What to Do When Books Make You Cry on Public Transportation

Preeti Chhibber

Staff Writer

Preeti Chhibber is a marketing manager for HarperCollins Children's Books. She usually spends her time reading a ridiculous amount of Young Adult (for work, she swears!), but is also ready to jump into most fandoms at a moment’s notice. Her woefully neglected blog: Hurling Words Twitter: @runwithskizzers

One of my favorite things about living in New York is the amount of time I get for reading on my daily to-and-from journeys. Of course, this also means I’m at the mercy of the author. I’m not what you call a… person who can handle her emotional business when shit goes down in the book I’m reading. (I’m sure that’s a real thing.)

That being said, I’ve been a commuter for about six years now, and I can’t tell you how many times a book has brought me to tears during rush hour. It feels so awkward*. What do you do?

I’ve discovered there are a few ways to handle leaky tear glands while surrounded by a bunch of strangers. I’ve used them each depending what book I’m reading and how sad it is. 

The “Please Don’t Look At Me I’m a Mess” Cry
Used while reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy


So, The Road is a sad book. I think that’s pretty commonly known. It’s gray and dust, and depressing, and has a tiny kid thrust into this awful post-apocalyptic world. I finished The Road on the way to work one cold New York morning, and the L train was, of course, packed to the brim. I was lucky enough to have a seat, so as I sat and finished the book, I just refused to even glance at the passing stations to see where we were. I sat and read and let my tears fall directly onto the page.

Pro Tip: Keep your head tucked down and look up through your lashes (if you have to raise your face at all).

The “Maybe if I Catch the Tears Before They Fall They Won’t Notice” Cry
Used while reading Flesh & Blood by Michael Cunningham


I should have known what I was getting into with Flesh & Blood. It’s not my first Cunningham. But beyond the x-rated scenes that were uncomfortable enough to read while surrounded by other people, I finished the book while seated across from two gawking teenagers. This is the worst, in case you didn’t know. Anyhow, so I just read, and every two seconds, surreptitiously brushed a finger under my glasses to stop the tears from even making it to my cheeks. And while those teens were still staring and being weird, I think they respected the quiet dignity with which I held in my tears. Definitely.

Pro Tip: Helps to wear glasses, they disguise the tears for the half a second you need to stop them from falling.

The “Forget it, I’m Just Going to Own This” Cry
Used while reading Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

beautiful ruins

I finished Beautiful Ruins on a bus ride from Philadelphia to New York, sitting next to a girl I didn’t know. And you know what? It was gorgeous and I loved it and when I started crying there was a slight moment of panic, but then I thought “No! This is what it’s all about. Let it go. Who cares what this girl – oh, she’s asleep.” So I quietly sobbed and the one time she woke up, we had an unspoken agreement to not react to one another at all. It was glorious.

Pro Tip: There is no key takeaway, just cry however you want. The book’s worth it, the author did this to you, so just accept it and hope that no one instagrams you.

*Everything here comes with the caveat of “People probably didn’t notice because no one pays attention to anything weird on the subway anymore.”


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