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  • elizabethvstarkey

Right book, right nook

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

Every book needs the right reading nook. Tricky books beg to be read in bed. Light, thin books are superior on the subway. Romantic sequels adore bubble baths. Books with shiny 'award' stickers are best read on the bus, held up uncomfortably high so everyone knows you have good taste. Reading is an art. Where's your sacred reading spot? Here are a few of my favorites:

West Highland Railway, Wales

Ah, who can beat reading on the train? A window seat on a steam train no less. This one shunts through the misty mountains of north Wales. There's a screech of brakes and hiss of steam at every stop. The little tea trolley squeaks as it squeezes down the narrow aisles. I don't care. Bring on the noise. Fling away the newspapers and magazines. This train demands a cloth bound book, yes, one steeped in legends and battles, swords and knights on horseback. Bring on Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant. Let the battle begin!

Sherwood Forest, England

Sherwood Forest is full of wonder. I grew up on the edge of this famous forest. I love its secret glades, the dappled light, the tang of wild blackberries. Huge gnarled oaks stand guard over lush green ferns. I step off the path and follow the soft lowing of wild cattle, deeper and deeper into the trees. The breeze brings whispers of Viking kings and Robin Hood's men. Hush, there is my spot. I settle down on a mossy patch among the foxgloves. The sun is on my back. I open Tove Jansson's Moomin Midsummer Madness and let the magic roll in.

Tipi hideout, Brooklyn

Occasionally, I crave a cozy spot, like in my daughter's tipi. Once I've tied the flaps shut and blocked the cutout window with fluffy cushions, I disappear with my book. No one can interfer as I race through Katherine Rundell's The Wolf Wilder, my heart beating. No one can see me crying over Astrid Lindgren's Brothers Lionheart. Or watch me blush at Louise Rennison's Angus, thongs and full-frontal snogging. A tipi is deliciously private. That is, until my daughter crawls in. "Hey, that's my book!" she says. "And my tipi and everything! Can I join you?"

Zermatt, Switzerland

Sharp mountain air makes my mind fizz. I can happily whip through Chris Riddell's Ottoline series, Enid Blyton's Famous Five series (all twenty-one of them), and still have time for Jean Craighead George's Frightful Moutain. Of course, there are plenty of distractions. The view of an electric blue lake far below brings on a bout of whistling. Then I need a picnic, a pee behind a rock, and a snooze in the shade. But when the sun dips in the sky, it's time to open up my old time love, Edward Lear's A Book of Nonsense for a lymric. A well crafted lymric always fortifies me for the long hike down. Here's a cracker:

Edward Lear lymric

Brooklyn, NY

Birds make good reading companions. Even for philosophy books, which demand a quiet bolt-hole. When I was a philosophy student, the library at Edinburgh University was rowdy and my shared accommodation was boisterous, so for some peace, I’d climb over the back gate of the Botanic Garden after closing hours, to sit under the cherry trees. Only the birds and I were there. Time to wrestle with Ludwig Wittengstein’s Philosophical Investigations. In this picture, the crows outside my window in Brooklyn are particularly noisy. I wonder if they know I'm reading Colin Meloy's Wildwood.

My desk

There's only one place I can write. I live in Brooklyn, which is brimming with writers tapping away in boutique cafés. I tried cafés too, but got bored of the daily fight over the only working electrical socket, and expensive bad pastries, and someone else's playlist. So no café for me, or park, or subway, or bed. I love my desk, with my own books and a blank wall to stare at. My daughters have desks next to me, and my husband often uses mine, but I prefer to write when I'm alone. Holidays tend to make me hostile. I once saw a photo of Virginia Woolf writing on some busy back stairs. How could she focus? Ear plugs hadn't been invented yet!

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