Welcome to the Book Nerd’s Guide to Life! Every other week, we convene in this safe place to discuss the unique challenges of life for people whose noses are always wedged in books. For past guides, click here.
There are people in this world who are prone to falling asleep just about anywhere, anytime. There is a term for their condition: narcolepsy.
To my knowledge, there is no term for the chronic condition for which I exhibit symptoms: the tendency to begin reading wherever and whenever, with little regard for situational awareness. I’m sure there’s a German word for the underlying feeling of this book compulsion. There always is. That said, some places are better suited than others for hosting bookworms for extended periods of times. And some reading places, well, they downright suck.
The Last Table in the Coffee Shop
As far as reading nooks go, your favorite coffeehouse is pretty much the holy grail. It smells wonderful. There are caffeinated things along with pastries. People tend to be more absorbed in their own worlds and less likely to start book-interrupting conversations with you. And the seating tends toward individual over communal. Basically it’s your house, but with better stuff: you get to feel as if you’re engaging with the world without having to interact with it fully.
But the worst thing about coffee shops is also the best: they are so good for long-term stationary pursuits that nobody wants to leave, ever. Once the cozy armchairs are taken, they’re dead to you for hours. It’s not like vultures leave prime meat just lying around. For latecomers, all that tends to be left is the table nobody wants. Either it’s directly in the sun on a 100-degree day, or it’s stuffed into the darkest corner, or one leg is several inches shorter than the others, or the last person who sat in the chair died.
It’s not where you want to be.
In the seminal Gilmore Girls episode “An Affair to Remember,” plucky and neurotic Rory Gilmore is on edge, this time because her roommates are driving her bonkers and she needs to find a place to study. Hither and thither she goes, trying to find the perfect study spot, forced to wander constantly because of noise or drama or Sookie’s thousands of mini-quiches.
Finally, she finds the perfect tree on the Yale campus. It’s her tree, perfectly shady and quiet. And then some ruffian ruins everything by claiming the spot the next day.
This is how most of my attempts to read in nature go. Inevitably, there’s one tree or one shaded spot that’s perfect, but taken, and I wind up accidentally sitting on an ant pile or under a bird bathroom.
Who among us has not spent a few hundred lunch breaks hunched over a novel and our sad desk lunch? The problem, of course, is that your workspace at your job is no safe space: you’re fair game for passing coworkers or the incessant pinging of your email. It’s hard to even get through a chapter, especially if one of your hands is occupied with a sandwich. And we haven’t even mentioned the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights overhead. Not only do they make your skin look wan and deathly, they make the small text of a mass market paperback all but indistinguishable from hieroglyphics for everyone not blessed with 20/15 eyesight.
I have the natural grace and poise of a platypus on roller skates. Coordination is not a specialty. Treadmills and other gym equipment tend to require balance and functional motor skills. For me, at least, little of that is possible without concentration. I do find the gym boring, so I’m always tempted to bring a book to prop up on the treadmill or the elliptical machine. But then there’s that pesky coordination and concentration business. I can’t focus on the book and on my legs at the same time, so I either sprain an ankle or have a terrible reading experience. Really, it’s a tough choice.