Postcard from Ukraine: My Reading Corner

When a friend asked me about my reading corner, I was momentarily at a loss for an answer. I can easily zone out my surroundings, and I read anywhere–waiting for a bus or on the bus, at the metro station or squeezed among other passengers on a subway car. Various means of transportation are where I get most of my reading done. But of course, the best reading spot is quiet and comfortable, and these days it’s a little nook under a cherry tree in our Poltava garden. During our grey Belgian winters I dream of this overgrown orchard, of reading in the grass or simply stretching on a blanket and absorbing all the details around me–the pattern of veins on cherry leaves, the sweet almond scent of crushed grass, the shade of yellow of buttercup petals. These are the best souvenirs I bring back. So, when the weather cooperates, this is where I can be found with a book and a cup of tea (and less romantically, mosquito repellent).

reading spot

What’s your favorite reading spot? What are you reading these days?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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117 Comments

  • sandra: These days the only reading I do is either on my computer or books to my little ones.
    Your reading corner looks beautiful but I would not like the bugs

    You can find me on a giant bean bag on the floor of a NYC apartment with two babies cuddled and reading The Little Train that Could for the 7th time in a row 🙂 May 25, 2016 at 8:23am Reply

    • Maya: I am more or less in the same shoes as you- reading to my 14 month old the Maisy books and childrens’ rhymes that he loves (also in NYC;). What is so exciting to me is knowing that in a few years I will be reading children classics with him: Erich Kastner, Jack London, Kipling, etc. It is a way to relieve one’s own childhood, and become newly or reacquainted with some of the best literature written. I doubt I would feel compelled to do it if I didn’t have a kid. May 25, 2016 at 8:55am Reply

      • sandra: I feel just as excited as you about reliving childhood books and not to mention some childhood poetry!
        It is some of the best literature written.. May 25, 2016 at 9:56am Reply

        • maja: Reading for childern is so great. I read to my son every single evening until he started school and now he’s quite lazy and wants me to keep doing it although he can read on his own. What is wonderful is that you relive those moments when magical was real for you, too. Adults need more time believing Pinocchio is real. 🙂 May 25, 2016 at 1:09pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m convinced that all of those adventure books for children inspired me in my adult years. 🙂 May 27, 2016 at 5:40am Reply

      • Austenfan: I’m thrilled to see a mention of Kästner. I used to love his books as a child and still do to this day. I read them in Dutch when I was little and now own nearly all of them in German. He is so witty, and fun. May 25, 2016 at 1:06pm Reply

        • Maya: You don’t hear Kastner’s name mentioned much these days. But when I was growing up in the eighties, he was mandatory reading. May 25, 2016 at 3:51pm Reply

    • Annie O: It sounds like it’s own sort of divine! Lucky kids, lucky you May 25, 2016 at 2:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: The bugs are a drawback, I admit, but some Deet-based spray helps. 🙂 May 27, 2016 at 5:32am Reply

  • limegreen: Sigh, how idyllic! I used to read anywhere, and loved the corner of tree and grass for reading, daydreaming, etc. But it’s all about my back and back support now.
    No problems, medically, but will pay the price for neck and back aches if I am not careful.
    So my favorite reading corner is a coffee house with good chairs and lighting! My scent surroundings are the smells of espresso, and if I am on their patio, than whatever is in bloom. Favorite coffee house bloom is mountain laurel. No lilacs here so these are my spring purple fragrant flowers. May 25, 2016 at 8:26am Reply

    • Ruth: Oh, limegreen, I feel you! My spot is my loveseat with rolled arms and down-wrapped cushions that are soft and supportive simultaneously. Outdoors, it’s an ergonomic, ‘zero gravity’ chaise in my garden…supportive and easier to arise from than the ground. May 25, 2016 at 12:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: The idyll is somewhat of an illusion in these parts, but it’s important to carve out such spaces. Literally and figuratively. I, in fact, had to cut down a patch of grass to fit my blanket in.

