To spit out a take based on a viral tweet that is perhaps engineered to generate any discourse is to play myself, willingly. But the heart (and the mind) wants what it wants, and so I feel it necessary to clear up some confusion surrounding the viral tweet in question: A man named Alex Christofi tweeted in the early hours of Tuesday morning the perhaps-barbaric practice of cutting big, honking paperback books in half for ease of use and portability.
As a woman who loves books hard and unintentionally leaves them in tatters, I do not feel precious about the condition of the physical object. An a friend of mine borrowed a galley of Jenny Zhang’s The Sour Heart and texted me a photo of the back page, which I had used as both a grocery list and a place to blot my lipstick. Perhaps I was undergoing some sort of episode, but really, this tracks. This treatment, to me, indicates not a lack of respect for the book as material object, but a general inability to be flexible with one’s reading habits and mind. If you want to read Infinite Jest or that doorstopper Dostoyevsky biography, be my guest. But if you want to read either of these important works in general, why not reserve them for home?
A subway book is what this man needs: something smaller, more portable, and easier to tote around. Subway reading is uncomfortable for many reasons: a man is pushing your arm every time the train stops or starts; there might be a rat on the train; you keep looking at your phone. Immersing oneself fully in the dense prose of David Foster Wallace is a task that requires complete concentration, which one generally does not have while commuting to or from the office. The obvious solution is a subway book—something physically small, light in subject matter, and easy to put down. Gone With the Wind is a bad subway book, because it is both too large and terrifically racist. Anything hardcover is a no; any paperback that reasonably requires your undivided attention and both of your hands, try again. A nice short story collection, maybe. A novel adjacent to a “beach read,” that does not require the entirety of your emotional and intellectual investment, so that you might put your brain on ice for 25 minutes to allow for pleasure.