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The Subtleties of Reading

I’m pretty sure this is something I’ve always known, but only at a semi-conscious level:

W.H. Auden “suggested that the book one reads should somehow be at odds with the place in which it’s read. . . [N]ot only do certain books demand a contrast between their contents and their surroundings; some books seem to demand particular positions for reading, postures of the reader’s body that in turn require reading-places appropriate to those postures. . . There are books I read in armchairs, and there are books I read at desks; there are books I read in subways, on streetcars and on buses. . . . In the twelfth-century Life of Saint Gregory, the toilet is described as ‘a retiring place where tablets can be read without interruption.'”

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading, pp. 151-152.

Nassim Taleb makes a similar point about e-readers. I forget his exact wording, but he said something like, “One does not drink fine wine from a styrofoam cup and one does not read Gibbons’ Rise and Fall on a Kindle.” I tend to agree, though I cannot–like Manguel and Taleb–precisely pin down the reason.