      I love the idea of espresso and laurel together. Sounds like a nice perfume. May 27, 2016 at 5:35am Reply

  • Maya: I love your reading spot! Last week, strolling with my baby in Central Park, he fell asleep unexpectedly. I sat down on a bench under some beautiful elm trees and started to read book one of Kanausgaard’s My Struggle. An older man passed by, stopped in front of one of the elms, wrapped his arms around it and kissed it. I looked at him and smiled- I have done the same many times so he was “my people.” He acknowledged my smile and gave my a thumbs up. I am also reading Aaron Appelfeld’s The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping,and listening to Life and Fate on an audio book (your recommendation).I know that the puritans are against audio books, but it makes me feel like I am doing something for myself and my mind while cleaning, preparing baby food and engaging in other mundane activities. May 25, 2016 at 9:16am Reply

    • Nora Szekely: Hi Maya,

      Don’t let yourself be intimidated by puritans, just enjoy your audiobooks 🙂 May 25, 2016 at 10:11am Reply

      • Maya: Thank you, Nora. A couple of weeks ago I finished listening to Stoner by John Edward Williams. RUN and read it, or listen to it. It is a most perfect piece of literature. May 25, 2016 at 10:38am Reply

        • Bela: Stoner is the best book I’ve read in a long time (well, since Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates). It’s a masterpiece. May 25, 2016 at 11:34am Reply

          • maja: Stoner is so beautiful that once you have finished you feel like an orphan of some sort. Masterpiece, indeed. May 25, 2016 at 12:59pm Reply

            • Maya: Yes, completely. I feel he was a triumphant character who was able to lead a meaningful and dignified life despite the two ill people (psychopaths, maybe, in today’s parlance) who plagued him. What a meaningful book! May 25, 2016 at 2:17pm Reply

            • Victoria: Yes, I definitely must read it. May 27, 2016 at 5:52am Reply

          • Maya: Ooh, I want to read it! May 25, 2016 at 1:15pm Reply

            • Maya: I meant, I want to read Seven Kinds of Loneliness. May 25, 2016 at 1:17pm Reply

              • Bela: Four more, Maya: eleven kinds. 🙂

                You will love it. Some of the stories are heartbreaking – like Stoner, but somehow uplifting because cathartic. They are so insightful, you wonder how one person can know so much about the human heart. May 25, 2016 at 1:33pm Reply

          • Victoria: A vote of confidence from you is all I need to pick “Stoner” up. May 27, 2016 at 5:49am Reply

        • Victoria: What do you think of Stoner? Many of my friends are reading it now. May 27, 2016 at 5:45am Reply

    • Austenfan: I read Appelfeld’s memoirs a few years ago, and I remember being very impressed. I’ll put this one on my list as well. May 25, 2016 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: A brilliant story! A kinship of sorts. How do you like My Struggle, by the way?

      Modern technology is here to stay, so the puritans should just give it up. I listen to the audiobooks when I do photoprocessing or embroidery, because this kind of quite, motionless work is a perfect complement to an audiobook. And I love my Kindle. As a researcher, I find its highlighting and copying functions a major time saver. May 27, 2016 at 5:38am Reply

      • Maya: I am still very much at the beginning of My Struggle so my impression is not fully formed. However, I like the idea of having a sort of “life companion” book that explores the human condition through the true life experience of one man. There is something oddly enticing knowing that there are many volumes to go through. Although, I do wonder if that desire would be better fulfilled by Proust. May 27, 2016 at 8:10am Reply

        • Victoria: I read the first few pages when I stayed with a friend who bought the whole series, but it was not enough to form an opinion. But his books have been hugely popular, and I even spotted an evening with him in Brussels. May 27, 2016 at 12:02pm Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: I do most of my reading in my living room chair…not as idyllic a place as your reading area, but it works for me. May 25, 2016 at 9:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds wonderful, Phyllis! And comfortable. May 27, 2016 at 5:39am Reply

  • Allison C.: Beautiful reading spot! I have a few favorite spots to read including my bed with the cat curled up next to me. I just finished reading “Writing About Architecture” by Alexandra Lange and “In The Cafe of Lost Youth” by Patrick Modiano. I’m about to start Alexander McCall Smith’s latest which has the curious title “My Italian Bulldozer.” May 25, 2016 at 9:32am Reply

    • Patricia: This curious title reminds me of another: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. This novel isn’t about tractors, nor is it written in Ukrainian, but is the story of what happens to a family when the 84-year-old grandfather falls in love with a blowsy 36-year-old Ukrainian divorcée. Funny and touching at the same time. Short listed for the Man Booker award, I believe. Perfect for summer reading. May 25, 2016 at 4:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: I just started In The Cafe of Lost Youth, and while I’m still at the beginning, I’m liking it very much. May 27, 2016 at 5:40am Reply

  • spe: It’s sobering for me to realize how little time I’ve had to read over the past several years. I can’t even answer your question! Now, however, with condo projects done, I can get some decent furniture and create a lovely reading spot or two.

