A few months ago, someone asked me what my ideal reading space would look like. At the time, I was in the thick of teaching my fall classes–and thicker into trudging through a bizarre and still-unidentified illness that left me, at best, feeling mired in the third day of the flu. Hardly the best time for indulging fantasy–but, even so, the question kept popping into my head.
It’s mid-December now, the thicket of illness seems to have opened up into a field pocked with only a few low brambles and sole-sucking mud holes, and yesterday I posted my students’ semester grades. I have just shy of a month before my spring classes begin, and, while I’ll need to start preparing for those classes soon, I’m now in that magic time when I’m free to give two, four–even eight–hours a day to reading whatever I want, just because I want to.
At the moment, like a siren song, the new translation of The Odyssey by Emily Wilson is calling to me. Nearby are the books that have been waiting longer in my when-you’re-free-to-read-all-day basket: Helen Simonson’s novel The Summer Before the War, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Nahid Rachlin’s memoir Persian Girls, and John Edgar Wideman’s book about the father of Emmett Till, Writing to Save a Life. Depending on the weather and my evolving mood, any of these might be supplanted by a mad hunger to read something by one or more old friends: Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, John Galsworthy, Theodore Dreiser, George Eliot, or Jane Austen.
Before I can fully settle into my magic reading days, I need to finish up some Christmas baking and candy-making for friends and family–and tend to some serious house-cleaning–but while I do all that, dreaming of my ideal reading (and writing) space sends a pleasant sizzle through my brain.
First, I need a house smack in the center of about an acre, all mine. This acre would be filled with tall shade trees, sheltering smaller, flowering trees and shrubs–cherries, white dogwoods, redbuds, apples, Bradford pears, azaleas, lilacs, and forsythia. Beyond my shady, flowering acre, there would be miles of deep forest, so that when I looked out the windows of my reading room–almost nothing but windows on three sides–the only man-made things I could see would be three or four sets of sonorous wind chimes, my hammock swing, a picnic table, and two or three Adirondack chairs with footstools for when I wanted to read, write, or just think outside. All those windows would seal well for the colder weather, but they’d open fully to sturdy screens so that, from March through October, I could feel the breeze, smell the trees, and hear the birds and squirrels, along with my wind chimes. I’d need a gas log fireplace along the wall where the room attaches to my house, because I intend to spend more time in this room than any other, all year long. (Remember: I’m in the realm of the ideal here, where there’s always plenty of time to read.)
The furniture is harder to see, but I’d need one great, wide, soft chair where I could sit with my feet pulled up or lie on my back with my head on one arm and my knees crooked over the other. I’d need a couch, too, for those times when I want to sit up with my legs stretched out–a couch, with a firm base and squashy surface that doesn’t need extra pillows for comfort, and a deep seat, so there’s room to my left and right for my cats, when they’re not sitting on the window ledges chattering at the birds. No other furniture except a bed for my dog; a couple of side tables for books, mugs, notebooks and pens; and a small writing desk, because reading always flings me back to writing.
As for the rest, a cushiony rug on the wood floor–because my dog likes to have lots of napping options–and, for gray days and night, a couple of lamps with bright, focused light, which I could lower to shine right on my book without bothering my eyes. For my my desk, I’ll need another a great brighty that spills a generous corona–enough to light my spread of books and papers without crowding the inevitable cat, who shows no surprise at discovering a nap-worthy sunbeam in the midst of darkness.