Image from here

One of my college Professors (History of Advertising, I think) used to say that using public transport was like having your finger in the pulse of the nation: you know who will win the next election, what’s the most popular soap-opera and discover in advance about future fashion trends. I must also add that you can also easily know what’s on the bestsellers list. Remember when Harry Potter was everywhere? Now it’s Twilight and Stieg Larsson. Public transport reading habits are also very dependent on the hit movie of the moment. I saw a lot of Devil Wears Prada and Persepolis around here at one point.

I have the bad habit of making quick judgments – unforgiving ones, like Mr Darcy’s loss of good opinion – about my fellow commuters. In one second I’ll put together the whole life of a person just by the book they happen to be reading. This of course also means I imagine what people might think of me – am I old-fashioned because I’m holding a Dickens or a hopeless romantic because of my Marian Keyes? Should I just grow up if A Series of Unfortunate Events makes me smile?

For good or bad, public transport makes reading a public act, but on my part,  I like the unexpected connections with the strangers around me. It’s not rare that fellow commuters bend their heads a bit to see what book I’m holding. If I’m in a bad mood I actually make it difficult for them, other times I might discreetly indulge their curiosity. A lady once handed me a Kleenex because I was crying at the end of a book and another time I had a great conversation with a Sikh man because we noticed we were both reading different books from the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. Once a man in front of me was reading a crime novel, but when the sun hit the removable-cover at a certain angle it revealed that behind it, the book was actually a dictator’s biography. Busted!

My single public transport fantasy is finding someone reading Dorothy Dunnett – very few people I actually know have even heard of her and she’s become one of my favorite authors. I think I wouldn’t resist approaching that person.

Today, and for the first time, I saw someone reading an ebook in the Brussels metro. I’ll be sorry if one day everyone will read from their iPads and Kindles. It will make commuting a much more boring affair.