    Your reading spot is exquisite! May 25, 2016 at 10:05am Reply

    • Victoria: Good luck with wrapping up your work! It sounds like a major undertaking. May 27, 2016 at 5:41am Reply

  • Nora Szekely: Hi Victoria and perfume lovers,

    Idyllic indeed. I love cherry trees, the fragrant blossoms first and then juicy fruits, yum-yum!
    I also can read anywhere but have two favourite corners.
    One is on my sofa, next to my table in the living room. I can sit or lay down but reach my teacup/hot chocolate/latte on the table. I have 2 cats and the younger one generally waits about 1.2 seconds to jump onto my lap and demand petting. In the winter I wrap myself into a soft blue and grey velvety blanket to feel cozy. I tried to read by candlelight but my modern eyes just could not see the text properly.
    The other place is in our summer house’s garden in the countryside by lake Balaton.
    When I go there I adore to get up by dawn and read on the terrace, right beside our bed of red roses. My granny takes care of them, they bloom twice a year. In the early morning while my family is still sleeping I can read, daydream, or write in my diary in peace. I usually prepare a mug of coffee latte (with cardamom/cinnamon and honey) and enjoy the stillness. It’s the best possible way for me to slow down and relax completely. May 25, 2016 at 10:09am Reply

    • Victoria: Now, your reading spot sounds like a piece of heaven. Or at least, my idea of heaven. And a furry companion is always welcome. May 27, 2016 at 5:42am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: Thank you. Indeed, furry friends are a great addition to all relaxing activities (especially enjoying when my cat decides to take a nap on my back while I’m doing yoga *sarcasm*).
        I forgot to add what I’m reading, I usually read many book at the same time except for those I finish in a day.
        Currently I’m reading
        – The Pendragon legend by Antal Szerb : a hilarious parody of the gothic genre from the beginning of the 20th century.
        – as I’m into Regency era right now : Princesses by Flora Fraser is about the lives of 6 daughters of king George III.
        – Yoga for life by Coleen Saidman Yee : a handbook/autobigraphy for yoga lovers. May 27, 2016 at 7:57am Reply

        • Victoria: Antal Szerb is on my list too. Another one of your recommendations!

          Cats are adept at yoga. 🙂 May 27, 2016 at 12:01pm Reply

  • Susan Minnicks: After my husband died, I sold his cars (I don’t drive) and used the money to turn the garage into a library. Insulation, a laundry room, wall to wall bookshelves, a computer desk, then I moved his favorite furniture in, the green leather couch and chair-which the dog and I love to sit on, read on, snooze on…he’s with us in many ways, along with most of his amazing book collection.
    The room gives me permission to slow down and read. And rest.
    And remember. May 25, 2016 at 11:23am Reply

    • maja: Lovely words, Susan.
      *heart* May 25, 2016 at 12:45pm Reply

    • brenda: I read the comments today – and, while enjoying them, I didn’t really feel I had much to contribute…..but then I read your’s and – could relate so. My husband died nine months ago and – house being sold – I am in the midst of moving to a smaller place. Some years ago, he built me beautiful oak bookcases – which I loved and enjoyed with my trusty rocking/reading chair facing them. I read every day for at least an hour – and he knew how much they meant to me. Just today, I measured out their potential “new spot” – and it was, to me, the exact definition of bittersweet. I know I will always read – and always think of him when I sit down beside my beautiful bookcases to do so. I wouldn’t have traded him for a spotted dog….ahh, well….life goes on…..with thanks, in part….to a scrumptious novel! May 25, 2016 at 4:28pm Reply

      • Michaela: Brenda, you are right, life goes on… sometimes with the help of a novel. Hope you find your new place ‘home’! And find your memories soothing, not haunting. May 26, 2016 at 8:02am Reply

      • Victoria: I’m sorry for your loss, Brenda. I wish that like Susan you will find solace in your new spot. May 27, 2016 at 6:32am Reply

    • Michaela: I remember your story, very touching!
      I especially love that you share your reading room with your dog. Hope your remembrance is luminous to you, and does not hurt. May 26, 2016 at 7:58am Reply

    • Victoria: I admire you for finding such a special and creative way to honor your husband. I hope that you find happiness and serenity in this spot. May 27, 2016 at 5:48am Reply

