Friday, February 26, 2016

it's a steady job, but he wants to be a paperback reader

I got the train and bus into work this morning, something I used to do every day but now only do when there's a specific reason to. That reason is usually (and tonight is no exception) that I'm planning to go straight to some sort of social event afterwards involving alcohol consumption and don't want to be sipping orange juice and lemonade all night.

One of the most important things to remember when taking public transport, for the serious bookworm at least, is to take a book with you. I always have my current book in my laptop bag anyway, which is fine for going to work, but I'm planning to leave the bag in the office later so I need to remember to transfer the book to being on my person in some way. This prompted a couple of thoughts about problems which solely afflict dedicated Book People like me:
  • if you're not intending to carry a bag, you need a pocket big enough to slip a paperback into. You can generally just about fit a standard A-format paperpack (a standard Penguin, say) into the back pocket of a pair of jeans, but only if it's not too thick (and, I suppose, if you haven't got such a massive arse that the back pocket has no "give" in it at all). This is a bit unsatisfactory, as you'll discover as soon as you try to sit down. What you really need is a jacket with some of those big internal pockets that I like to call "poacher's pockets" although they're actually something slightly different. My battered old Nike fleecy zip-up jacket illustrates what I mean perfectly, as well as giving a tantalising glimpse of my current reading material. No clues!
  • even if you have the right sort of jacket, you can still have a problem. Most obviously, it might be glorious summer weather and you don't really want to be wearing a jacket at all. One alternative that I have occasionally resorted to in the past is slipping the book into the external side pocket of a pair of cargo shorts. You need to be careful that it doesn't fall out when you sit down, though, although if you're sitting down for any length of time you'll presumably have the book in your hand anyway, as you'll be reading it.
  • freakishly outsize books can cause a problem - these problems range from very thick standard-size paperbacks (Infinite Jest, say) which cause an unsightly bulge in your coat and weigh one side of it down, to paperbacks only available in the giant C-format (aka "trade paperbacks") which probably won't fit in a pocket at all. One example on my bookshelves (which I have yet to read) is Mark Z Danielewski's House Of Leaves, which seems not to be available in any smaller format, presumably because all the crazy typesetting trickery in the original makes it un-reformattable. Probably best to save these for holiday reading when you only have to lug them as far as a sun lounger.
  • another nightmare scenario is: you need to take a trip such as the one I'm taking today, but you've nearly finished your current book, and aren't confident that you'll have enough reading matter left to see out the trip. So what do you do? Take a different book? That's unsatisfactory as it means starting one book before finishing another, which not only contravenes some unwritten rules but also muddies the narrative flow. It's like having a glass of beer followed by a glass of wine - lovely, but if the last sip of beer and the first sip of wine have to be mixed together that'd probably be a bit grim. The alternative is to take two books, which is probably better, but the combined bulk may start to cause what I like to call Infinite Jest Syndrome, as above. You could always carry one in each pocket, I suppose, just to even out the weight distribution, although it might then start to look to your fellow travellers as if you were wearing some sort of suicide belt.
  • lastly, you'll know you're a proper bookworm when you can't take a trip to the toilet for a sit-down visit without taking your current book with you, and moreover get all twitchy and nervous if you need a poo but can't find your book.
  • a corollary to the last one is: I've often wondered about the acceptability of getting my book out of my laptop bag at work and taking it to the office toilet with me. My gut feeling is that it's probably not an acceptable thing to do, but of course all I'm going to do instead is surf Twitter on my phone, so it's not as if there's any productivity cost associated with it.
All very much #firstworldproblems, of course, but none the less real for all that.


Emma said...

An alternative, of course, is a man bag? Ray had one briefly but seems to have stopped using it now. Perhaps worried he looked a bit continental.

electrichalibut said...

Trouble is I'm so used to the idea that when I'm out and about all I have to remember to pick up is my coat that I'd be bound to leave the bag somewhere. I did take the laptop bag with me on one of these Friday night trips a while back and was in a state of constant paranoia that I'd leave it in a pub, or on the train. Obviously the odds of doing that go up as the number of pubs visited increases.