Why do people read on trains? 6 reasons…

We’ve been reading on trains since the days of steam locomotives and bowler-hatted city gents. But why does it feel so darn right? 

Reading and the railways

By the early 1900s more people were travelling to work by train – commuting into cities from suburbs and villages.

Arnold Bennett, a popular novelist of the age, urged people to use this new and unfamiliar ‘me time’ for self-improvement. The train after all provided the perfect place to sit and read.

The Penguin paperback was born when publisher Allen Lane hit upon the idea of putting bestselling novels in smaller, softer packaging and selling them at railway stations, grocers and department stores for just six pence – the price of a packet of cigarettes. The idea was to make good quality books available to all at low prices. 

The idea was rumoured to have come to him while waiting for a train at Exeter station in 1934. He’d spent a weekend with whodunit writer Agatha Christie and was dismayed at the lack of books on sale at the station, so the story goes. The rest as they say is history.


6 reasons why we read on trains…


  1. ‘Me time’ free of distractions and interruptions

Modern life is busy. Whether you’re going here, there or you don’t know where. Work and family commitments can make properly getting into a book a challenge of Himalayan proportions.

A train journey can be like a mini retreat – cocooned in your carriage for a specified number of hours without a jobs list in sight.

We offer you havens of tranquillity in coach B in Standard and coach K or J in First Class. Can there be a better place to make a proper start on that bestseller that’s been gathering dust on your bedside?


  1. They bring culture to your commute

Britons spend an average of 1 hour and 40 minutes commuting each day. When that’s added up over a year that’s, well, a lot of time spent largely doing nothing.

The view from the window can get a bit samey after a few months and commuter trains are naturally busier.  

No wonder many people read.

Losing yourself to the stories of your favourite characters is a daily dose of escapism. Much more fun than fretting about work or falling asleep on the shoulder of the person sat next to you – oops.


  1. Paperbacks are (and always have been) train-friendly

The first Penguin paperbacks were the perfect accompaniment to a train journey with their smaller sizes and soft jackets and easy availability and affordable prices.

The stories inside them too from writers like Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie provided gripping entertainment for a long journey.  

And they’re just as train-friendly today.

You can generally pick up latest bestsellers or classics for under a tenner, with branches of WH Smith at most big railway stations. The new Pocket Penguins are designed to be even more pocket-friendly with a smaller ‘A Format’ size.


  1. Avoid awkward chat with fellow passengers

Even the most personable of us have our off days – from the Monday morning blues to an argument at home over breakfast. On such days the last thing you want is a friendly chat with the stranger in the next seat. 

Burying your head in a book is a good way to keep yourself to yourself. It’s also a great way to avoid eye contact if you’ve seen someone you know further down the carriage who you’d rather not see!


  1. Show off with classic or arty novels

Like clothes or badges, books are a great way of showing people culturally ‘where you’re at’ and generally make you look more interesting than if you’re tapping on your phone.

Whether you’re into John Green or George Orwell, or F Scott Fitzgerald or Ali Smith, the train gives you a captive audience to say ‘check me out – aren’t I cool?’

Whether anyone has even noticed your well-thumbed paperback is another matter entirely.


  1. On a long journey, they’ve got your back

If you’re travelling from say London to Edinburgh, you’re going to be on the train for a few hours.

In that time you could pass through beautiful countryside with no phone signal (although our Wi-Fi is free if you booked direct with us), finish the work you had brought with you, or find you’ve forgotten your charger when your laptop runs out of juice. 

Having a paperback to turn to can fill these gaps in your epic journey – the perfect opportunity to bash out a few chapters.