  • maja: Your reading corner is so beautiful. Reminds me of summers I spent at my grandparents’ house in countryside. I slowly devoured my grandpa’s library year after year in my early teen years.
    My reading corner today is my bed at night. I love reading when everybody else is asleep. I actually crave that moment no matter how late it is or how tired I am. I am just finishing The Door by Szabo and am so glad to have heard about her here, on your blog. I’ve already finished Iza’s Ballad and it is by far the best book I’ve read this year. So thank you and others for sharing great recs. May 25, 2016 at 12:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: Did you read Iza’s Ballad in Italian? New York Review of Books publishing is making it available in English, just like The Door, and I can’t wait to read it. So glad to hear that you liked The Door. I read it in two nights. May 27, 2016 at 5:52am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: I’m Hungarian and wrote my thesis on Magda Szabo’s novels, also recommended them here. I’m glad they are translated and enjoyed around the world. 🙂 May 27, 2016 at 7:45am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, all of my thanks are to you for inspiring me to read Szabo. I’ve heard of her before, but it was your explanation that made me want to pick up the book. I can’t wait to read more. May 27, 2016 at 11:59am Reply

      • maja: I did. Italians are very active translating good literature, thankfully.

        @Nora: Magda Szabo is my discovery of the year. Thanks to this blog. 🙂 I have also “infected” my friends. So talented, her knowledge of human soul is impressive. May 27, 2016 at 7:56am Reply

        • Victoria: They really are! There is a small Italian bookstore not far from me, and I browse there a lot. May 27, 2016 at 12:00pm Reply

  • Annunziata: That spot under the cherry tree looks lovely. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access for the past two weeks to a friend’s garden, and have sat out there with books and my sketch pad, watching the wrens that are nesting in one of the birdhouses, and the peonies that are just blooming. I’ve been re-reading favorite passages from Waugh– this morning, Scoop — and am also nearly done with Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment. It was compelling but hard to take, at the same time. May 25, 2016 at 3:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: I loved Days of Abandonment, and it was so powerful and forceful that I couldn’t stop thinking of it weeks after I finished reading it. May 27, 2016 at 6:13am Reply

      • Maya: I read Days of Abandonment right after a very painful breakup from a boyfriend and found the book highly therapeutic. Still traumatized by what happened to the family dog… May 27, 2016 at 8:31am Reply

        • Victoria: Oh, yes, same here. May 27, 2016 at 12:03pm Reply

          • Annunziata: I am glad others like Ferrante — I have friends who say they just can’t read her, they find her work too painful. To me, her writing seems fierce and honest. I was also very upset about the dog. Poor Otto! The book certainly depicted the madness that can follow a bad bust-up. Anyway, it’s Henry James this weekend. What a difference a day makes. 😀 May 28, 2016 at 11:31am Reply

            • Victoria: Fierce and honest is the best way to describe her work. It was such a revelation to discover it. I really was pulled into her world. May 30, 2016 at 1:06pm Reply

      • Notturno7: I love your reading spot! Beautiful😍. Lately, mine has been my bed or the hot tub on our peaceful property, under the trees. Elena Ferrante has kept me up lately because of her Neapolitan novels. I just finished ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ and will have to get the last, 4th novel. It will make for good discussion in my (close girlfriends) book club.
        We just finished Master and Margarita ( I thought of you and told my friends about your blog) and Swan’s Way by Proust is next read. It’s been a fun group and we have lively discussions and good pastries😍 May 28, 2016 at 5:31am Reply

        • Victoria: I’m envious of your reading group. Sounds splendid, pastries included. 🙂 May 30, 2016 at 1:04pm Reply

  • Patricia: My favorite reading spot is a year-round porch at the back of our house, but I also love to read in bed before I go to sleep. Currently I’m reading Brothers by George Howe Colt, half memoir of his life with his three brothers and half carefully researched biographies of famous brothers. Highly recommended!

    I’m reading Brothers in printed book form, but I prefer reading from the back-lit Kindle at night so as not to wake my husband. May 25, 2016 at 4:02pm Reply

    • Michaela: The back-lit kindle is quite a discovery these days, when you usually keep wondering yourself why the new daily newly promoted gadget stands for! 🙂 May 26, 2016 at 7:55am Reply

    • Victoria: The back-lit Kindle is very good! A recent discovery of mine. May 27, 2016 at 6:14am Reply

  • Ditie: Coming into winter where I live. I read in bed before sleeping, with the heater on and the door closed. Currently picking away at Goethe’s ‘Italian Journey’. Goethe has been called the last renaissance man, and ‘Italian Journey’ gives me daily inspiration to live with a sense of wonder and to always be furthering my learning. May 25, 2016 at 11:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a beautiful book! May 27, 2016 at 6:17am Reply

  • Tim Graham: My current favorite reading spot is in bed . . . as I find with my busy kitchen schedule that to be the only respite. However, I have picked up Pnin by Nabakov, and am loving it!!!

