What do people read on their commute?


My recent obsession is to spy on other people’s reading habits on the commuter train. On my way to work I first take a bus, then a tram, and then another bus. My way home is timed so that I can catch an express train, ond only have to take one bus afterwards.

Despite the amount of cellphones, tablets and ebook readers we see every day, I constantly notice how many people still read actual books on the commute. And not just small pocket books. Some carry big, large tomes around with them.

Whenever I observe someone with a book on the commute, I try to catch a glimpse of the cover to find out which book it is.

I don’t like to ask people what they’re reading, that’s way too intrusive. Also takes away the fun in trying to discover the title without disturbing the reader.

Since I started spying on books on the train, the ticket inspector has become my best friend. Whenever he enters the carriage and starts to cry out “Tickets, please!”, every reader on the train puts a finger or a bookmark into their book and closes it, either putting it on their knees, balancing it on their bag, or sticking it under their arm. The perfect opportunity for me to make a quick note of title and author.

If this unwitting helper doesn’t make an appearance, my best chance is when the reader gets up to get off the train. I catch most titles when the book in question is being closed and put away. Lucky for me, a lot of people get off at my stop.

Today was a particular good day for book spying: the first book I spotted was at 7.15am in the morning already. A young girl stood on the platform when I got off the train, and had her nose practically buried in it. She almost missed the doors closing, she was so engrossed in her story.

I got on a bus, and the next book sat down right next to me. I almost asked the woman what she was reading, but as she had to get up to let me pass, I was able to see the cover when she momentarily closed the book to stand.

On the express train after work I spotted a whopping 4 books simultaneously. Two across from me, and another two across the aisle. Not a single ebook reader in sight. It was a bit tricky to try and see all the covers – and then try to remember them – but as usual I got lucky. One put the book down to answer her phone, another suddenly held the book up to her face, and so on.

All in all I identified 6 books today. Here they are:


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