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Sites We Like: Underground New York Public Library

Kim Ukura

Staff Writer

Kim Ukura is a book lover, recovering journalist, library advocate, cat mom, and lover of a good gin cocktail. In addition to co-hosting Book Riot’s nonfiction podcast, For Real, and co-editing Book Riot’s nonfiction newsletter, True Story, Kim spends her days working in communications at a county library system in the Twin Cities area. Kim has a BA in English and journalism from a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, and a master’s in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. When not getting to bed before 10 p.m., Kim loves to read nonfiction, do needlework projects, drink tea, and watch the Great British Baking Show. Instagram: @kimthedork Twitter: @kimthedork

One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to sneak a peek at what other books people are reading. I never ask anyone about their book (assuming that other avid readers are introverts or misanthropes who would rather be left alone), but I am the weirdo that you’ll see stretching in a way that looks uncomfortable just to get a better look at a book’s title.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to travel much. I live in a town of 5,000 people, so there are no buses or subways to take to work, and I rarely take trips where I get to ride on an airplane. I did have a few unfortunate rides on the Megabus from Madison to Minneapolis, but that never seemed to yield any interesting readers. Instead, I feed my need to see books out in the wild at one of my favorite websites, Underground New York Public Library.

Like other great Tumblrs, Underground New York Public Library has a simple concept: street photographer Ourit Ben-Haim snaps candid photos of people reading books on the subways of New York City. The site usually has between four and six new images each day, along with the tile of the book (if it’s available). Unsolved titles and photos of people using ereaders get posted each Friday.

It’s just so cool to see people deeply engaged with a book, finding a moment of reading zen in the middle of their day. I love to see the variety of books that people are reading, everything from contemporary buzz worthy titles like Cutting for Stone to classics like Madame Bovary to self-help-ish nonfiction like The Gifts of Imperfection. And it fosters a feeling of connectedness, seeing some stranger read a book that I’ve read or want to read or have told someone else to read. The site helps remind me that books connect us, even when we don’t know it.

Plus, it’s the best way I’ve round to stare at people reading that doesn’t make me look like a maniac.