    I almost always squirt/dab a sample on before bed, and lately have been loving Prada.

    What do you guys thing would pair well with Pnin? Nabakov in general? May 26, 2016 at 12:42am Reply

    • Maya: From my collection, I would pair Nabokov with Luten’s Five O’clock au Gingembre. May 26, 2016 at 8:22am Reply

    • Victoria: I keep thinking of jasmine, probably because of “the jasmine scented darkness” Nabokov mentions in Speak, Memory. May 27, 2016 at 6:17am Reply

  • Michaela: Beautiful spot! I can breathe the fresh air!
    As a child, I spent long summer hours reading in my grandfather’s cherry tree, on a solid and rather comfortable branch. My absolute favorite spot. Now it doesn’t sound normal even to myself, but I loved it so much when I was little.
    These days I read mostly in the metro or in my kitchen, at night. Doctor Jivago, for the moment. May 26, 2016 at 5:36am Reply

    • maja: You’re in for a treat then! Not so much for the novel itself (at least in my opinion) but for the poems at the end. Hope the translation is honourable. May 26, 2016 at 9:04am Reply

      • Michaela: I can’t evaluate the translation. But the novel is striking, and I can relate to its atmosphere, despite I didn’t experience these times myself, and the poems are fascinating. I feel I discovered a masterpiece. May 26, 2016 at 9:43am Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂 Like a little songbird, perched up high. May 27, 2016 at 6:18am Reply

  • rainboweyes: I love reading outside – on the terrace of my garden or, even better, of our vacation domicile in Spain. I also like reading on the beach and in my bed.

    I’ve just finished The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam yesterday and will start reading Last Friends by the same author today. The books are the second and third part of the Old Filth trilogy, highly recommendable, all of them! May 26, 2016 at 6:39am Reply

    • Michaela: Reading in bed should be anybody’s delight! But how could I forget reading on the beach?! What a complete experience… Salty scent and waves music enriching reading experience. I could spend hours reading on the beach without feeling any time lapse. I can easily remember blue evening fall and the moon surprisingly quick to rise when I was absorbed in reading on the beach. May 26, 2016 at 8:12am Reply

    • maja: I love the idea of reading outside and I drag books everywhere – to the hammock, to the beach… But I’m easily distracted by birds, wind, the sound of waves, people talking, insects etc. 🙂 May 26, 2016 at 9:07am Reply

      • Victoria: I also get easily distracted, so if I need to get serious work done, and done quickly, I retreat indoors. There are plenty of distractions around as it is. May 27, 2016 at 6:29am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! I definitely must check them out. May 27, 2016 at 6:19am Reply

  • Alicia: Love your reading corner. It reminds me of my tender years when I chose a place in my grand mother’s villa under a mimosa tree.Nowadays my reading and writing corner is my library for most of the time, and my bed before falling to sleep. When I am by myself I am seldom without a book. By now they are a part of me, just like my glasses. They are not only my daily food; some are my children: I have written eleven of them, and over a hundred articles and monographs. It may be said that, together with the air which surrounds me, books are my atmosphere. May 26, 2016 at 12:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such an impressive portfolio, Alicia! I admire hardworking, creative people like you. May 27, 2016 at 6:24am Reply

      • Alicia: Victoria, I have loved poetry since I was a child,although my first career was Art History (Ecole du Louvre). I was so unsure of my vocation that I completed two doctorates (Stanford University, CA). I enjoy writing, of course, but scholarly writing in an academic position is often a task. I have to publish. As a Distinguished Research Professor it is my yearly obligation to present the record of my publications, just like preparing your taxes. Not all is creativity, Victoria. 10% of inspiration, 90% of perspiration. Nevertheless I am paid to do what I love, and that is a rare blessing. May 27, 2016 at 9:21am Reply

        • Victoria: I can imagine, but it still doesn’t diminish the creative aspect or my admiration. 🙂 And two doctorates! I take off my hat.

          What was the last book that made a big impression on you? May 27, 2016 at 12:05pm Reply

          • Alicia: A book by the English historian Tom Holland, which revealed to me that much of what is being tought on the subject should be revised.

