In Praise of a Good Place to Read

For the past couple of months, I have felt like a wandering Aramean. A complicated series of furniture misadventures with more plot twists than a Robert Ludlum novel had meant that for awhile our living room –the place where I do most of my reading and writing– had been transformed into a sofa storage and staging area. I was displaced and lost.

A perfect place to read

(photo by m.a.h. hinton)
(photo by m.a.h. hinton)

At different times in my life it has been different places. I have read Auden in a tent by flashlight late at night on the Continental Divide Trail in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness in Montana and Hugh MacDiarmad on a battered Lazyboy in a dingy St. Paul studio apartment overrun with box-elder bugs. I read Ezra Pound at an Irish bar in Chicago and Ford Madox Ford on long city-bus rides going to and from a downtown editing job I never really liked. I read Paradise Lost in a hospital waiting room and Ted Kooser in a cabin on Lake Superior. On beaches in Florida I read Travis McGee and in a dimly lit apartment of borrowed furniture in Saginaw, Michigan, I read Kafka and Yeats.

For the past few years, I have done most of my reading… and writing… in the living room of our Bloomington home overlooking our less-than perfect front yard and our quite-perfect suburban street. Since I never close the shades on the big window that faces the sidewalk and street and routinely read late into the evening, I have heard that the neighbors are well aware of how I spend my evenings. Whether they approve or not… I cannot say.

With my Kindle app on my iPod, I now find I can read almost anywhere… and frequently do. Sitting in the car waiting for a daughter, sitting in some waiting room or at a desk waiting for a computer I am working on to reimage or update…. And yet in the end, I spent the past few months feeling homeless because my living room, lined with books, was in disarray… and in a house with many rooms I had no place to go.

I am in the northeast corner of my living room again which is in southwest corner of our house. The room is a long rectangle. In front of me, in the southeast corner, is one tall bookcase with westerns and chess books and books about Montana, and next to that another small four-sided bookcase that spins filled with Modern Library classics. In center of the wall is a big picture window looking south over a yard that needs to be raked again. On the western wall, is one bookcase, a piano, and two more bookcases with glass doors on top to protect older books.

On the coffee table in front of the couch I am sitting on is a chess board and a few piles of books in various states of being read, and more books on the coffee table’s lower shelf. I look around the room, at spines of books I have read and plan to read. On books of history, and theology, and poetry, and mysteries, and science fiction, and fantasy, and French Literature, and Russian Literature, and books that have changed my life, and books that may change my life in the future… and I am as content as I am hard-wired to be. I have my home back. I have a good place to read.