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The Book Agent

The Book AgentWhile riding on the Q train from Manhattan to Brooklyn one night a sort of wobbly looking man wobbled over to where I was sitting and took the seat next to me. The train was comfortably full and most people had a place to sit. I was in the process of taking a [...]

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The Book Agent

While riding on the Q train from Manhattan to Brooklyn one night a sort of wobbly looking man wobbled over to where I was sitting and took the seat next to me. The train was comfortably full and most people had a place to sit. I was in the process of taking a survey of the book titles that New Yorkers read in the Subway, as I have been putting together the bases of a small social theory:
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Brooklyn, New York City- September 29, 2008
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I do not believe that the majority of New Yorkers who have their faces in books on Subway trains are actually reading them. Rather, I think they carry and pretend to read books because it gives them a place to focus their attention away from the other passengers. This, essentially, allows them to ride from point A to point B in a social bubble of their own creation, much like driving in a car. The book is a tool for social withdrawal. I know this because I use them as such (very often). Books are also a much cheaper alternative to an automobile to ensure that you will not have to interact socially on your ride to and from work.

And I shall try to prove this theory by recording all of the book titles that I come across people reading on the subway, subjectively rate their quality, and thus state that there is no way that so many people can be really be reading so many awful books at any one time. It would simply not suit the ebb and flow of the cosmos.

I was interrupted from carrying out my oh-so-serious social project by the wobbly man coming and sitting next to me. This was a good thing because I was getting weary of crooning my neck all around the train just to jot down titles like Bookends by Jane Green, Austirlitz by G. Sebalk and some medical book being “read” my some medical student.

In the hands of the wobbly man was a stack of papers with evenly spaced typing running neatly over their surface. I read over the man’s shoulder. It was a novel; it was not very good; it was a manuscript. The man sitting and reading next to me was a book agent – a book goon.

I looked for a moment at the side of his head until he looked at me. “A manuscript?” I asked. He nodded his head in the affirmative in a friendly manner. “So you destroy dreams for a living?” I continued with a smile.

The Book Agent laughed. He may have been a goon, but he did not really seem to be that bad of a fellow. Anyone who laughs at one of my pale and dry jokes cannot be that bad. So we continued talking.

“Yeah,” the Book Agent continued, “it is a really hard job, I often feel really bad about it.”

I then asked him if he gets a secret, vindictive joy out of rejecting manuscripts.

“No, no,” he replied, “but I do have to reject most of them. You know, for every one yes there are ninety eight nos.”

I pondered this for a moment about what becomes of the remaining manuscript, but then I thought it futile and dug into the Book Agent a little more.

“Were you a failed author yourself?” I asked bluntly, thinking that it would be rather poetic for a writer who had his dreams squashed by book agents to become a book agent himself just to squash the dreams of other writers.

But I was wrong about this theory. The Book Agent who sat next to me said that he came into the profession strictly from the legal field.

He smiled at me, I smiled back at him, and we said farewell as the subway train reached my stop. I momentarily thought about dropping him a VagabondJourney.com business card, but I stopped short:

For I did not wish to show my face to the enemy that easily.

I know readily enough that I will surely get dismembered as soon as it is my turn to rise up upon the chopping block.

Links to previous travelogue entries:

  • Motorcycle Bob Completes Journalism Mission
  • Another Concept of Journalism
  • Businessmen Cellphones

The Book Agent
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Filed under: New York City, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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