This morning, I connected to the Transit Wireless W-iFi™ at West 4th Street to let my editor know I was being held hostage by the MTA. Instead of the typical ads for ride-sharing apps, the connection prompt showed something new: a link to download hundreds of short stories, presumably so I could read something other than angry Tweets about the F train.
For the next eight weeks, commuters can peruse five free short stories while waiting underground, thanks to Subway Reads, a partnership between Penguin Random House and our mass transit overlords.
"New York's transportation network must continue adapting to the changing needs of its ridership and a key part of that is delivering the amenities that have become essential components of everyday life," Governor Cuomo said in a statement announcing the program, which was launched to promote recent expansions in free underground Wi-Fi. As essential as Wi-Fi is to my everyday life, getting to work at a reasonable hour is a little higher up on the list. But hey, thanks for the books!
The free shorts include classics like F. Scott Fitzgerald's A Diamond As Big As the Ritz and Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Scott and Poe probably had to deal with worse commutes than you and I (Poe died before the subway was even a thing), and they didn't even have free books to help ease the pain.
The Subway Reads library also includes excerpts from 175 full-length titles—one for each Wi-Fi equipped station. Penguin Random House made an effort to include "as many titles by New Yorkers—or about New York—as possible," resulting in a pretty wide selection that even includes Spanish-language works by Junot Diaz and Isabel Allende.
The excerpts are all mobile optimized and presented as a single webpage, so you won't have to flip through pages or lose your place due to spotty service. A special feature called "read time" helps you choose stories depending on the length of your commute, although there's no guarantee you won't get stuck underground after finishing an excerpt from Beloved.
The website also includes links to purchase full-length books from Amazon and other online retailers—and the MTA will get a cut of the profits. Maybe if everyone starts reading more the MTA won't "run out of money."