Reading Nook: Curtis Sittenfeld and her chocolate brown, fake-suede armchair

The author of “Prep” and “American Wife” says her favorite chair has become “the place I read other people’s books” — not work on her own.
(Josephine Sittenfeld)

I can’t tell you the date on which I acquired most things I own — clothes, cookware, even my car — but the precise winter day in 2011 on which I purchased my Crate & Barrel armchair and ottoman is engraved forever in my brain because less than 24 hours later, I gave birth.

I also can remember how it felt to wander around the second floor of that suburban store; I was so huge and sore and slow that it felt heroic, as if meandering among beds and bureaus and rugs should count as Olympic-level exertion. In anticipation of having a second child, I had, for the first time, rented an office space — actually a one-bedroom apartment around the corner from my family’s house — and I furnished my new office with a desk and shelves I’d already been using. The chair and ottoman set were the only new items I acquired. I envisioned myself sitting on the chocolate brown fake-suede and marking up rough drafts of my novel-in-progress, and the importance of this activity to me can be inferred by the fact that selecting the place I’d do it was essentially my last act before delivering a baby.

The rented apartment turned out to be a relatively short-lived experiment — I held on to it for 18 months — during which I rarely sat in the brown chair. When I was in that office, I sat instead at my desktop computer and wrote with the fervor of a woman with two children under the age of 3 and a part-time babysitter.

It was only when my family moved to a bigger house, I reverted to working in a home office, and I placed the brown chair in the master bedroom that I actually began using it. But not the way I’d originally pictured. I rarely sit there while marking up my own work. Instead, it became, and still is, the place I read other people’s books. I slouch against the back cushion, my legs propped up in front of me, and I consume story collections and novels, memoirs and biographies. Sometimes I read there in the afternoon, for research for my own fiction, and often I read there at night after my children have gone to bed and before I do.


The book I’m currently reading is “Look How Happy I’m Making You” by Polly Rosenwaike. It’s a frank, smart, poignant-without-being-sentimental story collection about, as it happens, pregnancy and new babies. Its stories matter-of-factly depict the complexities of wanting to be pregnant, being pregnant and wishing you weren’t, and announcing to an infant, “I’m your mother. Isn’t that strange? What do you think of me? I mean, be honest.” Indeed, the version of me who wandered enormously around Crate & Barrel could easily be a character in the collection. But that was eight years ago, and my own children are no longer babies.

I’m glad I can be absorbed by Rosenwaike’s scenes of longing, frustration, and delight, and I’m also glad I can close the covers, stand up from my chair, and revert to being myself.

Sittenfeld is the author of “Prep,” “American Wife,” “Eligible,” “Sisterland” and, most recently, “You Think It, I’ll Say It,” her first collection of short stories.