Ten years ago, when I moved into my current house in Philadelphia, I had grand fantasies about how my reading life, and my daughters’ reading lives, would be conducted. I wanted to give my girls all the things I’d yearned for, and never had. They would have separate bedrooms, the privacy I yearned for, and the freedom to decorate however they pleased.
There would be a playroom, with desks where they could do their homework, and built-in shelves and bins to house art supplies and Legos. And in the playroom would be a window seat, with built-in bookshelves and a view of the street, and the tops of the dogwood trees, bright-green in the summer, yellow and orange in the fall, bare in the winter, and, for two weeks every March and April, bursting with blossoms.
Imagining the window seat, I thought about Francie Nolan, in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” reading library books on the fire escape; how she would spread a rug on the bottom and prop the pillow from her bed against the bars, and arrange her 5 cents’ worth of pink-and-white peppermint wafers in a cracked, blue bowl. “Once out there, she was living in a tree,” Betty Smith wrote. “No one upstairs, downstairs, or across the way could see her. But she could look out through the leaves and see everything.”
I’d once been a girl liked Francie; a girl who loved reading, who dreamed of writing, who promised herself that “when she grew up, she would work hard, save money, and buy every single book that she liked.” I couldn’t imagine that my daughters wouldn’t be readers. So I designed the window seat, making it as beautiful and cozy as could be. I chose all the fabrics for the curtains and the cushions. I hunted high and low for the perfect lamp. I spent weeks fussing over the paint, looking at painted sections of the wall at different times of day until I was convinced I had the perfect shade: white, with hints of ivory and butter. When it was done, it was perfect — pretty and comfortable, welcoming and warm, with a place for everything, and a view of the treetops that Francie Nolan would have loved.
There was only one problem: Nobody read there. My daughters would occasionally use the nook as a stage, opening and closing the curtains between acts of their puppet shows, and I’d sometimes perch there with a magazine, but that was it. Most of the time, the window seat is unoccupied. The books in the shelves gather dust; the cocoa stays in the tin, the treetops go unviewed.
Maybe it was that by the time I could afford such a fancy spot, my habits had been set.
As much as I’d love to paint a pretty picture of myself, curled up peacefully in my window seat, I don’t read there, or on any of the couches or armchairs in the living room or the bedroom or the den. I read in bed. I lie down on my side, beneath a down comforter, with my rat terrier Moochie tucked into the crook of my legs and her chin resting on my knee and my Kindle glowing. And, while Moochie snores, I will fall into the world of my book.
Right now, I’m reading a book by Jami Attenberg, “All This Could Be Yours,” about an unhappy family reuniting at the patriarch’s deathbed, and I’m re-reading “His Majesty’s Dragon,” by Naomi Novik. In the book, the hero sleeps curled up next to the dragon, Temeraire, falling asleep “almost at once in the security of the slow, deep rushing of Temeraire’s heartbeat, so very much like the endless sound of the sea.” That’s how it is for me, only instead of a dragon’s heartbeat, it is a rat terrier’s snores, and instead of Francie Nolan’s trees and peppermints, I’ve got a view of the wall.
No matter. The story will still admit me, no matter my point of entry. I will open my Kindle, and the book will open its doors and say, as it says to every reader, You are welcome here.