10 Tips for Reading on Your Morning Public Transit Commute

Danielle Bourgon

Staff Writer

Danielle is an educator, theatre artist, and book lover from Toronto, Ontario. She acknowledges that this is the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit where she is grateful to live and work. When she’s not drinking tea and reading on the couch, she’s recommending books to her students, friends, and family. She’s a feminist, a nerd, and a baker. Oh. And she has Hogwarts tattooed on her arm.

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I live in a fantastic sprawling metropolis. I also do not currently have (nor do I ever plan on having) a driver’s license or a car. That means that I spend a lot of time on public transit. Hours spent speeding underground on the subway, crawling along on city buses, and gliding across town on streetcars. While most of my fellow commuters seem to grumble or complain about this time, I have grown to love it. As an avid reader, this magic time, of course, means more time for books. I’m currently positioned to have read well over my goal for the year and a big reason for that is the tricks I’ve developed for reading on public transit. So here are my Ten Tips for Reading on Your Morning Public Transit Commute.


#1 Download an e-reader app on your phone.

Having Libby or Google Books or the Kindle App (or any similar book reading app) on your phone means that even when you can’t get a seat and you can’t pull out your book/ereader, you can still be reading.

#2 Let there be light.

This is really a tip for whenever you’re reading. But it can be especially tricky when reading on public transit. If you’re on a bus/streetcar in the day, try your best to get a window seat. If it’s the evening, I always suggest sitting near the driver or the rear door as this is where there’s usually the brightest/best light.

#3 Audiobooks are your friends.

This is another tip for those times when you can’t get a seat or your book isn’t easily accessible. Listening to a fantastic book is a great way to get your reading time in on public transit. Plus, if you’re using public transit, chances are you’re going to have some walking time on either end of your trip. With an audiobook, even exercising can be time spent reading.

#4 Totes use a tote.

Tote bags are great for your public transit trips. It makes it so much easier to quickly access your book while on your morning commute. Plus they fold up easily, which means if you run out of things to read on the train you can quickly pop into a bookstore and buy more. Because we all need more excuses to buy books, right?

#5 Early bird gets the book…worm.

Anyone who regularly uses public transit knows that it isn’t always super reliable. So leaving early is usually a given, but it can also have some bookish benefits. Going on transit early in the morning (pre-rush hour if you can swing it) usually means you’re more likely to get a seat. Also, if you arrive at your destination early you can get in some good reading time before everything gets going.

#6 Short form fiction.

Think short story collections, poetry, graphic novels, essay collections, and so on. Reading something that is broken up into smaller chunks means that you can dive into no matter how long or short that leg of your trip is. It also means that you’ll be less likely to miss your stop because you’re engrossed in an epic novel, a common problem when you’re reading on public transit.

#7 Don’t bring anything too precious.

You never know what’ll happen on a bus or train, especially first thing in the morning. With all of those Starbucks cups, recently awoken humans, and bumpy ride, there are bound to be accidents. Take that into account when choosing what to bring. This isn’t the place for your first edition Faulkner.

#8 Magnetic bookmarks.

Again, this has to do with the bumpy nature of most public transit. It’s super easy for standard paper bookmarks to fall out. Having a sturdy magnetic bookmark will ensure that you never have to try and bend down to pick up your bookmark while balancing on the train.

#9 Always have your headphones.

If you’re going the audiobook route, this is a necessity for obvious reasons. However, I also highly recommend bringing them for listening to music while reading your physical books. It’ll help set the mood for an even better reading on public transit experience. Plus, even if you don’t like listening to music while you read, wearing a pair of headphones will ensure that your fellow passengers don’t try to interrupt your book time with unsolicited conversation.

#10 Size Matters.

The final and most important tip. Keep your reading material small in dimensions and weight. You don’t necessarily want to lug around a huge tome for this kind of commute. Think paperbacks (mass market paperbacks are even better because they’re easier to hold one-handed) or smaller ereaders. This will save room in your bag for the day, but it will also make sure your book isn’t hitting into fellow passengers, eliciting death stares.