Uli Beutter Cohen has been chronicling New Yorkers and the books they take underground for almost eight years.
Getting people to talk about their literary habits is often an effortless, spirited affair, since there are usually plenty of people reading on the train, said Ms. Cohen, the founder of Subway Book Review. If she happens upon a car where there are no books on view, she’ll approach someone she’s interested in and ask if they have one in their bag.
“The answer is usually, ‘Funny you should ask,’” she said. “It’s simply amazing to have a portal into the private world of a reader.”
RARING TO GO I get up around 6 or 7 a.m. without an alarm. This early wake-up time is new for me, or since I turned 40. I used to be able to sleep in, but not anymore. What hasn’t changed is that I’ve always had a supercharged morning brain, so I’m raring to go. My husband, Alec, is the opposite; he rises slowly. He’s instructed me to not ask him any questions in the morning, so I keep busy until he’s up.
MUSIC FOR PLANTS I have a lot of pandemic plants, so I water them first. I put on a Spotify playlist called “Music for Plants.” I hope it’s nice for the plants because the music is great for me. I avoid doing chores because that makes me sad. I used to feel too disconnected from the rest of the world on Sundays but now I realize time is something I control and make my own. This means I might lounge and relax on a Wednesday instead.
MANUAL TASKS I’ve learned from a dear friend about the importance of making things with your hands. And this could be because of the pandemic, but I’ve really been into making my own vinegar, jams and muffins. I get my produce at the farmer’s market on Saturdays, so I have ingredients to make something on Sunday. Recently, I made a mushroom tart.
KITCHEN CALL While I bake, I like to talk to my parents in Germany. They live in a tiny village called Reicheneck. My mom and I call this our “kitchen call.” It’s our time to gossip. We switch topics quickly and don’t linger on a particular subject for too long. We share the absurdities of life. Much truth comes out. It’s a time when our emotions churn, and it is fabulous.
COFFEE AND CARDS If it’s a nice day, I’ll go take a walk to Fort Greene Park. I grab a coffee and sit by myself under the locust trees with my tarot cards. If I have a potent reading, I might call a friend to talk it through. After some time to myself, I make my way back home because by then, I know Alec is ready for me.
GUIDING LIGHT On my way home, I often look for my friend Harvey Wilson. He’s always eating brunch at the Brooklyn Public House, so sometimes I sit down with him and call Alec to join us. Harvey is an artist and is my spiritual grandfather. We’re 40 years apart but on the same vibration.
READER QUEST I empty my bladder and go underground to look for readers. I have a favorite loop that I intend to ride but often can’t keep. Fabulous New Yorkers take me wherever they take me. This work has allowed me to document what’s on people’s minds during a particular segment of time. You see a pattern. I can see what’s coming.
FRESH AIR AND FOOD I’m on the train for a few hours, but it can feel like days. So I emerge for some air. After I’m home, I’ll take a 30-minute nap. Then Alec and I get ready for Sunday dinner with friends. We might have people over, but often we go out. We love LaRina Pastificio & Vino, it’s a treasure. They have a stunning backyard and it’s a great time to laugh and catch up with friends.
PILING UP At night, I might look at the stack of books publishers have sent me. I’m like a street photographer for books, so publishers want me to be aware of what’s coming out, in case I see someone reading it on the subway. Right now, people want to read about nature. I am currently reading “Pure Colour” by Sheila Heti. I get tired by 11, so I’ll listen to a meditation app and then fall asleep.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Uli Beutter Cohen on Instagram @theubc and @subwaybookreview.