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ande
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#6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

[ Edited ]
Greetings:

Sorry for the slight tardiness of this blog entry, but I’ve been in New York where my Literary Ventures Fund colleagues and I ran a two-day “Inside Look: The World of Literature” event for a group of CEOs. It was great fun for the attendees as well as all the panelists, speakers and organizers (yours truly included).

Novelist, National Book Award winner and friend, Julia Glass (Three Junes, The Whole World Over) and I took the Acela from Boston. We agreed to meet on the quiet car and also agreed ahead of time that we would sit and read and then a couple hours into the trip move to the café car for a gab. If you never have sat in the quiet car you don’t know what you are missing. It’s a slice of heaven for those of us who like to read. No cellphone rings or yakkers, no loud conversations, no music. Even people working on laptops seem to type more quietly. No one on the quiet car hesitates to shhhh!!! offenders (I’m a world-class shhhh-er). More later in this entry about what we and others were reading (I’m also a world-class snoop).

The event kicked off on Sunday evening at the Modern restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art. Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly, moderated a terrific and insightful panel on the current issues confronting literary publishing today. The very smart panelists were agent Ira Silverberg, editor/writer Gerald Howard and publisher/editor/writer James Atlas. The dinner speaker was Julia Glass, who gave an impassioned talk about why fiction matters. The food and setting, by the way, were fabulous.

Monday kicked off with two workshops at The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction on 47th Street, which is a beautiful and historically important place. It was founded in 1820 by merchants and their clerks before the advent of public libraries! Kris Holloway, author of Monique and the Mango Rains, conducted a memoir-writing workshop; poet Mark Bibbins instructed aspiring poets.

Lunch speakers were All Things Considered’s Alan Cheuse who is also an author (The Fires) and a writing teacher, and Marcella Smith, Director of Small Press and Vendor Relations at Barnes & Noble. Between the two of them they covered a vast amount of territory starting with the writer’s and reviewer’s craft all the way to publishing, distributing and selling books. Fascinating! Yet everyone agreed that magic still occurs and there are books that just take off without any marketing formulas and manage to find their audience. Marcella says she sees this a few times a year and still marvels at the phenomenon.

I tagged along on a visit to the Bobst Library at New York University (others took a literary walking tour of Greenwich Village). Marvin Taylor, director of the Fales Library and Special Collections, was a supremely knowledgeable and gracious host. He set up four tables with too many treasures to list. But some of the most wonderful: first editions of Alice in Wonderland, Uncle Tom's Cabin and A Christmas Carol. We all oohed and aahed. And the last thing Marvin showed us brought tears to some of our eyes -- a large book by a German artist in tribute of 9/11, which was filled with foldable pages that you build into two towers of names of the dead and illustrations of falling bodies. It was so amazing and so moving to watch Marvin and his students put each piece in place. We all stood there in silence during and after for a long time.

Later, off to a memorable dinner at Craft both for the scrumptious food and very entertaining talk by Myla Goldberg (Bee Season, Wickett’s Remedy).

The next day, after a few business meetings I got back on the train for another blissfully quiet ride to Boston. What were people reading? Julia was reading Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks in preparation for an upcoming event at which she will be introducing the author. I had Brook’s new book (People of the Book) in my bag, but was just finishing The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. I have to say I thought it wasn’t in the Just PUT IT DOWN category, but I don’t think it lived up to its hype. There were times when the story could have moved along a bit faster and the writing wasn’t strong enough for my taste. Others on the train were reading On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan; a medical text; Now and Then, by Robert Parker; one of the Boelyn sister books (I said I was a snoop, which doesn’t mean I also take notes); Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

So, tell me: Do you like to read on trains? Do you frequent the quiet car? Do you find that you read different types of books depending on the mode of transportation and variety of fellow passengers?

I’m dying to know.

Ande

Message Edited by ande on 01-18-2008 07:56 AM
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Jessica
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

I travel by train every day! Unfortunately, the NYC subway system offers no "quiet cabin" option. Imagine?

However, one thing I look forward to every day (if I get a seat) is reading on the way to or from work. For some reason, even though I'm packed into a seat between two other people and the train is screeching and people are holding the doors and babies are crying and teenagers are goofing off ... despite all this, I open my book and next thing I know I'm at my stop. I've even let my stop pass me by a few times, just so I could finish a book!

I love to read on the subway; it's guaranteed "me" time.

