Location Matters

April 14, 2010 at 12:00 am 8 comments

Courtesy of the New York Times

One of the hardest reading-lessons I’ve faced recently is the realization that location matters. Just as there are genres for books, I think there are also ideal (and also imperfect) locations for books. By this I mean that there are books that I would love reading at home in a comfortable chairs, yet others which are only appropriate for slightly stuffy academic libraries, and still others ideally suited to the subway’s rattling journey. And the book that would be amazing in the library might be impossible on the subway (or any other similar permutations).

I say that this was a hard lesson because now that I take the subway every day, twice a day, it has become the place where I do most of my reading. Realizing that not every book I might otherwise enjoy is suitable subway reading was a tough epiphany and has led me to not read some books that would be excellent reads if I were anywhere else. It’s hard to miss out!

Anyway, I’ve come up with the following criteria for locations and what is ideally suited to be read there. Feel free to add your own (both locations and criteria) in the comments section:

Subway – Ideally a novel, memoir, or “fluffy” history (yes, Alison Weir, I mean you). Something that is interesting enough to disappear into but not so dense that you need to read a sentence, think it over for ten minutes, and then press on. Should also not weigh very much since you have to schlep whatever it is around all day.

Library – Nonfiction works best here since there is no distracting noise and you can easily take notes. The denser books that require serious thought are perfect. Alternately, perusing magazines you would never subscribe to or international newspapers can work in libraries.

Home – Anything is possible here. Your home is your domain and you can transform it into any kind of reading atmosphere.

Beach – Like the subway, this is novel territory. Somehow the lighter and less angsty the novel the better for the beach. You’re presumably enjoying yourself on a vacation, so mucking it up with a weepy tragedy seems counter-intuitive.

Planes – Pretty flexible, but preferably something long and a little fluffy. It has to be interesting enough for you to crack it open instead of turning on the in-flight TV. Plane-books are a lot like the subway, but with planes you want something lengthier to pass an entire flight whereas the subway almost requires physically light reading.

I’ve read other essays about locations and reading, but they have dealt more with appropriate locations for a given text (i.e. reading Homer at the Parthenon or Dickens in Hyde Park). I’m more frustrated currently by the limitations of location rather than their appropriateness, although I do love a good location-inspired read. So I’ll toss this out to our readers: Have you ever been somewhere that just didn’t jive with what you were reading? And does anyone have a solution to this issue?



Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: , , , .

Bookish Getaway Calling Authors Names

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Natalie  |  April 14, 2010 at 8:15 am

    I picked up a copy of Bonk in the airport before a red eye to Boston a couple years ago, which turned out to be a truly terrible idea. It was light and fluffy (also very informative), but it was so funny that I giggled my way through the entire red eye, to the great annoyance of the passengers around me. Additionally, Bonk is about sex, so I sat through the flight trying to hide the book so no one would be able to read over my shoulder or see the humping ladybugs on the cover. I definitely recommend this book, but must caution people not to read it (or anything else that is laugh-out-loud funny) on a plane!

    • 2. KT  |  April 14, 2010 at 10:38 am

      I think I’d be giggling as soon as I read the title! Bonk is a pretty funny word :D

    • 3. Corey  |  April 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm

      That is a qualification I never even thought of, although you’re quite right! I really feel terrible laughing aloud at books in public places, so I guess the funny books would be to be nixed from the public transportation, airplane, and beach lists! Thanks!

  • 4. KT  |  April 14, 2010 at 10:20 am

    My favorite travel book ever, surprisingly, has been Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It’s so long that I never had to worry about finishing the book before the journey was over, and the paperback version was pretty lightweight (it took up a good chunk of room in my carry-on, but I just didn’t bring any other books!).

    Overall, your assessment of the types of books one reads in various locations is completely accurate! My bus books are usually very close to the “subway genre” you describe :)

    • 5. Corey  |  April 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      Paperback is also a airplane must, I think. It definitely helps! I think at some point you told me The Historian would be a great plane book and I totally agree, although it may be one of those rare books you can read pretty much anywhere. It’s just that good!

      And thanks! I should have just put “public transportation” instead of “subway.” I’m terrible at reading on buses or in cars, so I forgot about the magical people who can do so without getting a wicked headache. Rock on!

      • 6. KT  |  April 14, 2010 at 6:13 pm

        It’s weird, but I can read on the bus, though not in the car without taking Dramamine first.

        The Historian is an EXCELLENT plane book! Not only is it long, you’re a captive audience and are almost forced to speed through that sticky section in the middle. Drood might be another good one in that way, actually.

  • 7. Britney  |  April 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I don’t really have a preference for where I read things! Maybe I’m unusual in that regard.

    Though I do avoid books due to their length because they’re too big to carry around with me. I’m thinking of starting a big book TBR challenge for myself next week, reading some really thick books that I own and want to read but have been avoiding due to their size (The Historian and The Crimson Petal and the White are both on the list, though I haven’t decided on a third yet and I want three). The biggest obstacle has been figuring out where I’m going to read them! I guess I could have a commute book and an at-home book for the next few weeks or so.

    Oh, and sometimes when I have extra time before work I go to the library and read People, so I guess that’s something that I only read in libraries (and doctor’s offices). :)

    • 8. KT  |  April 14, 2010 at 6:19 pm

      Both of those books are absolutely amazing! They don’t feel as long as they are, that’s for sure. The Crimson Petal and the White was my plane book from Dublin to California, and it worked out really well :)


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