The Help Desk: Literature and longing on Link light rail

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I ride the new Link light rail from Husky Stadium to Pioneer Square (it's pretty great). I've seen this same girl on the train nearly every day, our schedules are so close. And she's always reading the best books. Seriously, like this manga series I've been following for years, that I thought nobody else was into.

But, I know that harassing women who want to be left alone in public isn't cool, and she's probably just going to work. Is there something I can say to her, not a line, but just a little opening, to see if I get any response? I mean, is it out of line to say something about our shared tastes?

Tremulous on the Train

Dear Tremulous,

Everyone who reads enjoys being complimented on their taste in books. Many years ago I was flipping through a copy of one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces, at a garage sale and a shirtless man with a chest tattoo of a swastika knifing a black panther (one of the swastika arms was an actual arm with a knife in it) said to me, "That's a great book," to which I smiled and thought, "what a nice man." Such is the mighty power of literature.

Striking up a conversation with a woman is not harassment if you follow basic social cues:

  1. Wear something non-psychotic, like a shirt and pants.

  2. If she's got headphones in, leave her alone.

  3. If she's not making eye contact with anyone around her, leave her alone.

  4. Wait until there is a natural interruption to her reading, such as when you're both disembarking from the train. Then it's fine to tap her on the shoulder and say something like, "That's such a great book! Have you read TKTKTK?"

  5. If all goes well and you get her contact information, do not send her an Evite for a party in your pants.