Monday, November 11, 2013

Favorite Reading Spots

Some of you have expressed a tolerance for these nostalgia-laden, semi-autobiographical posts, so here's another one. I think one thing most of us have in common is that we're avid readers and probably always have been. Over the years you've probably had some special spots where you read a lot and have fond memories of them because of that. I've already written about how I enjoyed reading in Study Hall when I was in high school. Here are some other favorite places of mine to crack a book or a comic.

When I was a kid my parents had a low-slung, upholstered rocking chair that was always my favorite place to sit and read. It was next to a window in the living room, so there was good light, and it just seemed to fit me. For most of the years I sat in it, it was covered in some sort of cream-colored naugahyde-like stuff. Next to it was a record cabinet (for those of you who remember records) and when I got back from my weekly trip to the drugstore with the stack of comic books I'd bought, I would sit down in that rocking chair, sort the comics in the order I wanted to read them, saving my favorites for last, and not get up until I'd read through the entire stack.

The same drugstore where I bought my comics also carried a few digest magazines, and I remember reading issues of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. MAGAZINE in that chair. I could read the entire U.N.C.L.E. novella in the current issue in one sitting, between the time I got home from school and supper (which was always at six o'clock on the dot). Then I'd read the back-up stories the next afternoon. I also recall sitting down in that rocker one Sunday afternoon, after church and Sunday dinner, with the Bantam paperback of THE THOUSAND-HEADED MAN, one of the early Bantam reprints of the Doc Savage novels and the second one I read after METEOR MENACE. Again, I didn't get up until I'd read that entire paperback. I'm thinking I ought to reread it, if I can ever find the time.

One other thing I liked about that rocker: if you rocked hard enough in it, you could tip it over backward. I never got hurt doing that, but my mother hated it. Years later, after I had kids, my mother still had that same chair, and I taught the girls the trick. My mother still hated it. I told her that if she ever got rid of the rocker, I wanted it. Well, she got rid of it, all right, but she wouldn't tell me what she did with it. I suspect she didn't want me to have it because she was afraid the girls would hurt themselves tipping it over. And maybe she was right.

Of course there were other places in my parents' house where I read a lot, including my bed, where I would prop pillows behind me and sit up half the night reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and classic mysteries (John Dickson Carr's THE THREE COFFINS comes to mind, along with a number of Ellery Queen novels) and the summer between eighth and ninth grades, all three Lord of the Rings novels. At some point I got an actual recliner in my room, and that was where I read THE MALTESE FALCON, THE BIG SLEEP, THE MAN FROM DEL RIO, and lots and lots of comic books.

Another of my favorite places to read was a lounge chair on our front porch, as long as the weather was nice, of course. I read more Burroughs there, along with several novels by Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov's THE FOUNDATION TRILOGY (in the fat Science Fiction Book Club omnibus edition that some of you probably remember). I laughed my head off reading Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott novel STRIP FOR MURDER. (Those of you who have read it know the scene that set me off.) I read some mainstream fiction there, too, including a volume of Ben Hecht's short stories, some Irwin Shaw, THE MAGUS by John Fowles, and a book that was a bestseller at the time (forgotten today, of course) THE SECRET OF SANTA VITTORIA.

A couple of doors down the street was a rent house that my parents owned, and for a while my sister and brother-in-law lived there. I hung out there quite a bit and usually had a book with me. It was on the front porch of that house I read Mickey Spillane's ONE LONELY NIGHT. My brother-in-law had a shelf of science fiction novels I raided, so there was still more Burroughs and Heinlein, along with E.E. "Doc" Smith and A.E. van Vogt.

Along in those same years, I spent a lot of time at my aunt's house in the tiny Texas town of Blanket, not far from Brownwood. Some of you know exactly where that is, and no doubt you also know that there's not much to do in Blanket. I had a transistor radio and stacks and stacks of books. I read the great comic novel RHUBARB by H. Allen Smith. I read a bunch of Larry and Streak and Nevada Jim Westerns by "Marshall McCoy", really Len Meares, who became a good friend by correspondence years later. I read the Lancer editions of the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard (complete with the meddling of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, but I didn't understand that until years later, either). While at the grocery store in Brownwood, I bought copies of FLINT by Louis L'Amour and THE SPY IN THE OINTMENT by Donald E. Westlake. A trip to the drugstore in Comanche, a dozen miles the other direction from Blanket, yielded an issue of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. digest magazine that featured "The Pillars of Salt Affair", actually written by Bill Pronzini under the Robert Hart Davis house-name. Years later, the one time I met Pronzini, I told him how much I enjoyed reading that story in a big brown armchair in my aunt's house. On a similar note, I recall reading one of Edward S. Aarons' Sam Durrell novels, ASSIGNMENT—SCHOOL FOR SPIES, while I was there. Then, somewhere during that stretch, I met the girl who lived across the street from my aunt and afterwards spent less time reading, but it probably says something about me that I remember all those authors and titles but have absolutely no recollection of her name.

