Common (under)ground

Most people would agree that public transportation, while convenient (ostensibly), is not always the most pleasant of experiences. Trains are late, buses break down, there’s traffic, people rushing and smushed together all at once. My favorite way to start the morning, hard as it is to believe, is not with my head practically cradled in a large sweaty man’s armpit while trying to remain upright with my hand on the ceiling because I’m not close enough to any poles to hold on to.

These are, of course, the worst case scenarios, and there are some nice things about commutes, too. As I was bragging about this morning, my commute actually isn’t very long and half of it is on bicycle, but for many, it’s a good chunk of time spent sitting on a bus or subway car. Could be endless boredom, or it could be the perfect time to get some reading in.

I came across this lovely little blog the other night, Underground New York Public Library, and promptly spent an hour or so combing through the photos and comments, because that’s what happens when the internet, people watching, and books get combined. Comprised almost entirely of photos of people reading on the subway or waiting for the train to arrive, the pictures are captioned only with the title and author of the book, perhaps a description of any interaction the photographer had with the reader.

The community of traveling readers is all-encompassing. People from all walks of life are riding together, reading books and it’s so fun to look through the photos and see the various types of people reading the same books I’ve read or want to read. Seeing the titles underneath each photo really shows how much diversity there can be in the audience for a particular book, highlighting my own preconceptions about both books and people.

Sometimes the reader and their book seem so incongruous to my first impressions, like the no-nonsense security guard engrossed in a recent Anna Quindlen,  and others are delightfully appropriate—like the quintessential businessman in a sharp suit, accent tie and stately umbrella absorbed in Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.

We’re reminded again and again, yet we all still seem to forget how books can and do bring us together. Everyone who has read the same book, or who has even read a book, is part of something. No one comes away with an identical mindset to another after reading a piece of text, but we can all share in the camaraderie that comes with the experience.

So read what you want to read—it doesn’t matter if it’s “good literature” or the books you’re “supposed” to be reading. Don’t stress about your commute, either. Just bring a book and join the thousands of people doing the same.


5 Responses to Common (under)ground

  1. Great site, Rachel, thanks for calling it out — … but the link is broken in your post, might be worth a quick edit?

    I’m interested in my own (positive) emotional response to these photos compared to my eye-rolling when I come across people staring at their smartphones — whether on a bus or subway, in a laundromat, or walking down the street.

  2. Rachel says:


    And thanks for giving me the heads-up about the link–I’ve fixed it, now!

  3. The thing I miss most about riding the bus is the uninterrupted time I had for reading. These photos make me nostalgic!

    I love this blog, though, and am sharing it with my friends.

  4. Sebastian Clouth says:


    I am the Books editor at Before It’s News (beforeitsnews.com). Our site is a rapidly growing people-powered news platform currently serving over 3 million visits a month. We like to call ourselves the “YouTube of news.”

    We would like to republish your blog’s RSS Feed in our new Books section. Every post would have a description of your site and a link back to it. Our visitors would love to read your content and find out more about you!

    You could also publish excerpts of your books if you’d like :), along with links back to pages where they are for sale.

    It’s a great opportunity to spread the word about your work and reach new readers. We don’t censor or edit work.

    We will be featuring and promoting content and book excerpts across the web.

    Looking forward to hearing from you!


    Sebastian Clouth
    Books Editor, Before It’s News—

  5. Simone says:

    Instant tumblr follow! Thanks. :)

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