In the course of my commutes, I have learned many things. Some of these are obvious, like that the doors do not work like elevator doors and will crush you if you get stuck in them. Some of these are not so obvious. I have learned that reading books can catch the attention of guys on the metro. I have also noticed that women who were reading 50 Shades of Grey, whether in hard copy or on their kindles do not. I can only assume that this is because guys are as scared of the 50 Shades of Grey series as I am, and that we all should not have been as nearly as concerned about these books being the death of literature as we were last summer. I really don't see the point of reading these books on the metro, anyway, since presumably you read them in order to accomplish something and it seems to defeat the purpose if you read them in a public place where one can't accomplish anything. But, hundreds of women read them in public anyway, so I must assume this is to attract the attention of men.
I like to try the opposite approach. It seems to me that the more impressive the book the more you are likely to catch a guy's notice. Because let's face it, do guys really want to feel intimidated by the tall man who acts out his kinky fantasies in the book you are reading? No, they don't. My first experience with this was on a flight to DC. I had decided to finally try Dorothy Sayers, and, never one to read a series in order because that seems way too prosaic, had inter-library loaned her book Gaudy Night. The book arrived, and I realized this book was probably older than my grandmother. It had probably begun its life as a happy red to go along with the Gaudy, but by the time I started to read it it was the color of old blood. Now I love old books, but I prefer when they aren't from the library because then I live in terror that the book will disintegrate in my hands and I will have to explain my negligence to the library. The entire flight I noticed that this guy kept staring at me. He was really handsome and really tall and I couldn't keep my mind on my book at all. As we were getting off the plane he asked about the book I was reading, and so of course I duly explained to him who Dorothy Sayers was. I then got completely lost in the airport, and only later did I realize he was trying to talk to me. Or he could have had a fetish for old books. I prefer to think the former is true.
Unfortunately I usually never notice when someone is flirting with me at the time. After becoming a career commuter I realized this again when I had taken Proust on the metro. I had picked up Swann's Way at the urge of an old college classmate who said I would absolutely love it. He was right, I loved the language but if you asked me today what Swann's Way was about all I really remember is the famous passage on madeleines and that there were some very pretty passages to be found in the middle of Proust's philosophical ramblings. Proust is a lot like Debussy. Beautiful to experience but later you can't remember what the notes were, just the feelings. Anyway, I was trying to read Proust while keeping my balance and holding onto the metro pole in an overcrowded car. It had been a ridiculous ride of Metro horrors--nearly every bad thing that could happen had happened, and the twenty minute train ride turned into an hour long nightmare. Again, I didn't recognize the signs of attempted flirtation, and this guy wasn't actually brave enough to say anything. Maybe it was Proust's fault, come to think of it. Maybe you need something a little less intellectual on the metro.
But then this autumn I was looking for another book to take for a flight back, and was so excited when the library notified me that Salman Rushdie's memoir Joseph Anton was on hold for me. This was perfect. Smart enough to take on the plane to distinguish me from all the Game of Thrones readers, yet lowbrow enough to not scare anybody away. I went to the library and picked it up and took it home. This is where my first warning should have been. For some reason there was something off about the book. It wouldn't hold right. I know that sounds ridiculous but for some reason something was wrong, and my brain wasn't picking up quite what it was. Then I opened the book to start it, and found out what my brain had been trying to tell me. The librarians had somehow put the book cover on upside down, so when I had the book open to read it looked to all passerby as if I was reading the book upside down. I couldn't even fix the problem, because they had thoroughly glued the cover to the book with some sort of cement. This would not do at all. Needless to say I didn't take Joseph Anton or any other book with me on the plane, and so I have probably missed the great romance of my life. I took the book back to the library and haven't tried to get a copy with a proper cover on it yet. I think Mr. Rushdie will have to wait for another flight in the far off future. But I am not trusting him with my next flight home. Instead I'll find a nice, oldish book with just enough wear and tear to intrigue the casual observer.