Here’s a little tidbit from my personal life that I thought I’d share, because I find it pretty amusing. I’ve always ridden the bus to work, because as anyone who’s spent time on a college campus knows, it’s impossible to get good parking spots unless you show up at about 4 am. On the bus, and while waiting for the bus, I read. I don’t read work-related stuff, because I like to underline and take notes, and with the bus bouncing me around, my underlines become strike-outs (when I go back to the paper, I wonder, “Why did I dislike this passage so much that I struck it out?”), and my handwriting becomes even more unreadable than it ordinarily is. So I read books; novels mostly. A couple years ago, I started designating one of the books I’m reading my “bus book,” which means that I only read it on or waiting for the bus, and I don’t read anything else on or waiting for the bus. With about an hour and a half of bus time (including waiting and riding) a day going to and from work, I went through about a book about every week or ten days this way.
Then gas prices started rising, and I began to ride the bus more and more, until I go to the point where I rode the bus pretty much everywhere that I couldn’t walk. That dramatically increased my bus time, and as a result, I started going through books at an alarming rate. So to compensate, I just started reading longer books. The last few “bus books” I’ve read include August 1914 (896 pages), November 1916 (1040 pages), Anna Karenina (864 pages), The Brothers Karamazov (824 pages), and Don Quixote (992 pages). Which one of these is not like the others?
Anyway, after reading those long books, I decided it was time to read the mother of all long books, War and Peace. At 1424 pages, I figured it would take me almost 3 weeks of bus riding to read it. It’s been 3 weeks, and I’m almost finished.
Here’s the thing I find amusing, though: I’ve read hundreds of books on the bus at this point, including well known classics, lesser known classics, well known contemporary books, lesser known contemporary books, and everything in between, and with very few exceptions, people have never said anything about what I’m reading. Oh sure, people sometimes ask, “What are you reading,” and tend to follow up with, “Oh, yeah, I’ve read that,” regardless of whether I’m reading Hemingway or Roger Schank, but they never just comment on what I’m reading out of the blue. But literally every time I get on the bus, someone comments on War and Peace. Every time! The conversation almost always goes like this:
Person on/waiting for the bus: “Is that… You’re reading that?”
Me, looking at the book in my hands and wondering what else they think I might be doing with it: “Yup.”
Me, trying to make it obvious that I’m trying to get back to my book.
Person: “I’ve heard it’s good. Is it?”
Me: “It’s pretty good, yeah.”
Person: “I’ve always meant to read that, but never got around to it.”
Me: “You should.”
Person: “Wow, you’re reading that.”
What is it about War and Peace that makes everyone feel like commenting on it? And why are the comments always the same? It’s freaking me out. Thankfully, I’ll be done with it this week, and can move on to a book no one thinks worth commenting on. But I’ll always wonder what it is about War and Peace that gets people’s attention.