Reading for pleasure around campus.
I was on a ferry miles away from Boston when I started reading Nabokov’s Pale Fire, a book I had been saving for a long time. There was this paragraph in the middle of the book that I, as a Literature major, wanted to examine more deeply, but I eventually figured out that it was an impossible thing to do. The mild summer breeze swept all serious thoughts from my mind. I closed my eyes – eyes exhausted from staring at a lap top screen all day long – desperately attempting to make myself feel as I sometimes do at Dana Palmer House, discussing Nabokov’s lines with my friends from the sophomore tutorial.
It didn’t work. I went to a Starbucks but it wasn’t the Starbucks at the Garage and there weren’t any people around me who were trying to finish up a paper or a problem set. So that didn’t work either.
On my way home, Pale Fire still unread, I thought about how the surrounding atmosphere could change one’s reading experiences entirely. I recalled the engaging hours that I spent reading my favorite books on campus at different locations. You can call it the Harvard aura or excessive intellectuality but this place definitely has something about it that tends to open the mind to great literature. If you are ready to experience some great authors before the midterms and cold weather start to crush your soul, here is a useful guide for you.
Place: Dudley Garden
Book: Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy
Drink: Hot Black Tea
This small and simple gated garden near Lamont Library is a haven for students and teachers alike-especially around lunch time. It’s a great alternative for those who don’t want to become Lamonsters but still feel inexorably drawn towards the place. Tall trees surrounding the benches create a secret-garden structure that equally excludes you from Lamont and from Massachusetts Avenue. The brilliant short stories of Leo Tolstoy, including “The Death of Ivan Ilych”, are a great collection to explore in such an environment since they tell stories of life and death in mostly straightforward ways, but still demand a certain level of exclusion from the world in order to comprehend the absurdity that come with them. A middle size hot black tea would help to dig into the vivid depictions of 19th century Russia.
Place: On a bench by the river
Book: White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 by Donald Hall
Drink: Cold Lemonade
They say that if you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute. I say that if you don’t like your day at Harvard, go to the riverside. A short walk along the river and a couple of lines from Donald Hall will change your mood immediately. There will be plenty of people running, lovers will be walking hand in hand, little kids will be joyfully screaming around and some crew team probably will be exercising but as Hall’s famous lines go: “there is nothing at all/ but inner silence” if you are reading alone by the river.
Place: Under a tree in the Yard
Book: Ulysses by James Joyce
Drink: Irish Coffee
It is always a great pleasure to witness the hustle and bustle of school life if you have absolutely nothing to do but to sit and read under a tree. Joyce’s extraordinarily inventive narrative and ironic and partially sardonic tone will make you question the absent reality of the world. Eventually, you will realize the impossibility of escaping from all this rush in a world that is defined by the cyclical and synchronic nature of time. Then perhaps you will seek answers in your memories and experiences. Trust me, the whole world will seem slightly different when you take your eyes off of the book. Joyce’s Ulysses, when accompanied by excessive amounts of Irish coffee, has the side effect of producing stream of consciousness prose poetry.
Place: Barker Center Rotunda Café
Book: The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
Drink: Sparkling Water
Perhaps having one of the most beautiful interior designs on campus, Barker Center usually serves as a location where humanities students meet their tutors and professors individually throughout the year. It is a great place to hang out with a bottle of refreshing sparkling water and a copy of Auster’s The Book of Illusions before the place is filled up with intellectually stimulating discussions and essay drafts on tables. Take a sip from your water, look around, send a warm smile to a stranger across the table, read a chapter and continue this routine for a couple of hours. Auster’s elegant novel begins with the sentence “Everyone thought he was dead,” but you’ll be glad that you aren’t.