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?