            In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire May 27, 2016 at 2:28pm Reply

            • Victoria: I much prefer the work of Annemarie Schimmel and Patricia Crone on this topic, but Holland’s Persian Fire was brilliant. May 30, 2016 at 1:03pm Reply

              • Alicia: Schimmel was a master in Sufism and superb in her studies of Islamic poetry, but Crone produced the revolution on the matter of the rise of Islam, starting with Hagarism, and culminating with her Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Holland depended much on her (and visited her at Princeton several times). Both agreed that the birth of Islam is largely an enigma, while for a long time no one doubted the traditional Arabic narrative of the Meccan prophet and the Q’uran. I read Crone after In the Shadow of the Sword, and noticed how much Holland depended on her. I found striking that in the early mosques the mihrab was not in Mecca’s direction. A remarkable clue, since in oral tradition the geographical names are among the most fixed elements. For example, in the great Castillian epic, The Song of Mio Cid, an oak forest is mentioned at Corpes. There is no forest now, but archeologists found the roots of the long gone oaks. In the Chanson the Roland the site of the final battle is Roncesval (Roncesvallles). The only true thing about that battle is the name of the place, otherwise it is quite wrong: the Francs did not fight the Moors as the Chanson says, but the Basques. Still, the name of the place remained. That Mecca is missing in early Islamic documentation is more than strange; it is historically alarming. May 30, 2016 at 10:24pm Reply

                • Alicia: Chanson de Roland, of course. How I hate this automatic correctors! May 30, 2016 at 10:34pm Reply

                • Victoria: Schimmel’s book on Islam is excellent as is her scholarship in general, but as you say, her contributions to our understanding of Sufism are immense. I read five or six of her books, and I’ve been trying to hunt down some other volumes, which have been out of print.

                  What I liked about Holland’s book is how well he presented the time when both the Roman and Persian empires were going into decline. That twilight era is crucial and often little discussed, especially in the context of the birth of Islam. I remember reading that the early mosques faced to Jerusalem and not Mecca, but I don’t recall which author mentioned it. It was also something I also heard during my travels in Iran. May 31, 2016 at 3:01pm Reply

                  • Cornelia Blimber: Mosques faced to Jerusalem? maybe you read some author from the Iranah society, German scholars maintaining that the Q’ran was originally written in Aramaic. (!).
                    I agree, the Description of the declining of the Persian and the Roman Empire is the best part of the book.
                    There were many objections against Tom Holland by professional historians (Tom Holland is autodidact in that field).
                    By the way: Patricia Crone is often labeled as ”innovating but now obsolete”.
                    ”twilight zone” is a beautiful phrase,Victoria!
                    Nowadays there are many publications on that era, notably on the decline of the Roman Empire.
                    Interesting, but I am concentrating these days on the decline of the Roman Republic. And it is my great pleasure reading De Bello Gallico again. May 31, 2016 at 4:28pm Reply

                    • Alicia: Cornelia, Victoria asked me which book have impressed me lately. Holland’s did. As for Professor Crone’s she is greatly admired- and very much loved- in the American groves of Academe. In the last congress I went on early Medieval history, two months ago, rather than obsolete many of her discoveries were considered definitive. May 31, 2016 at 5:27pm

                    • Victoria: There are many scholars, including those in the Islamic world, writing on these topics. I also recall that only recently Masjid al-Qiblatayn in Medina was renovated to remove a mihrab that faced Jerusalem. This doesn’t sound as outlandish, because at first Prophet Mohammed instructed his followers to pray in the direction of Jerusalem but later changed it to Mecca. Of course, various scholars draw different implications from this evidence, with some going into the deep end, as you describe.

                      Some academic historians have a tendency to look down on scholars who write for the general public. Or even on scholars who write well and in such a language that most people understand. So, this comment about Holland doesn’t surprise me. I myself loved Persian Fire, which I read thanks to your recommendation. June 1, 2016 at 3:08am

                    • Cornelia Blimber: Victoria, That’s right: some academics are looking down too much (maybe out of jealousy?). But sometimes they have solid arguments.
                      Truth is in the middle as always. So glad you enjoyed Persian Fire, it is (pace Jona Lendering cum suis) one of the best books I ever read. June 1, 2016 at 3:20am

                    • Alicia: Cornelia, definitive discoveries do exist in the humanities. Ex.: archeoogical discoveries (on which much of Crone’s research is based), the discovery of new manuscripts, which might change a literary canon (some of which are acredited to me in my own field, Renaissance literature), numismatics, etc. So definitive discoveries do exist, thank goodness! June 1, 2016 at 10:21am

