“When I was a boy, and was known to be fond of reading, many patronizing adults assured me that there was nothing I liked better than to ‘curl up with a book’. I despised them. I have never curled. My physique is not formed for it. It is a matter of legend that Abraham Lincoln read lying on his stomach in front of the fire; you should try that in order to understand the extraordinary indifference to physical comfort that Lincoln possessed.
I have read about children who ‘creep away into the attic’ to read, and Victorian children’s stories are full of children who cannot read anywhere except in a deeply embrasured window seat. You have to find your own best place for reading, and for most people in the Western world it is sitting on a chair with a decent light – though for Lincolnians, of course, firelight is the thing. I have forgotten those people of whom it is said that they ‘always have their noses in a book’. This makes reading difficult, but as I have said, you must suit yourself.”
Robertson Davies, ‘Reading’ (1990).
I agree with Davies. Reading while lying on one’s stomach does seem to be a rather uncomfortable pose for reading a book. And to have one’s nose buried in a book would definitely require some supernatural skills of sort in order to get any reading done, not to mention the headaches and dizziness such a feat is bound to bring about! For me, anyway. Clearly, it is not so for this reader. 🙂
But as Davies said, one must suit oneself. And it is interesting to know that both George Orwell and Andre Gide might have possessed the same ‘extraordinary indifference to physical comfort that Lincoln possessed’ too.
“On every landing there were long benches, covered with green velvet, where it was delightful to lie on one’s stomach and read. But one was still more comfortable between the second and last floors, sitting on the steps themselves, which were laid with a black and white speckled carpet, bordered with wide strips of red. The light that fell from the glass roof was soft and peaceful. I sat on one step and leant my elbow on the one above, which also served as a reading desk, as it slowly dug into my ribs.”
Andre Gide, If it Die (1920).
“My favourite place for reading was the loft behind the yard. Except when Father was getting out fresh sacks of grain it was the quietest place in the house. There were huge piles of sacks to lie on, and a sort of plastery smell mixed up with the smell of sainfoin, and bunches of cobwebs in all the corners, and just over the place where I used to lie there was a hole in the ceiling and a lath sticking out of the plaster. I can feel the feeling of it now. A winter day, just warm enough to lie still. I’m lying on my belly with Chums open in front of me. A mouse runs up the side of a sack like a clockwork toy, then suddenly stops dead and watches me with his little eyes like tiny jet beads.
I am twelve years old, but I’m Donovan the Dauntless. Two thousand miles up the Amazon I’ve just pitched my tent, and the roots of the mysterious orchid that blooms once in a hundred years are safe in the tin box under my camp bed. In the forests all round the Hopi-Hopi Indians, who paint their teeth scarlet and skin white men alive, are beating their war drums. I’m watching the mouse and the mouse is watching me, and I can smell the dust and the sainfoin and the cool plastery smell, and I’m up the Amazon, and it’s bliss, pure bliss.”
George Orwell, Coming up for Air (1939).
What and where might your favourite place be to settle down with a book, I wonder? 😉