Saturday, November 13, 2010

Subway Stranger Reading Recommendations

Usually I pick the books I want to read in one of two ways: I receive recommendations from friends or I read reviews. It's been a simple and, for the most part, effective way to broaden my reading experience. But the other day, as I was sitting on the subway riding in to work, I looked up and saw a woman reading a book that had an intriguing cover. I tried to check the title without looking like I was a subway stalker but because of the angle I couldn't quite catch the title. She got off on a stop before mine and I was never to find out what book she was reading. This bugged me. I don't know why but I decided to pay more attention to what the mass of people were reading on the TTC (that means subway in T.O. but really stands for the Toronto Transit Commission. But that's not the point of this story). Anyway, I decided to check out these random books so that I could decide whether to add them to my reading pile. A stranger's recommendation, if you will. A barometer of what the everyday, joe-blow, go to work person like me is spending their precious 20 min, half-hour to an hour commute reading in the morning. It wasn't as easy a task as I thought it would be.

Some days not one person had a book. Which appalled me. It's not that people weren't reading - they were. It just happened to be newspapers, iPhones, or university or highschool textbooks. Many were just listening to music. Others just staring off into space. I despaired of finding ten different books that I could check out before Christmas. But, by the end of two weeks (and some days I didn't ride the subway) I had my Subway Stranger Reading Recommendations.

So here are the books (and the blurbs I hunted up on Amazon and other sites) that I'm committing to either buying or checking out from the library over the next few months. Of the 11 books I spotted, I only read one (The Time Traveler's Wife) so I have a nice even ten books to check out:

The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
On the eve of the monsoons, in a remote Indian village, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl. But in a culture that favors sons, the only way for Kavita to save her newborn daughter's life is to give her away.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Stratten
January 1946: writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.

A Mortal Curiosity by Anne Granger
The second novel in Ann Granger's wonderfully atmospheric Victorian mystery series. Lizzie Martin, lady's companion, has been sent from London to the New Forest to comfort a young woman whose baby has tragically died. A sad enough task, but things take an even darker turn when a rat-catcher is found murdered in the garden, and the young woman is discovered beside the body, crying and covered in blood. Not knowing where else to turn, Lizzie calls upon her friend Inspector Ben Ross from Scotland Yard to solve the horrific crime.

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard by Richard B. Wright
In a quiet manor house in Oxfordshire, an ailing housekeeper by the name of Aerlene Ward feels the time has come to confess the great secret that has shaped her life-she is the illegitimate daughter of William Shakespeare, England′s most famous playwright.

Lie Down with the Devil by Linda Barnes
Things get moving quickly in Bostonian Carlotta Carlyle’s twelfth mystery, picking up right where Heart of the World (2006) left off, with Carlyle’s mobbed-up fiancĂ©, Sam, sought for murder, and teenage Paolina, Carlotta’s adopted little sister, recuperating from her horrific experiences in Colombia. In her emotional agony, Paolina has shut out Carlotta, so the six-foot ex-cop and part-time cabbie turns her energy toward proving Sam innocent—in the face of his secrecy, his womanizing, and, worst of all, mounting evidence that he actually did the deed.

The Debutante by Kathleen Turner
Cate Albion is a gifted artist who is hiding from her past in her elderly aunt’s London antique shop. When her aunt sends her to Devon to catalog the contents of an old Georgian house, Cate finds more than just antiques, she finds a mystery. The home belonged to Irene Blythe, a wealthy, elderly woman who was once a beautiful socialite between the wars. Cate finds an abandoned nursery, locked for years, and a shoebox full of mysterious articles hidden behind a stack of books. Cate realizes the box belongs not to Irene but to her sister, Baby Blythe, the dazzling, dangerous, over-the-top debutante who mysteriously disappeared without a trace more than 60 years ago. Unable to resist, Cate unpacks the box and follows the clues to Baby Blythe’s dark, secretive past––one that parallels Cate’s own dark life all too well.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
"The Lost Symbol" solves puzzles, analyzes paintings and reveals forgotten histories -- all so that Brown's tireless hero, Robert Langdon can find a legendary Masonic treasure despite special ops squads that are dogging him and a bizarre killer who has kidnapped his dear friend and mentor.

Black and Blue by Ian Rankin
Rebus is juggling four cases trying to nail one killer - who might just lead back to the infamous Bible John. And he's doing it under the scrutiny of an internal inquiry led by a man he has just accused of taking backhanders from Glasgow's Mr Big. Added to that there are TV cameras at his back investigating a miscarriage of justice, making Rebus a criminal in the eyes of a million or more viewers. Just one mistake is likely to mean an unpleasant and not particularly speedy death or, worse still, losing his job.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
This zany tale of the bungling of Armageddon features an angel, a demon, an 11-year-old Antichrist and a doomsaying witch; unmistakably British humor is in abundance.

