The fire was lit, the doors closed, the cats curled up and the first page turned.
Where do you read yours?
On the sofa? By the fire? Under a cosy blanket?
We all have special places where we retreat from the world and escape between the pages of a good book.
My reading place varies depending on the seasons, but I always like to be away from others. Peace and quiet are high on my list. I like to close myself off and minimise distractions.
At the start of lockdown when life seemed so uncertain, I remember seeking sanctuary in books. It was reading that got me through. Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. These iconic books had been on my ‘tbr’ pile for a long time, but I was waiting for the right time. Ironically, the world being turned on its head was the right time for me. The fire was lit, the doors closed, the cats curled up and the first page turned. I entered the world of Lyra and Pan. These books saved me, they nourished me. They gave me a world to turn to when I didn’t recognise my own anymore. It was a safe space where I could forget my worries and inhabit another existence.
On trains, in cars – on planes
Pre-pandemic, Tim and I were lucky enough to travel regularly to London to attend meetings and take part in Bookselling Industry events. One of the joys of a day in London was the commute – two to three hours on a train with a book for company. These were times when we were thankful that we lived such a distance from the capital and could immerse ourselves in pure and unadulterated reading.
A snatched golden moment – as though time stood still. There was no-where to go, nothing to do but sink into another world through the portal of a book. The destination was not the focus. The pleasure was the journey – not the literal journey but the metaphorical one – the one that transported us to other worlds, dimensions, landscapes and characters.
Another example of this ‘captured time’ is a long haul flight – which after the events of the last few years seems like a life-time away. I remember the first time I went to the American Bookseller Conference in Minneapolis, I had an 8 hour flight and spent ages deciding which books to take with me. It felt like an opportunity to read a ‘BIG’ book, like Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel or a classic like Middlemarch by George Elliot. I’m not normally very good with anything over 500 pages but a plane journey definitely seems to be the place to start an epic. As Stig Abell says in his latest book ‘What to Read Next: How to Make Books Part of Your Life’, capturing those commuting moments can help you read more books and expand your range – from the whole works of Shakespeare to Alain De Botton’s distilled version of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ because let’s face it, in this busy, fast paced modern world, who has time to read the entire 7 volumes that make up this novel?
One of my top tips for a full-on immersive reading experience is to read in the place where a book is set. My experiences of this have been mostly positive, but not all:
One of my most treasured is from when we visited Lyme Regis for the first time.
I had wanted to read John Fowles ‘French Lieutenant’s Woman’ after seeing it years previously on TV (I know – not the way to do it).
We hired a bijou cottage, a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the sea front. For 7 days we slowed down, switched off, inhaled the salty air, walked the windswept beach, and hiked up precipitously steep hills like Golden Cap, seeking glimpses of Hardy country. Returning , we rewarded ourselves with long, lazy lunches devouring the best seafood with lashings of local beer (for Tim) and a cider (for me).
In the shadow of the Undercliffe, I began to read this fabulous classic. I hadn’t been prepared for the way the narrator addressed the reader, the atmospheric descriptions of the landscape, the intensity of an illicit love affair and the different possible endings. I lived it, breathed it and completely fell in love with it.
Over 30 years ago, Tim and I spent a blissful honeymoon in Corfu. Memories of this were sparked years later by the award-winning TV drama adaptation of Gerrald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’, starring Keeley Hawes. The sea looked so blue, the sun always shone, the buildings and landscape were so idyllic. A return trip was planned – although this time we were a little more adventurous and stayed on the small island of Paxos. The perfect place to read the bewitching account of Durrell’s animal filled childhood. It was a good choice, warmed by the sun, reclining on a lounger, the gentle ebb and flo of the sea in the background. The world slowed as I travelled back in time to the charm and humour of 1930s Corfu.
Over the last couple of years, we had started staying in Cornwall for a week in January – to recover from the madness of Christmas, whilst walking, sleeping, wining, dining and of course catching up on our reading. A visit to Penzance was a highlight as we mooched around the numerous independent shops and popped into ‘The Edge of the World’ Bookshop (Edgy for short). I was looking for another classic set in Cornwall and here I found it – Notes on an Exhibition by the wonderful Patrick Gale. We had previously hosted an event with him and I loved how he talked about Penzance. Our visit confirmed his glowing review, and so it seemed the perfect time to read this best-selling ‘Cornish’ novel. I was not disappointed. It was incredibly compelling, unravelling the story of Rachel an artist, through the eyes and memories of those she has left behind. Having visited Penzance, it felt so familiar and definitely added to my enjoyment and connection with the novel. I found Patrick Gale’s writing beautifully lyrical and emotionally compelling.
Unfortunately, I did have a holiday reading experience which didn’t go so well.
(First – confession time! We have been serial visitors to the stunning Cycladean Island of Santorini – this year will mark our 5th visit.)
A customer had suggested that if I was visiting Greece, I should take ‘Zorba the Greek’ with me. I duly did. All week I struggled to concentrate on the book, to make sense of it, to warm to the characters, but it was a NO from me. I got three quarters of the way through and gave up. I could no longer bear it. It didn’t thrill me. Every time I picked it up, it felt like Groundhog Day – I was sure I was reading the same page over and over. It felt more of a chore than a pleasure.
Note to Self: holiday reading should be for you. It should be effortless and enjoyable. Anything less than this is a waste of precious time.
In the bath
It’s time to get steamy!
Do you remember the places you read particular books? The environment is very much part of the reading experience.
I devoured, The Thursday Murder Club whilst soaking in the bath: candle lit, water steaming, glass of wine waiting – bliss. Sinking beneath the bubbles I inhabited the eccentric charm of Richard’s Osman’s characters. I aspire to be an Octogenarian with as much wisdom, wit and energy as Elizabeth Best and her wily group of companions.
Now every time I have a bath, I remember the hours I spent soaking up this hugely entertaining and cleverly crafted tale.
I read ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemmingway – on the black sand beaches of Santorini. The landscape, the heat, the sea were the perfect backdrop for the short but evocative tale of Santiago and his determination to land a huge marlin. When I think of this book, I feel the heat, I hear the sea and Santiago’s struggle is brought vividly back to me.
I could go on…but I won’t. Where we read can impact on how we experience books and how memorable they become as part of our personal reading canon.
Over to you ‘dear reader’, I am curious to know….
Tweet, insta or facebook your special reading places.