Thursday 9 February 2012

Books on Trains

The printed word lives on, not least on trains, where the majority of passengers (at least on the routes I frequent) engage in some kind of reading in the course of their journey. Much of it is of newspapers - especially the commuter-friendly freesheet Metro - and an increasing amount is of ebooks, but there is still much reading of proper printed books. And when I see someone reading a proper printed book, I am always curious to find out what it is - in fact I can't help myself. My surreptitious researches into this matter have thrown up some surprises, not least the remarkable amount of devotional reading that goes on on trains, even in this supposedly secular age - the Bible (and Quran) in various forms, prayerbooks and spiritual manuals galore. Sightings of the literary classics, too, are more frequent than might be expected, though I see no evidence of a bicentennial surge in Dickens reading yet...
This morning I found myself sitting opposite a very elegant, well-turned-out lady of, I guess, around 40, who was reading with interest a hardback book that had clearly been around for a few decades (this in itself is unusual in an age of ephemeral paperbacks). What could it be? Eventually the book fell at the right angle for me to make out its title. It was The Creed In Slow Motion by Ronald Knox - priest, detective novelist, radio personality, scholar, Catholic convert, friend to all, and yes, one of those Knox Brothers, whose joint biography by their brilliant niece, Penelope Fitzgerald, I read not long ago. Knox wrote The Creed In Slow Motion during the Hitler War, when he found himself serving as chaplain of a girls' school where students were being sheltered. Running out of homilies (as one does), he set about writing some more, in the form of a step-by-step explication of the Apostles' Creed, which was in due course published as The Creed In Slow Motion. And there it was, being read by the elegant lady opposite me on my commuter train nearly 70 years later. She alighted at Victoria - handy, of course, for Westminster Cathedral, and the offices of The Tablet...
I reckon The Creed In Slow Motion must be worth 100 points in the I-Spy Books on Trains book.


  1. Recently, on a Virgin Express, I peeped over the shoulder of an engrossed nun (dove grey habit, modest wimple). Her sacred reading matter, as my shocked stare swiftly established, turned out to be no less than a very well-thumbed paperback of Jeffrey Archer's 'Kane and Abel'.

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