Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On the #! Train in the Bronx

I spend a fair bit of my day thinking about and playing with e-readers and other stuff that slosh around in the emerging device eco-system. I'm profoundly disappointed that the B&N stores will probably not have enough of The Nook during the holidays to satsify the needs of relatives and friends I have sent under threat to the various stores. I give B&N a lot of credit, though, especially for the name. As an unrepentant English major I can have it both ways. I call feel like I'm curled up in a corner of the imitationYale library at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania taking in the scent of mildewed books and still hold in my hand a chunk of promising technology.

When I was studying for my PhD at Lehigh, I had to read, give-or-take, a thousand books.  These were piled everywhere in my garage apartment: in my son's crib when we wasn't available; on the stove when I was not making tea; on the toilet lid when that device wasn't in use. Eventually I had to send my family to Switzerland to sojourn while I was filling my head with a lot of usefless details about whether more blood was shed in Shakespearean or Jacobean drama. If you must know: the thugs from the Jacobean theater won. Have a look at the works of Webster some time. Right, he doesn't warrant a first name. Time has that effect.

There begins the tale.

Here I am, sitting in my brown study (go to Henry James for the explanation), on the #1 train to the Bronx and I see a woman dressed entirely in pink reading on a Kindle.  Above her was a sign about protecting your purses, iPhones, and other valuables. You see where this is going. She was close to the door so that should be part of the calculus. This is emphatically not about de-valuing the Kindle. Do not steal that book!

To the left of the woman in pink was a young man reading "Catcher in the Rye," my favorite book and one I have tried to imitate a half-dozen times. The most recent version entitled "Limey Down" will be available on Amazon shortly.

For a moment I ignore the rap music and the screaming teenagers and focus on the pure experience of watching vicariously the woman in pink and the young man in a "hoodie." I looked at the woman's face and saw pure joy and realized she must be reading a romance novel.

I tried to catch the young man's eye, realizing immediately that on the #1 train a strange and uninvited glance might put you in the middle of a Jacobean murder scene. So I held my powder until he left the train at 96th Street. On his way through the doors I said: ""Great book, isn't it."  He reached into his pocket and pulled out, not a weapon but our book. He said "yes." That made my day.

The woman in pink continued to read until 231st Street. I applauded the author for making romance last the requisite amount of time. And to think some people just count to ten and this author lasted at least fifteen stops. Riding the subway in New York takes stamina.

Yes, I wished I had had an e-reader when all those books were piled high on the toilet. But the truth is I want my books both ways. The Salinger book is a fifty year-old brand and captures me at every sitting. I am warming to the Kindle. My suggestion to Amazon is that it requires women to wear pink while the device is in use. If you want to make progress with men in the Bronx, the "hoodie" is already taken. Don't even think about pink.

I was on one happy #1. 

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