December 3, 2021

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Where Is Your Favorite Place to Read?

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Are you a person who is able to read anywhere: loud and busy places as well as quiet libraries or parks? Or are you more particular about where you snuggle up with a book?

In “Reading Around New York,” Anika Burgess explores the places New Yorkers can be found with books in their hands. The article combines text with photographs from The Times’s archive:

On Thursday, May 3, 1979, the New York Times staff photographer Fred Conrad visited the main branch of the New York Public Library. A crowd had gathered on the steps outside — in groups, in pairs, talking, eating. But among this gathering, a few sat slightly apart, heads bent. They appeared oblivious to those around them, unaware of the photographer’s lens. They were reading.

Even in the busiest of places, if you have a good book, you can retreat into solitude. And when you live in a city like New York, a book can be even more than a story at your fingertips. It can also be a respite, an escape, a sanctuary, a diversion and a travel companion.

The article continues:

These photos — all drawn from The Times’s vast photo archive — show that, in New York, there’s no place too busy for a book. To see someone reading in New York is to witness an act of determination. The reader has to ignore a barrage of potential disturbances, ranging from fine art to flight announcements. For those who are interested in literary trends, public spaces like subways can also be a useful, if informal, barometer of what’s popular. A glance around the train car — particularly in the days before smartphones — could sometimes tell you as much about which books were in the zeitgeist as The Times’s best-seller list.

For some, the book they chose to read was as much a part of the image they presented to the world as their outfit — a way to show off how intellectual or hip they were, and maybe to catch someone’s eye in the process. In 1906, The Times published a quartet of sonnets about a train guard who was smitten with a passenger who took the local, not the express, just to have more time to read her novel. More than 100 years later, The Times published a selection of subway-related “Missed Connections” poems taken from Craigslist. “I bought the book/but I never got your name … ,” one lovelorn commuter wrote.

If you’ve read while standing and swaying on a packed subway, you’ll know that a good book defies any posture or location. Just ask the New Yorker who risked the perils of walking and reading while crossing the Lexington Avenue skywalk, indifferent to the canyon views below, or the reader who turned the city into her own waterside living room, stretching out on a pier as if it were a couch, with a makeshift pillow under her head.

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • What is your favorite reading spot? Describe it. What makes it special? How does it feel to read there?

  • Where is the most unusual place you’ve ever read a book? What was it like?

  • Is it common to see people reading in public where you live, as it is in New York? Where are some of the places you often see others reading? Why do you think people like to read there?

  • Do you find that reading in public can be a statement? Do you choose to read different books in public than in the privacy of your home? Do you ever make assumptions about what kind of person a stranger is based on the book that person is reading?

Want more writing prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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