What New Yorkers Read on the Subway

shelved under New York City and Travel & Places

The New York Times — known as "The Newspaper of Record" — strives to be international in its coverage. But it also loves being a hometown paper. Case in point? In the Fall of 2009 they did an informal survey of what people were reading on the subway.

As a New Yorker, I'm happy to say that the 21 most popular books — listed below, from most to least popular — show my fellow subway riders to be quite the literate lot. (Well, with one notable exception; scan the list below and see if you can find it.)


War and Peace

by Professor Orlando Figes, Anthony Briggs, Leo Tolstoy

Daniel Adler from Brooklyn, NY says:

A catalog of life. Tolstoy's brushstrokes of domestic life and war make the reader envious of his character's adventures.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland

Reg Keeland from Albuquerque, New Mexico says:

You should read this book because it was one of the best thrillers I ever translated. The other two were volumes 2 & 3 of the same trilogy, which I think were even better! If you like literary crime fiction that moves like a runaway train, these are the books for you. Featuring one of the most engaging anti-heroines in the history of crime, Lisbeth Salander. Once you try it I guarantee you'll be hooked.

This book also appears on Nordic Noir


Atlas Shrugged

by Ayn Rand

Miss Hannah says:

Throughout history there have been people who have, through pure genius and hard work, moved mankind beyond its limits. Like Atlas, who carried the world on his shoulders, most of these people lived (and died) unappreciated. But where would we be without them? What would we do if our indifference caused them to stop trying? What if our ingratitude caused them to leave us to our own devices? "Atlas Shrugged" will at different moments leave you feeling confused, disturbed, empowered, powerless, skeptical, and even, for a few pages, bored. But through it all, it will have you fascinated, challenging what you thought you knew about human nature, and maybe even re-examining your stand on many issues. Not a book I would recommend taking to a tropical beach, but a great read for the student of human nature, the soul searcher in every reader.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Di­az

Gotham Gal from New York, NY says:

Another Pulitzer Prize winner. An intricate family history that goes from the present to the past and from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic while weaving historical facts in between.


The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

Lois says:

This book was one of the most touching love stories I have ever read. You're swallowed, tossed around through time, and continually mindful of the impossibility and paradox of their love, but you hope for the best. Make sure you have a big box of tissues for this one, it will leave you in both smiles and tears.


Infinite Jest

by Jacob Weisberg

Amanda says:

This book hops around so much, I had to read it all the way through because I was so excited to see where it was going.

Plus, half the fun of reading this book was to read the endnotes and discover the sponsors of the various years ("Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad" and "Year of the Whopper" being some of my favorites).

This book also appears on The Best of David Foster Wallace



by Joseph O'Neill

Seachanges says:

This book — so well written and full of unease and questioning about where one lives or belongs — made it to the long list of the Booker Prize. Despite the title, the story is mainly set in New York and England, although there is a wonderful evocation of the main character skating along the empty canals, as I have done, away from school. There's a question throughout about what and who we are, when we so dislocate ourselves. The title is a clever play on The Netherlands and at the same time evokes the underworld, unknown existences that people lead when dislocated. The setting is New York, cricket, immigrant communities, and a failing marriage. It’s a great book.


The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

by Michael Pollan

I very occasionally come across a book I enjoy so much, that I buy copies for friends and more or less force them to read it. This is one of those books. The book is pretty straightforward. Pollan follows 4 kinds of meals from planting (or birth), through harvest (or slaughter), and onto the table. The 4 kinds are: Fast Food (a McDonald's Happy Meal), "Industrial" Organic (the organic food you see at major supermarkets), "Beyond Organic" (the food you see at health food stores and farmer's markets) and "Hunter/Gatherer" (Yep, he gathers mushrooms, picks cherries, and hunts a wild boar). The book's not preachy (he saves that for In Defense of Food), it's not especially gross (that was covered by Schlosser's Fast Food Nation), and it's very, very important. Read it.


Twilight (Book 1 of The Twilight Saga)

by Stephenie Meyer

Jenny Sweedler from Plymouth, NH says:

Twilight is a teenage vampire romance. There is a lot of angst... a LOT of angst. But if you remember your teen years (or are living them currently), then you know, angst fits. In Twilight, you meet Bella and Edward, and you fall head over heels with Edward, and yeah, who cares he is a vampire? Twilight is the first of four novels about Bella, told from her point of view. They are fun brain candy, but you can also find some great literary references in there. Be careful though. Twilight is addictive, and you will have to IMMEDIATELY go on to the rest! (And you will LOVE them too!)


My Life in France

by Alex Prud'Homme, Julia Child

outlawradio from Brooklyn, NY says:

I read this on my honeymoon in France and it was delightful. Julia Child's enthusiasm for food, France and her beloved husband are infectious. I will forever associate this book with a meal of chicken served to us at a tiny inn in Perigord — chicken so tender it fell off the bone when served. It tasted perfectly "chicken-y", and Julia would have loved it.



by Natasha Wimmer, Roberto Bolano

Rodney Welch from Columbia, SC says:

Roberto Bolano's massive final opus isn't one novel, but five loosely-connected ones that generally revolve around the mystery of a reclusive writer and the serial murder of young women in Juarez, Mexico. The book is endlessly grim, graphic, intense and occasionally wearisome — particularly in the middle section, when the reader may almost become numb to reading the details of how one woman after the next was raped and killed. Also, the ending, the big what-it-all-means-and-how-everything-connects, is ambiguous, as Bolano relies maybe a little too heavily on the reader's imagination to make connections between so many threads. Of course, there's also a possibility that there are no neat connections, that life and death are somewhat random. Some readers may find the ending doesn't satisfy, that it doesn't give them the conventional wow finish they've been waiting for. Others will be as captivated by Bolano's brilliant restless imaginative energy, particularly in adopting one literary style after the next, as I was; after a certain point, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. The book weaves a hypnotic power that is as strange as its title — which, by the way, remains a mystery.


