Reader JDELH had a good suggestion in the comments section the other day:

I’ve no doubt a post on “great bus reading books” would also be popular

As I’ve written before, books and public transport complement each other quite nicely. I get quite a lot of reading done while commuting on the bus.

So to encourage the habit I’m starting a regular open thread for people to share suggestions for good books, pamphlets, or essays to read on buses, trains, or ferries. In the interests of road safety, I encourage you not to read books while operating a motor vehicle.

To kick things off, here’s my recommendation: Barkskins, by Annie Proulx. Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

It’s a good book for the bus in part because it’s such a troubling topic. While the narrative moved along swiftly, it was also an immensely sad and troubling story. So being able to dip into it a few times a day for half an hour at a time was perfect.

Leave your bus book recommendations in the comments!

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  1. Mrs Queen Takes the Train – William Kuhn

    Hilarious book about the Queen needing some time away from her duties, so she sneaks away and catches the train to Scotland to visit her decommissioned royal yacht. I thought it fitted well with the public transport theme. And because it’s a very light read, which chops and changes between many characters (all trying to track the Queen down), it’s easy to read in small bites.

  2. I enjoy reading on the train and bus, the train is less prone to causing motion sickness, but half an hour on any transport that you can spend reading is more valuable than almost any other half hour you could find. I usually source my books from the Auckland Central Library recommended section, always with something that takes my fancy. At this moment I am reading The Good Lord Bird
    With shortish chapters very suitable for the shorter trips.

    1. I find reading on the higher seats in the back half of the bus while holding my book/kindle/phone up helps avoid motion sickness for me. I think maybe it’s because I can see the road out of the corner of my eyes?

  3. I shall put down my curmudgeon cudgel for one second

    This Saturday and Sunday there is a mighty book fair at the ASB Stadium

    I recommend you attend. $50 will get you two armfuls of books. $100 will give you back strain.

  4. The Oxford History of the French Revolution by William Doyle. Mainly because I’m doing a paper on it at the moment but the book is a really easy read and covers the material really well so I recommend it to anyone wanting to read up on this period.

  5. china can have there crap back and we dont want there trains at all and these new heavy rail will never make any one motion sickness any more u can read and use laptops and phones

  6. lowering the tone and going off at a tangent. What about TV on PT like the Heathrow Express/BBC collaboration

    Of course we all have our phones to disappear into. all those news apps from around the world? Not to mention kindle and its like.

    Of course if we were still in pre-mobile data/wifi era. My current reading would be Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

  7. I can’t read on transit, but in the last year of occasional/sporadic commuting it’s been all about the podcasts. ‘Love + Radio’ (and Everything is Stories to a lesser extent) has some of the most interesting stories I’ve ever heard, This American Life consistently helps to make the world a better place, Freakonomics is endlessly entertaining and ‘99% invisible’ is about design but that can be a broad topic and often ends up talking about cities (261, 277, 257, 246/7 are some recent good ones)

    1. Nice! Next edition of this post will also highlight podcasts as an option!

      I’m not a big podcast person myself – I often feel bad for not following up on the many good podcast recommendations that people give me.

  8. For an interesting article which covers the issues of Urban density, Sprawl, Public Private Partnerships, increasing frequency leading to no need for timetables, Transit Right of Way, Congestion, Peak coal, electrification, Effects of distance based fares on suburbs,Tax equity and developer contributions written in 1892 I recommend. Rapid Transit in Cities by Thomas Curtis Clark.

  9. Mostly I do course readings or work on assignments, however books I have (largely) read during commutes include:

    * Vanity Fair (this was a re-read)
    * The Grapes of Wrath
    * The Alternative Introduction to Biological Anthropology
    * The Amber Spyglass (also a re-read, book three of His Dark Materials)

  10. The Power – Naomi Alderman. Good for PT as it’s nice short chapters so you dip in and out, easy enjoyable writing style and best of all you end up looking around the people on the train /bus through the lens of the premise and see things you otherwise might never have noticed.

    Good reads review
    In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

    1. Which reminds me of a friend at school who did this all the time reading Agatha Christie. I guess Murder on the Orient Express is a must read on the Northerner.

      1. Or the lord of the rings. The story goes that Peter Jackson used to take the old version of the Northern Explorer train as a young boy going to and from boarding school for the holidays. He wiled away the hours reading Tolkien and staring out the widow at the very landscapes of The Shire, Mt Doom and Helms Deep rolling past the carriage widow.

  11. Kim Stanley Robinson, start with 40 Signs of Rain, 60 degree below or the Mars trilogy. All of the Terry Pratchet books Soil not Oil by Vandena Shiva,
    All available from the Auckland Library.

    I find the train more comfortable for a good read.

    1. The Gold Coast by KIm Stanley Robinson is good. It features a Los Angeles thoroughly stuffed by doubling down on traffic and freeways due to driverless electric cars.

    2. Problem with Terry Pratchett is forgetting I’m on a bus and failing to get off at the right spot. Also a ‘laughing aloud’ problem. 🙂

  12. Writing haiku on pt can be fun too.

    Man with Yankees cap
    Sits down next to stern woman:
    Who Shuffles aside

    Old Chinese woman
    With playful and cute toddler;
    Ellicits smiles

  13. The new NEX double deckers are terrible for reading on during the winter months. When the bus is in motion the lights dim and turn blue. Impossible to read by. I thought i must be the only person that still reads on the bus and that the lights make devices easy to see!

    1. Sounds like you need one of those doodacky torches that either clip onto your book or have a long bendy arm that wraps around your neck. Musicians have a few portable stand lights that might suit you. Maybe Santa could oblige.

  14. Sadly cannot read on the bus as it makes me feel terribly sick if I try, even a few lines. Can generally read on the train if I face the right way and the lights not glarey, moment my train reading is a thesis I am examining though. I think its a good opportunity to get those extra hours work done so there is less at night-time to do, (good selling point really for the train) so I try to read work related things where appropriate, or text books I just don’t make headway into in my spare time.

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