e-reader or a phone and I’m blocked from getting any insights into their literary tastes. Book covers are great views into someone’s interests. Too bad e-readers hide the cover that a book designer worked hard to create.

The anonymity of e-books isn’t a new discussion. Christopher Borrelli wrote about it in “On the ‘L,’ e-books change spy game” in the Chicago Tribune last year. This comment was intriguing: “… reading on a train or bus is what urban dwelling is about, a near perfect illustration of how living in a city often means being simultaneously public and anonymous, surrounded by strangers at exactly the moment you just want to be left alone.” You can find Borrelli’s article and a fascinating diagram that maps CTA routes to passengers’ reading habits.

Maybe I’ll add a verse or two on urban solitude to my poem “Urban Woman Blues.”


* Speaking of great rock guitarists

I am totally excited about the new Jimi Hendrix album, released this week. Yes, the late Mr Hendrix, who is almost always #1 on lists of great guitarists. Not only was he great, he was left-handed! The new album is People, Hell and Angels – 12 tracks out of the Hendrix vault of officially unreleased music. (Why did it take 40+ years?) You can read about the album here. You can listen to one track here. I listened to the whole album the other day on NPR First Listen. OMG, it’s good.