                    • Cornelia Blimber: Alicia, no, definite conclusions are definite only for a certain time being.
                      There is nothing more difficult and uncertain than the interpretation of archeologal finds.
                      Also new found manuscripts are always open to new interpretations.
                      Numismatics can give you more grip, true,( and one of the critics on Tom Holland was his neglect of numismatics)..
                      Having a doctorate in Greek and Latin, I also can have an opinion. So lets not quarrel anymore but let each of us be happy with her own thougts. June 1, 2016 at 10:51am

                    • Victoria: A polite exchange of opinions doesn’t deserve being called “a quarrel.” Nobody was undermining anyone else’s credentials, and I, for one, liked learning something new as I invariably do in the course of exchanges here. You’re both brilliant and are inspiring me to read more widely. June 1, 2016 at 11:07am

                  • Alicia: Yes, Victoria, your observation is very much to the point. Holland is essentially a historian of Empires. As for the direction of mosques it is difficult to ascertain. Some say Jerusalem, others have ventured Petra. What is clear is that it is not Mecca. It is a mystery, particularly on a religion based so much on oral tradition. The Qur’an is of no help whatsoever, telling of agriculturists, olive groves, grapes and palms, none of which could ever have grown around Mecca. My interest in Islam grew naturally from the fact that most of Spain was conquered by Muslims since 711. The first time I saw the great mosque of Cordova I became mesmerized. It is a relatively early mosque, and its mihrab doesn’t face Mecca either. May 31, 2016 at 5:17pm Reply

                    • Cornelia Blimber: Alicia, I only cited what Dutch professionals on Ancient History wrote on Patricia Crone and most of all Tom Holland. I am not an historian and do not have an opinion myself. But the objections from the professional historians against Tom Holland’s methodology are serious.
                      I can imagine you were impressed. So was I. Historian or not, he is a great writer. He does his research as well and of course not everything he writes is nonsense (as some say, notably the Dutch historian Jona Lendering).

                      Definitive discoveries don’t exist. Maybe only in mathematics. June 1, 2016 at 3:09am

                    • Victoria: I was always interested in the Islamic and Middle Eastern culture and the way their influences spread. Perfumery owes a lot to the discoveries by the Persian and Arab scientists, the courts of Crodoba, Delhi and Samarkand. There is still so much to be learned and discovered. June 1, 2016 at 3:43am

                    • Cornelia Blimber: ”archeological”..sorry! June 1, 2016 at 10:53am

    • Notturno7: Alicia, congratulations! Two doctorates, 11 books, what a powerhouse you are!! Hats off, gentlemen (and ladies)😊 My two friends are trying to write their first books. Any words of advice? I like that percentage quote. May 29, 2016 at 4:05am Reply

      • Alicia: Dear Notturno, thank you so much for your congratulations. Each writer has different reasons for their first book. Among scholars it is usually the product of a revised doctoral dissertation, which all along has had the guidance of a director, and eventually other faculty members with publications themselves, who recommend the publishing houses which might be interested on the subject. I have done that with many of my doctoral students. Quite a different matter is a novel or a book of poetry. In that case it is easier if you belong to a group of writers, connected with some editorials, or if you have presented your book to some competition, and won a First or Second Price. This varies much from country to country. The first book is always the most difficult. After that , if the first book is succesfull and well reviewed, you acquire a name, which opens most doors. May 29, 2016 at 7:14pm Reply

  • Aurora: What a charming corner to read and I love that cushion! As reading goes I have to be reclining, even the most comfortable of armchair won’t do, so I lie upon or in bed, it’s a family trait. At the moment I am reading Trains and Buttered Toast by John Betjeman. May 26, 2016 at 2:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: My great-grandmother embroidered it, and we have several, all in good shape. I love the idea of using them, because while the textile gets enough wear and tear, it’s better than to let it sit in the cupboard. May 27, 2016 at 6:25am Reply

  • Theresa: I am an insatiable reader, and always have at least 5 books going at once, for different moments/occasions during the day. My bus book (for my 30 minute commute each way) is a tiny World Classic version (with wafer thin pages!) of Trollope’s “Is He Popenjoy” – a way-better-than average Trollope family novel. What is unusual about it is that it centers around the events in the year FOLLOWING the marriage of our innocent young heroine to a stern older nobleman. Then, I always have a book for exercise on the stationary bicycle. Currently this is Nick Hornby’s “A Long Way Down” – I have to have light books for that (physically and mentally!). Then I have my evening book for relaxing (right now a mystery), a right-before-bed book while waiting for my husband. (currently Eugene Onegin, but previously the Pillow Book – perfect for dipping into a page or two at a time). And finally, my husband reads me a bedtime story every night – usually a classic children’s story. Recently we read Emil & the Detectives, so I could relate to the Kastner comment above.

