Bus Stop Reading

The Invitation:

My sister Meg sent me this invitation:

  • If many people were to all post a short Something about how, where, what, why they like to READ it would be a Nice Thing and encourage others as well. We could share our own thoughts on secret public spaces for reading, beautiful free peaceful public places which are so important especially in big loud cities (like London!) It would be nice if people across distances could share their favourite reading places – London, Boston, Montreal, New York, etc…. If it works I’d love to share this on my own website [Some Odd Pages] as I like the idea of sharing good public reading places among a book loving community.

Mulling over her proposal, I thought about my own experience of Reading in Public Spaces.  Where and how do I read in places other than my own house? Meg’s original prompt included photographs of elegant reading rooms in large public libraries and universities, places of polished dignity. I tried to think of such places here in my own city. The main library downtown has a lovely skylight and beautiful elevator doors. I enjoy visiting the main library from time to time. But I don’t really go there to sit around reading. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my happiest places for reading have all been surprisingly mundane. Mine has been a lifetime of bus-stop reading.

Bus Stop Books A

 Reflections on a Life of
Bus Stop Reading

I’ve done a lot of reading at work on slow days with few customers. Flourescent lights, linoleum floors — the antithesis of the wood-panelled library ambience.  And yet I have surprisingly cozy and hospitable memories about workplace reading. For most of my life, it meant a book kept under the counter at the store, with Daddy and I taking turns reading aloud to each other.  It meant stories and conversations weaving in and out of a workday, or an entire work week of days rolled into each other.  It meant books with grease stained fingerprints, and a scent of liverwurst and capacola and cigarette smoke, and excerpts shared with friendly regular customers.

In the past few years, since I came to the zoo, it has meant a book buried underneath all the paperwork in my work basket, to be taken out when the rain becomes a steady drumming on the metal roof, or when the snow whirls around the frosty glass walls.  It has meant the rustle of pages turning at my end of the booth while knitting needles click at Gail’s end, and the gentle drifts of conversation about something I read, and something it makes her think of, and the way we wander into topics further afield, until the talk rests in silence again and I fall back into the pages.

Bus Stop Books F

When the weather is simply too lovely to stay indoors, and I have an hour free, I might take my book outside.  If the object is simply to get out into the fresh air without wasting time in getting anywhere special, I don’t go any further than my own back or front yard. When I was a teenager, I liked to take a book up onto the second branch of the apple tree in the back yard, resting comfortable against the trunk. When I got too old to climb trees, I settled in to rock gently in the apple-green wooden swing, hanging from that same branch. The apple tree is gone now, and so is the swing. But three years ago, Brian bought me a double-wide lounging lawn chair, big enough for the two of us. We park it under the catalpa tree in the front yard all summer, and curl up with our books after supper at the end of a work day. We wave at passing neighbors while we read with our shoulders leaning together under the green canopy, until twilight and mosquitoes finally drive us indoors.

Sometimes, when I’m alone and have an entire morning free, I “play hookey” and take my book out for coffee. I might buy a cup o’ joe and carry it to some place where I can “see if the lake is still there”, as my sister Laurie used to say. A bench on the cement walkway to the pier, or a picnic table in the grassy shade near the gazebo, either one will do, varying only as I crave shade or sun. The reading here is less focused on the page, more often wandering into gazing at the water, the swallows, or the passing dogs. I dip in and out of a book in this setting, thinking or writing or meditating as much as reading. In winter, or whenever the weather is chilly or wet, I find an indoor place for coffee, a quiet table in a window nook at the supermarket cafe or the doughnut shop, where I can read, sip, look out the window, and then read some more.

Bus Stop Books D

When I consider all the places I might read books other than at home, my reflections turn up the phrase “bus stop books”, a phrase that seems to have recurred all my life. Originally, it had a very specific and limited meaning. Because Daddy didn’t drive, we rode a lot of buses growing up. There were certain small, slim paperbacks that fitted nicely into his pocket. Their contents were episodic, therefore easy to pick up and put down. Saroyan’s Human Comedy and My Name is Aram. I Remember Mama. Don Camillo. My Sister Eileen. The poems of archy. Leo Rosten’s Hyman Kaplan stories. Cress Delahanty. Daddy read favorite bits of these aloud while we waited, continuing after we boarded the bus, and tucking the book away when we arrived downtown. To this day, certain books recall to my memory an exciting whiff of traffic exhaust and hot asphalt whenever I open them.

As the years passed, we all began tossing around the phrases “bus stop book” and “bus stop reading” more loosely, so that it gradually came to mean more than simply reading a small pocket-sized paperback while waiting for a bus. It came to describe a whole way of casually incorporating books into life and life into books. A lot of muss — (plenty of crumbs in pages) — but little fuss — (just come-as-you-are).

Bus Stop Books E

A life of “bus stop books” means that Daddy’s coat pockets are always misshapen and droopy because there are always books in them. It means that Brian can always laugh at my bulging purse, the “deadly weapon”, because there is always at least one book in it. It means that when Daddy has to wait in my car while I run into the bank or post office, he can be sure of finding something to read in the glove compartment or under the seat. It means that when I’m sitting in a waiting area at the DMV or a hospital, I can forget about their poor selection of magazines, because I’m always supplied with something of my own. Maybe it means that we have a carelessness about books, using them up and wearing them out as we do socks or gloves, so that crumpled covers and dogeared pages don’t concern us a whit.

A life of “bus stop reading” means that we have a habit of reading whenever and wherever we happen to be, reading anything we happen to find readily at hand. It means saying “Listen to this!” and reading the good parts aloud to each other and to anyone else who might listen. It means never sticking to one book at a time, but having a purse book, a car book, a pocket book, an under-the-counter book, a lunchroom book, and a few others scattered through our lives at any given time.

Bus Stop Books C

It means that I can go into my room to put away my work clothes and end up standing in place for fifteen minutes reading a random excerpt of a book that I haven’t thought of in months, just because I happened to lay my hand on that corner of the bookshelf when I went to take off my shoes. It means that Daddy can go into the breezeway for a cigarette and to let the dog out, and not come back until I go looking for him and find him engrossed in a book that fell off the cupboard into a pile of flowerpots and opened to an interesting page.

A life of “bus stop reading” means that reading has become like walking or swallowing or breathing. We don’t think about these things, or do them with an effort. We don’t set aside a special time and place to do them, or make a great ceremony of them.  Some people speak of childhood memories of story hour as a special treat, an anticipated ritual. For me, childhood memories are of books simply falling out of pockets, falling like leaves from the trees, fluttering open the battered paper covers as the doors opening to other worlds, making portals I look through as casually and easily as I might turn my head to see the bus approaching.

Bus Stop Books B

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Meg Green
    Mar 16, 2013 @ 06:51:21

    Reading as natural as breathing… so it should be. Thank you for this, we love our books!


  2. Meg Green
    Mar 22, 2013 @ 11:18:11

    Hi Maria,
    I’ve added a comment for you on the Books and Roses reading page at:
    I wonder what you might recommend on Librivox? Now that I’m back in the studio it’s great to be read to again.
    Many thanks, Meg


    • Meg Green
      Mar 22, 2013 @ 11:22:11

      FYI: Adrian Praetzellis is also a very engaging reader on Librivox!


  3. Maria
    Mar 22, 2013 @ 18:22:39

    I’m following the link to your comment — gotta see what it is!
    As to what I’d recommend on LV — the door’s wide open, plenty there for all tastes! But more in upcoming letter…


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