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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Old Habits, New Bliss

When we search for ways to make our current lives better, we often look to the latest new trend. The Internet is constantly bombarding us with the hottest new thing, as of this very second. Whether this is a new fitness regime, the latest and greatest development in fun technology, or maybe even just a friend suggestion on Facebook, the Internet tends to try and push us into new things.

Most of the time, this is perfectly fine. Without discovering new hobbies or music or social circles, we don’t grow or challenge ourselves. The past few days, however, I have greatly enjoyed doing the complete opposite. I’ve been sinking into hobbies and music that I loved at high school and university, but just haven’t engaged with in Korea or even in South Africa just before I left. In the last few years, my life has changed so drastically that I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if I still found joy in the things that I delighted in only a few years ago.

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Image from Pinterest

My first foray into past revelry was music. As the school year has wound down, I’ve had more time to play Overwatch and Dota. I usually don’t play music other than the in-game music, as it distracts me, but I was playing more casually than normal and felt like a change. So, I put on a YouTube playlist of Linkin Park, one of my absolute favourite bands of my teens and early university years. The first song I played was my personal favourite song, Numb. From there, I let YouTube’s algorithm take me where it wanted. Right from the first note, I had a smile on my face. Each passing song brought with it memories of high school study sessions or hanging out with friends in WARP (the geek club of my alma mater). Flashes of faces I hadn’t seen in years (to my shame) ran across my mind faster than the changes in the games. I had less success with System of a Down, a band I was particularly fond of in my mid-late teen years, but I was surprised by how connected my experience of life was to Linkin Park.

I am a firm advocate in the power of music to influence your day-to-day existence.Perhaps it is the raw emotional nature of Linkin Park’s music that causes such a strong reaction. Maybe I just stopped listening to them out of snobbery. Maybe they released a bad album or two and I lost faith. In any case, time-travelling through music is something I look forward to doing again soon. I am definitely going to see if the Linkin Park effect can be repeated by other past musical obsessions like Muse.

Beyond music, I have also been engaging in two hobbies that I have lost touch with in recent times – reading and model painting.

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Image from Amazon

While I regularly read comics, I have only read two actual novels this entire year. A few weeks ago, I picked up a small collection of books from a fellow teacher. This past Saturday, I decided to crack open the treasure trove of stories for the first time. I elected to start Andy Weir’s The Martian, and I have been devouring it ever since. I have almost finished the story, and I cannot wait to see how it ends.

One catalyst to my high reading time has been an unintended plus of my LASEK surgery. In years past, I have been incredibly prone to motion sickness while in a car. I could not read or use a cellphone for more than fifteen minutes before I would feel queasy. Since my surgery, this time has grown exponentially, to the point where I found that I could read for the entire 90 minute bus trip to Seoul without feeling sick in the slightest. Combine this with trips to Seoul and Daejeon between Saturday and Monday, and I relished more than seven hours of reading time that I used to plow through Mark Watney’s exploits on the Red Planet.

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Image from Pinterest

The other hobby that I found pathos in recently is model painting. At the wonderful Seoul Board Games Flea Market, I picked up a copy of the masterpiece that is Shadows Over Camelot. In the game, there are small plastic models for many different aspects in the game, including Arthurian knights, catapults, and even Excalibur and the Holy Grail. At university, I was a devout player of Warhammer 40 000 (Orks and Tyranids 4 lyf). I had spent dozens of hours bringing my Warbosses, Trukks, and other boiz to life. In the Shadows models, I saw an opportunity to test my skills and see if I could even paint. So, after my LASEK checkup yesterday (my eyes are still improving, yay!), I went to a popular hobby shop to kit myself out for bringing the Arthurian universe into full colour.

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The dream! Image from Pinterest

I decided to start with the simpler models to warm my painting skills up. Once those were complete, I would move to the intricate Knights of the Round Table. I spent almost two hours walking between two shelves of paint, planning out my colour schemes. Which shade of green did I want for my Pict battle garments? (Lime Green) Did I really need Dried Blood and Fresh Blood? (Yes). I was in a zone that I hadn’t been in in years, and I left the store 90 000 won (R900ish for my South African audience, $85ish for Americans) poorer but with a deep sense of inner peace. I have already hit most of the models with a coat of white primer, and I will probably start painting the catapults today. We’ll see if they turn out like brown blobby triangles or beautiful examples of medieval siege weaponry.

So, if you’re tired of trying to look for the newest thing to add to your life, try looking back. For many hobbies or musical styles, you might have left them in the past for a reason. But you might just stumble upon something that you find moments of true joy or peace in, and you’ll be left wondering why you left it behind. Even if that heightened emotion is only temporary, it will be worth your time.