Our Reading Lives

Nostalgia for Pre-Pandemic Reading Destinations

Emily Stochl

Staff Writer

Emily is a proud Midwesterner, living in Iowa. Reading literary fiction has always been her favorite. She also enjoys yoga and tending to her hundreds of houseplants -- you might say Emily is a bit “crunchy granola." She is the producer and host of a podcast about vintage and second-hand style, called Pre-Loved Podcast. She’s really into sustainability, and old things! IG: @emilymstochl

As we’re not going anywhere these days, I usually spend a lot of time looking out my window and daydreaming about adventures I’ve had in the past and adventures I want to have in the future. And while I have a perfectly lovely, comfy spot to read at home, and I’m very grateful for it, I’m sure everyone can relate to the feeling of daydreaming about other places to be.

As I try to get cozy in my chair to read today, my mind began to wander, and I started to daydream about some of the interesting places where I used to read books, back when that was a thing we did. And, of course, one day I’ll read books in interesting places again, but for now, I thought it’d be fun to think back on those memories. Here are some of mine, and I would love to hear your nostalgia for reading spots!

Indoor Recess 

When I was a kid I used to love finding the tiniest nooks and crannies to curl up in and read. I remember that we would sometimes have “indoor recess” if there wasn’t good weather for going out on the playground, and as an avid reader those were my favorite days, because we were meant to stay inside and read! Or play a game, or color, or whatever the other kids were doing, but I know I was always reading. And on those days, I used to try to find the tiniest places to squeeze myself into for reading time. I can distinctly remember sitting in the small space between the book cart and the wall, or even crouching down under my desk with a book. Something about being in a small space made me feel especially cozy as a young reader, and I have to know if anyone else can relate to that!

In the Car

I used to be able to read in the car, and did so often! I haven’t been able to read in the car ever since I had to start wearing glasses as a young adult, but back in the day I used to always read in the back seat of the car. I can distinctly remember one long car ride where I was so immersed in my book that I didn’t even notice when we had car trouble and had to pull over on the side of the road. I looked up at the end of a chapter after the whole ordeal was wrapping up, and had no idea we had even stopped the car—my family still laughs about how absorbed I was in my book still today. 

At my Childhood Library 

I know people always talk about the familiar way that books smell, but I have such vivid memories of the way my public library smelled, too! Do other’s have these memories, too?

I lived down the block from my public library growing up, and walked there with my grandma (who watched me during the day while my parents worked) almost every day. I remember there was a little gift shop at the entrance of that library that mostly sold Beanie Babies. And now that I reflect back on that, I wonder if it’s odd that the library had a gift shop? And of course, the first section inside the front door was all VHS tapes. It really doesn’t get more ’90s kid than those memories of Beanie Babies, books, and VHS tapes. I remember that the children’s librarians all knew me by name, and they often ran fun contests like “guess the amount of jellybeans in this jar,” which I never remember winning. I spent many hours reading in a beanbag chair in this library, and it was one of the most sweet and nostalgic memories of my childhood.

The College Quad

I went to a small liberal arts college in the midwest, but the campus was still built around a classic collegiate quad just like you’d see on an old campus in New England with tall trees and ivy covered buildings. The fall season on our campus was so beautiful because all the gigantic trees that surrounded the quad turned autumnal colors of burgundy, burnt orange, and gold. I spent many hours sitting under those trees, reading and studying. If you’re a person who enjoys reading in cafes because of the background noise and buzz of people, you’ll definitely understand the simple joy of reading on the quad while people played frisbee golf in the background!

people eating inside of cafeteria during daytime
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

The Corner Coffeeshop by Work 

I moved to New York City when I was 20, and for the short while I lived there I worked as an assistant at a literary agency, mostly reading the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts that were sent to us. I worked around the corner from the Stumptown Coffee shop on W. 29th Street, which was located in the lobby of a hotel, as I remember. Since I was pretty much the most entry-level person who worked at the literary agency, I was sent out to pick up coffee for the team almost every day. But unlike the hassled interns in the movies, I loved it. I loved walking down the street to the coffee shop, grabbing a tall stool in the window, and reading while I waited for our coffee order. I always read whatever manuscript I was working on that day, not because I couldn’t take a break, I don’t think, but because I loved how “New York” it felt to pull the unbound pages of a manuscript out of my bag. I absolutely felt like I had “made it” reading from a big stack of paper, and that everyone else around would clearly know I was in possession of the next great novel. 

On the Train in Europe 

I have been on five month-long backpacking trips throughout Europe in my 20s. When I travel, I love to skip from city to city by the train, which is by far the cheapest way to travel as a budget backpacker. I’ve ridden hundreds of trains at this point, some just a short day trip and others full expeditions with multiple border crossings.

One of my early train trips was from Stockholm, Sweden, to Hamburg, Germany, with a stopover at a hostel in Copenhagen. I honestly had no idea that to get from Copenhagen to Denmark the train would have to cross the ocean. To do this, the train basically pulls onto a massive ferry, and all the passengers are instructed to go aboveboard for the duration of the water passage portion of the trip. But the announcements on the train to go above to the deck were all made in Dutch and German, so I had no idea what we were doing and just followed everyone else as they got up mid-way through the train journey and left their bags behind.

I read on an ereader when I travel, and I’ve written about that for Book Riot here. So I pulled out my ereader and sat and read on the deck of the ship as our ferry navigated the Baltic Sea. 

In Cafes 

As I’m a person who loves to read with other people bustling around me, I of course love an afternoon reading in a cafe. One of my favorite cafe reading experiences was on a trip to Budapest. When in Budapest, one of the number one tourist experiences is to trek up to the Buda Castle District. I say trek because it’s pretty uphill, but that’s why it’s worth the journey—for the views. From the height of the castle district, you will get some of the most amazing views of Budapest down below. The peak looks out right over the Danube River, and you can see so many of the stately landmark buildings from this spot.

And, of course, there is a huge tourist industry for sightseeing tours of this castle district, but instead of doing a guided tour, I just found a small café and sat reading and taking in the beautiful views for an afternoon. I enjoyed a sweet cake and a coffee and read a few chapters of my book with the scenic views all around me, and it’s one of my favorite travel memories. 

In My Reading Room

Finally, I have many happy memories of reading in the armchair I’m writing this piece in today. 2020 has definitely made me very wistful for the reading adventures I once had, but I do like to stop and remind myself that this armchair, in my plant-filled home is, in fact, one of my favorite places in this world. Here, I’m surrounding by my floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that a local carpenter built for me first thing when I moved into this house. I built these bookshelves before I even saved up the money to buy a couch, no regrets. Throughout the years, I’ve filled this room with plants and trinkets from my travels, and piles and piles of books. 

And of all the interesting places I’ve loved to read over the years, this spot is certainly on the list. It’s cozy and comfortable, and I’m lucky to be here. It’s good to remind myself this and daydream at the same time.

I’d love to hear the memorable places you’ve enjoyed reading books over the years! Do we share nostalgia for any of the same memories?