Thursday, February 01, 2007

Self-Conscious Subway Reading

I started reading Chuck Klosterman's self-described "low-culture manifesto" Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs yesterday on the subway. It was hard to read in the sense that I was physically having a hard time seeing the words; I had the book in my lap, which was awkward because I also had my book bag there to, so it's resting place was lumpy and awkward and it forced me to read the book kind of at an angle, like the scrolling text from the beginning of Star Wars. I kept it that way until I stood up to offer my seat to an old woman (because I'm a decent human being) and then, while standing, I kept the left side of the book curled back with my hand, forcing me to read all the left-hand pages like they were written on a cylinder. After about thirty minutes of actively making it more difficult for myself and not knowing why, it hit me: I was going out of my way to keep the book's cover hidden from my fellow subway passengers because I was self-conscious about what I was reading.

Why? Why do that and why do I care what a bunch of people on the R train, who, let's be clear, could give a shit about my reading habits, think? Part of it, I believe, is the book it's self. Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs has become, in recent years, a fairly reviled piece of work. That feeling of revulsion is based entirely, it seems, on the fact that the author lives a life that a lot of people wish they led. He gets paid to, for all intents and purposes, write about the crap he likes and everyone wants that job. I sure as hell do. True, Klosterman comes across as a bit of douchebag, but he's an insightful, sincere douchebag and, if nothing else, he's at least being entirely forthright and honest in the pieces that he writes. I'll take earnest hipsterness over feigned, poser hipsterness any day. Another issue is that anyone who's "anyone" read the book when it came out in 2003, when it was acceptable to do so and was still relevant on a cultural level. Reading it now is like buying a laserdisc player. Anyway, because I'm perpetually behind the times regarding stuff like this, I'm just now reading it and am fairly embarrassed by that fact.

But it's not just a "this book" kind of thing, or at least not entirely. I do this with every book I read on the subway. I've started to really enjoy reading hardback novels because their covers come off. Again, I come back to the point of why; why should I care what other people think of what I read? Partially, my feelings can be traced back to this article from The Onion. I so don't want to be that guy; the twat who reads "deep and important" literature on public transportation for the thrill of knowing that others are seeing what he's reading and, in his mind, thinking that he too is "deep and important." Not that I ever read anything that fits into that category; rarely does Stephen King write works of great depth and importance. Still, in this case, I don't want to be thought of as the type of guy who'd read Klosterman's books, even though, clearly, I am that type of guy. That, I think, is the other half of my reasoning; I don't want to be judged by the cover of my books. I'm not what anyone would call a complex person, but I do believe I've got more to me that what you can glean from my choice of in-subway entertainment. Reading Klosterman, especially in New York, and especially while being a mid-20's male, paints a sign on your back that says "Record Store-Dwelling Hipster" and I hate that, even if it is true to some degree.

So what are my options? Well, I could just chuck reading on the subways all together and start doing Suduko puzzles like everyone else (Side Note: When did doing math after a hard days work become fun?). That's not going to happen though because I'm even more self-conscious about having to count on my fingers in public. I could, of course, just not read anything but after spending 45 minutes alone with just the thoughts in my head... well, I'm not a big fan of falling asleep on the shoulder of a fellow rider.

Unfortunately, it looks as if the only option is to just get over it. Stop concerning myself with the fact that I'm going to be labeled by my literary choices and just be glad of the fact that I'm at least reading a book and not playing a hand-held video game at full volume so that everyone can experience the moment you get the high score. Those are the guys (and it's always guys) that should be judged the harshest and I'll never be as bad as them.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jonathan T said...

I used to ride the bus to work (45 minutes with a transfer) and would always eat my breakfast (because of the ungodly hour of 6 am that I'd have to catch the first one) and read a book. No easy feat considering it got more crowded, but at least I got my choice of seat.
My reading fair ranged from Star Wars to NY Times bestseller to the local free, independent newspaper. I plugged in and listened to classical music at the same time and was glad for the little island I created for myself. It staved more than one frightening conversation.
I get lost in the book (and almost missed my stop a couple times) and don't even really think about what others are judging. If I wanted to interact with them and get their opinion, I wouldn't be reading.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

oh my god, truer words. and those people who use the subway/bus to test out different ringtones. . . . there must be a special day of judgement for them too.

also, i kinda love chuck klosterman, esp. Fargo Rock City-era CK.

there, i said it.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Clinton said...

Fargo Rock City is the one I haven't read of his yet, though it's been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year. Got to get on that.

Also, yeah, fuck those guys with the ringtones. They're the worst of humanity.

9:29 AM  

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