How to create the perfect book nook

Do you have a special reading spot? One pernickety writer explains the ingredients you need – and why it's so important to get them right.

An ode to the book nook
Photo: iStock

I can’t read just anywhere.

I suppose it must have started when I was a child, but it came to head at university when it became important to devour books at pace, but with deep focus too. And I could only do that in one way: laid sprawled on my stomach, perpendicular on the bed, pillows to my right, footboard to my left. The bed had to be made, or it felt weird. I liked the window open. Breeze on the feet, you know?

Only in this manner could I truly focus. I look on people who can read at the kitchen table, on a shaky bus, in a loud and crowded café the same way I do on those who can fall asleep just about anywhere — with colossal, unyielding envy. Me? I need a nook.

Perhaps you're similar. But finding a sacrosanct space to get good reading done isn't always easy. Here are some things to consider when creating yours.

Reading nooks
Photo: iStock

Find somewhere snug

This is your starting point. No reasonable person situates their book nook at a hard table. Hard tables are unnookable.

Instead, you want sofas, pouffes, lounges, hammocks, pillows, blankets – anything that allows for near-horizontal reading. The more serious, ergonomically minded might opt for an armchair, while the night owl will simply zhuzh up their bed space. All of this works; it’s really about what makes you comfortable. If I’m settling into a good book, I want warmth, comfort and, let’s be brutally honest about aging, a thought spared for my lower back.

Follow the light

If you Google ‘best light placement for reading’ or similar, you will mostly find articles from lamp companies with advice about… why you should really get a lamp. Seems a little too convenient.

But light is inarguably an important aspect of your nook. For me, it was crucial that my nook be sun-adjacent – the sun is a vital source of vitamin D, which helps regulates mood, and moodiness isn’t exactly conducive to reading – without being sunny, per se. You want a spot with light that’s as evenly dispersed as possible.

When the sun’s down, I point my floor lamp (yes, I have a lamp – you win, lampsplus.com) at the wall, rather than directly at my book, to reflect light that allows me to read most comfortably. Keep glare out of your nook.

How to make a good reading nook
Photo: iStock

Adjust the volume

What stops me from reading comfortably on buses isn’t the jostling so much as the chatter around me, not white noise but clear, distinct words, yelled into mobiles, in competition with their seat neighbour, who is… also yelling into their mobile. Naturally: make sure your nook is not the site of a yelling match.

Mine is at the front of my flat, which faces onto a busy, sometimes noisy street. That might seem detrimental to reading, but I like the background noise that a street provides: car wheels on pavement, barely audible conversations, bike bells, even honking car horns. It all blends together into the hum of a living city that provides what feels more like a sonic backdrop than an interruption.

Others might prefer gentle ambient music or piano sonatas or, perhaps most commonly, complete silence. Generally, you want somewhere quieter than not. If you’re able to use headphones to block out partners or family members, more power to you – I like music in the room, but I find headphones make the sound feel too up-front.

Plan the accoutrements

You’ve settled into your nook now; you’re wrapped in a blanket, the lighting is perfect, and Erik Satie is floating gently out of your speakers. And you’re thirsty. Of course you’re thirsty – humans are more than 50% water. Nobody’s about to fault you for thirst, but you made a rookie nook mistake: you forgot to have a flat surface nearby with a tall glass of water. Or tea. A pint.

The point is, your nook should reflect your needs. If you’re happiest surrounded by plants, stick some nature around you. Drafty apartment? Keep a space heater nearby. Put up some nice prints. Keep your phone within reach, if you’ll need it, or stay distraction-free and keep it verboten in the nook. Hang your feet off the bed. Do whatever it is you need to make sure you can remain focused on your book. This, more than anything, will keep your nook, well, yours. Don’t feel pressured to make your nook instagrammable – all it has to do is reflect you. And if keeping things instagrammable is you?

Post away, my friend. We’d love to see it. Here’s mine:

Reading in Stoke Newington London
Your author's humble book nook.

Share your book nook with us on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #PenguinBookNook.

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