    I can remember specific places where I read great pieces of literature. I remember reading Anna Karenina during a warm summer under beautiful spreading leafy trees, during my work lunchtimes. I can just picture looking up into the light-speckled leaves periodically while devouring the book. May 26, 2016 at 3:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also have a right before bed book, and yes, the Pillow Book is often that for me. I open it at random and read the first passage I see. Or I read poetry. May 27, 2016 at 6:28am Reply

    • Nora Szekely: So lovely, your husband reading to you. I just wanted to mention this topic, as my boyfriend reads to me too. We started with the Harry Potter series but he also read a Hungarian drama to me (he’s talented at acting, so he gave different voices to the characters).
      I think it’s so intimate and cozy when adult couples read to each other out loud (has anyone read The reader by Bernhard Schlink by the way?). May 27, 2016 at 8:04am Reply

      • Michaela: Reading Harry Potter and acting exercise is lovely!
        I did, and I loved it very much!
        Now that you mention The Reader, I remember The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, another beautiful book where reading has a central place, strong meaning and power. May 27, 2016 at 10:29am Reply

        • Nora Szekely: I own The book thief, I have yet to read it. Thanks for the recommendation. May 31, 2016 at 7:23am Reply

          • Michaela: You are welcome! Hope you like it, it’s at least memorable. May 31, 2016 at 7:40am Reply

      • Theresa: I am very sad when my dear husband has a cold, because then I won’t get my bedtime story. On those occasions, I read to him – but it is not the same at all! May 31, 2016 at 3:26pm Reply

  • Bea: It looks lovely Victoria, just perfect!

    My favourite reading spot has always been my bed, preferably with one cat tucked under my arm and another cat, or dachshund, on my feet. We all enjouy my time reading and my four legged family members come as soon as I drag out my stack of books. May 27, 2016 at 10:56am Reply

    • Victoria: That sounds idyllic and comfortable. 🙂 May 27, 2016 at 12:06pm Reply

  • Alicia: Cornelia, I wasn’t aware that our exchange was a “quarrel”. Very sad that you understood it as such. In any academic debate, regardless of the field, one does not change grounds while answering an issue. That is called fair play. You wrote:”Definitive discoveries don’t exist. Maybe only in mathematics.” I qnswered that such was not the case, giving pertinent examples. Then you changed grounds from ” discoveries” to “interpretations”. Obviously, no interpretation is definitive, while discoveries are. No matter the field, yours Greek-Roman, mine Medieval-Renaissance, fair play is fair play in all disciplines, and I suspect it is not different in the Netherlands. It is a mark of respect in intellectual interchange, and of consideration among scholars. I do not enter into quarrells of any sort, but were I to debate I’ll do it in a professional journal. I don’t need to show my credentials; they are internationaly known. I have very few in Arabic history ( save for the Cordovan Caliphate), but I know the rules of the game. Not to change grounds is a basic rule of respect. June 1, 2016 at 11:37am Reply

    • Victoria: Alicia, speaking of the Cordoban Caliphate specifically, what authors would you recommend for me to read? I’m interested in anything related to its history, culture, arts. June 1, 2016 at 11:46am Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: New interpretations will change the meaning of discoveries, and the discovery most of the time will lose its value, or at least will be open to more discussion. Interpretation and discovery are closely connected. I think that your examples were not so pertinent.
      I am not aware of playing foul play.
      But since this is not a professional journal, lets stop this discussion.
      You don’t have to show your credentials, I am sure, so don’t do it. You are a scholar, we all know. With all due respect, I disagree with your opinion on the everlasting worth of discoveries. June 1, 2016 at 12:01pm Reply

  • Aisha: My favorite reading spot is the recliner that we placed by some corner windows in our living room. I just finished reading War and Peace. Right now I’m reading Dickens’ Bleak House and some Agatha Christie mysteries. June 4, 2016 at 5:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: A comfortable place with enough light is the best. 🙂 June 7, 2016 at 9:49am Reply

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