Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Subway Reads connects riders with 200 short stories and book excerpts, tailored to the length of their trip.
A good read can make a grueling subway ride a bit more bearable—but that’s only if you board prepared with a newspaper or book in hand, or a pre-downloaded e-book on your phone. Those who come on the train empty-handed are likely out of luck.
That is, unless you’re taking New York City’s subway. The city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority teamed up with publishing giant Penguin Random House on Sunday to launch a website called Subway Reads. On the site are nearly 200 book excerpts and novellas that riders can pull up for free on tablets or mobile phones using the subway’s wi-fi network, which is available in 175 of the city’s 278 underground stations.
The selection is even organized by the length of your commute. Consider an excerpt of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret for your next 10-minute commute. Or, for your 20-minute ride, a chapter from Colson Whitehead’s latest novel, The Underground Railroad, a fictitious account of a slave’s journey to freedom via a clandestine network of subterranean railway lines in the 19th century.
For those looking to get lost in something longer, Subway Reads also offers novellas—each about a two-hour read—from canonical authors like Edgar Allen Poe and contemporary ones like Lee Child.
The program will
last for the next eight weeks as a promotion for the MTA’s wi-fi service, which was installed in 2011 and will be expanded to the rest of NYC’s underground stations before 2018.
This isn’t the first effort to bring books and stories to the average commuter, nor is it Penguin’s first collaboration with a transit agency. Last year, the publishing company celebrated London Underground’s 80th birthday by offering passengers free excerpts and author interviews.
On a more low-tech scale, a New York-based artist created an impromptu book club by leaving stacks of physical books up for grabs in subway stations and elevators around the world. And in France, the city of Grenoble installed several ATMs that dispense short stories written on small spools of paper.
So far, Subway Reads is a hit with commuters, for whom the program is a way to pass the time and also a vehicle for discovering new books. It’s also praised by writers like Sheri Fink and Gayle Forman, who can promote their work to people who probably have little else to do during the rides.