There’s a guesthouse in Vineyard Haven, owned by one of the Island’s summer glitterati, that sports a little alcove dedicated to reading. Situated on a landing between two floors, it’s no larger than an open futon and boasts a wall-to-wall cushion, sconces for light, built-in bookcases, and a cunning eyebrow window. A small, marine-type ladder gives access and, in the adjacent newel post, there’s a secret hiding place for a bottle of wine. It’s enough to make Island bookophiles openly ahhh.
Most of us, however, don’t have the space or resources for such an elaborate reading cubby and a traditional leather-couch library is pretty much an off-Island thing.
So, where do Islanders read?
For Lenny Bernstein, an Information Systems Technician at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, it’s in bed or on the living room couch in his home in Oak Bluffs. He enjoys a good mystery, but lately has been indulging in more esoteric material like “The Nature of Reality” by Jane Roberts. “I really like dozing off with a book in my hand,” he explains, “but a Saturday afternoon on the couch with the sun coming in, that’s pretty ideal.”
Often, his wife Barbara joins him there. “It’s contentment,” he maintains. “We both have Nooks. I like the convenience of it. I can read books on my iPhone, too.”
“I read almost everything,” says Susan Reidy Huntington, a kindergarten teacher at the West Tisbury School. “Jodi Picoult, David McCullough, espionage, historical fiction…” Susan also reads on her couch during the off-season, but she moves to a hammock in her yard under an oak tree or the beach in the summer. Now that her two children, aged 16 and 22, are grown, she has time to read adult books, but she spent long, lazy summer afternoons reading to them on the beach when they were still tots. “I read for hours,” she recalls, “until my voice gave out and I couldn’t read anymore. They’d just lay there and listen. I would have people walk by when I was reading and they’d day, ‘Oh, that’s so great!’”
Pharmacist Diane Hartmann, a long-time employee of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, reads volumes of required technical information over dinner at her kitchen island. Her fun reading — novels and nutrition-related non-fiction — happens later, lounging on one end of her couch. Ruby, her Lab mix rescue dog, snoozes on the other end. “It’s wonderful,” Diane says. “It’s a special treat to be able to curl up on your sofa and read something with a fire in the wood stove and your best furry buddy keeping your feet warm.”
But her favorite place to read is on the beach at her time share in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. “I bring seven paperback novels,” she relates, “and get through about one a day, with frequent breaks for dance lessons and trips to the swim-up bar.”
“Last year,” she says and chuckles, “I ran out of books and I had to go up to the clubhouse to look for more, but they were mostly in German and Russian.”
Cheryl Burns, a spiritual psychology practitioner who lives in Oak Bluffs, is one of those lucky readers with great concentration who can indulge in literature anywhere, anytime. Since she’s downloaded a Kindle app onto her iPad, it’s become even easier. Without her own set of wheels, Cheryl gets around the Island on public transportation. She loads up her techno-book with novels, metaphysical tomes, and biographies about creative people and their process.
“I read anywhere, in every single moment,” she says. “I read on buses, trains, planes, in parks — anywhere where I happen to have a spare moment. I get so wrapped up in the books that I’m not even aware of where I am.”
Does she miss holding an actual ink-and-paper book in her hand? “I have to admit,” she confesses in a lowered voice, “I don’t. I really like the convenience of carrying a library with me wherever I go.”
But at home, she’s just another of the Island’s literate sofa spuds. “I like to read on my couch underneath a full-spectrum lamp,” Cheryl says. “In front of a nice picture window.”