Subway Book Club

In my recent move to Seoul, many things about my job and my life have changed. One of the aspects that I notice every day is my commute. Previously, I would walk, cycle, or take a cab to work, depending on how lazy I was feeling or how cold the weather was. Now, I take a 4-stop subway ride every day. One problem quickly arose – how do I fill this time? I am currently without a cellphone, so mobile games or browsing the Internet are not an option. I certainly don’t want to just stand and watch the time fly by. I settled on an old pastime of mine that I have let fall by the wayside in recent years – reading.

When deciding on a book to read on the subway, I have four main factors to consider: the size of the book (if it’s not an eBook), the length of the chapters/scenes, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and the overall mental capacity required by the book. All of these factors play a role in determining whether I think a book is well-suited to my own particular subway reading situation.

The size of the book is the first feature I consider. I don’t want to be lugging around a massive hardcover book every day. As I am most often standing on the subway, reading such a book could be awkward and uncomfortable, leaving me less motivated to actually read the damn thing and more likely to twiddle my thumbs and wait for my stop. This is obviously not a consideration if my options are eBooks which, now that I have found and charged my Kindle, open up books that I previously would have excluded because WHY IS THIS SO HEAVY AND LARGE.


Just a bit of light reading

Once I deem a book physically fit for my needs, I flick through the pages and see how long the average chapter is. As my commute only lends itself to about 15-20 minutes of solid reading time, depending on the wait for the subway, I like to read to the end of a scene or chapter and then stop. I’m not someone that can put a book down in the middle of even the most inane conversation between characters. I found that this feature was less of a significant detractor than I thought, as for the most part, it is possible to find a break between scenes at a regular interval.

The penultimate factor I consider is whether the book is fiction or non-fiction. I see fiction as the only type I want to read whilst on the subway. This is because I use the act of reading as a divider between the different phases of my day. I have my morning phase, I get ready for work, I read, I have my work phase, I read, and then I am at home spending quality time with Kris. As of this moment in my life, I like the break from reality that reading a fiction book gives in order to properly compartmentalize my day.

Finally, I consider how much mental capacity I need to read the book. I don’t exactly want to be getting deeply engaged with metaphysical anomalies and words containing twelve syllables on a regular basis when I also need to make sure I don’t bump into people and don’t miss my stop. While I can read most books, ones that are incredibly layered and require the full use of my entire brain whilst reading are not ideal for subway reading.


From all of these considerations, I determined that the first book I would read would be Tom Robbin’s Still Life With Woodpecker. It is a book that the best man at my wedding has been recommending for a long time, so I thought I would finally get around to it. I burned through it far quicker than I thought i would, and have already moved on to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, another book that has been on my radar for years.


While a commute is little more than an unfortunate reality for most, I see it as a chance to briefly engage with another world and prepare my mind for the assault of small children ahead. Not every book is suited to my current reading style, and my requirements are most likely not a general rule applicable to everyone, but they certainly helped me narrow down the list of books I could potentially be reading on my trips to and from work.


Stretched Thin

This week was another week of upturns in the outlook of our school. Several new children began class in the kindergarten section, two of which landed in my class. While this may be good for the school, it will remain to be seen whether it is good for my sanity and the dynamic within the class. On Friday I felt more tired than I had been in a long while. Having to get up and do writing yesterday felt like more of a chore than it had ever been. I have even neglected this blog for longer than I have ever done. Here’s hoping that this is not a sign for the weeks to come – I don’t want to feel completely drained of any will to do things outside of teaching.

The first new student in my class arrived on Thursday. At first, he was remarkably shy, but after a few lessons he perked up, and proved himself to be intelligent and good at almost all aspects of schooling. His writing is neat, he works well, and his phonics and grammar are up amongst the best in the class. I can see some problems coming in the future, as he is a very high-energy child who is quickly bored and does not handle boredom well. I will have to up my game when it comes to providing activities in the classroom.

The second new child arrived on Friday morning. A girl this time, she was, like the first new boy, quite shy at first. After the first lesson, she had not said anything apart from her name. The other children were even asking if she could speak. As the day wore on, she perked up a little. Her level of English is not as good as the new boy’s, but it is within the realm of possibility for their age and level of exposure to English. She tends to use Korean a fair amount and seems to require a lot of attention from me. Perhaps this will change when she bonds with the rest of the class.

Managing five children is far more tiring than managing three. Whereas I previously could trust at least one student to be able to complete the tasks that I give to them by themselves and bounce between the other two children, this will no longer be sufficient. I will have to adapt my style of teaching to better deal with the challenges of having a bigger class. Doing so is exhausting.

I woke up at 09h30 yesterday and 10h00 today, far later than I normally do, even on the weekend. Following this, I elected to laze in bed rather than do things such as writing (this blog and freelance writing) or casting. I feel a little disappointed in myself that I neglected these responsibilities. While teaching is my job for now, these activities are my avenues for the future, and I must be careful not to let the road become dusty from lack of travel. I have far to go in all of these, and not taking a few steps now may prove to be a big stumbling point in the future.

I did end up writing three articles yesterday and this post today, so it is not all doom and gloom. Apart from that, I played Dota and BioShock, watched Downton Abbey and Rick and Morty, and generally had a relaxing weekend. It was made less enjoyable by the clouds of not having done things and school on Monday hanging over it all, but it has been an enjoyable weekend nonetheless.

Now please excuse me while I enjoy the last few hours of it. How will I spend it? Hopefully with a combination of productivity and merriment. Most importantly, it will be spent with Kristen, and that is more than enough cause for me to keep smiling for the rest of the day.