Almost all of us like to read on the tube, and it’s great to talk to other people about what we’ve been reading (if they’ll let us!). In that spirit, we spoke to Kathy, the author of the Books on the Tube blog, who has been writing about her tube reading since May, 2012. Chris from Books for London talked to Kathy about her blog and why she started it – and got some interesting insights on how to enjoy your book if you can’t get a seat on the tube.
Books for London (BFL): Everyone reads on the tube – so what prompted you to start writing about it?
Books on the Tube (BOT): I’ve always been a very prolific reader, ever since the days of Biff, Chip and Kipper, but when I went to university the novels had to give way to textbooks and lecture notes. However after graduating I moved to London and found myself spending almost two hours a day commuting on the tube. With all this new-found spare time I started reading again and suddenly found myself getting through a lot of books very quickly. Realising that my friends were starting to develop a glazed look whenever I was rabbiting on about my latest read I thought it might be better to write things down and put them out on the Internet instead of boring everyone I met. I never really expected anyone to read my blog so I’m thrilled to find people who appreciate what I have to say and who want to share their thoughts as well.
BOT: Lots of newspapers and a French magazine (Santé) which I picked up to test my rusty language skills, but never a book. I was however lucky enough to pick up a book from the Books for London trial at Tooting Broadway station. I can’t remember what the book was called now but it was set in a boy’s school and had something to do with a secret and a lot of bees. After reading it I left it on the tube so hopefully someone else picked it up and maybe it’s still doing the rounds!
BFL: You’ve written about your love of second-hand books on your blog. What’s your favourite, and where did you find it?
BOT: It’s very hard to say what my favourite second hand purchase is because there have been so many. I buy a lot of the classic books in charity shops, especially the ones I don’t think I’m going to enjoy but have to read because they’re on my list. I’ve also discovered a number of new authors because I’ve picked up a book in a second-hand shop and it’s much easier to pay £2-4 for a second hand copy to “give it a go” than it is to pay full price! In this way I’ve found Attica Locke, Linwood Barclay, Stephen May, Wilkie Collins, the list goes on and on.
BFL: Do you have any special techniques for reading on a crowded tube if you can’t get a seat?
BOT: Funny you should ask; when I get the tube in a morning I don’t sit. Even though I could easily get a seat (I live almost at the end of the line) I prefer to stand by the door so I don’t have to push through the crowds to get off. After several months of practice I’ve finally been able to perfect the knack of turning pages with one hand while clinging onto a rail. It involves sort of resting the book against your chest/the shoulder of the person in front of you and rubbing your thumb along the page until it lifts up. No papercuts yet. I do end up reading at some funny angles though, either with the book pressed against my chest so I can only see one page at a time or up in the air so it’s above someone’s shoulder. It gets difficult sometimes but it’s very rare that I have to give up.
BFL: What’s your favourite book about London, or set in London?
BOT: I love it whenever I read a book that mentions somewhere in London that I know, it gives me a little bit of a thrill to think that I’ve stood in the same place as characters I’m reading about but my absolute favourite is a book called 253 by Geoff Ryman. It’s a unique book which gives an insight into the 253 passengers on a Bakerloo line train one afternoon. Every character has their own page and is described in 253 words – what they look like, what they’re thinking/doing/dreaming of and so on. Some of them link together so you can flick backwards and forwards to see the stories unfold. It’s a fantastic piece of work and perfect for nosy people like me who want to know more about their neighbour on the train!
BFL: Could you imagine swapping your book with a stranger on the tube, once you had finished it?
BOT: I’d definitely swap books with a stranger! I’m always looking for something new to read and I’m open to almost every kind of genre out there so I think it’s a fantastic idea to pass books around and share them out. I’m also one of those people who, after reading a great book, wants everyone else to read it as well so it works both ways.
BFL: Final question – on the tube: paperback or Kindle?
BOT: Paperback, no question! Books are fascinating, they’re all different sizes, shapes, colours, have different fonts and covers and people have put time and effort into designing them yet the Kindle takes them all and makes them look the same. For me there’s nothing more exciting than getting a new book, feeling it in my hand, wondering what the cover signifies, reading the blurb and flicking through the pages to see how it feels and smells. Books have a soul and the Kindle is destroying them.
To read more of Kathy’s musings on her tube readings, check out the Books on the Tube blog.