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“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? 😉

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6 thoughts on “Friday Feature : On Settling Down to Read

  1. Back problems mean that I have to read in a specific chair with a stand hold in the book at the right height so that I don’t have to bend my neck. Actually it’s pretty comfortable so I can’t complain. However, when I was at College I had a room in a very old house that had window ledges almost two foot deep. I spent hours sitting on those reading, especially in the winter – the radiator was directly beneath the window:)

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    1. I think your current chair with the stand to hold the book at the right height sounds really good. I like to read without having to bend my head looking down for long periods of time too, as I tend to get dizzy quite easily whenever head movements are involved. But my arms get tired after awhile trying to keep the book at a comfortable height, so your chair sounds really neat!
      So does the window ledge you had at College. 🙂

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  2. What a warm fuzzy post. Love the Orwell quote. So visual. I read in my ‘ Penguin room” sitting in my Orange chair. I bought the chair for 20$ from a city mission store,took it to an upholsterer along w/ a bright clean Penguin book and told him to match it. It reclines, has its back to a large window and a blanket for cold days. Lovely place with my Penguins around me to read them and anything else. You can see my Penguin chair on my blog.

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  3. I’ve read in some pretty odd places (while pumping gas, for example), but my current favorites are a cushy recliner in our family room and on a chaise longue (how do you spell that?) on our lanai. I seem to want to be able to put my feet up! I like to read in bed, too, but I usually fall asleep pretty quickly when I do that.

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    1. I think you got the chaise longue spelling quite right there (clap!clap!), unlike myself, who (prior to checking with the online dictionary) had thought it should be chaise lounge. :p
      I too find it very hard to read in bed without drifting off to lala land in no time! Putting up one’s feet is good for blood circulation, I heard. So, keep it up. 🙂

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