Origins of the “Commuter”

The more you read, the more you know, right? Right. I learned about the origin of the word commuter this morning. It makes perfect sense after reading it, but it was just something I never thought of before.

Not long after the [New Haven Railroad] line linked the teeming city to country homes in Harlem…a perceptive railroad superintendent noticed a new class of customer: the repeat passenger, whose to-and-fro trips to work and home represented a potential marketing bonanza. Seizing the opportunity, the railroad originated an imaginative fare structure of tickets based not only on a onetime passage or even a round-trip, but on unlimited rides for six months or a full year at a steep discount from the single-rate fare. The full fare was commuted, and with one bold entrepreneurial stroke the railroad commuter–in name, at the very least–was officially born.

– Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, by Sam Roberts

I have to admit, I never pondered the etymology of the word before, I just grudge about the concept occasionally. Whose bright idea was it to make us city dwellers commute to work? How is it that it takes me an hour to get to a destination 7.5 miles from my apartment? Growing up on Long Island and watching family commute almost that long to get to work as well (by train, by car, you name it, no one had a commute of less than 40 minutes), I became conditioned to think that this is normal. And then I have friends moving to other places where they can drive or take a less-crowded train to work, and it takes them 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes! Seriously? It takes me almost 10 minutes from the front door of my apartment to the subway platform, and this person is 2/3 of the way to work already.

One day, I’ll live in a place where my commute takes less time than a full episode of Game of Thrones. Until then, at least now I can answer trivia questions about how the word “commute” came to be.


The Lannisters Cured My Reading Rut

It has been a long time since I had a book post. I guess breaking up with Richard Nixon really did a number on me.

Well, not really. I’ve still been reading, but it just seems to be taking me forever to get through books. I suppose I can blame moving, and packing, and unpacking, and making lists of things we forgot to get after thinking we finally had everything (damn you, salad spinner!).

I’ve been enjoying the books I’ve read lately, but not enjoying them. They’re good, but I hadn’t found myself hoping to take a lunch break so that I could sneak away and read a few pages. Maybe I can blame the weather on this: I was very excited to get outside on those two gorgeous days we had last week, although they seem so far gone by now.

After feeling a bit of reading lethargy (no offense to Tennessee Williams or Jose Saramago, two people whose works I generally like), I downloaded Game of Thrones for my Kindle.

Oh, right, that’s what it’s like to want to read a book in one sitting. For the first time this year (is that possible?) I have occasionally gotten off the express train early to extend my commute just by a few minutes, so I can finish a chapter.

You know a book is good when I’m willing to read it even though hockey is on TV.

Is it particularly well-written? Eh, I’ve read better. But like J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin can sure tell a story. Unlike Rowling, he’s done a pretty decent job at fleshing out minor characters as well.

I’m only 65% of the way done with the first book, but I’m determined to finish it before I check out season one of the TV show (which I guess is another motivator!).

I know I jumped on the bandwagon late on this one, but it wasn’t because I didn’t think the books would be good. I just had too many other “eh” books to finish first, and gosh, these books are long. It seemed like such an undertaking, and what with feeling wishy-washy about everything else I’d read recently, I didn’t know if I wanted to invest the energy. I’m so glad I did.

On Breaking Up With Richard Nixon

“It’s not you, it’s me,” I want to say to Richard Nixon, but I know he won’t hear it.

I’ve been reading Nixonland as part of my personal Presidential Reading Challenge. It hasn’t been going well. I started it at the end of December, and it’s now February and I’ve barely made it to page 300. It has never taken me this long to read a book I enjoy before. And so I’m deciding to break up with it, to return it to the library so others can enjoy it.

Before you ask, there was no one waiting for it. The beauty of the Brooklyn Public Library is that they won’t let you renew a book once (okay, two or three times) if someone has placed a hold on it. So don’t worry, I’m not holding it hostage and depriving others of their Nixon factoids.

It’s not a bad book. The writing is great, and it’s rich in detail (sometimes inexhaustibly so). I’m actually finding it enjoyable…at times. The overarching theme is fascinating: as Nixon transformed from a constant disappointment to a presidential candidate, the swinging 60’s swirled around him. Relaxed social norms, racial tensions, and the Cold War created a divided country. Is this the genesis for today’s incredibly divisive system? I would imagine that this is the author’s main point, although I haven’t gotten far enough into the book to confirm that. And with almost 600 pages to go, I won’t get far enough.

My love of reading makes it really hard for me to break up with a book. This is why I’m trying to rekindle my romance with Tropic of Cancer this year, and why I will force my way through even the driest of material. Quitting a book to me is just that: quitting. And I’m not a quitter. But at times, I do recognize that things just aren’t working out. It’s just not fun anymore. And that means it is best to put the book back on the shelf (or into the book depository at the library) and call it a day. Make a clean break of it.

But it’s not clean. I have to get to the library. I have to remove Nixonland from my “currently reading” Goodreads shelf and put it on the “did not finish” shelf. I have to make sure I delete any photos we have together. Well, this last part is a joke. I believe Nixon made it into one Instagram picture, but he can stay there.

