Some people might not consider listening to audio books reading but I disagree, though that might partially be because discounting books on tape, CD, and smartphone would discount much of my reading history and many of my favorite books. I’ve been listening to audio books almost as long as I have been reading physical books (longer, if you count my parents reading to me), and I think that if you added up all the time I’ve spent listening in the car, it would probably surpass the time I’ve spent reading anywhere else, including somewhere as generic as “my bed.”
Listening to books in the car has sustained me, from long hours in the backseat as a child to equally long hours behind the wheel on the way to and from college. The lure of the story has kept me focused and alert, rescued me from the tedium and monotony of a drive done a thousand times, given me something to look forward to as I climb behind the wheel.
Once or twice a month in college, I’d drive three hours to visit my boyfriend at his school. I’d stay the weekend with him and then head back Sunday night. The drive there was always fun—I’d sing along to my favorite music and get excited for the weekend ahead—but the return trip was miserable. Not only would I be super bummed to be leaving my boyfriend behind (long distance relationships are just great), I’d also usually be looking forward to writing that nice big essay I’d been putting off for two weeks. So instead of thinking about any of that, I listened to Terry Pratchett and ate salt and vinegar potato chips. It was great. Well, no, it wasn’t great. But it was a lot greater than it would have been, and for that I am eternally grateful—to Terry Pratchett, to salt and vinegar and potatoes, and to my lovely Subaru and its speaker system.
I discovered while I was living in Boston that I really like reading in bars. Boston is a very good place to discover this because in Boston I feel like basically everyone does everything in bars at all times. That was my experience anyway.
So reading in bars is good. And reading at the bar in a bar (that wasn’t a typo, I mean as opposed to at a table) is the best possible scenario because bartenders are great people that will let you talk to them sometimes in exchange for tip money. So all was well in Boston with bars and the reading. But then I left Boston, and in New York I had some trouble. New York doesn’t feel like the kind of city where it’s okay to just sit alone at a bar with a book, because it feels like people are just looking at you all the time, expecting you to be cool.
But then two things happened: 1) I got over myself and 2) I moved to Park Slope, where basically everyone has a stroller and spit up on their (expensive) shirt, so it’s fine, whatever, read wherever, just don’t wake the baby. So I started reading at bars again. And that’s when I found Alchemy, the best reading bar that I have as yet experienced in my time. Alchemy is excellent for these reasons:
1) Music: not too loud, not too annoying.
2) People: not too loud, not too annoying.
4) You know what’s even better than reading at the bar in a bar? Reading in the window in a bar. You can just sit in the window and alternate between people-watching and reading, and it’s fabulous. Except for that one time when a dude reached through the window and ate one of my (free! delicious fried chick pea) bar snacks out of my bowl. That was weird.
My first day off studying abroad in Siena, I spent about six hours wandering around the city alone. I had no agenda, no plan for where I was headed or what I was looking for, but when, somewhere outside the walls of the city, I stumbled across a crumbling fence and weather-beaten bench overlooking the Tuscan landscape, I knew I’d found it. I stayed there, reading and gazing, until the distant hills turned blue.
Of course, given that I’d been pretty much totally lost that first day, finding the bench again took a lot of studying maps and badgering locals and wandering around aimlessly in the hope of recreating the original circumstances of discovery. I swear I’m not just trying to be clever when I say that I didn’t find it again until I’d basically stopped looking. But that second time, I deliberately memorized every step back to familiar ground.
I spent a lot of time on that bench over the next few months. Sometimes I brought other people, but mostly I went there to read and do homework and stare into space for ridiculously long periods without worrying about anyone asking me what I was doing. It remains one of the best places I’ve found in all my years of place hunting, and if I’m in Siena again (please please), I’m taking my book and making a beeline back. I’m pretty sure I could find it.
Last summer, I went through a period where I was having a lot of difficulty finding time and space to myself. I lived with a lot of people and I worked with a lot of people, so alone time was hard to come by. And without alone time, I wasn’t reading anywhere near as much as I wanted to be. So I shifted the structure of my days, just enough. Instead of hanging around my apartment being useless and annoyed until I needed to leave for work, I left an hour or so earlier than I needed to, got off the bus in Harvard Square, bought an iced coffee, and spent the remaining time in JFK Park with my book.
It changed everything. Having somewhere to escape to—somewhere away from all of my roommates and friends and coworkers, somewhere no one was going to talk to me or interrupt me or ask me to do anything—saved my sanity those couple of months. Even though JFK Park is a public place full of people, I felt like it was my own sanctuary, a beautiful little patch of green designed specifically so that I could lie on my stomach in the grass with my face in a Sarah Waters novel. And though I don’t go there regularly anymore, I’m still comforted by the knowledge that it would be there if I needed it.
It’s May 2015 and that means two things. 1) May is the fifth month and 2) Read Five has now existed for a whole year. So, in honor of these two occasions, we’re going to spend the month talking about five things that aren’t books.
Of course, I say that, but this is a book blog, so it’s not like we’re going to tell you about five iPhone aps or five brands of toothpaste or anything. Dana and I are book people, obviously. But we are also place people. We like talking and thinking about places, both conceptually and specifically in relation to our lives. So we’re going to celebrate our blogiversary (. . . sorry) by writing about five of our favorite places to read.
We mean this in the specific, personal sense. As in, “this particular coffee shop in this particular city”, not “coffee shops” in general. This way, we can have more fun reminiscing. And this month, even more than all the others, is just about us having fun. Happy May!