I was in New York City last week, and as I always do, I rode the Subway.That’s something I have enjoyed doing since I was a boy growing up. (My graphic novel, City of Light City of Dark, has a lot about subways.) This time as I looked over the passengers, sitting and standing, I became aware of an enormous difference. Back then—and it was not so very long ago—the subways were full of readers.
There were the newspaper readers, including those who had mastered the art of folding the New York Times. There were readers of the Daily News, the Herald Tribune, the Daily Mirror, and the New York Post. (I once observed a reader reading a serial story I had written (The Secret School) which was being serialized in the Post. Many of the newspapers were in non-English languages, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, among others.
Then there were the Bible readers, and here the languages were just as varied.
Of course there were many book readers, both hardback and paperback. I can recall stepping into a subway and realizing that at least fifteen people were simultaneously reading Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, in paperback.
As a high school student, traveling back and forth to school via the subway, I could and did read without looking up to see what station I had reached. I could truly feel which station I had come to, and just close my book and walk off at my home stop.
While on the subway during this last visit, however, what I observed was that almost no one was reading. I saw perhaps one person reading an e-book. A few were looking at cell-phones, but when I snooped, I realized they were playing games.
My old town had been a city of subways and readers. Now it’s just the subways. Reading has truly gone underground.