Reading in the Great Outdoors

outsidegirl‘Tis the season for beach reading. But have you ever actually read on the beach? Unless you are shaded and in a chair, I’m not sure how well it works, really. The bright, glaring sun gets in your eyes and the sand is everywhere. If you’re primarily reading on a kindle, nook, or Ipad, it just seems like an all around bad idea.

I have a love/hate relationship with outdoor reading. In theory, it always sounds great, but in reality it’s hit or miss. I started outdoor reading as a child when my mother, who probably feared I was developing a vitamin D deficiency even though we had a pool in our backyard, would tell me to “put down that book and go outside.” I’d attempt to obey at least half of the directive, and just go outside with that book. But even though my yard had plenty of shady trees, it also had bugs (and worse, bees, which terrified me). It was never long before I tried to sneak back in to my relatively bug-free house.

As an adult I’ve had more success. When my oldest was in preschool and my second daughter was a baby, I had a favorite bench at Tulane where I’d sit and attempt to read while baby Abigail (sort of) amused herself. If I was lucky, this could last up to half an hour, which at the time was a big deal, because Abigail virtually never napped for longer than ten minutes at a time and spent most of her waking hours either crying or getting into trouble.

I’ve also had fairly good luck on vacation. There are not enough vacations in my life, but if part of the package is a room with a balcony, I am one happy reading camper. My favorite beach reading took place in such a spot, where I could see and hear the beach but was not actually on it. And I still remember what I was reading, too: Laura Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star.

Fast forward many years and a couple more children. For about six years, I worked in an outdoor mall that had the perfect reading spot. I could sit tucked in a little alcove behind the mall that was perfectly shaded – right during my lunch. Although the mall is full of well shaded benches, they come at a price – you have to listen to loud, annoying music if you want to sit on them. The alcove was blessedly music free, and I had no problem sitting on the ground in the shade. Even better, almost no one walked by that particular area. It was like winning the outdoor reader lottery.

I am now in a new location and still searching for a good outdoor reading spot. Happily in Colorado the temperature is pretty much always pleasant if you are in the shade (something that cannot be said of more humid climes). However, I’m still looking for an area that is shaded, convenient, and free of music and (noisy) people. One of the best shaded areas is full of smokers (not my thing). The outdoor area of Whole Foods is nicely shaded but I often get distracted by people’s conversations (to the girl who told her friend she is secretly dating a fellow employee: I know too).

So I’m still searching for a new reading haven. One place I never read, by the way, is the back room at work. How can anyone ever read at work? People just talk to you all the time, and I talk to people all day.

Are you an outdoor reader? What is your perfect spot? Or like me, are you still searching?

– Blythe Barnhill

17 Responses to “Reading in the Great Outdoors”

  1. TerryS says:

    I’ve been lucky enough to work out of a home office for the last eleven years. One of the joys of summer is on my lunch break, to go out onto my back deck, open the sun umbrella, and read for an hour or so.

    I was worried that this summer by upgrading to a tablet reader I might have to forgo that simple pleasure. But no, with the help of my sun umbrella, I put the reader at maxim brightness, change the color setting from sepia to black, add a favored playlist and I am good to go.

    An acre of land with a farmer’s field at the end of my property, some blue sky, fluffy clouds and a little breeze and I am in heaven! I really do love a good summer outdoor reading experience!

  2. AARJenna says:

    The summer after I graduated from college, I remained on campus until I started my first job later that summer. I lived in an apartment in an old house with a huge, second floor porch. My favorite thing to do was to walk to the public library, check out a handful of books, then curl up on one of the chairs on that porch and read the afternoons away. I’m so particular about my reading conditions – can’t be too hot, definitely no bugs (!), and I need to have enough shade to avoid sun-glare off the pages. But that porch was just perfect.

  3. leslie says:

    I love reading on the beach, but the last few years have been too windy so I rarely go anymore just to read. I do spend a lot of time in my garden reading under a shade tree. I’m like AARJenna I have to have the right conditions in order to relax…..definitely NO BUGS!

    A friend of mine has MS and is sometimes housebound. Her husband built her a reading room that is probably the most comfortably beautiful indoor/outdoor space I’ve ever seen. Pocket doors along with tall windows open up to a lush garden with fountains and a sculpture of the Muses. There is small fireplace and on rainy days with the doors open it is quite a comfy sanctuary. On sunny days the tiny patio has these amazing chair/ottomans just perfect for reading. I spent a weekend with my friend last month and all we did was eat, swim and read. It was lovely.

