Underground New York Public Library

The Underground New York Public Library is a visual library featuring the Reading-Riders of the NYC subways.
This project is not affiliated with The New York Public Library


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February 2013 Highlights From the Underground New York Public Library

  9. “The Mummy, The Will And The Crypt,” by John Bellairs and “Ribsy,” by Beverly Cleary

See Other UNYPL Selections

Fine Art Prints

2012 Highlights from the Underground New York Public Library

Here are ten highlights from almost one thousand photographs that have become part of the UNYPL in 2012. Each photo posted in the library is beloved. The Reading-Riders have thoroughly inspired me, in their presence and in their act of transcendence. Photographing and interacting with them in the past year has impacted me as a photographer and as a person.To them, Thank you!

Sharing the UNYPL has been so rewarding. It became part of everyday to hear from those who were inspired in one way or another by the people in the photographs. I love the idea that we inspire each other, that we experience others and we become greater for it. Thank you to everyone who has liked, shared, responded and written over the past year. You helped me build this library and I’m looking forward to taking it into 2013.

New posts will begin after Jan. 1st. A Happy and fulfilling New Year to everyone!

  1. "Ask the Dust," by John Fante
  2. "Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good", by Kevin Smith
  3.  "The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued," by Ann Crittenden 
  4. "Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits," by Jack Murnighan 
  5. "Othello" by William Shakespeare 
  6.  "To the Finland Station ," by Edmund Wilson
  7. "Bared to You," by Sylvia Day
  8. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," by Harriet Jacobs
  9. "Don’t Be Sad," by Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni
  10. "The Savage Detectives," by Roberto Bolaño

UNYPL in 2012: Kids

It was an extra pleasure to photograph and interact with these reading-riders. From the past year, here are the kids in the Underground New York Public Library:

  1. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw," by Jeff Kinney &"Warriors," by Erin Hunter
  2. "Blueberries for Sal," by Robert McCloskey
  3. "The Year of the Hangman," by Gary Blackwood
  4. "Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy," by Tui T. Sutherland
  5. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone," by J.K. Rowling
  6. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel," by Jeff Kinney
  7. "Callie’s Rules," by Naomi Zucker
  8. "The Mother-Daughter Book Club," by Heather Vogel Frederick
  9. "The Adventures of Tintin," by Hergé
  10. eReader

UNYPL in 2012: Orthodox Jews: What Are They Reading? 

I ventured into the Underground Library in part as a tribute to the role of literature in my life. Literature, and the subways, connected me to a larger world. I come from an orthodox background and I thought I’d leave that world alone with my photography. This wasn’t possible to do in the UNYPL though, as Orthodox Jews turned out to be a prevalent part of those who are reading underground. At first, I was hesitant about my relationship with these readers. It was a personal journey, but taking these photographs gave way to a new perspective for me, a new relationship from behind the camera. It’s one more aspect of the UNYPL that I’m grateful for. 

1-4: The Talmud

The Talmud is the most popular text that I’ve noticed with demonstrably Orthodox Jews underground. It’s an extensive work, carried and studied in separate volumes. Assembled over the course of five hundred years, it’s essentially like a great discussion forum that examines all aspects of the Torah and of Jewish life. 

5-7: The Torah

There was an interesting response when I posted photos of Orthodox Jews reading the Torah. I received messages that suggested I might have been mistaken in identifying the book. While the Talmud is studied religiously and daily, the Torah itself isn’t. I’m very careful about the titles though, and I don’t post if I’m in doubt. These people were reading the Torah, but, without exception, the photos of them were taken only on a Thursday evening or a Friday morning. Turns out that in preparation for the weekly Sabbath, when a Torah portion is read in the synagogue, Orthodox Jews can be found studying the Torah directly. 

8: "Catching Fire," by Suzanne Collins

This reader is wearing a Kippah, indicating that he might be orthodox*. Catching Fire would be regarded as a secular text in an orthodox world. Some Orthodox Jews refrain from reading secular texts, preferring to immerse themselves only in their tradition. Others appreciate it, and some even laud secular literature as a means towards greater spiritual heights. 

