On the Bus, Reading Maps, and Challenges

"Yonkers" by Edward Hopper

“Yonkers” by Edward Hopper

Last week I rode the bus.  I am very familiar with mass transit.  I’ve taken the bus or train in every city I’ve lived in or visited.  The 3, the 4, the 5, the 50, the 60, the Metro, the L, the subway, BART–you name it, I’ve ridden it.

I once interviewed people on a train about what they were reading.

Nobody reads much on the bus here.

And so I was on the bus reading a forgotten novel by Mary Renault, The Friendly Young Ladies, when the bus zoomed past the usual turn on 9th St.  We were in the dodgy neighborhood where my late mother’s nursing home is. I panicked:  Oh no, what bus am I on?

And then I realized it was my mother’s birthday.

I’d had no reason to return to this neighborhood since my mother’s death in August.  It is poor.  There have been shootings.  When I took my mother into the nursing home garden with its very high chain-link fence, she was disoriented.  “What do they need that fence for?” For a long time she didn’t understand that she was no longer in her (and my) hometown.

Last year on her birthday, it was mild.  I rode my bike, stopped to buy a cake, and then unfortunately got a flat tire.  I hopped on the bus.

It was a spooky walk from the bus stop, six long empty city blocks.  A deserted dairy, a block with nothing, finally the hospital, a McDonald’s, a convenience store.  It was safer to ride my bike.

Once I came out of McDonald’s with a cheeseburger for my mom, and a large man asked for money for the bus.

Yes, I know it’s for drugs, but sometimes I give anyway.

“Not in front here,” he said, scandalized. “It’s on video.  They’ll kick me out.”

I wasn’t going to go behind McDonald’s with him, so I stepped to the side of the door, gave him a couple of dollars, and got out of there.

I found my mother sitting in the dark with a towel on her head.

And so I felt a flash of grief.

And then, last week, on the bus it got worse.

I felt like my mom.

I didn’t know where I was.

The driver shot past the busy street where the bus shelters used to be.  The bus had been completely rerouted.

“The next stop is the terminal. You can ride back.”

At the terminal I got off the bus and walked.  I was a little bit west of where I thought it was, but I made my way to a street I knew.

And so I took care of some boring business, and on my way back stopped at a coffeehouse to study the map on the bus schedule.

Finally I found a street on the map I recognized.

And it was a deserted street, and I didn’t want to wait long.

After ten or fifteen minutes, I was ready to get on any bus.

“Do you go past…?”  I asked the driver of a bus.

“Sure,” he said.

It’s map-reading practice for my next vacation, right?

CHALLENGE.  Richard Lea at The Guardian has taken on the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which he thinks very silly.

More than 240,000 of Goodreads’ 25 million members have already committed to reading more than 14m books this year, pledging to get through them at an average of more than a book a week…

“The tickbox, cross-it-off-the-list mindset of the Goodreads Reading Challenge points right in the other direction. I’m all for books, for writers and for literary discussion, but if books become just another form of bookkeeping, if we start notching them off on the wall of our literary cell, we may find our “reads” aren’t so “good” after all.”

I couldn’t agree more.  I approve of book groups and readalongs, but challenges seem ridiculous to me.  Last year I wrote about challenges when I inadvertently did “the Europa challenge.”

Do you know what a Challenge is?

Here’s what you do.  You sign up at the sponsor blog.  Then you choose books to read from the challenge  “syllabus.”  And if you have a blog, you post your reviews, then post comments at the sponsor’s blog, then post links to your blog, and…

It’s confusing….

I think these “challenges” are sweet, but I do better with online book groups.  There is more discussion.

Time is too precious for me to participate in challenges.  I read what I want to read when I want to read it.

Perhaps the “challengers” are very young.  It is a way to belong to a  group where there is no real discussion.

How do you feel about challenges?

5 thoughts on “On the Bus, Reading Maps, and Challenges

  1. Glad you survived the bus trip – I never go to a big city without a map….

    As for challenges, I’m not much of a fan – I found that as soon as I committed to one I instantly didn’t want to read the books. Reading is from the heart and ticking the list off is not the way.


  2. I have avoided challenges up to now, but I did join one this year because it doesn’t have a list. Instead, I choose one book from each of six categories, very wide categories like book by woman author. The main reason I joined was that I looked at my TBR bookcase and saw that I easily already had a couple of books in each category. Since I want to read them anyway and I have all year to do it in, why not.

    Readalongs are fun if people really do comment, so occasionally I participate. I am also a member of a very active local book group. At one time I was in three book groups, two local and one on the Internet, but I soon realized that all my reading was for the groups so I dropped two of them.


  3. I wish I’d participated in the Summer of Infinite Jest. Not sure if that was a challenge, but somebody set up a website for it. Unfortunately that summer I wasn’t in the mood.

    But, yes, anything that inspires you to read a good book.


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