A Slice of Life
I was on the subway again last week. A well-dressed man gets on with an attache case, a sports (i.e. free) newspaper and a book. He sits down and reads the newspaper for about twenty minutes. Then he puts the paper down and picks up the book, which he holds with the cover facing conspicuously out, directly facing the opposite row of riders, in which I am sitting. The book’s title is ‘“Yes” and “No”: the Guide to Better Decisions‘. The book appears to be approximately 112 pages. I note that not only is 112 the perfect number of pages to appear manageable to a second-language English speaker, but each and every word of the title seems scientifically chosen to appeal to the kind of blow-dried striver that the Korean subway system is infested with. In an instant I pictured his trip to the book store, where he fingered through the book for an agonizing long time, trying to decide between this book and ‘Who Moved My Cheese‘, the second easiest-seeming (96 pages!) self-help book.
He then proceeded to read aloud in a soft voice from the book, starting with the blurbs on the very first page and reading straight through for (not exaggerating, I timed him) an agonizing twenty five minutes in an accent that clearly marked him as at the level of most of my students (i.e. can’t read a book even that easy) without ever stopping or hesitating or puzzling over the hard parts. In other words, he was semi-comprehendingly boring his way mindlessly through the book out loud on a crowded subway train, all the while advertising the book for all his fellow riders to see.
This morning I was on the same train at the same time. The girl next to me was reading Wittgenstein in the original German, with no notes and no dictionary. The girl on my other side was reading a Korean translation of Mankiw’s Principles of Economics.