I’ve recently read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (1985), by German writer Patrick Süskind. It’s the first book I’ve read since I finished my studies (finished for the time being, that is) about a month ago. Up until then, the bulk of my reading this year consisted of legal papers and casebooks. I love legal reading and research—which is a great thing, considering I’ll be doing that for the rest of my professional life!—but it can get quite overwhelming. Every once in a while, it’s comforting to remember that nonlegal literature is out there, waiting to be devoured. Plus, reading Perfume, and doing so mostly on the subway, was an interesting experience, for at least three reasons.
First, as its title hints, the book develops around olfactive impressions, as opposed to acoustic, visual, tactile, and gustative perceptions—all of which seem to receive more attention, both in literature and in real life. Reading it while on New York subway cars, immersed in their most unusually rich variety of summertime odors (good as well as bad—ok, mostly bad), made me more aware of my underexplored olfactory sensibilities and gave the reading experience a realistic touch—or smell, to put it in more sensorially proper terms. (The book is good and highly recommended, and I don’t want to give away too much about it! I’m now anxious to see the 2006 movie based on the novel.)
Second, my subway reading provoked curious looks. The book’s old-style cover from the 1990s was probably responsible for drawing some of the attention. I noticed that some people couldn’t avoid persistently giving furtive looks at my book. If on the one hand I was slightly uncomfortable being aware that people were looking over my shoulder, on the other hand I felt comforted to realize that I’m not the only one who tries to find out what the stranger sitting beside me is reading. The fact that I was reading a Brazilian Portuguese edition indubitably contributed to draw some more attention: one young woman even asked me what language that was. “Ah, I figured it was Portuguese! Looked like Spanish, but not quite.”
Finally, the habit of maintaining a routine activity during my subway rides has inspired in me a new mania I’ve been enjoying more and more. Just like reading is a valuable use of subway time, for me and probably millions of fellow subway users, I figured the same could be true of writing. So here am I, posting from the depths of New York City. The previous post is partly and this one is entirely a product of my underground blogging. It’s been a good exercise as a two-fold challenge: using my time productively and efficiently, and developing my ability to focus and think and write in unfavorable environments.