Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

The Basics:
About Emdashes | Email us

Before it moved to The New Yorker:
Ask the Librarians

Best of Emdashes: Hit Parade
A Web Comic: The Wavy Rule


Nobody Reads Books, Except for Oscar Wilde on the Q Train

Filed under: Little Words   Tagged: , ,

So we’re told hardly anyone’s reading. Not so fast, according to a friend of Emdashes (and sometime reporter) who was riding the Q train the other day:
Here’s something to make you feel better: The other day I was on the subway, and noticed that the person standing next to me—a fairly conventional-looking 20-ish girl—was reading something by Oscar Wilde. Looked closer, and it was The Picture of Dorian Gray. Pretty standard, but heck, Wilde on the subway is still cool. Then I looked around the car and happened to see a guy a little ways away, also reading. And what was he reading? The Picture of freakin’ Dorian Gray! I’m tossing any possible explanations for this, and enjoying the craziness of the unlikelihood of such a thing ever happening.


Stuff like this always reminds me of Martin Amis’s The Information. There’s a scene (actually appears in the March 6, 1995, issue of The New Yorker as well) in which, on a transatlantic flight, the main character makes his way from coach to first class, and observes the reading material on the way — which plummets from George Eliot and Tolstoy (coach) to unreadable airport thrillers (business class) to no books at all (first class).

Point being: the subway is exactly the place to find people reading OscarWilde!

I agree with Martin’s comment. The subway is one my favorite reading spots. And I think it’s a wonderful place to watch readers. To wonder if they’ve chosen the book they’re reading for reasons of vanity, to impress girls/guys, to actually read for pleasure, etc. In a recent episode of MAD MEN, AMC’s 1960’s period piece about the ad world, the women pass around a dog-eared copy of, I think, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, or some such volume; it’s finally passed to the “new girl” with the proviso, “Don’t read it on the train. It’ll attract the wrong element.”

Louis VeneziaAugust 27, 2007

Reminds me of a New Yorker cover within the last year. We see a female 20-something reading a certain book in a subway car. Through the windows into the car adjoining, (both cars are stopped in the station), is a male 20-something, reading the same certain book. Their eyes are meeting.


Alex DePillisAugust 28, 2007

Alex: You’re referring to Adrian Tomine’s cover for the issue of November 8, 2004.

Any ideas what book they’re reading? We learned later on that Tomine has a thing for Salinger.

I’m an idiot. It must be The Picture of Dorian Gray!

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, it may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Thanks for waiting.)

2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree