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The Five Reading Positions, Ranked

Matt Grant

Staff Writer

Matt Grant is a Brooklyn-based writer, reader, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to BookRiot, he is a staff writer at LitHub, where he writes about book news. Matt's work has appeared in Longreads, The Brooklyn Rail,, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

If you’re a regular reader of Book Riot, it goes without saying that you love to read. But the question is, how do you read? I’m not just talking about the speed with which you plow through your TBR pile or which section of your local library draws your attention as soon as you enter. What I mean is: what physical form does your body prefer to take whenever you “curl up” with a good book?

Reading may take place in the mind, but there’s no denying there’s a physical component to it as well. Whatever reading position you choose is important. If you’re not comfortable, chances are you won’t be reading as long or digesting the story as well. Here are five of the most common reading positions, ranked from best to worst. Which ones do you prefer?

1. Sitting – The Old Standby

Sitting is, despite its recent health concerns, the most common reading position by far. It may not be the most comfortable (that honor goes to supine), but it tops the list due to its endless potential for customization. You can rest one arm on an armrest and hold your book in the other. You can cross your legs and keep your book in your lap. In a really comfy chair, couch, or beanbag, you can slouch slightly, elbows akimbo, and rest your feet on a stool or ottoman. Or, depending on the environment, you can sit and lean back against a favorite tree or person. Just make sure that person is comfortable supporting your weight for the next few hours. Or don’t. What really matters is what’s happening to your characters.

2. Supine – The Favorite   

If I could choose only one reading position for the rest of my life, it’d be lying on my back. Supine is the best because it’s the most relaxing. It allows you to fully disengage from everything except what’s going on in the story. So if it’s the best, why is it #2? Well, the problem with supine is that it doesn’t travel well. You can’t exactly lie on the floor as you wait to see the doctor or in the back of a car on a long ride (or you can – but you risk awkward stares and leg cramps). But when the right circumstances converge, say, a comfy blanket and a park on a beautiful spring day, with the best page-turner to go with it, well…that’s heaven right there.

3. Standing – The Necessity

Sometimes, like on a crowded subway train or waiting in the TSA line, sitting or lying down is just not an option. The only way to read is on your feet. This position is probably the least comfortable of them all, but it gets a high place on the list for practicality. Standing is great for quick snippets of reading, especially when you know you will need to pack up and move soon. During longer sessions, you can always lean on something nearby. Please, just don’t walk and read at the same time. Especially if you’re crossing busy streets.

4. Side – A Nice Change of Pace

Sometimes, when lying supine gets old and your body needs to change things up, you might roll onto your side. Whether you’re stretched out fully with one arm straight out in front of you, propping your head on your elbow, or curled up in the fetal position with your knees to your chest, lying on your side can be a comfortable way to read. The issue is that it gets old quickly, as either your arm loses circulation or it becomes too much of a strain looking at your book sideways. But this position gets bonus points for being the very definition of “curling up” with a good book.

5. Prone – Only When You Have To

Lying prone (on your stomach) is tricky because it can be comfortable (you’re lying down, after all) but there’s no great way to hold the book. If you lie flat and stretch your book out in front of you, you’re craning your neck upwards for an extended period. That’s not the best for your body. The other option is propping yourself up on your forearms, cobra-style, with the book on the ground in front of you. This gives your lower back a nice stretch, but can fatigue after a while. Reading on your stomach is ranked last because it more of a way point between other, more comfortable positions.

Bonus: Upside Down – Worth A Try

If, on a marathon reading session, you’ve cycled through all of these positions and your body is still crying out for you something new, you might try kicking your feet up over the back of your couch or chair and dangling your head over the side. This position may feel novel for a bit, but it’s not recommended for an extended period of time. While the blood rushing to your head may increase oxygen flow to the brain, it can also cause you to pass out. Not ideal for enjoying the rest of your book.

So, which position is your favorite? Are there any we left out? How many of these do you move through in a typical reading session? Let us know in the comments!