Parks and reading

This past Sunday, in a futile effort to wear out our toddler so that he just might take an afternoon nap, we got moving early and checked out the new extension of the High Line. For those who haven’t been, the High Line is the park that’s been developed on the abandoned elevated train tracks that run from Greenwich Village up to 30th Street along the West Side. Conceptually, it’s an amazing space—narrow and industrial, yet full of greenery and neat architectural features, plus the views are spectacular. For anyone visiting New York these days, I’d put it on the must-see list.

Anyway, as we paraded uptown from 18th Street, I noticed more than a few people sitting on the benches reading newspapers and books. In the moment, it seemed a little odd to me—while there’s ample seating on the High Line, the walkway is so tight in places that it’s hard to believe one could concentrate with passers-by literally walking on top of you. But then I started thinking about the open spaces or parks around town where I go to read, and it’s actually a total mix of quiet and bucolic, noisy and public.

For instance, when I was at Penguin and worked from home on Fridays, I’d often hit one of the relatively uninhabited stretches of Riverside Park, especially a certain walkway that becomes a truly mind-blowing explosion of color when the trees start to bloom in late April. (sorry, I’m not telling where!) Or, later in the season, I’d go down to the Hudson River to catch the breeze off the water—likewise, a very quiet spot to read during the day.

Yet at the same time, I’d sometimes plant myself on a bench in Washington Square park, which is one of the busiest in the city, no matter what time of day. Another favorite bench spot is at the boat pond in Central Park, which is lovely but always full of tourists and kids running around. And then there’s the Sheep’s Meadow, where I’ve actually done a lot of quality reading despite the ever-present threat of getting beaned by a Frisbee.

I’d like to think there’s some correlation between what I’m reading and where I want to read it, or what kind of atmosphere, but I can’t really come up with any pattern or system at the moment. So I guess I’ll just chalk it up (as Lauren and others have written before) to the myriad pleasures of reading in nature. But what about you? Any special green spots here in the City or elsewhere that readers should know? Do you find you gravitate toward different parks or types of parks depending on your reading material?

Now that I’ve got this all down on the blog, I’ll certainly have these questions in mind—and maybe, if you get up on the High Line in the near future, you just might see me head down in a book!

3 Responses to Parks and reading

  1. This was fascinating reading to me. I lived in a city in my early- and mid-20s, then moved to the suburbs where I had grown up. In my mid-30s I moved to the country and promptly suppressed everything related to living “in town.”

    This was a wonderful slice of life in a city like none other. I love the cultural and atmospheric differences in the different parks. It never would have occurred to me that it would be this way! This is the sort of detail that works beautifully within a novel to bring the setting to life — even if the setting is completely fictional.

  2. EEV says:

    Hi John.
    I’ve read about the High Line on National Geographic, and I swear the first picture I saw I though “it must be awesome to read something urban there”.
    Now, I’m not an out-of-home reader. I like reading in the comfort of my place, belly-down on my bed and elbows firmly set on the mattress. I’ve been reading like this for years. I don’t know, maybe if I try, I can enjoy reading outside. I tried at the beach, but it didn’t worked for me, the waves were distracting (or maybe this is me who loves the sea!). I’ll give it another try, though. Thanks for the post!

  3. My little one hasn’t taken a nap since the day she turned two, and she’s four now…oh well. I live in the burbs, so most of my reading these days is done on the back deck facing the open space behind our house. I did just read ROOM by Emma Donoghue while on vacation at the beach–reading about an 11 x 11 existence made me very grateful to be outdoors.

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