I was prompted to think about this question by a story on NPR by Juan Vidal, “Reading On The Roof? Now That’s Punk Rock.”
Fascinated as I am by the different ways that people choose to consume literature, I figure why not experiment with some I’ve never tried. A quick search on Goodreads leads me to a fascinating poll where readers share the many places they’ve brought books. There’s “Reading while riding a bike,” “Reading during bad metal bands,” and “Reading while hanging upside down from a tree limb.” You name it, it’s probably there.
I’ve tried reading while exercising, such as on a recumbent stationary bike. This does not work if the exercise is in any way intense. I can do one or the other – focus on what I’m reading or focus on putting forth a physical effort – but I can’t do both.
I can’t say that I’ve read in any particularly memorable places, in part because I tend to be highly distractable. Set me with a book in my hand in the midst of crowds of people (coffee shop, airport), and my attention tends to drift towards the people. (Having your nose in a book is great cover for eavesdropping.) I wind up reading the same page over and over again without absorbing it. If I do manage to get into the book, I’m fully in the book and block out my surroundings entirely, so I’d not be likely to remember locations anyway. So, my recalled reading locales tend toward the pedestrian.
Other than the various couches and chairs in my or family members’ homes (including a favorite hand-me-down chair I acquired during college, which desperately needs reupholstering but has perfectly sloped wooden arms to enable me to drape myself sideways over the chair), the only “unusual” place I can recall reading is in the clawfoot bathtub we installed in our house shortly after moving into it. (See here for a story about that, and how I learned to use Bondo.)
I bought a “book rack” for the tub, on which I can prop my literary pick. This rack also has an arm designed to hold a stemmed wine glass, which Bugman has, on occasion, refilled for me while I soaked – the dear!
The toughest part of reading in the tub is keeping the pages dry.
House rule: don’t put the book on the rack while the tub is filling. It will get wet from the spatter of the tap.
Developed technique: reach back and dry fingers on the bathrobe hanging from the wall hook before picking up the book.
As a commenter on that NPR story noted, a place can sometimes trigger memories of a book read there.
I distinctly recall the first book I read in that tub, a book picked up on a whim at a used bookstore – Two Old Women. Remaining in the tub long after the bathwater had grown cold added a kindred physical element to the experience of reading a tale of abandonment in the Alaska wilderness.
Two other books I can recall reading in that tub – Karenna Gore Schiff’s “Lighting the Way – Nine Women Who Changed Modern America” and “Shark Dialogues” by Kiana Davenport.
Interesting that all three of my recalled tub-readers were books centered on women. I wonder if that was an unconscious choice, influenced by decades of exposure to newspaper cartoons and consumer culture (Calgon, take me away!) depicting women escaping to the tub.
The bathtub is exactly the type of paradisal refuge I seek for my focused reading – no phone, no Internet, no distracting conversation, no temptation to get up and go accomplish that one little thing that popped into my head, leading to a chain of minor chores and an abandonment of my reading.
In thinking about ideal places to read, I find myself wishing I had a treehouse. Climbing up into a treehouse would provide a similar refuge from distractions. I can picture myself up there, mind becalmed by the gentle rush and dappled shade of breeze-ruffled leaves. Ahhhh . . .
So, what is your ideal reading place?