Of course, I'm always checking out what everyone else is reading, too. And you'd be surprised how many times a stranger has leaned over to ask me "How do you like that book?"

Places I can't read: airplanes (I end up napping) and cars (makes me dizzy).

But I do often read while walking, which drives my husband nuts. :smileyhappy:
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ande
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

Jessica:

I know it's terribly unscientific, but I'd like to know -- from you and others -- what people around you on your commute are reading. Let's start reporting on this and posting our findings. We'll call it BOOK SNOOP.

If you Book Explorers have been reading this blog you know I don't buy the new data on non-readers in America. I've been collecting all sorts of info that support my (and others')view that everyone is looking for a good book. I'll be posting my findings in the coming weeks.

ps After all my years as a journalist I can still read upside down a bit %-)


Ande
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

Reading upside down can be very useful sometimes :smileytongue:

People on the bus system in Iowa City/Coralville generally fall into three categories: people who are reading a book, people who are reading scientific articles/doing homework (college town), and people who think books are garbage (these are also the ones who will brag about how many cars they broke into until their ********** ratted them out to the cops). Most people are reading either the latest bestseller or a library book; I can't be more specific because I'm usually reading as well (but not the latest bestseller since I'm a reader-mod here and am usually trying to keep up with my group).



ande wrote:
Jessica:

I know it's terribly unscientific, but I'd like to know -- from you and others -- what people around you on your commute are reading. Let's start reporting on this and posting our findings. We'll call it BOOK SNOOP.

If you Book Explorers have been reading this blog you know I don't buy the new data on non-readers in America. I've been collecting all sorts of info that support my (and others')view that everyone is looking for a good book. I'll be posting my findings in the coming weeks.

ps After all my years as a journalist I can still read upside down a bit %-)


Ande


Melissa W.
I read and knit and dance. Compulsively feel yarn. Consume books. Darn tights. Drink too much caffiene. All that good stuff.
balletbookworm.blogspot.com
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

Commuter trains in Iowa? That has been suggested from time to time but we can't even get an Amtrak route from Iowa City to Chicago (the University of Iowa is popular with students from the Chicago area and surrounding suburbs).

I try to take the bus to work as much as possible and I read while I ride (about a 15-20 minute trip). I read whatever I've got in my bag, whether for class, BNBC, or for fun, but it's really hard to make a note in a book with all the potholes from the winter weather and salt.

And I really hate it when some random person makes a comment about whatever you're reading (no quiet buses here). So I wear my headphones a lot on the bus whether I've got my iPod with me or not!



ande wrote:

So, tell me: Do you like to read on trains? Do you frequent the quiet car? Do you find that you read different types of books depending on the mode of transportation and variety of fellow passengers?

I’m dying to know.

Ande

Message Edited by ande on 01-18-2008 07:56 AM


Melissa W.
I read and knit and dance. Compulsively feel yarn. Consume books. Darn tights. Drink too much caffiene. All that good stuff.
balletbookworm.blogspot.com
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ande
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

Ah, yes, pedsphleb, that is a problem -- people who want to talk to you when you're reading during one of your stolen moments. And there's no way to know if that person is about to launch into a pleasant conversation about books or about to become a major nuisance. What to do, what to do? We like to encourage discussions of books and we like to make recommendations, but sometimes we just want to tune out. Any suggestions?
Ande
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey


ande wrote:
Jessica: I know it's terribly unscientific, but I'd like to know -- from you and others -- what people around you on your commute are reading. Let's start reporting on this and posting our findings. We'll call it BOOK SNOOP.


Fun!

I'll pay attention today and Monday and post what I've seen.
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ande
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

Please do that!
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

I highly recommend earphones/headphones. It's much easier to pretend you can't hear someone rather than just ignoring them (especially when they're telling you such a pretty girl shouldn't be reading such a long book; being hit on by nasty parolees old enough to be your father definitely makes for a nauseating bus ride).



ande wrote:
Ah, yes, pedsphleb, that is a problem -- people who want to talk to you when you're reading during one of your stolen moments. And there's no way to know if that person is about to launch into a pleasant conversation about books or about to become a major nuisance. What to do, what to do? We like to encourage discussions of books and we like to make recommendations, but sometimes we just want to tune out. Any suggestions?
Ande


Melissa W.
I read and knit and dance. Compulsively feel yarn. Consume books. Darn tights. Drink too much caffiene. All that good stuff.
balletbookworm.blogspot.com
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flyjo9
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey



Jessica wrote:
I travel by train every day! Unfortunately, the NYC subway system offers no "quiet cabin" option. Imagine?

