Interns Blog: The ideal position for reading
In an airport terminal on the eve of summer break, I pulled a receipt from my wallet and wrote out a list of books to read before school began in August. Several weeks later, and a few days before my internship at the Press began, those books remained stacked in a corner of my bedroom. Now, after three weeks of commuting into New York City, the pile has begun to dwindle.
Late Sunday night, I sat upon a pillow, beside that stack of books. With an incense stick lit, I chose a new title and flipped through its soft, thick pages to the first chapter. The room was quiet, and I could hear the rain’s mist strike the leaves outside. It seemed to be the ideal moment to begin Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, Swann’s Way. Before I reached the third sentence however, wisps of incense floated like strings of spider’s silk before the pages. I closed the book and watched the smoke twirl before me. Then I slept.
The first chapter of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler* advises to
Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, curled up, or lying flat. Flat on your back, on your side, on your stomach. In an easy chair, on the sofa, in the rocker, the deck chair, on the hassock. In the hammock, if you have a hammock. On top of your bed, of course, or in the bed. You can even stand on your hands, head down, in the yoga position. With the book upside down, naturally.
Of course, the ideal position for reading is something you can never find.
In all honesty, I can recall only a few times that I have read for more than an hour without thought of my surroundings. On Monday morning, I took a seat on a New Jersey Transit train and, once again, flipped to the first page of Swann’s Way. The train lurched forward, the ticket collector passed by, and, despite the many potential distractions, I read with ease. When the wheels screeched as they glided along the tracks, I would pause and in a moment of gratitude, reread the passage with renewed attention.
Before this summer, I had never worked at a publishing firm or commuted into the city. I couldn’t predict much of what I would encounter. I did believe, however, that I would hate the commute. To my surprise, I haven’t.
When people ask about my time at The Press, I mention the daily commute. They cock their heads or chuckle. I have discovered something quite special. Many of us long for an ideal reading spot. We wait for it, and (please forgive me for a bit of authorial extravagance) it waits for us. I’m not entirely sure whether I should develop that idea, but if you have been fortunate enough to have found that ideal spot, perhaps that sentence feels just right.
*Calvino, Italo. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. London: Vintage Books, 1979
Don’t you love having a misspelled headline on a great article, then leaving it unchanged over a long weekend? Sorry about that, not Christopher’s fault. -Ed.