Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Converting America, One Fast Food Restaurant at a Time

I saw a man reading at Subway today.

I read on my lunch break. It's just what I do. I keep a book in my car, and I take it with me to whichever cholesterol dealer I decide to visit during the hour I'm given for lunch on any given day. Today it was Subway.

Reading while I eat is hardly a new phenomenon. I've been doing it for as long as I can remember. Even when I was pretty young, I would often bring a book with me to the dinner table, or read the newspaper. Not always, but fairly often.

Taking a book with me on my lunch break started a while ago as well, probably about three years ago. I was working as an editor in the merchandising department of Spring Hill Nurseries. I worked there with my friend Erin, and we used to eat lunch together every day. After she quit, I needed something to do while I ate--I couldn't see myself just sitting there, staring off into space. I love to read, obviously, so I started taking a book along.

An hour a day (less, when you take into consideration drive time each way, and standing-in-line time) doesn't sound like much, but when you do it five days a week, you can pound some pages. I've lost count of how many books I've read over the past two years (since I started my current job), but it's quite a few.

I try to make sure my lunchtime books are books that I wouldn't necessarily read otherwise. Star Wars novels, Harry Potter novels, anything by Stephen King--I'm going to read those anyway, so I read them at home. At lunch, I try to read classic (Nabokov's Lolita, Joyce's Ulysses) or contemporary literature (Pam Houston's Waltzing the Cat, Anthony Doerr's The Shell Collector), or stuff I want to read but probably wouldn't get around to otherwise (Clive Barker's Books of Blood, the Lord of the Rings trilogy). I indulge myself occasionally with something I'd read at home, particularly if I've got a couple in the queue, but I try not to. It's helped me to broaden my horizons considerably.

Incidentally, I had Tony Doerr as one of my creative writing profs at BGSU. He's a great teacher and a hell of a nice guy. It turns out he's a hell of a writer as well. Check out The Shell Collector if you're looking for something to read, and remember the name.

Anyway, getting back to the guy I saw reading today....

When I first started taking books with me to lunch, I felt just the tiniest bit self-conscious. I was the only one doing it. Sure, I'd see people sitting and eating by themselves, but they were generally just zoned out, shovelling food into their mouths. I never understood that. Trust me, I'm as introspective as the next guy, and probably more so, but I always thought that sitting there in a daze was a bit of a waste of time. That's what driving is for.

As I said, I've been doing this for quite a while now, and it seems to me that it's catching on a little bit. I definitely wouldn't go so far as to call it a craze or anything, but occasionally I do now see people reading while they eat lunch. It makes me smile, and even though I probably didn't, I'd like to think I had something to do with it. You know, someone saw me reading and said to themselves "hmm, that's a good idea."

In fact, I find that it makes good policy just to keep a book with you wherever you go. You never know when you'll find a few spare moments to dip into it.

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