10 Places We Read (and Why We Read There)
Hi there, my name’s Ben. I’m one of the new guys here at LitReactor. For my first article I wanted to conjure up a subject that’d aim for the personal, but also strike up a great conversation within the community here, as it pertains to all of us readers. The subject in focus herein is one I’ve often thought about, occasionally talked about, and never once written about.
To me, reading habits boil down to the places we choose to read, and to some degree, choose not to read in. There are largely two types of spaces we all end up reading in: Public and Private. There may be a bit of a gray area with shared spaces (like shared housing), but like most ways through life, these are our options. Defining these outer environments for what is usually a solitary, inward activity has always fascinated me, perhaps because I’m so particular and intentional in where I read and why I choose to read there. Another thing to consider is that some of us are really damn good at turning hectic, crowded public spaces into private spaces by immersing ourselves in a good book. I do not consider myself one of these people.
If this article is to act as anything, it is to highlight some of the most common and fascinating spaces we find ourselves reading in, and to act as a prologue to what I hope is the real meat of the conversation in the comments.
Parks: Perhaps the very definition of leisure and delight, few things can beat a Saturday afternoon reading in your favorite park — whether it’s one long community bench ala Washington Square in NYC, or a shady hillside or picnic table, a park offers space, but also affords excitement in the guise of people watching if one needs respite from the worlds on the page. During my school days in Los Angeles, I’d make the jaunt from Hollywood to downtown about twice a month, to the fabulous central library, where I’d stock up on novels, short story collections, and comics. I’d then make the trek to a very particular corner of Griffith Park where a stone bench waited for me under a grand old oak tree. This was, and will likely forever remain, a favorite reading spot of mine. It was quiet, with just the right amount of sun and shade. I never once encountered another soul occupying that bench — it was my own little pocket of the city, a place where magic and adventure sprung forth from the pages of Ray Bradbury and the manga of Osamu Tezuka.
The magic hour is also one damn fine time to read in a park. That last snap of sunshine across the horizon makes everything richer, and, indeed, adds a little more magic to the proceedings.
Libraries: Though there’s no denying it as one of the most cherished places to crack open a book, the library is, oddly enough, a place I never really liked reading in. Sure, I can spend a good hour or two browsing the shelves of a well stocked main branch, but the sense that I will eventually have to leave such a wonderful place compels me to take care of business and be on my was as soon as possible. But as of late I’ve had to fight my apprehensions around reading in the library. This is due to the fact that I’m back in LA, without a permanent local addy, which means I’m not yet a resident, and thus, can’t get a library card to check out books (yes, it’s painful). Because of this I’ve had to hunker down in coldly lit corners of the downtown library, huddled over little treats such as Knut Hamsun’s Victoria and the seemingly ultra rare Zenobia, a surrealist novel by Romanian poet Gellu Naum.
Bookstores/Cafes: Like libraries, bookstores and cafes present a similar set of wishy-washy feelings for me. I feel hard pressed to get up and get out. And while that’s understandable with their hustle and bustle, these are nonetheless two places we associate with when a lot of reading needs to get done. Perhaps I just don’t like reading in public places?
Bus/Train: Oh, wait. I love to read on a packed bus or train. Sure, it’s damn hard to focus if someone’s shouting a conversation or blasting headphones to some godforsaken point where they don’t really need them, but there’s something I find irresistible about reading a little Ballard or Bukowski on the bus. I suppose my greatest hope is that by reading, someone else will notice, get excited or curious about the book in hand, and start up a conversation. So why don’t I associate this with libraries, bookstores or cafes? All just as likely, if not more likely places for this to happen in. Perhaps it has something to do with the thrill that comes with the movement of a vehicle. Or perhaps I’m just a romantic at heart and indulge in too many fantasies about meeting the love of my life on public transportation. Case in point, this New Yorker cover by Adrian Tomine. I mean the dude looks exactly like me (as a cartoon).
The Bed: One of three things (okay, maybe now four things if you count TV binge watching) we associate this spot with, the bed seems to be the quintessential reading location, a veritable cliche — it is often the case that movies or TV shows emphasize their characters' depth and dimension by showing them reading in bed. Once the prime spot to get my serious reading done (late night/ early morning reading of His Dark Materials defined my late adolescence), my twenties have proven the bed to be something of a reading wet blanket (terrible analogies are a specialty of mine by the by), in that I often start when I am already too tired, and thus, fall asleep. I’ve recently heard this happens to everyone.
The Couch: Now my preferred indoor space for reading, I can sit back and relax without the same level of fear that I will doze off. To give this cousin to the bed a bit more of its own aura/identity, I’ve chosen to try reading out loud. It’s proven to be incredibly fun, finding the personality of the characters, the narrator, the cadence and flow of the words in one’s own voice(s). It has also proven to be an excellent exercise in becoming a better writer as there are plenty of words we read but rarely say out loud. Flexing them across our tongue seems to get the kinks out and creates a deeper understanding of their usage(s).
The Bathroom: Whether you’re soaking up some suds in the bath, or sitting on the crapper for three hours gorging on A through E in the encyclopedia or the complete works of Shakespeare, the bathroom has proven to be a popular reading destination since the advent of indoor plumping (though I’m sure outhouses were also once lovely getaways). I have yet to understand the appeal as I rarely take anything into the bathroom that doesn’t belong in there, but perhaps once a wife and kids come into the picture I’ll be retreating to the bathroom like it’s my own Fortress of Solitude... cause, you know... white man needs to keep up the age old stereotypes.
The Car: In talking to friends about this subject I’ve been told multiple times that folks take to their cars for a little lunch-break reading. I can see the appeal and condone this type of use of the automobile as a place where one can collect and assemble ancient knowledge and wisdom.
Now I know what you're all thinking... What about audiobooks? You know damn well they don't count! But dare I say that the car is another fantastic spot to read out loud in. Consider the road trip: If you're a passenger than it is not only your moral duty to be navigator, but to be entertainer as well. Whether that's just for the driver or your fellow passengers (parents reading to kids comes to mind), the car feels like the perfect place to try out goofy accents. Ah, here come those fond memories of reading Joseph Heller's Catch-22 out loud on the back roads of Arizona...
So, new friends, now it is your turn to share. Where do you read and why do you read there?
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