However, one thing I look forward to every day (if I get a seat) is reading on the way to or from work. For some reason, even though I'm packed into a seat between two other people and the train is screeching and people are holding the doors and babies are crying and teenagers are goofing off ... despite all this, I open my book and next thing I know I'm at my stop. I've even let my stop pass me by a few times, just so I could finish a book!

I love to read on the subway; it's guaranteed "me" time.

Of course, I'm always checking out what everyone else is reading, too. And you'd be surprised how many times a stranger has leaned over to ask me "How do you like that book?"

Places I can't read: airplanes (I end up napping) and cars (makes me dizzy).

But I do often read while walking, which drives my husband nuts. :smileyhappy:


LOL, Jessica. I no longer read while walking, but I saw a woman doing that the other evening, imagine! I, too, read on the subway to make the time go faster and to keep up with whatever I'm reading.
Ande, I nver heard of the "quiet car" on Amtrak or Acela, although I haven't been on either for 2 or 3 years. Next time, though. Joan
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

I didn't know Acela had a quiet car! I ride the MARC commuter between Baltimore and DC after driving from PA. My commute is 1 to 1.5 hrs and believe me when I tell you folks race to the "quiet car." Actually, more than reading, I favor the quiet car because people have become so selfishly inconsiderate of others around them. The arrogance with which people behave on public transportation makes me a believer of Europeans perception of Americans. Anyway -- I read books and inspirational material, pray, watch movies, review work, or do work. When taking classes online, I do my homework. With approx 3 hrs commute time (only 2X a week) round-trip, I get to do any one of the aforementioned AND catch a snooze before taking the hour drive home. Folks around me usually read The Washington Post, Time magazine, or sleep. Some read books, but at the ugly hour we're on the train (6am) in the morning, who wants to read?
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

Welcome to Book Explores, Donise:

The Quiet Car is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I have to fly to a booksellers conference later this week and I am DREADING it. After all you have to do to get on plane these days once you're on there is no peace. I would pay a premium for a Quiet Plane. I hear it's only a matter of time before cellphone useage will be allowed in te air. Ugh!

Ande
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

I live in the Southwest, where we don't really have public transportation but, on the other hand, my morning commute across town is 10 minutes on the Interstate. I always take a book with me when I fly-I read while I'm waiting to board and on the plane since it helps avoid getting into strange or pointless conversations. Cell phones on planes-what an awful thought. Its bad enough that so many people immediately get on their phones as soon as the plane lands. I'm always amazed at the personal phone conversations that people have in public on their cell phones.
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ande
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

Welcome, RainyH:
You've got that right. I once heard a therapist conducting a session via cellphone while walking along 57th St. in Manhattan. Maybe it was an emergency or the patient didn't care -- or know. But for me it was way too much information.

Ande
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

Yes, I listen in on all the cellphone conversations
going on around me while I wait for my planes to depart.
The subject of those 'snoopings' make great table talk
while visiting with old friends at my destination, plus
one of my favorite writing professors recommended
silently 'eavesdropping' on others' chit chat while dining
at restaurants, sitting in airports or train stations,
standing in crowded subways, or just wherever. Snooping
may not be polite, but neither is loud forms of communication.
She said, and it's true if you have writer's block or are just
plain bored, you can gather great material for a book, catch
dialogue, dialect, new slang or buzz words. The imagination
can run wild with even boring business deals taking place on
cellphones, and I know I've heard affairs over the phone.
Vonney
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

No doubt. On my first ever business trip I had a layover in Memphis on my way home. While waiting in line to grab a sandwich at the terminal a woman behind me started a screaming match on her cellphone with her significant other. After about 5 minutes of screeching she screamed "I'm not having this ***** conversation now." and hung up. The gentleman behind her tapped her on the shoulder and said "Thank you, we didn't want to listen either." Needless to say that was a great story to tell later (and a reminder not to discuss intimate details in public).



Vonney007 wrote:
Yes, I listen in on all the cellphone conversations
going on around me while I wait for my planes to depart.
The subject of those 'snoopings' make great table talk
while visiting with old friends at my destination, plus
one of my favorite writing professors recommended
silently 'eavesdropping' on others' chit chat while dining
at restaurants, sitting in airports or train stations,
standing in crowded subways, or just wherever. Snooping
may not be polite, but neither is loud forms of communication.
She said, and it's true if you have writer's block or are just
plain bored, you can gather great material for a book, catch
dialogue, dialect, new slang or buzz words. The imagination
can run wild with even boring business deals taking place on
cellphones, and I know I've heard affairs over the phone.


