Sunday, January 25, 2004

Recipe for Reading in Bed

"Reading in bed, like other gentle customs of the pre-Tension Age, may be on the way out. Yet it is a minor art we should not willingly let die." So begins Clifton Fadiman's (1904-1999) essay, "Pillow Books." One can consider reading in bed a minor art. It is also a joyful and luxurious pleasure. I was never one of the guilty children who read books by flashlight under the covers at night. I didn't have to be. I had my own room and since I contrived to be a mostly good child, my parents didn't come check on me at night. This left me the freedom to sit up properly in bed with a little light shining down from over my shoulder to illuminate the page in front of me. It is a pleasure I still cultivate today. I look forward to Saturday nights, my designated stay up late and read in bed night. While the young and single crowd is out whooping it up, I am snuggled in bed with a good book. My Bookman is generally working on Saturday nights so I usually go it alone. For those of you who think reading a book alone is the only way to read, well, I say there is a deep companionship in sitting in bed with a good book in my hand and my dearly beloved doing the same thing beside me. Last night I was particularly eager to read in bed, not just because it had been a long week and I was looking forward to my escape, but because it was supposed to snow. Reading in bed is enough of a pleasure by itself, but add to it a note of inclement weather and the joy is heightened even more. There I'd be, warm and snug as a bug while outside the snow fell and the cold wind blew. I thought about this all day, anticipated it even. I began looking longingly outside around 6. At 8 I started to worry. At 9, the appointed reading in bed time, it was only cloudy and there was not even a flurry. But at least the thermometer on my deck said it was 10 degrees. I didn't have snow, but I had cold and that, while disappointing, was good enough (it is always cold in Minnesota in the winter, so it is a stretch to say the temperature was anything special). Of course, there always arises the problem of what to read. Fadiman suggests that for him

the best bed books are those that deny the existence of tomorrow. To read in bed is to draw around us invisible, noiseless curtains. Then at last we are in a room of our own and are ready to burrow back, back, back to the private life of the imagination we all led as children and to whose secret satisfactions so many of us have mislaid the key.
I find that I don't want to read anything that requires I pay close attention, nor do I want something that will put me to sleep. I am in the middle of reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac for book group and am finding it to be a rather frantic book, not good bed reading material. I looked at my bedside piles, first checking out the books that had bookmarkers stuck in them. None of them appealed. What I finally picked up was Book Lust by Nancy Pearl, a book of lists of books. I love books of book lists, I'm not sure why. But I spent an enjoyable evening reading about books most of which I haven't read and the majority of which I will never read. Nonetheless, for a little while, the intrusions of daily life and the world were far away. And that, above all, is the point. If you are one who has not been cultivating the art of reading in bed, or if it has been a very long time, allow me to offer the following recipe: Ingredients:
  • 1 comfortable bed
  • 1-2 pillows, or to taste
  • 1 pair cozy pajamas
  • 1 good source of light
  • 1 drink (hot chocolate or mint tea are particularly good in winter, iced tea or water in summer)
  • 1 good book
  • a dash of bad weather (optional)
Mix together slowly until the proper comfort and mood is obtained. Let sit at least 1-2 hours before sleeping. Variations: You may wish to add many blankets and quilts in the winter. In summer this recipe goes well with an open window, a cool breeze and crickets (the latter should preferably be outside). At any time of year, particularly the winter, a cat on the lap and a dog on the feet are excellent additions. Enjoy!