Destination Reading

It’s almost as good as couch reading

Image: Luca Biada

When the weather’s bad it’s easy to justify doing next to nothing all weekend long. If it’s cold out and especially if it’s raining, who really wants to go to a bar or to a museum? Sure bars and museums are heated and dry, but you still have to travel. No one can blame you for watching television or reading for, say, ten or twelve hours. No one; not even yourself.

Good weather makes it much harder to laze. It’s challenging — it takes a special kind of will-power — to look out the window, notice people walking around in shorts, and say to yourself, “Nah, I’ll just sit on the couch.” Pressure to act is everywhere: Each list of great new outdoor restaurants, each ray of natural light that obscures your screen. Sunshine is very judgmental.

Eventually, you break down and accept that you have to leave the house; you just can’t handle the guilt. But there’s a way around true activity and/or socializing. It’s called Destination Reading. Destination Reading just means you pick a destination and read there — read a book, a magazine, Twitter. Whatever. But everyone loves a label, and labels confer dignity.

There’s an art to Destination Reading; some are better at it than others. Only rubes would pick a truly nice location, like the beach. If your surroundings are too spectacular they’ll distract you from your page or screen and you’ll find yourself admiring nature or maybe even hiking around in it. But you don’t want to pick somewhere uncomfortable, either. Let’s face it: If you find yourself at a crowded cafe with rickety metal chairs, you’ll get tired of it quickly and go back to your couch.

The trick is to choose a place that, in the manner of Goldilocks, is just right, a place that’s neither special nor objectionable. You’ll know you’ve got it if your friends, when they hear that you’re heading there, say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been once or twice.” They’re not super eager to return, you see.

In Los Angeles, where I live, the best Destination Reading spot I know of is in the Descanso Gardens, a 150-acre park with a rosarium, a Japanese tea house, an odd little enchanted railroad for children, and a whole lot of oak trees. Haven’t heard of it? I’m not surprised. It’s not nearly as famous, or beautiful, as the Huntington Gardens in nearby Pasadena. But if you head into the area they call the Oak Woodland and follow the trail uphill, you’ll soon find a bench with a pleasant but uninspiring view, positioned so you can’t see other visitors until they’re about ten feet away. You can get a lot of reading done there and still feel like you’ve “done something” with a summer afternoon.

In New York, where I used to live, I’d recommend the Pratt campus in Clinton Hill, home to the Pratt Sculpture Park. The sculptures there are OK, I guess — I know nothing about sculpture. Anyway they never took up too much of my attention. I’d just stroll by the guards, find some dry grass under a tree and open my book. Probably everyone assumed I was an oldish student or a youngish professor. At the end of the day if anyone asked what I’d been up to, I’d have nothing to hide. Who me? I did some Destination Reading at the Pratt Sculpture Park.

I can’t say Destination Reading beats Couch Reading, but it’s a pretty good alternative.

Juliet Lapidos is an editor and writer.