Melissa W.
I read and knit and dance. Compulsively feel yarn. Consume books. Darn tights. Drink too much caffiene. All that good stuff.
balletbookworm.blogspot.com
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ande
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

This is by far the very best response to obnoxious cellphone users who annoy those of us trying to read. It is from the NYtimes letters to the editor.

To the Editor:

I've been completely annoyed by cellphones on public transit, but I don't need an illegal device; I'm of a ''certain age'' where I really don't care what anyone else thinks of me, so I just ''give something back.''

I'm usually trying to read when someone near me starts talking on the phone and I can't concentrate. (Why is it that people on the phone are so much louder than anyone else talking on the bus? Something about loss of inhibitions, I guess.)

Anyway, I just start reading my book out loud. Loud enough so that I can hear myself over the cellphone talker. My favorite part is when the confronted cellphone talker replies, ''Well, this is public space!'' Since when did it become O.K. to be more obnoxious in public than you'd ever be in private? Is this something that fell off the ''it's a free country'' wagon and lost its way home?

You want to talk real loud about, like, nothing? You can do that at home as much as you want. Oh, you don't want to waste your time at home talking about nothing? O.K., then save it for work. No one expects anything else of you there anyway.

Rachel Resnikoff
Berkeley, Calif., Nov. 4, 2007

To the Editor:
Melissa_W
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

That is brilliant!



ande wrote:
This is by far the very best response to obnoxious cellphone users who annoy those of us trying to read. It is from the NYtimes letters to the editor.

To the Editor:

I've been completely annoyed by cellphones on public transit, but I don't need an illegal device; I'm of a ''certain age'' where I really don't care what anyone else thinks of me, so I just ''give something back.''

I'm usually trying to read when someone near me starts talking on the phone and I can't concentrate. (Why is it that people on the phone are so much louder than anyone else talking on the bus? Something about loss of inhibitions, I guess.)

Anyway, I just start reading my book out loud. Loud enough so that I can hear myself over the cellphone talker. My favorite part is when the confronted cellphone talker replies, ''Well, this is public space!'' Since when did it become O.K. to be more obnoxious in public than you'd ever be in private? Is this something that fell off the ''it's a free country'' wagon and lost its way home?

You want to talk real loud about, like, nothing? You can do that at home as much as you want. Oh, you don't want to waste your time at home talking about nothing? O.K., then save it for work. No one expects anything else of you there anyway.

Rachel Resnikoff
Berkeley, Calif., Nov. 4, 2007

To the Editor:


Melissa W.
I read and knit and dance. Compulsively feel yarn. Consume books. Darn tights. Drink too much caffiene. All that good stuff.
balletbookworm.blogspot.com
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

That's a great response. I think the cell phone issue is just part of our lack of consideration and awareness of how our actions impact other people. We have a very gracious lady in our city who writes an etiquette column for our local paper. This year she wrote a wonderful column about the etiquette of Christmas shopping-her basic message was be considerate of other drivers, other shoppers and the shop clerks-it was very nice and much needed-although the people who really needed it probably either didn't read it or think it doesn't apply to them. Maybe we need to start a campaign for the return of politeness and good manners!
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Re: #6: Strangers on a train: A literary journey

This whole exchange reminded me I hadn't yet finished Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan (NPR book reviewer and professor at Georgetown)!



pedsphleb wrote:
I highly recommend earphones/headphones. It's much easier to pretend you can't hear someone rather than just ignoring them (especially when they're telling you such a pretty girl shouldn't be reading such a long book; being hit on by nasty parolees old enough to be your father definitely makes for a nauseating bus ride).



ande wrote:
Ah, yes, pedsphleb, that is a problem -- people who want to talk to you when you're reading during one of your stolen moments. And there's no way to know if that person is about to launch into a pleasant conversation about books or about to become a major nuisance. What to do, what to do? We like to encourage discussions of books and we like to make recommendations, but sometimes we just want to tune out. Any suggestions?
Ande





Melissa W.
I read and knit and dance. Compulsively feel yarn. Consume books. Darn tights. Drink too much caffiene. All that good stuff.
balletbookworm.blogspot.com