A Diary of a Year on the Bus
A love letter to Paris and a meditation on how it has changed in two decades, evolving from the twentieth century into the twenty-first, from analog to digital.
Your telephone is precious. It may be envied. We recommend vigilance when using it in public.
—Paris bus public notice
In fall 2014 Lauren Elkin began keeping a diary of her bus commutes in the Notes app on her iPhone 5c, writing down the interesting things and people she saw in a Perecquian homage to Bus Lines 91 and 92, which she took from her apartment in the 5th Arrondissement to her teaching job in the 7th.
Reading the notice, she decided to be vigilant when using her phone: she would carry out a public transport vigil, using it to take in the world around her and notice all the things she would miss if she continued using it the way she had been, the way everyone does—to surf the web, check social media, maintain her daily sense of self through digital interaction. Her goal became to observe the world through the screen of her phone, rather than using her phone to distract from the world.
During the course of that academic year, the Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred and Elkin had an ectopic pregnancy, requiring emergency surgery. At that point, her diary of dailiness became a study of the counterpoint between the everyday and the Event, mediated through early twenty-first century technology, and observed from the height of a bus seat. No. 91/92 is a love letter to Paris, and a meditation on how it has changed in the two decades the author has lived there, evolving from the twentieth century into the twenty-first, from analog to digital.
I absolutely love this book, each page radiates a heightened attunement to the city; in Elkin's hands, the iPhone is a psychic gauge. On her bus journeys through Paris, she collects insights, images, and stray conversation, her notes becoming a portal into the unconscious life of the city. She cultivates deep empathy for her fellow travelers, recognizing in them the possibility for meaningful connection. Her story of personal loss, as it unfolds through this journal, is imbued with the textures of collective experience.
Laura Grace Ford, author of Savage Messiah
Lauren Elkin's commuter buses comprise a world where all existential concerns are present—the embodied self, the individual in society, and the bond of casual community. Within this constrained world Elkin observes and dramatizes "the morning thumb ballet of checking all the things I check on my phone" while confronting all that it means to be human.
Sarah Manguso, author of Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
In No. 91-92 Elkin presents us with a gentle litany of persistently committed noticing. Paris—as viewed from the vantage point of a daily bus journey—is not so much exhausted as it is enchanted by the gift of attention: the work glitters with life."
Jenn Ashworth, author of Notes Made While Falling and Ghosted: A Love Story
I lapped up this chronicle of the tragic and the banal, in record time, and immediately went searching for more by Lauren Elkin.