I’d like to think that I’m a relaxed, purposeful, and serene-looking reader, a leisurely woman out of a nineteenth-century painting. Cushioned in velvet and satin, a pile of books, a pot of tea, and a vase of flowers artfully arranged on an elegantly draped table near-to-hand. Like this, more or less:
My delusions are so humble, aren’t they? The reality is a bit different. Okay, considerably different. For starters, it involves backaches and too much dog hair. I live in a sea of language, a blizzard of words. If I’m not writing, I’m reading. The former is done at the desk in my studio with neatness, solitude, and organization. The latter is a haphazard affair. I hunker down with a book or three in, on, or beside whatever can pass for a seat: my swinging sixties swivel chair; the bathtub; my too-lumpy bed; on the dining room floor; or, somewhat claustrophobically, on the couch crushed beneath a pile of scratchy dog paws and icy snouts. My solution? A dedicated reading space, of course!
We’ve been in our huge flat for 2 1/2 years, and my studio has been used as such from the get-go. Why am I so late to the party with this? I’ve always been a wallflower but this, this, is ridiculous. I spend far too much time on Pinterest to be ignorant of or immune to the sweet siren call of The Perfectly Curated Reading Nook. The concept makes my heart sing with girlish enthusiasm. The effort required to make this over-the-top idea come true? Not so much. In fact, it makes me think of this:
What’s a writer-reader with bohemian taste, an absurd imagination, and lazy tendencies to do in lieu of actual work? Drag an old chair that has been in the family for 40+ years to the middle of her studio and call it a day.
The Gold Chair is older than I am. It’s now missing a few buttons and is slightly threadbare in spots; it reminds me of a passage in The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real) by Margery Williams:
“What is REAL?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day…”Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”
“Does is hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand…once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
When I was planning my wedding 2 years ago, I discovered that using excerpts from this children’s novel as ceremony readings was a fad. Here I am citing it to illustrate my love for a shabby old chair, which, come to think of it, seems way more appropriate than employing it to declare my eternal love for a human being. Gold Chair reminds me of my late, great-grandmother (Nanny) and of my still-living grandparents; of childhood dreams, faded longings, and warm memories. I read hundreds of books in its embrace, clutched its hands as I rocked back and forth with childish glee, my laughter waltzing through the air.
My feet still don’t touch the ground, but I have reclaimed a favourite childhood reading spot. Same chair, new home, evolved life, old memories. The experience is different, yet familiar: to the left, a photo of my Nanny smiling patiently sits crookedly on a shelf.
The Perfectly Curated Reading Nook will never exist in my home. That’s okay. I’m too involved in the acts of reading and rocking to care. When I sit in Gold Chair, partially dredged in madeleine crumbs and animal fur, I’m cocooned by books, memories, and words. Always words. There is no painter bowing before an easel, scraping his palette with a knife and wiping sweat from his upper lip, poised to capture the scene on canvas. I’m too busy reading to notice.