The Paris Review is a must-read for Overlook staffers, and their blog is a fixture in all of our blogrolls, Google readers, and RSS feeds. It's no surprise that when this edition of "Ask the Paris Review" came through, we immediately responded.
Can you recommend any books that will make interesting people approach me if I read them on the subway? During A Moveable Feast, people came up and quoted entire passages verbatim, and it really enhanced the reading experience. —Alexandra Petri
Well, well, well. While we loved TPR's answer, we also knew we had a few of our own up our sleeves.
First, and this is true of pretty much anyone in publishing (including our cousin-publishers, magazine publishers): we are always thrilled to see people reading books we publish. Maybe it's like seeing your child accepting an award or your company's IPO make a boatload--we worked hard on making these books what they are, and seeing someone else independently enjoying them is an absolute rush. While we are all courteous MTA riders and have perfected the unique NYC ability to tune out everything and everyone around us, seeing the little winged elephant on your book spine could make our day, week or (depending on the print run) season all seem worth it.
Here's what the Paris Review said:
The trick is to choose books that have cult followings, and so create a sense of secret fellowship—but that large numbers of your fellow-riders have actually read. That's why it depends somewhat on your subway line. As Philip Roth is to the Seventh Avenue trains, so Jonathan Lethem is to the F. For the Q I might carry either story collection of Edward P. Jones (impress your new friend by pointing out that the two collections are linked, story by story) or anything by Lipsyte or Shteyngart. (Each of whom is also beloved on the L.) On the Lexington Avenue line, The Transit of Venus. For the G train: War and Peace, A Dance to the Music of Time, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 2666, Gravity's Rainbow, the complete works of James Michener, etc., etc., etc.
Of course, certain writers are good bets anywhere. Thanks to my bike, I have no particular subway, but I will instantly take a friendly interest in anyone I see reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's memoir The Beautiful Struggle, Norman Rush's Mortals, IJ, anything by Adam Phillips, or the essays of Charles Lamb. Possession of these books is sufficient cause for me to ask which part you're at. Maybe for others too. All of which is to say: be careful what you wish for.
And here are a few responses from Overlook. We'd love to hear your experiences: feel free to tweet them @OverlookPress, leave them on Facebook or put them in the comments! If anything makes public transit pleasant, it's a good book.
“Mostly everyone who has read him falls in love with David Foster Wallace and I’m certainly no exception. I’ve tried on no less than three separate occasions to complete Infinite Jest and failed miserably with each. Maybe I just don’t have the stamina (I blame the footnotes). Nowadays whenever I see someone reading the 2.6 lb behemoth (weight via Amazon), I spy to see if they’ve passed my personal best – page 95.” --Intern Michael
“Years and years ago my brother handed me a graphic novel he said I absolutely had to read. As a die-hard literary fiction fan I thanked him and put it at the bottom of my bedside table pile. Almost a year ago I noticed on the L (the subway to Williamsburg, Brooklyn on which there seems to be a rule that no one over 30 is allowed to board) at least 3 people with this book in their hands. The next time I took the L, I noticed five people reading it. Each week, more and more people had copies of this damn book. Finally, I dug it out from the bottom of the pile and ended up thanking the public-transport friendly hipsters who convinced me to enjoy The Watchmen–and I finished just in time for the movie.” --M, Sales & Marketing
“People on subways (and especially on planes) have approached me about my e-Reader numerous times. A lot of them are curious about its usefulness, battery life, what e-ink looks like—not what I’m reading on it. When the iPad first came out, I wanted to approach strangers on the street who had one, too! Luckily, there are plenty of demo copies at the Apple store near our office.” --Anon
“One summer, my goal was to get through Atlas Shrugged so I could understand what all the fuss was about. Never have so many nearly-anarchist libertarians approached me in public. I eventually just listened to the audiobook.” --Kate, publicity