“Hundreds and thousands, possibly millions, of people every night in England read something in bed. They say nothing about it except, ‘I read for a little last night and then slept like a top,’ or ‘I didn’t feel like going to sleep last night, so I read for a bit,’ or ‘I began reading so-and-so in bed last night, and damn the book, I couldn’t get to sleep until I finished it.’ Usually nothing at all is said; if anything is said it is very little. Yet what a large slice of each of our lives has gone into this harmless occupation.
We get our clothes off. We put our pyjamas on. We wind our watches. We arrange the table and the light and get into bed. We pile up, or double up, the pillows. Then we settle down to it. Sometimes the book is so exciting that all thought of sleep fades away, and we read on oblivious of everything except the unseen menace in that dark house, the boat gliding stealthily along that misty river, the Chinaman’s eyes peering through that greenish-yellow fog, or the sudden crack of the revolver in that den of infamy. Sometimes we read for a while and then feel as though we could go peacefully to sleep. Sometimes we struggle desperately to gum our failing attention to the acute analysis and safe deductions of our author. Our eyes squint and swim. Our head dizzies. We feel drunk, and, dropping the book aside from lax hands, just manage to get the light out before falling back into a dense and miry slumber.
We all know these fights against inevitable sleep, those resolves to reach the inaccessible end of the chapter, those swimmings in the head, those relapses into the gulf of oblivion. And we all know those long readings when the mystery and suspense of the text so excite us that every creak of the stair and every fluttering of the pertinacious moths makes the heart stand still, and then keeps it beating hard for minutes. We have all turned the light out just in time; and we have all turned it out from boredom, or in an access of determined common-sense, and then turn it on again to resume dreary reading where we left the piece of paper or the pencil in the page. But we seldom talk about it. It is part of our really private lives.”
J.C. Squire, ‘Reading in bed’ (1927)
Reading in bed. I am sure this is something that is done (or attempted) by just as many other “Hundreds and thousands, possibly millions, of people every night……” around the planet, and not just England.
I, for one, do (try). Hahah! Sometimes I succeed in keeping my eyes open long enough to make sense of what I’m reading, before the words start ‘swimming’, or before my arms give way under the weight of the book (no matter how slim the volume may be). My greatest concern is that I hope I don’t damage the dear book in the event of having lax hands. Really.
And sometimes I just downright fail. Those are the times when ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’. But still I say, it’s always worth a try! 😉
By the way, my current bedtime reading has been Wilkie Collins’s No Name, and alternatively Elizabeth Bowen’s The Collected Stories. Both are chunksters, and therefore fall under the category of ‘high risk’ for ‘damage-prone-books-resulting-from-lax-hands’. :p
Alternatively, one could always consider taking on Rose Macaulay’s suggestion.
Only one hour in the normal day is more pleasurable than the hour spent in bed with a book before going to sleep, and that is the hour spent in bed with a book after being called in the morning.
Rose Macaulay, A Casual Commentary (1925)
But for those of us who still think we prefer to do our reading in bed when all is dark and still…. I think we can well benefit from heeding the words of Erasmus.
A little before you go to sleep, read something that is exquisite.
Desiderius Erasmus, Colloquies: Of the Method of Study (c. 1500-8)