“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”Fernando Pessoa
If you’re anything like me – and let’s face it; assuming you’re a stressed and overstimulated American left mildly shell-shocked by the events of this year, then you are – you desperately need a reprieve from the torrent of news, negativity and information (mis-or otherwise) that seems to be part-and-parcel of modern life. And go figure that this need arises at a time when it is less feasible than ever before to vacation abroad, take a road trip, or even leave the house. In light of this dilemma, I hope you will indulge me in a simple suggestion – cultivate a reading nook in your home. Don’t get me wrong, melting into your couch watching an endless stream of true-crime shows and charming British reality competitions is a perfectly valid approach to relaxation. But let’s be honest – that’s distraction. Cracking a new book by a favorite author offers something more concrete and, in my opinion, infinitely more valuable: immersion. Losing oneself in a compelling narrative not only entertains and passes the time but also engages the intellect and the imagination – rather than shutting off your brain you allow it to exercise in the background, leaving you, perhaps, better prepared for the mounting absurdities of real life.
The Vital Elements
Putting together a reading nook is one of those tasks that appears simple on the face of it – after all, a milk crate set up in the corner beneath a bare bulb will do the trick. But there is a considerable amount of variance and decision-making that goes into an ideal nook. What manner of chair provides the perfect literary redoubt? Where in the room is it situated -within arms reach of some bookshelves or perhaps by a fireplace? What about light sources? Will you rely on proximity to a window for natural light or on a lamp? Floor or table lamp? And then there are further considerations such as blankets, a side table, or plants. All of these many components ultimately work together (hopefully in harmony) to produce the raison d’etre of a reading nook – an unshakeable sense of comfort, ease, and insulation from external concerns.
Variations on a Theme
All of this is to say that your nook must necessarily be specific to your habits, resources and needs- there is no one correct way to execute a project like this. I recommend a well cushioned chair, perhaps a recliner if you’re so inclined (no pun intended) and it certainly couldn’t hurt to have an ottoman available should you truly need to take a load off. Overstuffed, distressed leather is never a bad look, nor are soft textiles in interesting patterns (whether these work will really depend on the decor of the room in question). A bench or loveseat will do the trick as well, although I have always been leery of reading nooks that make it too easy to fall asleep. Or, what the heck, go bohemian with a hammock – just mind the dismount, they can be a touch finicky.
Light sources are nearly as important as seating. If you can situate your nook by a window, then natural light is fantastic to read by, but it is in rather short supply this time of year. A floor lamp positioned beside or behind your chair works well, as does a lamp set on a nearby end table. The important consideration is that you have steady, diffused light to read by; my preference is a light source both above and behind the nook. There are few things more maddening than trying to read with a bright light hovering in your peripheral vision. Some other spatial considerations to mull: a nearby bookshelf never hurts- sometimes you don’t have a particular read in mind when you plop down in your chair after a long day and being able to browse without getting up is a small, yet worthwhile, blessing. Are there other seats in the vicinity? Reading is a solitary act but it can be a real pleasure to share a quiet space with someone else who is absorbed in a book. If you have younger children, then I strongly advise reading aloud to them – it’s a wonderful way to foster an early love of literature. Aesthetic elements like art, rugs, or plants can go a long way towards cultivating a particular mood for your nook – follow your instincts and curate a space that maximizes your sense of well-being and coziness. Sometimes less is more, sometimes you simply have to take a maximal approach. You will know when it feels right.
As mentioned above, the ideal reading nook is more about the sensation it evokes than it is about a particular set of material conditions. To this end, I offer a (highly subjective) set of suggestions. First of all, if you can carve out your reading nook in a room with a wood stove or fireplace than you absolutely should. There is something magical about reading while a fire roars in defiance of the November drizzle outside, something that brings the winters of my childhood rushing back and eases my worries, whatever they are.
Secondly, cats! Or dogs! Or both! A pet curled up nearby enjoying the morning light or the warmth of a fire can lend a space a peaceful feeling of shared contentment, and animals tend to interrupt one‘s reading less than people do.
Speaking of contentment, let’s talk beverages. This time of year a hot mug of tea is almost always the right answer – earl grey and chamomile being safe yet reliable choices. I myself have been brewing an English breakfast/tulsi blend. It’s rather strong, so I leaven it with milk and honey. If you would prefer to go stronger still, a glass of wine, a whiskey neat, or even a hot toddy can do wonders settling you into both your chair and your book.
These elements all can go a long way towards making a perfect reading nook but they are merely the tip of the iceberg – perhaps you need music or snacks. Perhaps you prefer to read outdoors, or perhaps you really would prefer the milk crate and bare bulb approach. The best thing about this kind of space is how personal and personalized it can be – a reflection of your inner serenity brought forth into the world so that you have a place to escape to when it is most needed. And I think it is safe to say we all need that place from time to time so that we might rest our bodies and reinvigorate our minds, and return to the real world ready for whatever it might throw at us.
You didn’t think I was going to wrap up without a few book recommendations, did you? Not a chance. Reality has seemed a bit haphazard of late so I’ll stick with fiction:
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yeah, yeah it’s a bit obvious, but what’s not to like? It’s got the dawn of a new age, the defeat of evil forces in the face of overwhelming odds, and second breakfasts. Already read it? Read it again, it’s even better than you remember.
- The science fiction of William Gibson. Gibson wrote (and still writes) eerily prescient stories of dystopian futures that synthesize the possible outcome of trends in technology, popular culture, and geopolitics. Tactile, endlessly inventive world building and very real characters, not to mention scenarios written decades ago whose continued relevance should make a contemporary reader squirm.
- The Little House on the Prairie books. This bucolic series follows the frontier childhood of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and it’s scenes of work, play, and simple boredom from a time before WiFi are an excellent tonic for our culture of nonstop overstimulation. Perfect stories to read the little ones before bed, or to yourself by the fire if you’re feeling nostalgic.
A Little More About Marlin
Marlin Blansfield is a native Rhode Islander with an instinct for the antiquarian- clothing, furniture, you name it. He hopes you enjoy his small contribution to Marianne’s Consignment Confessions. He is currently ensconced in his own reading nook, with no plans to vacate it for the next ninety or so days.
And Now For A Little Music Before We Go…
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”Ray Bradbury