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Reading Nook: Ruth Reichl’s movable feast

Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl: “My secret reading spot is a banged-up 11-year-old car covered in the dust of the dirt road on which I live.”
(Michael Singer)

The many lovely spaces that surround me are constantly trying to seduce me into sitting down to read. There’s that big chaise longue in the living room, the one right in front of the window nook, which never stops reminding me what a perfect spot it is for a lone reader. The worn red sofa in my rustic writing cabin is equally insistent. “Over here,” it whispers, reminding me how pleasant it would be to read a good book while surrounded by my favorite objects: drawings by friends, antique toys, huge shelves filled with books. My bed, with its bucolic view of distant mountains, is another cozy spot, and it’s always suggesting I lie down for a little read. And have I mentioned the enormous bathtub on the edge of the forest? Reading in the tub, I might look up to find inquisitive deer peering in at me, and on one memorable day I was startled by an enormous moose strolling into the woods.

I appreciate their efforts, but I rarely succumb. These days I do most of my reading on the move.

I grew up lonely, an only child in a small New York apartment. From the moment I learned to read, my life was transformed. Books offered me a kind of magic, allowing me to step out of my own reality and inhabit someone else’s for a while. I became a slave to fiction. My passion for reading only increased with age, and while I am often embarrassed by my desire to indulge in huge feasts of fiction — shouldn’t I be reading books that improve my mind? — as far as addictions go it’s fairly benign.

I used to read in all the expected places. Then audiobooks came along and everything changed. Suddenly the reading possibilities were expanded beyond my wildest childhood dreams. Now I read everywhere. I read while I’m driving. I read while I’m walking. I read on the subway and on those interminable marches through the airport. I read in the supermarket, while stocking up on groceries, and in the kitchen when concocting a stew. I read in the middle of the night, curled up in the dark with my husband beside me and the cats purring at the foot of the bed. And were I the sort of person who goes to the gym, I’d certainly put in my earbuds and read while working out.

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So I eschew all those perfect little spaces in my house. My secret reading spot is a banged-up 11-year-old car covered in the dust of the dirt road on which I live. There are almost 150,000 miles on this vehicle, and every one of them has unspooled in the company of an audiobook.

Perhaps you consider this cheating? Listening, I know, is different than reading, but I cannot think of a single way that I’d rather spend time. Being read to is a special treat: In the hands of a talented reader a great book becomes even more magnificent.

I love listening so much that when I’m in the middle of a really wonderful novel I will find any excuse to climb into my car and run off to do errands. It may look like I’ve just grabbed my keys for a trip to the cleaners, but the truth is I can’t wait to head back into Claire Lombardo’s world. “The Most Fun We Ever Had” is a remarkable first-time novel offering such an intimate picture of people’s interior lives I feel as if every one of these characters is now a close friend. Lombardo has the remarkable ability to delve into people’s minds so deeply that the most quotidian moments become utterly fascinating. I will be very sad when this book is over; I’m just not prepared to say goodbye.

Happily, another good book is waiting in the wings. Next up: Sally Rooney’s “Normal People.” I’m pretty sure it will also send me off on many unnecessary errands.

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Ruth Reichl’s most recent memoir is the best-selling “Save Me the Plums.”


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