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“…. all fellow readers who have ever taken a book along to a humble restaurant will understand my saying that life has few enjoyments as stoical and pure as reading Spinoza’s Ethics, evening after evening, in a strange city….. The restaurant was Greek, cosy, comfortable, and for the neighbourhood. The food was cheap, tasty and filling.

Over white beans with chopped onions, veal cutlet with a savoury dressing, and eventually a fruit cobbler and coffee, I read the De Ethica in its Everyman edition, Draftech peen at the ready to underline passages I might want to refind easily, later. Soul and mind were being fed together. I have not eaten alone in a restaurant in many years, but I see others doing it, and I envy them.”

Guy Davenport, ‘On reading’ (1987)

Reading at meal times. Soul and mind being fed together. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But in practice, maybe not everyone might have the dexterity required to handle both the feeding of food to mouth, and book to mind, at the same time. Unless I have an extra pair of hands available or a really good book holder holding the book open (both of which I have not), most of the time my books and my meals are seldom found together.ย  The only way I can still read while having my meals is when I am sitting in front of my computer and reading off from the screen. But that’s not quite the same thing as Davenport meant, is it?

Oh, and another reason why I prefer my books to be further apart from my food is because I would hate to risk getting food stains onto them. Seriously. Anyone here feels the same? ๐Ÿ™‚

But for those who feel that they prefer to keep their book close at hand and bring it to the table with them as they go about their meal, perhaps they can do it like how Dr Johnson did. ๐Ÿ˜‰

“Before dinner Dr Johnson seized upon Mr Charles Sheridan’s Account of the late Revolution in Sweden, and seemed to read it ravenously, as if he devoured it, which was to all appearance his method of studying. ‘He knows how to read better than anyone (said Mrs Knowles); he gets at the substance of a book directly; he tears the heart out of it.’ย  He kept it wrapt up in the table-cloth in his lap during the time of dinner, from an avidity to have one entertainment in readiness when he should have finished another; resembling (if I may use so coarse a simile) a dog who holds a bone in his paws in reserve, while he eats something else which has been thrown to him.”

James Boswell, Life of Johnson (1791)

If the reading of good books is ever sinful, it is at meal-times. He who reads at meal-times treats his meal and his digestion with discourtesy, and puts upon his author the affront of a divided allegiance.

Robert Blatchford, My Favourite Books (1900)

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4 thoughts on “Friday Feature : On Reading At Meal-Times

  1. I love to read while eating and do it as often as I can especially at lunch. My Kindle was a godsend in this respect because I have a cover for it that allows me to stand it up on the table in front of me for hands free reading. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Yet another good reason for me to seriously consider getting an e-reader….besides the fact that the thousands of free classics available truly appeals to my gluttony for books. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  2. I had lunch at a cafe today & read my current book on my e-reader. It lies flat in its cover & is perfect for meal time reading as long as I’m not eating anything messy like soup or pasta (wouldn’t want to splatter anything on the screen). I love my e-reader as, apart from magazines, most books are too awkward to read at the table, especially if you need to use a knife & fork.
    I agree with you about the allure of free e-books. It was one of the reasons I succumbed. Do you know Girlebooks? Lovely site with lots of 18th – early 20th century classics written by women. Lots of Von Arnim, Gaskell, Anna Katherine Green (if you like mysteries), Burney, Austen, Bronte etc The books are beautifully formatted & all free.

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    1. Yes, I have checked out Girlebooks before and remember liking what I found there. Thanks for recommending it again, and for tempting me even further with regards to getting an e-reader. I know it’s just a matter of time before I capitulate, too. :p

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