9: The Passover Haggadah 

A seasonal photo, this was taken a few days before the Passover holiday. The Haggadah discusses the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt. One of the important aspects of the Passover holiday is the relaying of the historical account, and this man was reading the Haggadah, with commentary, in preparation for doing just that. 

10: The Shulchan Aruch, by Rabbi Yosef Karo

The Shulchan Aruch is the definitive text of practical Jewish Law. In it are the rules for how to conduct oneself in every facet of life. These people were the first Orthodox Jews that came to the UNYPL. I was trying unsuccessfully to photograph someone reading Julius Caesar,  when they offered me to photograph them instead. You can read a short anecdote about it here.  

*edited from my assumption that he was orthodox. 

UNYPL in 2012: Portraits

There is so much life underground, and I usually seek to incorporate it, along with the reader, into a storytelling frame. Sometimes though, a simple portrait of a reader seems to tell enough of a story. Here are ten direct portraits of readers from the past year: 

  1. ‎”What Jackie Taught Us”, by Tina Santi Flaherty
  2. "Half of a Yellow Sun," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  3. "Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery," by Chogyam Trungpa
  4. "The Supermale," by Alfred Jarry
  5. "Sexing the Cherry," by Jeanette Winterson
  6. "By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept," by Elizabeth Smart
  7. "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," by Anne Tyler
  8. "A Wrinkle in Time," by Madeleine L’Engle
  9. "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void," by Mary Roach
  10. "Good Omens," by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

UNYPL in 2012: The Walkers

It’s a unique moment when I come across the walking readers. I see them suddenly, and then there are just a few strides left to take the picture candidly. Most of the time I catch up with them after they’ve already passed me by, to find out what they’re reading. Here they are from the past year, the walkers of the Underground Library: 

  1. "A Clash of Kings," by George R.R. Martin 
  2. "Devil’s Gate," by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown
  3. "The Casual Vacancy," by J. K. Rowling
  4. "Mary, Mary," by James Patterson
  5. "Madame Bovary," by Gustave Flaubert
  6. "The Summer Book," by Tove Jansson
  7. "The Mother-Daughter Book Club," by Heather Vogel Frederick
  8. "Savor the Moment," by Nora Roberts 
  9. "Playing for Pizza", by John Grisham
  10. "The Proposal," by Mary Balogh 

UNYPL in 2012: The Regulars

It’s about to be a full year that I’ve been blogging the Underground Library. It’s been a year of so many discoveries and experiences. One discovery I had may seem plain, but it felt profound to experience it through photography. I discovered that a reader is… a Reader. In looking for people who were reading, I found that they were there as a kind. Books weren’t just an item they had with them. They were indications of a larger relationship that defined them. When I posted a reader whom I had photographed twice, someone commented that it was like a love story. I like that and I agree. Readers are in love with the world around them, and their relationship with the books that reveal it to them is an enduring one. 

Here are four readers I happened to see twice over the course of the year. Regulars of the Underground Library. From top to bottom.

  1. When I first saw him, he had started reading “New York,” by Edward Rutherfurd. More than a month later, I saw him again when he was almost done with it.  
  2. I saw her in the summer, when she was reading "Consider the Lobster and Other Essays," by David Foster Wallace. On a recent cold morning I saw her again, still with David Foster Wallace, but this time reading his ”The Broom of the System.” 
  3. One of the first readers I photographed, I loved his hat and glasses. Last year he was reading ‎”Killing Time: The First Full Investigation into the Unsolved Murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman”, by Donald Freed. Eleven months later, I recognized him because of his hat and glasses. I wasn’t sure why I recognized him, until sure enough, he took a book out of his bag. This time he was reading ”Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon,” by Aram Goudsouzian
  4. I first saw him late one night, when I was tired and on my way home. But Jack London wasn’t yet in the Underground Library, so I took my camera out and photographed him. Early in the morning a month later, I was tired again when I saw him again, enjoying another story in ”To Build a Fire and Other Stories,” by Jack London.