Maybe I’ll miss it in a few days and put a hold on it again, running to the library to pick it up when it’s once again available. Or maybe, someday soon, I’ll forget all about it. I’ll find another Nixon-centric book to read and Nixonland will just be some book I used to know.

Whatever happens, right now, while it’s fresh, it hurts a little. It’s true what they say, breaking up is hard to do.

Pride and Prejudice Turns 200, So Convince Me to Read It.

Two hundred years is a long time in the course of modern history. To think of how maps have changed, how international boundaries have been drawn and redrawn, how leaders have been memorialized and ostracized, is dizzying. After all that, I’m thankful that at the very least the books written two centuries ago are still going strong.

Well, not all of them have passed the test of time. But if there is a short list of authors that come to mind when one thinks of 19th century literature, Jane Austen is surely at the top of the list. Today is the 200th anniversary of the original publication date of Pride and Prejudice. That’s cause for celebration! It’s a classic, it’s been made into a myriad film and tv adaptations, and it’s a novel that many writers use as their gold standard. Heck, now there are versions that feature zombies and 73 Shades of Blah-like eroticism.

Here’s my dirty little secret though: I haven’t read it yet. Seriously. It’s not even on my bookshelf in the “I’ll read it one day” pile. This probably makes me a bad reader, but it was never required reading and I just haven’t gotten around to it.

I enjoy Jane Austen. Persuasion is a favorite of mine, and I love Victorian and British literature (I’m pretty sure I was the only one in my class that read Jane Eyre twice the summer it was required, because I loved it so much). I should have read Pride and Prejudice by now, I should have read it hundreds of times. I should have a copy that is well worn with a spine that will fall apart if if someone looks at it the wrong way.

But none of these things has happened. I’ve read Persuasion and Northanger Abbey and enjoyed them, but nothing has compelled me to pick up Pride and Prejudice.

What is wrong with me? A great many things, I suppose, but this wrong can be easily rectified. On this 20-carat diamond anniversary*, please convince me to finally read this book. Give me one reason, or ten. But do not try to convince me to read the zombie or S&M versions, please and thank you.

This post is part of the Pride and Prejudice Anniversary Party Blog Hop:


I’ve never done a blog hop before (seriously!) and I thought this would be a fun one to participate in (even though my post about it is somewhat unconventional). Check out Alyssa Goodnight’s blog post for the rest of the participants. And may you drink tea and watch Colin Firth movies in honor of this momentous day.

 *Logically, while first anniversary is paper, second is cotton, etc., there is no official designation for a 200th anniversary. But 100 year is a 10-carat diamond, so I extrapolated.

ENG 2013: Modern Literature and Non-Fiction

Look at me, getting all academic with my post title. I blame the fact that I’m surrounded by course information all day.

In plain English, it’s time for me to address my personal reading goals for 2013! I didn’t have any for 2012, except to read 50 books. That didn’t work, but I’ll consider it “close enough”, since the first half of the year I spent more time reading academic journals than reading for pleasure. Other than not meeting my goal, I realized that most of the books I read were written at least 100 years ago (I will attribute this entirely to the Scarlet Pimpernel and Sherlock Holmes series, which accounted for at least 10 of the books I read overall). I feel like I should change that next year.


Next year will be different. I have goals! Achievable ones! Room for flexibility and whims!

Cindie’s 2013 Reading Goals:

  • Read 50 books. Simple, straightforward, anything goes. Fiction, nonfiction, any genre, any format. I should be able to do this.
  • Read at least 4 books for my Presidential Reading Challenge. I don’t believe I’ll be won’t be done with Nixonland by January, so there’s number one. I would love to get my hands on a copy of Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer (which is actually about William Henry Harrison, not Jefferson), but it seems to be a rare find, and when found, is exorbitantly expensive. I even checked the library from my grad school in the attempt to ask a friend/current student to borrow it on my behalf, but no dice. Sigh.
  • Read at least 5 books that have been written in the last 5 years. I spend so much of my time reading old nonfiction, or old fiction (see above) that I rarely get around to reading books that were written recently. I know there are some great ones out there, I just need to start reading them. Fiction only. Perhaps this will be the year I finally jump on the Michael Chabondwagon.
  • Finish Tropic of Cancer. I am thisclose to being done, I just never finish it. I have to be within 50 pages of the end. I will finish it this year and then I can finally chuck it on the sidewalk for some other curious Brooklynite to pick up and then be disappointed when it’s a load of garbage. Sorry, I know it’s famous and acclaimed and all that, it’s just nowhere near my cup of tea.

There. Easy peasy. Out of the 50 I want to read, I’ve only earmarked 10 for semi-specific use, and even those give me myriad options. That gives me 40 other chances to snuggle up with some Victorian Lit or sports-related nonfiction or dare I say it, young adult books. Eh, maybe not YA.

What are your 2013 reading goals?