  4. Victoria'S says:

    I love outdoor reading, but like the rest of you said, conditions are the key to enjoyable reading. I have a front porch that is very conducive to reading on days when it’s not too hot or humid. I get a cold beverage and my Kindle and have a ball. I am known, in our family, for falling asleep while reading under the umbrella on the back patio…again, if the weather and bug conditions are favorable.

    We recently returned from a weekend at the beach, and I was TERRIFIED the whole time that I was gonna get sand in the Kindle, and was uncomfortable with it in proximity to water (silly me forgot to bring a “real” book).

    Leslie, that reading room sounds lovely!

  5. Eggletina says:

    Weather permitting, I love to read on my back patio where I can also do a bit of nature watching (e.g., local critters and the birds). It’s very relaxing. We also have a favorite fishing spot on the river about an hour from our house. When I tag along, I take a book and a camping chair.

  6. LeeF says:

    I do a little outdoor reading on my back patio (when it is below 100°)- mainly Kindle and newspaper. But at the beach, it’s all about magazines- never read them at home so I save up and indulge! This year I am taking a couple of soft cover books that I really, really want to read and will try taking them to the beach- we’ll see how that works out. :-) )

    • Blythe says:

      I completely forgot to add in my piece that I have a great new outdoor reading spot at home. We added a deck this summer, and we have an outdoor couch out there. My family spent many of the July evenings out there reading. Unfortunately, once we hit August it rained nearly every night. The deck is actually two levels with a covered deck downstairs, but the good seating is upstairs.

  7. GraceC says:

    Actually, my 2nd generation kindle is perfect for beach reading. Of course, I always make sure that I’m under an umbrella :)

  8. Eliza says:

    I grew up doing a lot of my reading under a favorite shade tree at home. I also loved reading at the beach; I vividly remember being so totally engrossed in Jan de Hartog’s “Peacable Kingdom” that I had to be careful to remember to keep turning myself over. These days I’m back to a favorite shady spot under a tree at home, right in the path of of a lovely breeze high on a country ridge, complete with birds, butterflies and horses sometimes in the distance. But in truth I really can read anywhere, which is why I always have a book with me.

  9. LinnieGayl says:

    Now I mostly listen to audiobooks when I’m outdoors, but I have a couple very fond memories of outdoor reading. In fact, my very first memory ever is sitting on a lovely quilt with my mother, surrounded by children’s books (Nurse Nancy, The Gingerbread Man, and many more) in the sunshine. Guess my reading love goes way, way back.

    But as an adult, about 10 years ago I spent a wonderful week in Aruba. It was before I ever had an e-reader, and I took with me a pile of JAK’s and Amanda Quick’s. I spent most of the week on the beach, in a comfy lounger, under a palm umbrella, exotic drink at hand (loved the beach boys), and read for hours on end.

  10. Joane says:

    I’m one of those that can’t go to the beach without a book. I can spend hours sunbathing with a good story in my hands. Paper or kindle, it’s the same to me. I call myself ‘the flip-flop queen’ and I cannot imagine a summer without the beach and a book. But the rest of the year,… well, I haven’t found an outdoors place I’m comfortable with.

  11. Eliza says:

    Does anyone follow Mary Balogh’s Facebook page? I don’t generally read comments or follow FB for that matter, but I love the pictures of the variety of book nooks, book rooms, and outdoor reading spots (including tree houses) that MB regularly posts, along with some terrific (and funny) quotes for book lovers. (As a extra for animal lovers, she also posts animal pics I enjoy.)

    You may have to go back a bit to see some of the beautiful and intriguing reading spots–both indoors and outside, including a permanent bookshelf library outside at a beach–since it seems there have been more quotes recently, but it’s definitely worth the visit IMO. In the meantime, a couple of quotes:

    “Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.” –Louis L’Amour

    “When I get a little money I buy books; if any is left I buy food and clothes.” –Erasmus

    “Proud to be a bookaholic. Addicted. Obsessed. Passionate.”

    • Blythe says:

      I would love a reading treehouse. That and a secret passageway.

      • Holly Bush says:

        I follow MB’s page and really enjoy all the reading spot pictures she posts. Followers submit pictures too, and everyone gabs about them – I look forward to seeing them and imagining myself in them. Aug 15th’s and 17th’s are wonderful!

  12. RosieH says:

    A couple of years ago I bought a really comfortable sun lounge for our back patio turning it into a delightful place for a long relaxing read. Having arranged things to my liking, I settled down for the first time with my kindle.
    However, I overlooked just one thing. Didn’t take my house keys did I.
    In the meantime, my husband had decided to take a long nap having prudently locked all the house doors. Perhaps I should also mention that he is very deaf. Yes I did eventually get back inside with a neighbour’s help.

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