If you’re reading a book on the train and a woman with a German accent starts to engage you in conversation, don’t freak out.
Uli Beutter Cohen says there are plenty of stories going on during a subway commute, and one of the most interesting ways they are told is through the books people read on the train.
Whether it’s a classic Jane Austen novel or a physics textbook, a straphangers sends a subtle message about themselves to a bunch of strangers, the Brooklynite said. Cohen’s giving those riders a chance to delve more about their reading interests on her blog, Subway Book Review.
“I see a book like an accessory that you wear. It says a lot about you,” she said. “I see books as a vehicle to learn about and exchange with people.”
Cohen, who moved to New York from Portland, Oregon, about three years ago, said she was fascinated by the subway. The diversity of commuters riding in a compact space was certainly new for the German native, especially since many of the riders were reading books, newspapers and magazines in print on the seats or cramped next to another New Yorker.
“We’re losing that connection because they’re glued on their screens and in their headphones,” she said. “It surprised me to see how many printed books were carried by people and a lot of them were huge books.”
After speaking with some of those readers, Cohen came up with the idea of her blog. If she sees someone reading a book, Cohen will kindly ask them if they want to give a review and take a picture with it either on the track or inside the train.
She said she doesn’t want to delay their trip and asks the subjects to give as brief of a review as they’d like and make it personal.
“That’s the fun part. I don’t know how much time I have,” Cohen said.
Most of her subjects warm up to the idea of her blog and immediately start chatting, according to Cohen. Last week she interviewed a famous New Yorker, First Lady Chirlane McCray who was reading the novel “Bright Lines” by Tanwi Nandini Islam.
Cohen, who has expanded her blog overseas a correspondent in London, said she is happy to see a growth in blogs and social media accounts about subway readers, like the “Hot Dudes Reading,” Instagram, since it goes a long way to promote literacy.
“Now there are many great storytelling platforms,” she said.