Ought we to be ashamed as readers? Or, at all?

I have been having the most interesting conversation with Tom, albeit through truncated comments rather than around a table,  on his post about France’s bookstores. His point, I believe, is that they shame American bookstores. That is a point well taken.

But, I took it farther. I pressed on to say that French fragrance and fashion and food shames American products of the same sort. Tom wishes to keep the critique to art (i.e. literature).

Okay, let’s talk about literature for a minute here. Can we start with what I read my eight and nine year olds in my third grade class?


This year I was surprised by a group of 8 fifth graders, who knocked on my door and presented me with a large purple cellophane box. Inside, was an item they had made for each read-aloud book I had shared with them when they were in third grade. There was an origami box turned into a covered wagon for The Little House on The Prairie. There was a tissue box covered in spiders for Charlotte’s Web. (“Because you always cry at the end.”) There was a recipe for ladyfingers from one of my childhood favorites, The Pink Motel. I won’t bore you with a description of each item, the point is what I read to them mattered. What I read to them was mostly from many, many years ago.

What matters now? What kinds of books are written, published, or read that matter? Books are available because they titillate, or entertain, or are expected to make a profit for the publisher. But I wonder about the quality of the writing, the worth and lasting value of the books we read today.

Perhaps this is why, in part, I have turned so eagerly to translated literature. It seems that books from other countries are better at addressing pertinent issues, or at least the large dilemmas in life. I think of the lists for the Man Booker International Prize I have read over the years, each one seared into my memory. (Even The Iraqi Christ, which I loathed.) They are more than a “trite” murder, fantasy, or romance driven novel. They are the bread and meat of which life is made.

And so we come full circle. Ought we to be ashamed of what we read? Are books with little inherent value being published at the fault of the reader or the publisher? Or, perhaps you feel that the books published today, in America, bear no blame at all. But I contend that we are not living with the quality I once knew, nor the quality enjoyed by those abroad. And I think it speaks to a larger issue of loss, a decline in culture, or morality, unlike any time I have seen before.

Have You A Favorite Reading Space?

About sixteen years ago, my husband and I were in the Cinque Terre for our honeymoon. We stayed on a beach in Monterosso, Italy which looked just like this, (see below) and if I wasn’t so enchanted with the environment, it would have been my ideal place to read. The sea, the umbrellas, the cotton chaise chairs rented for about $5.00 a day were blissful.

Cinque Terre beach

But, my day to day life does not consist of sitting on an Italian beach surrounded by my favorite sights and sounds. My every day life consists mostly of teaching elementary school, a job which has fulfilled me for over thirty years.

Sometimes the children come into my classroom, having completely read a book which they chose from one of my shelves the day before.

“How did you read this in one night?!” I ask in astonishment. (I forget that they do not have dinner to make, or dishes to wash, or papers to check in the evening.)

“I lay on my stomach, in my room, and I read until I’m done,” they often say. I don’t catch my breath on “read until I’m done” as much as I do with “lay on my stomach.”

I do not lay on my stomach to read any more.

For one thing, it brings the print up far too close for my monovision. For another, my back starts to cramp, or my arms begin to ache, from holding my torso up. No, at this point in my life, I want something else to hold me up. I want something soft, and enveloping. And yet, at the same time, it must be beautiful.  I have long had a penchant for the furniture from MacKenzie Childs. Even though it’s very bright, I love either of these two arrangements:

Or, a more simple arrangement such as this chair alone:

arhaus ghost sky

I could drape my legs over the side, or sit cross-legged when they became too heavy. The thick cushion looks heavenly after a day of teaching on my feet. Even the simple background decreases any distracting visual stimulation.

Or, I would enjoy reading in bed. My bed at home is a beautiful sleigh bed, chosen for design more than comfort. If I could choose again, I would be so tempted by this teak daybed, or this tufted backboard, on which to recline:


With the coming of summer, and thus much more free time for this teacher to read, I’m reviewing the possibilities. I’m perusing catalogs, and online sites (the later pictures taken from Arhaus) and dreaming of perfect spaces. These images seem just right, if I can no longer lie on the stony beaches of the Mediterranean.

And you? Where do you envision your summer reading taking place?