The beauty of books is that you can read them anywhere, at any time. But is there an ideal space to do your reading in?
Bed is probably the most popular place of all, but not necessarily the best: it involves too much shuffling around to get comfortable. A lot of pillow folding is required, arms leant on soon start to ache, books held above the head make page turning difficult; while hefty hardback editions are almost impossible to manage. Then there’s the risk of the book clunking painfully onto your head as you descend into sleep, or if your bed is shared, a weary partner urging you to turn off the light.
I have a romantic attachment to the idea of stretching out under a tree, in a park or some isolated spot in the countryside, whilst idling through another few chapters as I bask in the gentle warmth of the sun. In practise, hard earth and too many other people nearby mean I never feel entirely comfortable. At school I once attempted to read Where Angels Fear to Tread whilst balanced up a tree near the sixth form block, it didn’t really work.
Libraries are just right for some; their feet stretched under a table in the quiet company of fellow readers, but that always reminds me of revising for exams, so I prefer to take my books somewhere else.
Many readers like to do it in the bath, perhaps enjoying the frisson of danger that proximity to water can lend the experience, whilst for others toilet reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Then there’s public transport – thousands of us escape the throng on buses, tubes and trains by burying our heads in a book. Squeezing onto the Victoria line in the morning is never quite as depressing if the battle of Austerlitz is raging around your carriage as the tube pulls away from Finsbury Park.
Sinking into a deep armchair is always appealing – even more so if accompanied by the fierce patter of rain on the window. Perfect for an hour or two in the company of M R James, Algernon Blackwood or F Marion Crawford.
When travelling or on holiday, choosing appropriate books to suit your destination is always fun, though picking out incongruous reading material to offer a counterpoint can be immensely satisfying.
There is plenty of opportunity for reading if you’re flying somewhere, though on planes I tend to get distracted by the terrible movies on offer.
Moby Dick once saw me through a trip to Morocco involving many long hours on trains, though at least in Tangier we were near to the sea. Walking a section of the Camino De Santiago with my Dad and my brother I had a battered copy of Hammer of the Gods, the unauthorised Led Zeppelin biography nestled in my rucksack. The other book was James Robertson’s The Last Testament of Gideon Mack, a funny, haunting novel about the life and strange disappearance of a Church of Scotland Minister, who may or may not have encountered Satan in an underground cave, in the days before his death. Set in the small town of Monimaskit in the north east of Scotland, the book was an oddly fitting companion as we tramped along the latter stages of an ancient pilgrim trail.
On one holiday in Aegina, Greece I lay on the beach reading about marriages withering, farmers losing the plot and former miners turning to suicide in The Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories. John Fowles The Magus would have been a more fitting choice, but I read that one winter in Bristol.
My most spectacularly inappropriate choice has to be Revolutionary Road, which I read whilst on Honeymoon. Reading at all in those circumstances could be justifiably questioned, though fortunately for me my wife is also a voracious reader so she kind of understood.
Two of my most memorable reading situations were in Australia. Reading Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang on a sand dune in Manly seemed rather apt; but that was nowhere near as enjoyable as ripping through Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections whilst propped up against a wall in St Kilda marina, soothed by the sound of sea lapping shore and that magical tinkling sound you get when wind teases rigging, flicking wire rope against aluminium masts.
On both occasions having good weather and the freedom to relax made for a very enjoyable time, but on another day things could have been different.
The truth is there is no single ideal place for reading, any more than there is a book that’s perfect for any specific location. The real fun is in exploring your options.