Last month I asked readers about the most unusual or challenging places they’ve ever tried reading. They came through with fantastic answers, confirming my hunch that diehard readers will read anywhere and everywhere.
Forget the Armchair
The “weird” reading spots I mentioned ranged from bathrooms to beaches, commuter buses to cliffs. Many people agreed–there are many more places to read in this world than armchairs and libraries. Beds and trains are among the top picks.
My friend Wheatleigh, for example, says his most unusual reading spot was probably the Shinkasen (Japan’s bullet train) while travelling at 200 mph. He did that a lot while living and working in Japan.
“Each station in Japan has a distinctive ‘eki ben‘ or station bento (lunch box),” he recalls. “Eating and reading in comfort [was] always a pleasure I looked forward to.”
Reading on metros in this country is less comfortable, of course–but that does not seem to reduce its appeal. My college roommate Isabel even recalls riding the F train all the way to Coney Island and back just so she could finish a book. That reminded me of the time my husband and I took the Orange Line all the way from DC to the end of the line (our stop) and back. We were too wrapped up in our books to notice.
Reading in bed may be even more mundane than reading en route–but it’s not always easy. Maribel, who co-founded Start School Later with me, was in no state for reading when laid up in the hospital several years ago. Still, when her boss brought her a pile of reading material, she rose to the occasion.
“I literally spent 3 days in the gurney sleeping or just focusing on breathing,” she says. “But the magazines and the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night were a fantastic distraction. As I recovered, I would set goals, like, walk down the hall, and sit near the window in the snack room and read. That book was like a slice of chocolate ice box cake in a dark time. “
I mentioned last month that I can’t imagine swimming while following a narrative. But I was amazed how many people reported great reading experiences while afloat. My friend Nancy, for example, recalls reading at Willy T’s, a floating bar in the British Virgin Islands.
“Sailing with friends for vacation we took the dinghy to the bar for a good long day drink and some jumping off of the top deck,” she recalls.” I fall asleep drinking during the day so brought a novel in a ziploc. I sat at the bar and read while my friends partied.”
Apparently you can read and float even without anything holding you up. ” We used to swim out to this dock holding our library books above our heads and read out there,” recalls Stacy, a clinical social worker in Ohio who also serves as Start School Later’s Communications Director. “Mind you,” she adds, “our father was a librarian, so we knew the horrific consequences of harming a library book.”
My college classmate Miriam, now, principal violist in the Israeli Philharmonic, says her husband once read while floating on his back int he Dead Sea. (She also says he used to read in the tree house he built in Australia as a child: “Gum tree, of course. With koalas in it!”
Perhaps most surprising of all was discovering just how many people can multitask while reading. Obviously a lot of people do that thanks to audiobooks. It’s now easy to exercise, cook, or clean when someone else turns the pages for you. And, come to think of it, I, like many people, even read the old-fashioned way while riding my exercycle.
” I don’t know that it’s weird, but for many years when my children were younger and I was back in school almost all of my pleasure ‘reading’ was accomplished via audiobook while I walked the dog or did household chores,” recalls Kari, another Start School Later colleague. “I still associate certain books with certain times of the year and the changes in foliage and blooms on my many walking routes.”
More surprising was Kari’s claim that her daughter also knits and reads–and, as I mentioned last month, I have long been astonished by my lifelong friend Gail’s ability to read and knit simultaneously. But this multitasking ability must be more common than I believed.
Not that it fails to astonish. My cousin Denise, for example, recalls that she “made people stare in wonderment” when they saw she could knit and read at the same time. “While waiting for my daughter to write her university exams, I would sit in the cafeteria, book on table, knitting needles working away,” she says. ” Some people would stop and ask what I was doing or how I was doing these two tasks at once!”
Gail may still win this one, though. It seems that these days, she simultaneously reads, knits, and watches tv!
Reading in Tandem
Gail and I may also win the “weird” prize for our many “play dates” spent reading in her bedroom. In fact, much of our time together revolved around books. Gail even remembers us riding bikes to the library and checking out as many books as we could carry in our backpacks.
To be fair, I’ve discovered lately that this dual-reading behavior by childhood friends was not unique. In fact, another close friends recently confided that she and her childhood best friend did exactly the same thing as kids.
Of course, just because these reading spots and behaviors are not unique doesn’t make them any less weird. But perhaps it explains why all these people are my friends.