I can’t remember not being able to read. There has to have been a time when I had to have my books read to me, when Mum or Dad sat there with their forefingers patiently drawing a line under the words they were sounding out for me, but I don’t remember that. I do remember my own finger, shaky and a little grubby, rubbing a dirty line under the words as I sounded them out for myself. I can remember my first couple of years at school where I’d read the entire contents of the class bookcase in the first term, and after that had to resort to stealing borrowing books from the bookcase belonging to the next class up. I may have been lousy at reciting my two times tables, but I was scorching hot at reading. Even Miss Hutchinson had to admit that and she, the sternest of my teachers, was no fan of mine.
My early memories are all bound up in books. Holding books. Smelling that hot papery smell of new books. Reading books. Loving books.
The most important presents I ever got for Christmas and birthdays were always books: The Famous Five, Narnia, The Hobbit. I know I got other things. Dolls, f’rinstance, that years later went on to their second owner, my younger sister, in the same pristine condition I received them. The year Father Christmas gave us a record player between us, it had to be mid-January before I even noticed. I’d been given the first half-dozen Famous Five books, you see, by our seldom-seen aunt who lived in faraway Italy. Nothing else mattered but settling into one of the big armchairs in the living room and devouring those books from one cover to the other. Then starting all over again, because the whole world lay between those covers and there was no way to exhaust it.
My winter reading space was that armchair. Summer reading was an al fresco pursuit. Halfway up the garden was an old lilac tree – pale mauve blossoms very high up and rather sparse, as I remember – planted between an equally ancient rose bush on one side and something bushy and green on the other (I was no horticulturalist then and I’ve no idea what that third bush was apart from flowerless and uninteresting). Between them, they embraced a small, circular patch of bare earth. That’s where I spent my summers, back propped against the lilac trunk and feet against the boring bush or flat on my tummy like the Reading Fairy here, with Aslan and Lucy for companions.
I never grew those fairy wings, by the way, although I spent years in school prayers squinting in disappointment over my shoulder when my earnest daily request to the Almighty went unheeded.
These days I’m more likely to read in the little leather sofa in my study, my ‘writing cave’ and I’m just as likely to have the iPad open to the Kindle app as a ‘real’ book. I do still have real books, you understand, including every one of those Famous Five and Narnia volumes, but there’s nothing like a Kindle app for the ability to carry your entire library, almost, around with you wherever you go. The problem there is I often have to turf the dogs out of the sofa first, to make room for me. They think they have first dibs on it, you see, because it’s here they can hang over the arms and abuse the squirrels in the tree outside, or tell the sheep in Church Meadow, opposite the house, exactly what they think of them. Which isn’t much.
So when I was asked what my ideal reading space might be if I could design it, I was quite delighted at the notion of somewhere that could be mine. Totally mine with the dogs sitting where they should be (on the floor, darn it!). Somewhere light and airy, and surrounded by books. So here’s what I’d like.
Big comfy chair or sofa. The sofa in my study is a lot of things, but comfy and squishy-squashy it is not. I have to keep it covered to protect it from canine claws, but even so it’s a shiny leather that means that when you plant your rear end on it, you sit rather tensely and still. Relax, and disaster strikes. Any movement, any idea that I might fling myself down on it and put my feet up over the arms, for example, usually has me sliding straight off into an ungainly heap on the floor. It is more penitential than comfortable that sofa, which is why it’s been relegated to the study rather than for general use. And because I live in a traditional Georgian house, I tend to go for traditional furniture, things that are over-stuffed with neat little arms and nicely turned feet. So something like this (points left) would fit perfectly. It has the right shape and even has a matching footstool for those days when I don’t want to sit and read, but lounge about with my feet up and luxuriate.
Lots of light. Windows to let the sun stream in by day, and big task lights to light the book’s pages by night. I prefer floor standing lights for reading by, because you can tug them around and manoeuvre them into place so you get them to shine directly on the page you’re trying to read. Something thin and elegant perhaps, like this one, which I got from the collection at Arhaus.
Books. Lots and lots and lots of books. We do have a great deal already, scattered all over the house. The paperbacks are all in my husband’s… study? Model aeroplane building site? Guitar storeroom? Mancave? Well, they’re all in there, anyway, stuffed two rows deep into plain Ikea Ivar shelving. They aren’t for show, you see, and so utilitarian shelving was the way to go. I keep my collection of jewellery books here in my own study – the history of tiaras, of great jewellery houses like Cartier and Chaumet. I have far too many books filled with pictures of diamonds and gems that I couldn’t ever possibly afford to own. And downstairs, in the drawing room, are my posh books. The collection of decorative pre First World War editions of Angela Brazil’s school stories, big volumes of Edwardian magazines bound in pretty blue covers, several Children’s Compendium of Classics volumes from between the wars, the collected works of Charles Dickens, and the Diary of Samuel Pepys. They live in a pair of bookcases that once graced some senior civil servant’s office in the 1920s, all polished wood and glass doors.
Something like this, only with cupboards instead of drawers.
Think of a reading nook, a smallish, narrow enclosed space with a window at one end, and each side wall made up of one of these bookcases. The chair and the lamp set in the window, and a few hundred books within easy reach. Heaven.
Well, one day I’ll have that. Until then, excuse me while I go and turf Molly and Mavis off the sofa and take an hour or two to myself, a cup of tea and a good book.
Share pics of your ideal reading space, chums.
(All furniture pictures from Arhaus, who I hope don’t mind me pinching borrowing them to use here).