5 Best of…Commute Reads

In order to really get into a book, I need a hefty chunk of time. I love to read on a quiet evening, on the weekends, on airplanes, in cafes – times when I can be undisturbed and focus. A long public transportation commute is vital if I expect to get any reading done on the go. I used to have these long commutes from south Brooklyn to the Upper East Side. During the 90-minute commute, I could pick up a longer book I was in the middle of and get comfortable. But not everyone has a 90-minute commute, or a comfortable one. Since I moved closer to the city my commute got shorter which is great at times, but my reading has suffered. Often I don’t get a seat, and I’m trying to balance my bag, my lunch, a thermos of coffee, while holding my Kindle at the same time. Reading on the go has gotten harder.

But some books were made for commutes. These days I try to keep the long epics (I’m currently working through John Jakes’ North & South trilogy) to be read at home. For my on-the-go reading I look for a different sort of book – exciting novels, story collections, informative nonfiction. These are five books I read within one day, while commuting. They are all unique books, with nothing in common except for the subways I read them on. They are ideal for about two 45 minute trips, though of course you could enjoy them anywhere.

You Know When the Men are Gone, Siobhan Fallon. Short stories. 240 pages.

The modern short story collection has become such a staple in literary fiction that it’s hard to identify the gems within the genre. In this somehow traditionally-modern short story collection, writer-and-army-wife Siobhan Fallon shares her experiences while living in Fort Hood. Her stories are all set in military housing during deployments, telling the stories of wives and children in the absence of husbands and fathers. The stories are not sentimental or dull. Fallon creates an army out of the women left behind, and the stories she tells are more diverse, bizarre, and hilarious than I could have imagined.

You Know When the Men are Gone is a great story collection to read on the go because of the nature of each story. It is not an interconnected collection, and despite the constant setting of Fort Hood, each story is distinct. You can pick it up and put it down easily, but it’s absolutely gorgeous and you might not want to.

The Three Languages of Politics, Arnold Kling. Non-fiction. 54 pages, not including appendix.

This short book is an explanation of political mindsets, and a read that everyone could benefit from in this political climate. Kling explains the three axes through which progressives, conservatives, and libertarians view situations, the oppressor–oppressed axis, the civilized–barbarous axis, the freedom–coercive axis. The purpose of the book is not to convince the reader to agree with their opponent, but rather to teach the reader the language their opponent uses. If you and your opponent can translate your thoughts into each other’s languages, it is both easier to understand and easier to argue. Arnold Kling does a very good job of keeping his own opinion out of his book, though he does admit which axis he tends towards.

It was a surprisingly unpolitical book considering its topic, and it helped me immediately identify points of miscommunication even within my own circle. These days it’s important to be talking to each other and not over or around each other. This book is a good facilitator for good conversations, and it will only take you an hour to read.

The Lover’s Dictionary, David Levithan. Episodic novel. 224 pages.

David Levithan (probably best known for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) broke out of his norm with The Lover’s Dictionary, an episodic novel written in vignettes. It tells the story of the beginning and end of a relationship through bite-sized stories based on an alphabetical list of dictionary definitions. For example, the beginning of the relationship is told through words such as “abstain” “abyss” and “alfresco.” The story is written to take a mundane relationship, an everyday romance, and makes it universal and unforgettable. The unnamed narrator shares his experiences by sharing small moments through a vocabulary list that all readers can relate to. Anyone who has ever dated, fallen in love, and broken up, can identify with this book.

The episodic way that Levithan decides to write his story makes it the perfect on-the-go read. You can read a page or two and put it away for a bit, then take it out again. It is very beautiful and very easy to read, but to enjoy it you shouldn’t rush. Still, even the slowest reader wouldn’t need more than a few hours to finish it.

Cameo, Winston Graham. Novel. 240 pages.

Cameo is a thriller set during the London blitz by the author of the Poldark series. The novel opens with a RAF pilot on leave. Trying to get back to his parents’ house at night while drunk, he accidentally walks into a neighbor’s house where he finds a dead body. With WWII and the blitz working as a backdrop, the novel itself is a neat murder mystery, tied up with a well-developed and genuine romance. Graham’s greatest talents as an author lies in the subtle actions and thoughts that build interesting characters and relationships. It is a small and incredibly strong novel. In a whirlwind 240 pages Graham builds a mystery that is frightening and exciting, but he grounds it in characters who you wish you could spend 800 pages with.

It is the best sort of book to read while commuting because it is so exciting that you won’t even notice the passing of time. It’s a hard book to put down, but since it’s very short you can read it in about two sittings, so hopefully the suspense won’t kill you.

The Pregnancy Project, Gaby Rodriguez. Memoir. 240 pages.

The Pregnancy Project is Rodriguez’ memoir, telling the story of her senior project in her own words. Gaby is a lower-class Hispanic girl living on the border of a Reservation in Washington state. Growing up Gaby was surrounded by teen moms whose dreams were cut short – her mother, aunts, sisters, and friends had all given up in High School due to pregnancy. Gaby was a good student and quickly her teachers and advisors began to treat her differently, encouraging her towards a higher education while girls around her were dropping out and giving up. For her senior project, Gaby faked a pregnancy, only telling her mother, boyfriend, and advisor. She wanted to show how teenage girls who were pregnant were treated differently and how the school system gave up on them.

Written by Gaby with the help of a ghost writer, the writing isn’t great, but the story is compelling. The story of Gaby’s family is a common one, a family stuck in a cycle of dreams cut short, but her willingness to share her experiences is inspiring. It’s both an important book to read and an easy one, making it the perfect book to pick up when you have a bit of time to spare.


Not everyone has a lot of time to read, but if you want to be reading more it helps to start small. A book’s worth should never be found it its length. And if you don’t have a commute to spend reading, these books are small enough to be enjoyed in any pocket of time you find.

Sarah V Diehl


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