I Rode The Subway In New York And Asked Riders About The Books They're Reading And The Jobs They Work, And I Was Surprised By The Connection

    It's intimidating to talk to strangers on public transportation, but approaching them with interest in what they were reading broke down any barriers.

    I don't judge books by their cover, but I do judge (or at least ponder) strangers by the covers of the books they're reading. The New York subway is the perfect place for this past-time. Inspired my recent journey of asking New Yorkers what their rent was, I wondered: Is there a true connection between a stranger's book and their everyday life? To get some answers, I swiped my MetroCard, got on the train, and asked real-life New York subway riders about the books they were holding.

    subway entrance

    Out of the 18 New Yorkers I approached on the subway, 13 of them were down to put their books down for a moment and briefly talk to me about their books, their jobs, and a little about their lives.

    people reading on a subway train

    So, here are the 13 subway riders who were down to share what book they were reading, what they like about it, their day job, where they were headed, and the doodles I drew of them (or their books) in exchange for their time:

    Benny's illustration
    an event producer reading "all about love" in the subway station
    Joe's illustration
    social worker reading "the body keeps the score" on a new york train
    whiskey maker reading "devil house" in the new york subway
    tech employee reading an audre lorde book in the subway
    film distributor reading "myself, elsewhere" in the new york train
    outline of a person holding "rat boys" book in new york subway station
    composer reading "a death in the family" in the new york subway
    Amy's illustration
    critic reading a book "lives of the later caesars" on the new york train
    corporate employee reading a book "instanbul"
    songwriter reading a yogic thought book called "the yamayas and niyamas"

    My takeaway: It's intimidating to talk to strangers on public transportation, but approaching them with interest in what they were reading broke down any barriers. It turns out what people were reading had more to do with their passions and identity outside of their day jobs. I guess it's the equivalent of listening to a fun podcast on the way to work — why would I listen to work-adjacent material on unpaid time? Meeting people using their commute as a way to build toward their future, learn about themselves, or challenge their mindsets was inspiring. I suppose the books we read say less about who we are, and reveal more about who we want to be.

    Author on subway train asking people about the books they're reading

    What's the best book recommendation you've gotten from a stranger? Or, what's the most interesting material you saw someone reading in public transportation, and still think about? Come to the comments.

    Or, reach out to me directly on Instagram. And follow BuzzFeed's @comics for more journeys like this!