Anna Karenina

by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Alexandre Dumas, Larissa Volokhonsky

Camille Rodriguez says:

Simply: beautiful. It deals with the life of the wealthy and the humble, the wanting and the content, the charming and the simple. It has ugliness, beauty, love, hate, family, ruin. It's pretty long, but it has a lot of twists and turns, and the characters you'll meet are unforgettable. Awesome read :)

This book also appears on Oprah's Book Club


Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

Lise M. Quintana says:

If Outliers doesn't change your life, you're already Bill Gates, or you're dead. I'm going to give you the entire secret of Outliers in a nutshell: If you want to be one of the uber-elite who swoop in and make not only zillions of dollars, but make history in the process, you have to have three things. You have to have an amazing stroke of luck, you have to have the right background, and then you have to work really, really hard. Bill Gates wasn't born a programming genius. He spent years in tiny dark rooms programming early computers before he got the lucky break that put him miles ahead of everyone else in the programming space. The Beatles would never have gotten out of their garage phase if they hadn't spent 12 hours a day for nearly 2 years playing in German clubs. Outliers will confirm that sinking feeling you have that you will never be in the same league as the anointed few in their ivory towers - the ones that we all aspire to be. But it's not all bad news. Read Outliers, and you'll be convinced that anyone who's willing to put in the time will be poised to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to all of us at one time or another.


The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

Laura H. from Brooklyn, NY says:

Wow, this one was a doozie. It had been a while since I teared up in a book, but this did it to me. "The Road" takes place after some unknown apocalypse and tells the story of a father and son simply trying to survive. It’s not clear what happened or for how long they have been in this world of desolation, but that not the most important aspect of the story. The real story is one of survival and the length of time that love and hope will keep you alive. It makes the reader question their values while at the same time asking them to decide who and what holds the most importance in their lives. McCarthy’s style of writing is short, often deleting un/necessary apostrophes, but being involved in the story makes the difficult syntax disappear. I started out this book thinking that it would simply be a long tale of desperation and I’m glad that changed.


Julie and Julia : 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

by Julie Powell

Jeanee Goldberg from Lynbrook, NY says:

Julia Child, the culinarian's icon. Julie Powell, the obsessed fan who conquered the pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is due the admiration that we all feel for Julia. I loved reading the trials and triumphs of this mighty endeavor. Her writing is so personal and so clear, that I lived every recipe's triumph and failure with her. Julia and my mother, a notable cook and baker, share a birthday, one year apart, so my affection for Julia's skill is quite personal. What a fun read.


The Girl Who Played with Fire

by Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland

Joseph Stafura from Pittsburgh, PA says:

I waited for this for a year after finishing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and it was worth every day of the wait. Lizbeth Salandar is one of the best characters ever created and the stories are well written and interesting on several dimensions, revealing interesting facets of society, gender, and journalism. Now waiting eagerly for the third installment.

This book also appears on The Best Crime Fiction of 2009


Olive Kitteridge

by Elizabeth Strout

Stacy from South Bend, IN says:

Having never read any of Strout's previous work, I chose this based on an NPR recommendation. I didn't expect the short story format, but I think it works. The title character is not always the center of the stories; she threads them together with her presence in some form or fashion. Focusing on a life in small town, the stories interweave to create characters and plot lines that are intriguing and compelling. These are your neighbors, these are your friends, this is what happens when you're not with them.

This book also appears on Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction


The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version, Indexed

edited by Michael D. Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, Pheme Perkins

Katrina Naugle says:

I'm not Christian, so I'm more interested in the history of the religion, and this book was absolutely fantastic in that regard — VERY objective! If the Bible has ever seemed perverse to you (the animal was made of flames and had how many horns? that kindathing), this is a great way to read it because the notes at the bottom of each page basically translate the language of the day for you. You'll know what they're referring to (like, if they say "cut his hair," they'll tell you what that phrase meant to them back then). It becomes a story steeped in culture and history instead of an obscure religious text! It makes the stories readable, understandable (!), and interesting (in most cases... some places, no amount of annotating is going to help).


Lush Life

by Richard Price

Joseph Stafura from Pittsburgh, PA says:

This was another great crime story by Price, with all the expected insights into the dynamics of city living that are alien to people that have never lived in a large metropolis. When you set a story in NYC it is almost like cheating a little, you get so much interest just by describing the diversity at scale that is Manhattan, and Price uses the city to full advantage as the stage that can turn a mundane event into a cause. Clockers is still his definitive work in my view but this is a nice read.


Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Deborah Batterman says:

There's some symmetry here, I admit, in opening and closing the list with books by women who found themselves falling off a cliff, so to speak, into a life more spiritual. It's never an easy, straightforward path, and Gilbert underscores the triad of her title with an explanation, in the introduction, of the number three as representing 'supreme balance'; within the threefold structure she has deliberately incorporated 108 tales (36 times 3), symbolic of the traditional Indian japa mala necklace, strung with 108 beads. Gilbert's memoir, of course, became a runaway best seller and movie, which speaks to the appeal of stories that manage to incorporate romance and spirit. Those critical of the book want more, I daresay, of the kind of wisdom issuing from Miller's book. Those who admit to loving it clearly understand that the courage it takes to see things for what they, rather than what we'd like them to be. One clear message echoing through both books: when the student is ready, the teacher appears.