10 Places We Read (and Why We Read There)

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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. 

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.

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.

Public

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).     

Private

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?

Ben Umstead

Column by Ben Umstead

Born in New England, bred around the Capital Beltway, and schooled in the heart of Hollywood, Ben is the East Coast Editor at Twitch. He can once again be found wandering the streets of Los Angeles in the hopes of spotting the ghosts of Ray Bradbury, John Fante and/or Charles Bukowski.

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Comments

Anna Flaa's picture
Anna Flaa from MN is reading The Help July 16, 2013 - 9:53am

I read in the laundry room while I wait for my clothes to run through their cycle, since that part of our apartment building gets great sunlight and is fairly quiet/private.  

Nurpu's picture
Nurpu July 16, 2013 - 10:14am

Outside, all day, in a hammock with a good book is fine for me

rjane's picture
rjane July 16, 2013 - 10:27am

When I was a young girl I'd climb up in one of my family's back yard apple trees and while away the afternoon emersed in a great library book.  My best friend and I would trek on our bikes to the public library and bring home stacks of books and spread out on an old Army blanket and read for hours there as well. But up the tree was by far my favorite retreat.

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On July 16, 2013 - 10:27am

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.

It's also a good place to tune out the sounds of the world by clicking on the white-noise of the exhaust fan. Toilet-reading is balance at it's ultimate: as you physically purge, you're mentally amassing information.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer July 16, 2013 - 11:38am

I read in all of these places, plus pretty much anywhere, even while walking from one place to another, as long as it doesn't compromise my safety. I read while cooking, with varied success, and while folding laundry if the book will stay open. We read almost constantly in my house.

Ben Umstead's picture
Ben Umstead from L.A. is reading Speedboat by Renata Adler July 16, 2013 - 1:42pm

Thanks for sharing, folks. It's rather heartening to hear about other's habits, choices, favorites, or like Jack, the bold endeavor to read, read, read anywhere and everywhere, especially while cooking.

And a wise word from Dino on purging/amassing.

So, a popular place I left out, and I did so largely on purpose, was the beach. The beach rarely appeals to me as a place to read, mainly because I just don't care for the beach in general. I don't see too many folks reading on the beach when I do go, but sure seem to see a lot of beach reading lists.

Laura J White Alumbaugh's picture
Laura J White A... July 16, 2013 - 12:52pm

I live in Florida, and I do a lot of reading at the beach.  The beach is one of my favorite places to read.  The kids are entertained, and I can read as long as I like.  I also read in my favorite chair on the back porch.  The breeze is making the wind chimes jingle, and I am relaxing with a fabulous book.  Life is good!

 

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder July 16, 2013 - 1:44pm

Here's my favorite close-by place to read. Neither of those guys are me!

 

 

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder July 16, 2013 - 1:46pm

And this is the picture I love the most, that I've found today at least. This is a spot not too far away from my reading spot. 

 

Ben Umstead's picture
Ben Umstead from L.A. is reading Speedboat by Renata Adler July 16, 2013 - 1:59pm

Fantastic, Michael.

Care to share where this is?

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder July 16, 2013 - 2:16pm

Thanks Benu! This is Schiller Park in German Village, in Columbus, Ohio. There are lots of pictures of the park and village here. Here's a picture of an independent bookstore, one of the best in the country I think, also in the village. Right next door is a coffee shop I'm in several times a month. I guess you could say Cup o' Joe's is also one of my favorite reading spots. The Book Loft runs an entire block. It's actually 2 village houses joined together, and there are close to three dozen rooms you can browse. It's a bit of a labyrinth! And outside, though you can't see it in this picture, and running alongside the bookstore, is a nice paved brick path with extra benches and trees and flowers and stuff.

 

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder July 16, 2013 - 2:27pm

More:

 

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder July 16, 2013 - 2:25pm

Of course, I don't write in the park or in the coffee shop. Too many visual distractions for me, no matter how much I isolate with white noise. I wish I could leave the manse and write there, though.

Ben Umstead's picture
Ben Umstead from L.A. is reading Speedboat by Renata Adler July 16, 2013 - 3:16pm

The last spot looks particurally lovely. Thanks again for sharing. If only all cities had such dedication to places such as Columbus appears to have towards The Book Loft and its surrounding areas.

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes July 16, 2013 - 4:07pm

I do my heavy lifting reading on my couch but as far as a spot for a cool reading experience on the outside lately the only place it's really happened for me is in the break room at work, where I've yet to see anybody but me read anything. So as it happened one time I was reading "The Crate" a short story by Steven King and meantime some human resources type was talkin' the Heat game last night or how she astutely won $10 on a Vegas scratch card. Meantime another guy has his cell going on a little stand and he's chuckling madly to himself. But something about the ordinariness of that scene as a back drop made the perverse brilliance of what I was reading all the more enjoyable. I'm sure it was mostly in my own head but at that moment reading a book felt like the ultimate act of defiance.

Ben Umstead's picture
Ben Umstead from L.A. is reading Speedboat by Renata Adler July 17, 2013 - 10:51am

That's quite an amusing anecdote, Jeff. Sounds like everything was amplified, and suddenly it was all a symbol of something else, something greater, not just an act of defiance against the ordinariness, or if you will, absurdness of such a back drop, in that it morphed.

Now, the question is: is this break room lit by fluorescent lights? I find them to be terribly draining. 

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Tana French! July 17, 2013 - 12:32am

Doctors surgeries, hospital appointments and dentists.

Anywhere that involves sitting and waiting for at least half an hour.

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes July 17, 2013 - 6:17am

 

Ben, great question, not only is it industrial grade flourescent, but if you don't move, the banks shut down one by one leaving you in darkness except for the backlight of the cavernous workspace below and behind.

Ben Umstead's picture
Ben Umstead from L.A. is reading Speedboat by Renata Adler July 17, 2013 - 10:51am

Well then! It sounds like the perfect spot to read a Stephen King novel.

Murasaki_Ducky's picture
Murasaki_Ducky from Austin is reading Stardust August 12, 2013 - 9:43am

Parks are a nice reading spot but only if the temperature isn't in the triple digits (lovely Texas weather).

I haven't actually tried reading at a library since I was in college. I used to find it distracting but maybe I let myself get distracted because I was probably reading something for homework. (Because for pleasure is always better.)

I can't read in bookstores or cafes...my ADD kicks in and I start people watching without trying.

Can't say I've ever read on a bus. I might have to try that one.

When at home, the bed and the couch are definitely prime reading spots. I've never fallen asleep while reading but if it's late at night, I do get drowsy.

The bathroom...oh..my..goodness. I forgot to mention this; reading in bed or on the couch are great when no one else is home. When my munchkin or boyfriend are home with me, I must run to the bathroom to squeeze in as much reading time as possible.

Everytime I go on a road trip and have the opportunity to read for a few hours, I can't. I get car-sick when I try to read in the car. I can't tell you all how sad this makes me. =(