Thursday, June 2, 2011

Books on a Train (not Snakes on a Plane)

image courtesy

on the train yesterday while reading Elizabeth Gilbert's "Committed" an older gentleman leaned over and asked me,

"excuse me, i don't mean to pry but... what are you reading? you seem to be enjoying it very much."

he was right. i was enjoying it very much. i actually threw my head back in laughter about five times...( Elizabeth Gilbert is funny, people.) to answer his question, i gave him the title and author name. when he looked at me in a way that engaged me to expand on it further, i told him it was written by a woman who had been through an excruciatingly painful divorce and who decided before remarrying that she would research the psychosocial, political, religious and economic history of the instituition of marriage in the Western world and attempt to make peace with it, he looked at me quizzically. here i was a 23 year old reading an in-depth book about marriage... and thoroughly enjoying it.

this is the third time an older man on the train has asked me what i am reading. not because they are finding some sneaky way to hit on me, but because i think they are genuinely curious. the first time it happened i was reading Geneen Roth's "Women, Food and God" and the man sitting beside me kept glancing over and reading it out of the corner of his eye. midway through our train ride he asked me about the book and i gladly gave him a small snapshot of it. after our brief conversation before my stop, he pulled out his planner and scribbled down the title and the author and said he would be recommending it for his wife. (just to be clear, the book isn't only for women and Roth points out in the beginning that it very well could be titled "Men, TV and God" or "Men, Sex and God." in fact, as it turns out, it's part of the human condition to use and abuse things outside of ourselves in order to placate our emotions, to run away from our feelings and to essentially "disconnect" from the uncomfortableness of being a messy human being. and no, men are not immune to that.)

im not sure if these men were surprised to see a young woman who was not furiously tapping away at her blackberry (which i do sometimes), but rather, who was enjoying a book with a deeply contented smile and deeply nourished look on her face (which is what i don't look like when i am furiously tapping away at my blackberry.) i don't know and i may never know what ever became of these encounters. i may never know if they ever recommended the book to their wives, their daughters, their sisters. i dont know if their wives or daughters or sisters ever read them, or if they themselves ever read them. i have been given book reccomendations (sadly, even books) many times in my life that i never read or even remembered after the conversation was over. but what i do know is this: the gentle curiosity with which these men approached me in these quick encounters was always heartwarming and reaffirming. because of their ability to overcome their diffidence and ask a question with humility, suddenly two complete strangers separated by generations and by gender start talking about some pretty complicated stuff: marriage, food, addiction, vulnerability. and with any luck, both are left feeling touched by the encounter in a good way.

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