November 2012 Highlights From The Underground New York Public Library

1. "Moby-Dick," by Herman Melville 2. "Steve Jobs," by Walter Isaacson 3. "This Dark Earth," by John Hornor Jacobs 4. "The Imperfectionists," by Tom Rachman 5“Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion de desesperada y cien sonetos de amor,” by Pablo Neruda, and “Time Travel and Warp Drives: A Scientific Guide to Shortcuts through Time and Space,” by Allen Everett and Thomas Roman. 6. "The Casual Vacancy," by J. K. Rowling 7. "Cometas en el Cielo," by Khaled Hosseini 8. "The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary: Vol. 1, Genesis," Edited by Rabbi Yisrael Herczeg 9. "The Alchemist," by Paulo Coelho 10. "A Bad Man Is Easy to Find," by M. J. Verlaine

Past Highlights

October 2012 Highlights from the Underground New York Public Library

1. “The Savage Detectives,” by Roberto Bolaño 2. “Wolf Hall,” by Hilary Mantel 3. “The Talmud” 4. “Utopia,” by Thomas More 5. "How to Be Black," by Baratunde Thurston 6. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” by Ken Kesey 7. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone," by J.K. Rowling 8. "Notes from the Underground," by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 9. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," by Harriet Jacobs 10. "Choke," by Chuck Palahniuk

I wish a safe, speedy, and spirited recovery for my beloved NYC! Limited subway service is returning tomorrow, thanks to the amazing efforts of the MTA. Here is the MTA flickr feed for a look at what they are dealing with post hurricane Sandy. 

Highlights: Reading-Riders Through the Window 

1. "Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time," by Michio Kaku 2. "Rabbit, Run," by John Updike 3. "Never Let Me Go," by Kazuo Ishiguro 4. "American Gods," by Neil Gaiman 5. "Representing and Intervening," by Ian Hacking 6. "The Art of Loving," by Erich Fromm 7. "A Drink Before the War," by Dennis Lehane 8. "Spiritual Writings," by Leo Tolstoy 9.  "The Devil in the White City," by Erik Larson and "Bite Me," by Christopher Moore 10. "Jakob von Gunten," by Robert Walser

July 2012 Highlights from the Underground New York Public Library

Each one was its own moment. It’s great to see them all together.

1. "The God Delusion," by Richard Dawkins 2. "The Birth of Tragedy," by Friedrich Nietzsche 3. "Mary Poppins," by Dr. P. L. Travers 4. "The Stranger Beside Me," by Ann Rule 5. "Queer," by William S. Burroughs 6. "Just My Type: A Book About Fonts," by Simon Garfield 7. "By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept," by Elizabeth Smart 8. "Know Thyself," by Na’im Akbar 9. "Star Wars (The Old Republic): Fatal Alliance," by Sean Williams  10. "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," by Anne Tyler

I’m looking forward to the new characters who will come with their books to the Underground New York Public Library in August!     

Friday eReader

Here is our Friday eReader.This week he is joined by other people on the platform. It was a pleasant week at the Underground New York Public Library, with great new books that came in and some great interaction. Thank you for making this library a real experience!  

The Pulitzer prizes were awarded this past Monday. Alas, there wasn’t one for fiction this year. It could be a result of rigorous discernment, but that’s not what it looks like after reading Pulitzer: The Leaked Fiction Memos, from The New Yorker. : ) In any case, I like this short news clip from an Op-Ed by Anne Patchett. I found it on Nathan Englander’s Tumblr

The Brontë sisters as action figures? This commercial makes me want to play. Instead of playing though, this eleven year old boy in Bangladesh sells books and only makes $1.22 a day.

Blank Pages and Invisible Ink has sensual imagery and some fresh air in her poems. I liked this one of hers. 

Come alive this weekend. Have a memorable one. : ) 

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by Charity C. Tran

New York


A compilation of photos 
Of people reading 
The books they hold 
Bright covers 
Mostly shown 
Some obscured by hands 
Obstructing views 
(Clarified in captions) 
Of bold texts that advertise 
The book 
The person 
The mind

Replace each book 
With an e-reader 
The Kindle 
The Nook 
The iPad with 
Kindle Nook iBooks 
Obstructing view 
Hiding (would be) 
Bold texts 
The book 
The person 
The mind

This poem is part of Digital Divide, a technology & social media poetry chapbook by Charity C. Tran.

Read Digital Divide

"Maybe the Moon: A Novel", by Armistead Maupin on Flickr.

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