, , ,

In any event, the picture of you lolling in the hay, reading Charles Lamb, pleased me very much. It made me recall my own childhood in Suffolk. My father was a farmer there, and I helped out at the farm; though admittedly all I did was jump out of the car, open the gate, close it and jump back in, gather eggs, weed our garden, and flail at the hay when I was in the mood.

I remember lying in our hay-loft readingThe Secret Gardenwith a cowbell beside me. I’d read for an hour and then ring the bell for a glass of lemonade to be brought to me. Mrs. Hutchins, our cook, finally grew weary of this arrangement and told my mother, and that was the end of my cowbell, but not my reading in the hay.

~Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey
Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Every respectable reader, I like to think, has a spot like that. A reading spot so sweet we can only measure all other reading spots by its perfection. Mine was not in a hayloft, though, reading that passage and picturing its idyllic pleasures, how can I not wish it so? Forget that I’m allergic to hay and that I find it rather scratchy: it would have been perfect.

I had a number of wonderful reading spots over the years: lying across the top of our picnic table when I was kicked out-of-doors, sitting on the sunlit, mottled brown carpet in front of the massive bookshelf reading book after book until there were more books piled on the floor around me than in the bookshelf, stolen away to the front porch where no one could find me (no, wait, scratch that – that was my sister’s reading spot, not mine), floating in the pool for so long that not a lick of me was even damp any more… There were as many favorite reading spots as there were favorite books from my childhood. But none of them were as wonderful as lying in bed.

I wasn’t given a room of my own until I started high school. It was a tiny room, but given my mom’s penchant for rearranging furniture every month or so, it had many different looks over the years. My favorite arrangement was with my bed placed against the far wall under the window. The room was just wide enough for my bed, and the window was just at the right height for me to open (or close) the window no matter which way I was lying.

It was like having a hammock in the tallest tree in the yard; I could sit propped against dozens of pillows and glance out the window while I read. I could watch robins, cardinals, and blue jays bickering in the trees, I could watch my neighbor pottering in her garden, and my brother and his friends play kamikaze ghostbuster tag in the yard. I could watch snow fall and hear the snowplows free us from a day of school. I could hear gravel crunching under car tires as everyone drove up and down the street. It was heaven. I could read, all alone, in my breezy, sunshiney little kingdom and keep an eye on the world as it unfolded at my feet.

[Which makes me wonder: what does height have to do with this? It occurs to me that I’ve painted a sort of city-equivalent to a hayloft. Does the feeling of reading high above and beyond the world – while still tangentially being part of it – have anything to do with the perfect place to escape our world in a good book? Do we need to feel that safe sense of removal from our own world to truly immerse ourselves in other fictional ones?]

I’ve found other places to read, hidden book nooks in libraries and favorite chairs in coffee houses, but nothing will ever touch that one sweet spot from my childhood. What about you? Have you a favorite reading spot from your childhood? Has anything from your adult lives ever measured up?