Bookmark: A change in chair proves challenging

It was time.

The chair had begun to sag in multiple places, its stamina and flexibility fatally compromised by the repeated sittings and risings, and sittings and risings, of its most frequent (and, as the French so delicately put it, "well-seated") occupant: me.

Coffee stains had steadily multiplied along the dark-green fabric of its padded arms, the inevitable result of hasty slurps and preoccupied sips and sideways gulps imbibed during the feverish reading of especially riveting passages.

Moreover, there were, pressed deep in the aging chair's crevices like keepsake flowers stored in the pages of a favorite old book, spilled peanuts and dropped popcorn and the occasional flake of waxy chocolate from a Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll.

Last week, it became clear to me that — after 12 years of faithful service rendered from its spot in one humble corner of my home — its number was up. And so, in the midst of holiday shopping to find gifts for others, I did a little shopping for myself as well.

I needed a new reading chair, and I needed it now.

Because once the decision was made to put the old chair out of its misery, I wanted to act swiftly. No looking back. No dithering. No second thoughts. No lingering regrets.

I was the Lone Ranger in search of a new Silver. Harry Potter in pursuit of a new broom. Don Quixote, forced to replace Rocinante.

And it was much more difficult than I had anticipated. I visited furniture stores, office supply stores, discount stores, department stores. I tried out the chairs of friends, striking various poses — holding a heavy hardback with two hands, perching an iPad on an upraised knee — to see if any of their chairs might be The One. I thumbed through catalogs. Perused websites.

But each time I seriously contemplated a replacement — another upholstered armchair that would be my silent companion through myriad midnights of reading — I hesitated.

I just couldn't do it.

At this point, the psychologically well-adjusted among you are surely muttering, "It's a chair, Keller. Get over it."

Would that I could.

Inspired perhaps by the spirit of the holiday season, by those tales of dancing sugarplums and reanimated collectibles, of airborne reindeer and a heavyset, scarlet-frocked codger who displays surprising balance and agility on icy rooftops, I began to imagine my reading chair as something other than a mere piece of furniture. After all, it had done far more over the years than simply support my backside while I turned the pages.

My chair, I speculated whimsically, had read right along with me. It had peeked over my shoulder. It had partaken of every page, breathed in every vivid description and rich metaphor. Like me, my chair had absorbed — most recently — the somber, stringent beauty of British author Helen Dunmore's latest novel, "The Betrayal" (2010), in which a married couple in 1952 Leningrad suffers the oppressive menace of the Soviet state. "Why do we think that the present is stronger than the past? They are not even separate," muses a character named Anna. "The past is alive. ... It claims what it owns."

My chair has likewise been there through classics and new books, through golden literary surprises and gray disappointments. Through short-story collections and graphic novels. Through children's books and newspapers and magazines. My chair is not just a clump of wood and fabric. At certain moments, it feels as if it has been an active participant in all the reading I've done within its soft-limbed embrace.

In a world of furious multitasking, of gadgets that do six things at once (and not one of them truly well, but that's another subject), a reading chair is dedicated to a single activity: reading. Not napping. Not watching TV. Not listening to music. Not texting. Not talking on the phone. If I've been away from my chair too long, I almost feel as if it calls to me: "Isn't it time," the chair softly murmurs, "that you sat down and read something? Hmmm?"

Whereupon I pick up a book and I switch on a lamp and I do what Flannery O'Connor advised the writers of those books to do if they wanted to get any work done: I "apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."

The day will come, of course, when I am forced to part with this particular reading chair. But at least through this holiday season, I've decided to keep it, coffee stains and all.

So don't be surprised if you read a book review of mine one day that states, "I liked this novel just fine, but my chair found the plot preposterous."

JULIA KELLER, cultural critic for the Chicago Tribune, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World