by Juhi Singhal Karan
Some prefer to do it on the couch, others like the bathtub. Beach is a favorite too. Yes, we asked five bloomers their favorite spot for that most solitary of activities—the act of losing yourself in a good book. Where do you find yourself reading most often?
Dracula at the Jersey Shore
During the 1960s and 70s my family spent summer vacations in Brigantine Beach, a barrier island just north of Atlantic City. My wife Allene and I rent a house there for a week or two every summer, so I’ve been spending time on the same stretch of beach since I was four or five. I read Dracula there, in the summer between seventh and eighth grade, my first grownup novel. I remember getting lost in the book even as Jonathan Harker is lost in Castle Dracula, then the bright sensuality of the beach after the gloomy seclusion of the novel like coming back into the world and seeing it for the first time. I think I might be due for another visit to Castle Dracula this summer, for a soundtrack the familiar crash and sigh of the waves against the rock jetty, just over my right shoulder the blanched façade of the old Deco hotel, and 20 yards away from my folding chair the shades of my grandparents taking their ease under huge candystriped beach umbrellas—the memories inside and outside of the book like some few essential things one is able to keep from slipping into the shadows.
Click here to read our feature on Anthony Wallace
1. In someone else’s house. If I come to stay at your house, I’ll tell you straightaway I’m going to read one of your books before I go to sleep—otherwise, no shut-eye. If you do not have books, I will likely crawl out the window and sneak off into the night and not come back till I have a book (okay, I probably brought three books, but that was for dire emergencies only). Every time I am at the house of our dear friends in Maine, I will read a few pages of Salt: A World History. I am learning about salt at a glacial pace, surely—I could find Kurlansky’s book easily at the local library, but it’s already become inextricably connected to visiting them in their house, and so barring unforeseen circumstances, I only want to read it there, a couple of pages every visit, which . . . well, you don’t want to overdo it with salt, anyway.
2. In the tub. I don’t think it’s just about comfort and relaxation, but literally about immersion. Psychologists have shown that we subconsciously think a person is warmer when we are holding a warm beverage, and form the converse impression with a cold one. Maybe a full tub recalls us to fiction’s promise to engulf us fully. Maybe it’s a reminder, too, that at its best, literary language is liquid, viscous, a substance more like the ink that it came from rather than one that sits rigidly on the page. The book here is Ledgard’s Submergence, which, in a move that was not intended ironically, got submerged, and is now as crisp and curled as papyrus—formerly a library book and now, post-klutziness, my own.
Click here to read our feature on Tim Horvath.
I always feel a little pang when I see photos of other people’s reading spots, because I have nothing whatsoever in that department. No isolated cabin in the woods, no high window looking out over the seacoast, no custom-built library all oak shelves and dust. Instead—like most people, I’ll bet—I read wherever I happen to find myself. On the couch in the living room, in the recliner in the study, at the kitchen table, on a folding chair on the deck, it doesn’t really matter. The books I’m actively involved with are usually together in one place—on the coffee table in the living room, or else on the bottom shelf of a bookcase not far from it. I’m not a nightstand/bedtime reader, by the way. I don’t know how people do that and stay awake.
I’ve been reading tons of history lately, a whole lot of great big cumbersome books. (Don’t get me started on Robert Caro’s magnificent series on Lyndon Johnson, if you know what’s good for you.) As a result my physical reading has moved in two directions: toward the kitchen table, where it’s easier to manage a book with some weight to it; and toward an e-reader, where weight stops being an issue altogether. I’ve been using a second-hand Kobo, or I was using it until a couple of weeks back, when I’d loaded it up for a trip to Europe and then—bending over to pick up my dropped boarding pass on a jetway in Boston—busted the screen in my pants pocket. I had a backup, though, an old paperback copy of Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail, 1972.
More of that history I’ve been reading—and beyond that, another physical book to the rescue.
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Love to read on the beach, lying on a blanket in the sand. I associate that smell of sunshine and salt water with a good, long book and a long lazy afternoon. Also on my couch where I can watch amazing sunsets from the windows while curled up under a fleece blanket, a mug of mint tea and honey on the coffee table within reach.
Click here to read an excerpt from Judy Chicurel’s If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go
The spot where I most frequently find myself with a book is a small, solitary spot tucked away from the bustle of human distraction. It’s a quiet Nirvana with only the occasional sound of rushing water to break the stillness.
Yes, the bathroom—or water-closet, if you prefer the more refined approach—is where I get about 63 percent of my reading done. Apparently, judging by the reactions when I post this on Facebook (“Eww!”, “I didn’t need to know this”), some people have a problem with my personal paradise. Maybe they don’t like the image of me perched on the porcelain throne, pants around my ankles, taking care of business. But I don’t want to dwell on the evacuation properties of this scenario (“waste out, words in”); I prefer to focus on why it makes the ideal reading spot. Where else in this loud, busy, attention-demanding world can I find an oasis of monastic silence where I can focus on the words in front of me? There are times when I spend so much time on the toilet that circulation is cut off and my legs tingle with needles and I’m forced to stand for a few minutes, shake it off, get the blood flowing again before I sit back down and finish making my way to the end of the chapter. By now, my wife is used to my behavior. When I disappear for long stretches of time, I’ll hear her outside the door: “Are you almost done? I need to come in and curl my hair.” My co-workers, however, are a little worried about the long stretches of time I spend in the men’s room stall. I can see the concern in their eyes when I emerge and I know they’re about to suggest I should go see a doctor for whatever’s been bothering me—but then they look down, see the book in my hand, and they get a look that’s equal parts “Eww!” and “Read anything good lately?”
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