When it comes to reading during my commute, my tastes are very eclectic. I spend three to four hours a day on public transportation (I know this sounds insane if you work outside New York City, but it is often simply a part of life here), and I consider this my prime reading time. My favorite commuter books are a solid combination of short stories (better for small bursts of reading between stops), fantasy audiobooks (to hold my attention when the ride is too bumpy to read), and gripping memoirs or historical fiction (so I can enter the life of someone who is not currently on a bus). Here are 5 of the best books that got me from New Jersey to the Port Authority and back again every weekday over the past few months.
I’ve been meaning to write a love letter to Lisa See. I’m working on it, but I can’t put down her novels long enough to write it. This is the third Lisa See book I’ve read in three months, and like always, I’m drawn in by her beautiful writing and artful depiction of Chinese culture. This particular novel also has a supernatural element, exemplified when the narrator, who dies from “lovesickness,” returns to haunt her former fiancé.
After hearing so much about this short story collection, I ignored my wallet’s cries and purchased a copy at [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, New Jersey, on Small Business Saturday. I then spent the next few days devouring the stories on my commute. How could you not love a feminist retelling of the urban legend about a woman whose neck is held together with a green ribbon? Or the progress of an encroaching plague, told almost exclusively through one woman’s sexual encounters? I’m telling all of my friends to read this one because I’m dying to discuss it!
When not devouring books for Off the Shelf, I also moonlight as an aspiring novelist. A lot of my nonfiction reading begins as research for my writing, and this is how I’ve found some of my favorite memoirs. I started reading THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US to learn more about illegal immigration, but I was quickly enchanted by Reyna Grande’s beautiful and heartbreaking story of growing up with a splintered family between two countries.
Funny, heartbreaking, and lyrical, The Distance Between Us poignantly captures the confusion and contradictions of childhood, reminding us that the joys and sorrows we experience are imprinted on the heart forever, calling out to us of those places we first called home.
I know. I know. How have I made it this far in life without reading THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN? I’m not sure, but when I found a copy in a used bookstore, I snatched it up and read it within the next 24 hours. This story of a boy growing up on a reservation near Spokane while also attending school off the reservation is a must-read. It’s funny, and it’s impossible not to love the narrator’s doodles.
As a teenager, Junior is a skilled cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to have a successful future, he attends an all-white farm-town high school where the only other Native American is the school mascot.
I’ve recently begun a hunt for more fantasy with strong female characters. In this novel, Breanna Skyborn, a soldier in training, stole my heart. Set in a world where the remains of humanity live on six islands floating over an endless ocean, soldiers fight a civil war in the skies. The first novel centers mainly on Breanna and her twin brother, Kael, during their training and first battles, and I look forward to seeing how these characters will grow in the rest of the series. (Side note, I listened to the audiobook for this one, and it was highly entertaining during my long hours on the bus.)