Sofa surfing: a reader’s atlas of comfort

There’s a good moment (one of many) in Haruki Murakami’s “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End Of The World” where the narrator indulges in a discourse on sofas. Here’s a tantalizing quote from that speech in Chapter Five:

“Sofas constitute a realm inviolate unto themselves. This, however, is something that only those who have grown up sitting on good sofas will appreciate. It’s like growing up reading good books or listening to good music. One good sofa breeds another good sofa; one bad sofa breeds another bad sofa. That’s how it goes.”

Sofas are a good place to read, and as Murakami’s narrator states, the better the sofa the better. Of course your definition of a good couch may vary, since there isn’t one broad applicable standard—no matter how true the “good sofa” line rings. There was a perfectly bad brown sofa in my father’s basement that I still liked to curl up on with a book and headphones, despite the fact that the fabric was scratchy and our dog had biliously defecated on it a year before it was mercifully removed. Such a memory is hard to expunge from upholstery, even with a good laundering.

The brown sofa was replaced with a queer set of leather furniture that had buttons to make them recline. One of them was vaguely a sofa, except it was never meant to work as such. It was two recliners mashed together with a partition tucked into the middle that you could pull out and set your drink in. Whenever I go visit, I like to curl up on it with some pillows and read on its pliant cushioning. It’s just uncomfortable enough in that position where I don’t fall asleep—barring general fatigue.

There’s another sofa upstairs, far too cushiony for its own good, and if I lie down I’m done for. Then there’s all the futons my mother keeps in her house, which for me represent a perfect economy as far as sofas go. Otherwise, I know several people who have passable or even nice sofas, and dorm couches are supremely awful.

If any of this serves a point, it’s to say that sofas are my quintessential reading place, besides armchairs and beds and floors and stools and restaurant booths and windowsills and the occasional storage room or tree bower. A larger point to be made is that there is something sacrosanct in where you and I prefer to read.

There can be a romantic sensibility in where you choose to read: the steep verdurous hillside that opens itself to Whitman or Wordsworth, the open air café that beckons for contemplative existentialists or gaunt brooding Russian novels, the long airplane ride where you trudge out a trusty paperback, the hushed library where you agonizingly pore over obscure philosophical tracts or the public transit ride where a book enfolds you into a personal space on your circuitous jostle.

Of course, you need not be so sensitive to these and like moods and fancies. You may not have a favorite or optimal place to enjoy a book. Despite my long digression above, sofas are not my favorite place to read. They are, however, one of my essential places to read. On my part, saying a good sofa is essential is not an indulgence, especially since a “good sofa” could be a piss poor one scavenged during the annual August Madison fall rental migration, when they’re practically thrown at you.

Whether reading is a pleasure, a trial or a profession of faith, where you read ties into the act. It can even influence it. If reading a book holds the seeds of your experience and the place—whether a sofa or a bus seat or on top of a skyscraper or at the bottom of the ocean—is where you sow them, then the place may make the book all the better. Imbue it and spur its growth in your mind; vice versa.

Want to talk reading locals with Sean? Email him at sreichard@wisc.edu

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