Tag Archives: reading

Reading On Muni: An Instructive Guide

Since I started my internship, I’ve been commuting from 24th and Mission to Berkeley via BART three days a week. In my student days, I cherished my daily commute on public transit as my personal reading time—even if I didn’t make any other time to read in a given week, I could still usually finish a book or two. This was not the case when I lived in Japan, where I had to drive up to an hour one way. I listened to a LOT of Savage Love and Sex with Emily in those days, and lamented the loss of my daily reading time. I was a bit worried about transitioning back to a car-free lifestyle, but so far I’m loving the exercise involved in walking between stops and the extra time I get to read—I’ve finished 3 books just in the past week, and made good progress on another.

(Another side effect of the internship? In Japanese schools, all the students and teachers take 15 minutes every day to pick up brooms and dustpans and clean up the school, and every time I swept my kitchen floor at home I would think “Man, I wish I had a team of junior high school kids to do this right now.” Now I find myself wishing I had a team of interns to post to social media with proper tags and trackable links every time I make a new post here. But I digress.)

If you regularly read on public transit, you’ve probably noticed a few things by now, namely:

  • You tend to choose books that will fit nicely into your purse or bag, and you have to time things just right so you don’t end up stranded without reading material or have to waste precious space on TWO books. (Of course, these concerns don’t apply if you have a well-stocked e-reader, but if you’re taking MUNI chances are you don’t have the $$$ for that. I do see plenty of iPads on BART, though.)
  • To the devoted commute reader, MUNI’s dismal on-time record is both a blessing and a curse. You’ll pray for the ride to last longer so you can keep reading, and that delay might give you just enough time to find out what happens in the next chapter, but it’ll also make you late for work. (Over months or years, though, those extra minutes probably add up to a lot of extra reading time!)
  • People will occasionally comment on what you’re reading, and this can be wonderful (have a nice chat with someone who shares your literary taste! Maybe they’re even an attractive member of the opposite sex!) or awful (creepy hipster won’t stop badgering you to summarize The United States of Arugula for him, despite having no interest in the culinary arts and claiming to have no idea what arugula is!*)

So, keeping these things in mind, here are my tips for reading on MUNI:

  • Be nosy; take a few minutes to glance around at what everyone else is reading. I’ve discovered some great books this way! But for God’s sake, don’t be weird about it, okay?! I know you, dear readers, would never be this guy, but if you’re reading something salacious or controversial and want to protect yourself against the crazy bum who takes a look at your bell hooks and screams “Feminist theory?! The white man needs some hoes! That’s my fuckin’ feminist theory!”*, you can cover your book in paper, or just hold it in your lap (assuming you get a seat). Perfect for erotica!
  • Leave War and Peace at home! Something you can hold in one hand while you grip the rail with the other for balance is ideal. If you don’t have an e-reader, slim paperbacks are easy to handle and tuck nicely into an outside pocket. If you’re almost done with a book and have a long commute, leave it at home and bring along something fresh. You don’t want to get stuck waiting for the 38 without anything to read.
  • This probably depends on your personal taste, but I’ve found that certain genres are a lot easier for me to read on a bus than others. My favorite at the moment is spiritual travel memoirs (à la Lessons from the Monk I Married, which I read last week—it made for a very peaceful commute no matter who was screaming all over the place!), followed by really engrossing fiction. I’ve been trying to get through Imperial San Francisco, which is a great non-fiction book, but I just do not have the concentration required to read it on public transit.
  • Maybe I am just getting old or something but I have been having some serious bouts of motion sickness on public transit lately. Cold fizzy drinks help, forward-facing seats really help,  but if you’re taking the 24-Divisadero, I dunno, maybe just give up and listen to your iPod or something.

Happy reading!

*true stories

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How to impress a girl with books, part 2

So the very first comment on my last post made me realize that not only had I not included a single female author on my list of books that made men more attractive, I also responded to the idea of a guy reading Jane Austen (and quite a few other female authors I like) with a knee-jerk reaction of “He’s trying too hard”. Which is appallingly sexist. To rectify the situation, here is my list of female authors I would be delighted to see a man reading:

  • Joan Didion (The original Paris Review blog post was right on the money with this one)
  • Banana Yoshimoto
  • Yoko Ogawa
  • Toni Morrison
  • Shirley Jackson
  • Lois-Ann Yamanaka
  • Maybe Ursula Le Guin? I’ve only read two of her books (and only really liked one), but she hits the right combination of smart, geeky, and socially conscious.

Oh, and honey, if you’re reading this, don’t worry. You know I think Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and all those zombie books are totally sexy.

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Just keep running

I’ll be running my first 5K one week from today. I’m excited for the race and the milestone it represents for a former shy nerdy kid who never thought she could do anything physical, but as of today I was still huffing and puffing and half-walking my way to barely 4K. Japan being what it is, there will probably be a few octogenarians running, and if I’m lucky they won’t beat me too badly.

The thing is, I could totally have been kicking the 5K’s ass by now if I had just trained earlier and more consistently. This is kind of a theme in my life. I’m not used to working consistently for things over a period of time; I was always staying up late to finish papers in college and that sort of thing. I’ve gotten a lot better about this over the last couple of years, mostly thanks to the rigors of learning Japanese, for which there are no shortcuts (although that said, I’m taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in a month and have barely studied), but it’s still a particular weak point of mine.

The reason I’m talking about this in a blog about books and literature has to do with my reading stamina. Last year, in 2011, two of my friends and I challenged ourselves to read 50 books within the year. You can read about it at my old blog here. I was the only one to finish the challenge, although Matt came close with 46 books. I don’t know if I would have finished it otherwise, but I ragged on him so hard every time he talked about quitting that I knew I couldn’t quit myself, even though I was really behind by about November.

Anyway, this year I privately vowed to read at least 25 books, half the number I read last year, to give myself time to slow down and read some longer books. I haven’t been keeping great track of this (after reading some really excellent nonfiction at the beginning of the year, I went through a spate of chick lit consumption that I was too embarrassed to publicize on Goodreads), but I constantly feel like I’m not reading enough, so I was surprised to find out that I’m right on track. 50 books was a bit of a stretch, but 25 doesn’t seem to be enough, so I wonder if there’s some ideal number of books I can aim for to keep me reading. Or maybe my feelings of inadequacy stem from the fact that I’m adding books to my reading list far more quickly than I’m crossing them off; since May 1 I’ve added four books (Catfish and Mandala, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, Valencia, and The Collective) to my to-read list on Goodreads, and actually read one (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).

I guess this is just my public promise to get off my butt and read more. And I’m curious: Do you keep track of your reading? How many books do you read per year?

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