Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Reading Out of Doors

I have always loved to read outside. It probably has something to do with Anne of Green Gables, or whatever other freckled and bespectacled heroines used to hang out in the nooks of trees reading. As a kid I climbed the big maple in our backyard, toting a book, to find a comfortable Y to nestle in (there wasn't really a comfortable spot, and it ended up being more of a stoic execution of a great-sounding idea) while I looked out over the prairie, the big woods, Prince Edward Island, or whatever place I was reading about at the time. I used to "caddy" for my dad when he golfed with friends, which mostly involved curling up under an out-of-the-way tree reading Nancy Drews while they played a game whose appeal mystified me, but which allowed me the incredible, decadent pleasure of wandering those vast manicured lawns surrounded by bushes and forests, finding the exact perfect greenery to hide under and read (and no, I never got hit by a stray golf ball, don't worry). I still think golf courses should have no-golfing days where they let bookish girls aged approximately 8-12 roam around for a day in prairie dresses, carrying picnic baskets full of books and walking barefoot and lying down getting grass in their hair while they lose themselves in fiction.

As an adult, I still love to read outside. An apartment with a porch or balcony, a folding chair, and a glass of wine are all that's required. When I go out into the world, I'm often unconsciously searching for a lovely place to sit and read, and having recently spent a long vacation doing just that, I've been thinking a lot about the perfect outside reading spot.

The beach is a lot of people's favorite for outdoor reading, but it holds less appeal for me. Obviously sand getting forever stuck right where the pages meet is a problem, as is sunscreen and saltwater and other paper-ruining disasters. But you're not taking your favorite signed hardcovers outside in a crappy tote bag anyway, right? No, the beach is less than perfect simply because it's a bit too pretty to look at, a bit too bright. The scenery is moving and sparkling, waves are crashing or boats are going past, there's a lot of noise from kids doing whatever kids who don't read the whole time do (I wouldn't know). It feels kind of rude to read a novel while a sunset forms in the sky over the water. Nature made this just for you, can't you pay any attention?

Golf courses, as previously mentioned, would be lovely if they were not expensive and also of course, there's the whole "FORE!" problem. Cemeteries are one of my favorite quiet, calm places to spend time, and I would love to sit in a cemetery and read, except...I don't know. It kind of puts some pressure on exactly what you're reading. It feels a little sacrilegious, a little disrespectful, to read a cheesy murder mystery next to someone's actual headstone, doesn't it? I mean, I'd love it if people came and read on my grave (someday! not right now, thanks), but what if they were reading something I hated? It's better than if someone came and played iPhone app games on my grave, or bickered with their spouse, but still. I think my spirit would be offended by a certain kind of book being read six feet above my bones. Eh, there's just a little too much to consider when graveside reading.

Parks are really the only perfect outside reading place for me. Calm, pretty enough but not too pretty, and there are usually trees to sit under (protection from sun with the added possibility of squirrel/bird friends reading over your shoulder like a cartoon). An expansive park with large-canopied trees and benches directly under these trees would be ideal, and that's exactly what I found on my recent trip to Honolulu, in the park near Iolani Palace:

So that when you look up from your pages, or if you're lying down to read, you see this:

See? Perfect.

-Anna, kids books

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