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Reading Nook: The chaise lounge that made Janelle Brown feel like a grownup

janelle brown
Author Janelle Brown in her home in Silver Lake, getting ready to read a book on the chaise lounge she bought two decades ago.
(Greg Harrison)

My reading chaise was the first piece of “real” furniture I ever purchased. I was 27 and had just bought a condo by myself, a diminutive flat in the Mission District of San Francisco. After years of thrifty living, on furniture of dubious provenance — hand-me-down mattress, Goodwill couch, armchairs rescued off the streets — I was finally feeling my purchasing power. I was ready to live like a grownup.

Around the corner from my new home was a cavernous antique shop, which sold an oddly curated collection of ephemera from the 1920s on. I’d wandered through before, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer options available to me: Was this table the piece that would define the new adult me? What image was this lamp projecting, and was it one I wanted to convey? Over and over, I equivocated, until this one particular Saturday when I walked in and fell instantly, hopelessly in love with a chaise lounge.

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The chaise was a midcentury piece, upholstered in avocado green, and miraculously it rocked. It was wide enough to fit two people, which meant it was disproportionately large for my tiny living room; and it cost $600, which felt like a shocking sum at the time. Still, I looked at that chaise and for the first time I saw myself clearly: There I was, lying on it with a book in hand, a cup of coffee steaming by my side, and the afternoon light pouring through the windows of my home. I knew I had to have it.

Things have changed in the two decades since I bought the chaise. It’s moved with me four times in two cities, through marriage and the birth of two children, finally landing in the living room of our Silver Lake house (where it’s still disproportionately large). Today, the upholstery has amorphous stains from where the kids spilled an entire bottle of bubble liquid; and I no longer love the avocado color, so the whole thing is covered with a Moroccan blanket. But it’s still my reading spot, in the corner beneath a window.

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Many days, I wake up and creep downstairs at 5 a.m., while my husband is still snoring. This is my reading hour, the precious window before our kids bounce awake and my time is no longer my own. I’ll make myself a coffee, settle in on the chaise with a pillow and blanket, and read until little bodies come hurtling down the stairs looking for me. If I’m really lucky, they’ll bring their own books and settle down next to me for a while. These are the moments when I’m glad the chaise is big enough for two.

Currently, I’m using the chaise to read “Women Talking” by Miriam Toews, a Canadian author of whom I’m a huge fan. I primarily read contemporary fiction; and in the last year I’ve found myself consuming a lot of books about women’s bodies and our rights. Most have been dystopian and Margaret-Atwood-y — books like “Red Clocks” by Leni Zumas, “The Power” by Naomi Alderman and “The Water Cure” by Sophie Mackintosh — but “Women Talking” is based on a true story, about women in a Mennonite community in Bolivia who discovered they were being drugged and raped while they were sleeping. It’s being called a #MeToo novel, but that’s a reductive way of looking at the book, which is an innovative tapestry of complicated ideas about morality and belief and women’s self-determination within a religious patriarchy.

The women in this noveltalk” because they aren’t permitted to read or write. So reading “Women Talking,” as I sit in the chaise I purchased as a single woman, is a reminder of how far women have advanced with their rights; how far many women still have to go; and how much could potentially be lost again.

Janelle Brown is the author of three novels, including the 2017 bestseller “Watch me Disappear.”


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