I’d like to report that my favorite place for reading a book is on the grease-spotted sidewalk in Tijuana in between bouts of fire-breathing or when I’m hammering down Highway 1 through Malibu in my Santa Claus-red sportscar or even when I’m hanging out with the astronauts in the Space Station, but this would only be imaginatively true.
In fact, it would be hard to narrow down my favorite locales to one, as I rarely go anywhere without a book for fear of being stuck waiting someplace and having nothing to do but stare at parking lots, malls, office buildings, the endless succession of neutral stucco walls unenlivened even by graffiti.
I read everywhere. And my least favorite place, hands down, is on an airplane, my knees shoved up into my throat and my skin still smarting from a good TSA working-over, the clouds curdled and death imminent. On the other hand, I do like reading while stretched out on the couch before the fireplace, music pulsing through the speakers, the very old cat puddled on my chest, rain—precious rain—hissing through the interstices. And in bed. And sitting at the kitchen table. In the shower. On the toilet. In the pool at the Y.
But since I’ve been asked to choose just one location—my very favorite, unequivocally—I’ll nominate a little scoop of a canyon with a year-round waterfall located about a mile and a half from the cabin I rent in the Sequoia National Forest.
I sit out there in all seasons, even in winter, and try to make myself comfortable on the bare water-buffed rock at stream’s edge. This requires a lot of shifting of position, and, in winter, moving progressively higher to catch the fleeting warmth of a pale and sinking sun. I was there most of this past summer, a season when I typically alternate page-flipping with quick gasping dips in a pool not much bigger than a bathtub, after which I take time out of my busy schedule to feed the deerflies and mosquitoes.
Last month I was out there most days, revisiting a soul-crushingly depressing but nonetheless unputdownable book from the distant period of 1992: Douglas H. Chadwick’s The Fate of the Elephant. (For those of you wondering about the revelatory promise of that title, their fate is sealed. Goodbye and good luck. Like just about everything else on this planet larger than maybe a house sparrow, they are well on their way to oblivion.) Still, how captivating to read of their beauty and intelligence, of their emotions, of their mobile trunks and pillar legs, of their vital importance to the ecosystem in which they evolved, and, less happily, of their slaughter by upright apes with AK-47s who only want to take a chainsaw to their tusks so those tusks can be carved into trinkets in a world full of them.
Anyway, that’s what I was reading up there in the lap of nature in a place bustling with creatures, from the mountain lion to the black bear to the Stellar jay, the pine marten and the golden marmot.
I do read happier books there too, of course. But the point is, I’ve got solitude in those mountains and the sound of the water and the scent of the unencumbered air, and when I glance up from the page, at least I’ve got something to look at.
—T.C. Boyle, Santa Barbara
T.C. BOYLE is the author of thirteen previous novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Women and, most recently, When the Killing’s Done. He has also published nine collections of short stories and has won the prestigious PEN/Malmud Award for Excellence in the short story. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he lives in California.