Reading Under the Bed

April 25, 2010 at 3:39 pm (Book Commentary, Memoir) (, , , , , )

I have always been a reader. I don’t remember when I learned to read, but I remember being seven and getting my first library card. I was number 23, which meant that I was the 23rd person in our small town to acquire a library card. For the first thirteen years of my life, I lived within a half block of the library. We were allowed to take out six books at a time. I would be at the library when the doors opened, take out my six books, go home and read them and be back to return the first batch of books & get out another six just before the library closed.

I read a lot during the long lazy days of summer. But even during the school year, I could devour a book a day. I can still read about three books a week when I set my mind to it; when I have nothing else to do.

What you need to know is that I was a small child, a teeny-tiny thing and I preferred to be unseen. I would bring my books home; spring, summer, winter, fall and go seek a hidden place to read. I preferred cave-like places. I would read in the back corner of my mother’s closet, my eldest sister’s closet or under the bed. Mine and my mother’s bed had space under the headboard. I could take the pillows, my purple & white lamp, and my books under the bed. There I would curl up in the corner, hidden. Often the cat and sometimes the dog would join me.

Outside, beyond where I was, life went on. I could hear my mother in the kitchen and my siblings and their friends would pass by the bed on the way upstairs to their rooms. This was in the Hahn house. Where I was, was safe and muted and comfortable. I would get lost in my books until a voice would inquire “where is she? Where is gigi?” I would smile to myself, hold the cat closer and decide whether or not I wanted to leave my imaginary worlds and go join the real one; sometimes yes, sometimes no.

This last Christmas, our work party included tickets to go see the Vinyl Cafe. Dave, played by Stuart McLean, talks about his daughter Stephanie reading in the closet. She is reading a book titled the “Encyclopedia of forgotten places.” My first thought was “I remember exactly how that feels” and my second thought was, “I hope that the book is real, I so want to read it.” As far as I can find it’s not a real book, but there are a lot of books similar: Like this one or this one or this one.

I’m inspired now to draw a map of my own imaginary places; the places I use to hide and read in. I wonder how many I’ll remember. Perhaps I’ll share it with you at a later date.

In my extended family, we don’t tell stories from our childhood. I mostly just know my own stories. I not only hid and read under my bed at my mother’s house, I also read and hid under my  (& my younger half-sister’s bed) at my father’s house. Do you notice the theme? Do you notice the hiding? My family is very good at hiding. We struggle to talk to each other. We are careful of each others feelings. Our skin is not thick; it is paper-thin in spots, sometimes almost transparent. As I hope, my love for them is transparent.

We are blocking out our stories, perhaps? We are blocking out the sorrow, the pain, the love. Sometimes it is too hard, too much work. I wish we were not like this. I want to know all the stories, everyone’s stories.

“And I would be glad to be there, to see old people I might never see again, to see cousins I played hide-and-seek with in a dark yard specked yellow with lightning bugs, back before we were scared of life and snakes.” (p. 251)

Ava’s Man
by Rick Bragg
N. Y.: Knopf, 2001



  1. dftbaasap said,

    I’ve never read like that, really, in a secret place. I find that the reading itself creates the secrecy.

    Though that sounds cozy, and I’m tired…

  2. Kathy said,

    I like the idea, too, a reading in a secret place. In this house that would involve going down into the basement–maybe into one of the closed-off rooms. maybe bringing a cup of tea. I like that you want to know so many stories. Everyone’s stories.

  3. Sandra said,

    Gigi — Since I know you occasionally visit my blog, I KNOW you have seen that my mother was a great documenter of life. And only after I started sharing her stories and photos on my blog did I realize what a gift she left to future generations.

    For the same reason that you enjoy reading other people’s life stories, you should continue to share your own memories. I think it was the first time I visited here that I read your story about the Hahn house, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I did this one about reading in secret places.

    To me, sharing stories is not only for the entertainment of your readers, but helps refresh the stories in your own mind and even to develop a new perspective on long ago events. All good.

  4. Sue Pace said,

    I first heard of the “Forgotten Places” on my way home from church on a rainy Seattle day…I was listening to NPR and the Vinyl Cafe was on. Then I googled the heck out of the title and here you are – so to speak – and I thought I’d share my own secret places to read – beside under the covers with a flashlight. That probably doesn’t count as a secret as every child I have read that way (and there were 4 of them) so my own secret place was in a tree. Hidden from view by leaves but within calling distance. Than you for this blog.

  5. Catherine said,

    My Mother swears that the “Encyclopedia of Forgotten Places” is real – that it was reviewed in a Vancouver newspaper around Christmas time (2011) and that’s where she wrote down the title, but neglected to note the author. I guess I will keep looking….she wants to give it to my niece.

    • solitaryspinster said,

      I know you can get Encyclopedias of Imaginary places – maybe she read a review on one of them instead.


  6. Sticky Summer Heat | Solitary Spinster said,

    […] I was a very tiny child until I hit puberty. Or I would grab my lamp and a couple of pillows and snuggle under the bed with the dog and cat. Or I would hide in the very cramped back corner of my eldest sister’s […]

  7. Secondhand Cats | Solitary Spinster said,

    […] mine more than anyone else’s in the family. He slept with me. He hid with me when I would read under the bed. When we got a puppy, Willie adopted it as his own and taught him how to behave. I have a picture […]

  8. Coveting Trolls | Solitary Spinster said,

    […] I was tired of eating raspberries and running around unsupervised outside I could grab a book and read under the bed which was my favourite reading […]

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