The Kings Grace by Anne Easter Smith
Smith's newest historical fiction is a complex exploration of a turbulent period of English history, taking on one of its biggest mysteries: the fate of princes Edward and Richard, locked up in the Tower by Richard III. Protagonist Grace Plantagenet is the illegitimate daughter of Edward IV and had been confidant to his family—including her imprisoned half-brothers Edward and Richard. After Richard III is killed and the princes disappear, a man named Perkin Warbeck appears to challenge Henry VII, claiming to be the presumed dead Prince Richard. Determined to discover the truth of Warbeck's claim, Grace throws herself into the politics of the court, knowing that if Warbeck is Prince Richard, it could be drastic for Grace's family—especially for her half-sister Elizabeth of York, now Henry's queen.

Whew. That's a heck of a lot of different books. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I'm going to like each one. And if I don't, I'm not sure I'll finish them all. But it's an experiment in whether I can enjoy books I haven't sought out myself or that have been recommended to me by someone I know - a broadening of my reading experience to see if I like other tastes and genres. We'll see how it goes. I think I'm going to try The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society first - just because I love the title and I love WWII stories. I'll keep you posted on the progress.

So, have you read any of the above? And how do you go about picking what's going on your To Be Read pile? But, please, don't give me any more recommendations. I don't think I could handle it!


  1. I read The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. But I've read a couple of his other books too, and I like the page turning thrillers combined with all the history! The Debutante sounds good! Happy reading!

  2. Hi Laura: I may be the only person who didn't finish the Da Vinci Code. I fear I may not get through the Lost Symbol. We shall see. The Debutante does sound good though, doesn't it? It's easy to find books but not so easy finding the time!

  3. I haven't read any of the above. A lot of times I read what is suggested by blogs or friends. But sometimes I like to go to the library and discover a gem for myself. I just blogged about one recently.

    Great post!

  4. What an interesting mix of books! I haven't read any of them, but there are a few that sound like I something I would enjoy.

    I always try to check out what people are reading on the subway (NYC) and am surprised by how disappointed I am when I can't figure it out (so far I haven't asked anyone what they are reading). It makes me happy whenever I see a child, teen, or adult reading a children's book or YA novel, especially if I've read it.

    Thanks for sharing your list of what people are reading on the Toronto subway! Might have to start making a list here in NY. :)

  5. Good Omens is one of my favorite books ever. I always read it when I'm sick, as it never fails to cheer me up.

    I've read Ian Rankin and Dan Brown (meh), but not those particular books.

    I've heard FAB things about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and it's been on my TBR pile for a while.

    Regardless, what a fun experiment!

  6. Good experiment. I'll be interested to hear how it turns out.

  7. I am a book snoop. I comment on what people are reading at airports, scan bookshelves when I'm invited to dinner, and accost people in libraries and bookstores reaching for titles I like.

  8. Hi C.R.: Thanks! Sometimes discovering a book unexpectedly makes for the best reading experience - no expectations from friends who say "You HAVE to read this! It's so good!"

    Hi sruble! I'd be fascinated to see what the NYC riders are reading - and does it say anything about our respective populations?

    Hi Anne: I'm really looking forward to Good Omens - I'd never heard of it before but it sounds hilarious. And I'm going to get the Guernsey book today I think. Elizabeth Gilbert raved about it too so I'm hoping I'll fall in love with it!

    Hi Linda: I'll be interested too - not sure how long this might take me but if I can check out a couple of the books over the holidays I'll be doing well.

    Hi Caroline: That's so funny! I sometimes see people reading a book I've adored and said, "I loved this." and it starts a conversation (usually I only do that in a book store. I'm too cautious about starting conversations on the subway! :)

  9. I haven't read any of these, but some look interesting.

    I like to pay attention to what people are reading in public. I'll wonder if it's something I've read or would like to read.

  10. Hi Medeia: It's funny when you start noticing what people are reading. Now that I know more writers it's also a thrill when I see someone reading a writer I've met!

  11. I'll have to do a survey of NYC subway readers. I don't take the subway during rush hour as much as I used to, so it might take me a while to see what people are reading.

  12. Hey, Stephanie (sruble): I look forward to hearing about your NYC subway reading discoveries! And lucky you - avoiding the rush hour. Wish I could!