Eventually I went off to college, spending a year at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos (it's now just Texas State) and then finishing my degree at North Texas State University in Denton (now the University of North Texas). At SWTSU I read a bunch of Doc Savage and Nick Carter novels, many of which my roommate borrowed and read as well. I lived in a dorm for one year at NTSU, had an apartment in Denton for a year, and commuted for a year, plus the two summer sessions it took me to finish up. I still read a bunch of comics, and it was along in here that I started reading the Executioner series as well, going through them as fast as I could lay my hands on them. I remember reading a number of Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm novels while I lived in the apartment. While I was commuting, my home-away-from-home became the NTSU library, particularly an isolated corner where a dozen or so study carrels were located behind the stacks where thousands of bound periodicals were shelved. I sat in one of those carrels between classes with food I had snuck in and whatever paperback I was reading, often one of the Jove reprints of a Shadow novel with a cover by Jim Steranko. The library had some of the early trade paperback collections of classic comic strips like DICK TRACY and TERRY AND THE PIRATES, and I'd get those off the shelves and read them as well.

Of course, that area was designed for studying, which I also did . . . very occasionally. It's a wonder I ever made it through college. But hey, when you stop and think about it, I was studying. I just didn't know it.

Later I grew up (sort of), got married, and had daughters who wanted to go to dance class and Girl Scouts. I spent a lot of hours sitting in various vehicles outside of various buildings waiting for them, and of course you know how I passed the time. With pulps, and Dean Koontz novels, and science fiction digests. (I was on my great hiatus from comics by then.) The Girl Scout troops met in the local community center and the parking lot wasn't lit well enough to read by during the winter months when it was dark by the time we'd get there. So I took a little battery-powered light with me and held it over the book with one hand while I turned the pages with the other hand. Sometimes it was cold enough that I had to wear gloves. Sure, I probably could have gone into the building and found some place warm and well-lighted to sit and wait, but I got to where I enjoyed being out there in the car, huddled in a coat, a little island of light in a dark parking lot, just me and my books. I'm sure people thought I was crazy. But I'll bet a few of you understand.

Now I read mostly on the sofa in our living room. As I write this, my Kindle, a trade paperback collection of some Western pulp stories, and a magazine are waiting there beside it for me. Here in my office there's a stack of comics three feet to my left, within reach if I lean over a little between chapters in the current manuscript. To my right is a low bookcase full of research books, but stacked in front of it so that I have to move them occasionally are a couple of stacks of pulp reprints from Black Dog Books and Altus Press and some trade paperback comic book collections. On top of the bookcase is a small stack of library books (a mystery novel and two old Westerns). If I turn my chair around, I'm facing eight sets of metal shelves (four pairs set back to back) completely full of double-stacked paperbacks. On the tops of those shelves are big stacks of hardbacks and trade paperbacks, and there's another set of metal shelves full of hardbacks and trade paperbacks stuck in a corner, along with two six-foot-high stacks of unshelved hardbacks and trade paperbacks. Now, as I look around, I spot a bag of paperbacks I bought at one of the stores down at the coast this past summer that I've never gotten around to putting on the shelves. And this is after losing everything in the fire and starting over less than six years ago. If I never buy another book, I'll never get around to reading all the ones I have.

But what a sad world it would be if I never bought another book. There are bound to be more good reading spots out there, just waiting for me to discover them.


Charles Gramlich said...

We had a comfy chair I read in a lot too, with good light in the living room. Sometimes I read so long in one position I'd twist around and hang myself upside down to read just to change positions. but I couldn't put the book down

Walker Martin said...

I've been retired now for several years but when I used to work in an office, many of the workers would hang out together at lunch, eating and talking. But I had a lot of books that I wanted to read so I would walk into town for 15 minutes and back for another 15 to get some exercise and fresh air.

The next half hour I would sit in my car and read while eating a light lunch. Over the years these half hours added up and I managed to read hundreds of books at lunch.

My co-workers? They wasted their time talking about nothing and eating hoagies while I read in one of my favorite reading spots.

James Reasoner said...

I would have done exactly the same thing.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

There was a huge oak tree in my grandparent's front yard and about twenty feet up a fork in the limbs formed a sort of natural hammock. I read tons of Tarzan, Conan, Thongor, John Carter, Doc Savage, and Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books in that tree.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I hope you'll post pictures of your bookcases and bookshelves too and especially the stack of comics. I enjoy reading while commuting to and from work, in the autorickshaw or bus queue, waiting for the suburban train or inside one, either standing or sitting. Even a couple of pages is fulfilling.

Kent Morgan said...

How about a photo of the office so we can compare it to the stacks in Bill Crider's office. My favourite place to read has always been in bed and the other night I stayed up until 1:45 in order to finish Ron Carlson's new novel, Return to Oakpine, which I highly recommend. A few times each summer I like to get out to our cottage on Lake Winnipeg where there is a comfortable couch/bed in the screened-in front room. I take a bag of books with me and a small radio for listening late at night while I read. The books usually are mysteries and I get through three or four while stretched out there over a weekend. One break always takes me to a used bookstore where three years ago I found a stack of Gold Medals and other other paperbacks.

Bill Adcock said...

I spent a lot of my youth reading in bed at night -- I'd get a half-hour of reading by flashlight before my parents would call for me to go to sleep. Nowadays I do almost all my reading in bed, and occasionally a little bit here and there on my lunch breaks.