Lonely Planet Writer

New York City introduces welcome distraction in the form of free Subway Reads

The New York City subway has long been synonymous with crowded commutes, frustration, and, occasionally, horror (like last week when a self-described performance artist released a swarm of crickets onto a packed D train during rush hour.)

Reading book on subway
Reading book on subway Image by Getty Images

But now, thanks to a new programme, riders can enjoy a welcome distraction in the form of free short stories, novellas, or excerpts from full-length books. On  29 August, publisher Penguin Random House launched Subway Reads for the MTA [/Metropolitan Transportation Authority] to celebrate its new free Wi-Fi in 175 stations around the city.

“For millions of New Yorkers, having a few minutes to get lost in a great book is one of the true pleasures of riding the subway” says Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle. Visitors can also get in on the action, and perhaps learn something about the Big Apple through the lens of a book on the way.

For the next eight weeks, subway passengers can choose from among a curated selection of New York-centric reads, including works about or set in the city, or written by authors from the city. And in the interest of appealing to the diverse and eclectic tastes of millions of subway passengers, the publishing house has gathered a mix of genres, from fiction, nonfiction, sci-fi, and fantasy to children’s and young adult titles. Readers can also opt for one based on time — there are 10, 20, or 30-minute reads.

Classics like Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret are on offer alongside brand new bestsellers like Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. And for anyone who couldn’t score tickets, try a 20-minute excerpt of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, the biography on which the hit broadway show was based.

“I have a 50-minute commute from Crown Heights in Brooklyn to Midtown every day and the Subway Reads app suggested The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald” says Abbe Wright, editor of Read it Forward. “I downloaded it easily on the platform and before my train came I was completely immersed in a short story I’d always meant to read but never had. Now, instead of lugging a novel with me on my commute, short fiction is easily at hand.”

Assistant Editor for social media platform Odyssey Meredith Hirt downloaded an excerpt from Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility on a recent ride from the East Village to Bryant Park. “It’s been on my to-read list for months, but seeing it on Subway Reads gave me a push.” Set in 1938, Hirt says the 10-minute read was “a delightful escape to New York City in a different era.”