For instant pleasure, grab a book and go outside

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Photographers from The New York Times visit beaches, parks and cafes to indulge readers in timeless bliss.

Enjoying a book alfresco is one of the simple, coveted joys of summer right there, running through a sprinkler, cracking open the first firefly of the evening or scraping a flat wooden spoon into a freezer-lit cup of Italian ice.

The sweltering, record-breaking heat this year has compounded the practice, leaving many of us with the feeling of reading inside a toaster oven. It’s hard to focus on a novel when your back is throwing up as much liquid as Niagara Falls.

Still, there are few voyeur pleasures more satisfying than stepping outside and finding someone lost in a book. You have the thrill of recognizing a similar spirit, the instant eye test of deciphering a title from afar, plus the ability to have a new mystery, biography, memoir or graphic novel to add to your list. It’s like getting menu ideas from a stranger’s shopping cart, barring the clumsiness about your own unhealthy snacks. Fortunately there are no judgments in public displays of literacy—just the casual visor of one book lover to salute another.

So what makes reading in the great outdoors more memorable than cracking a book in the privacy of your own home? Certainly a sofa cushion is more comfortable than a headrest made of sand, and you don’t need to keep an eye on the weather or circle the nearest amenities. Why do we find a sudden peace of mind falling down a heated park bench, a splashy deck or a dandelion-dotted lawn with paperbacks in hand? Why do we subject our backs to the unforgiving bark of a tree?

The answers depend on your own adventure of small decisions: beach towel or chair? Barefoot or flip-flops? Sunglasses or baseball cap? Picnic basket or poppy berry? Do you read with earbuds or rely on birds and ice cream trucks to provide your soundtrack? More importantly, what book have you brought along for the company? Will it get you excited for a round of paddle ball or provide a prelude to a long summer nap?

There are only a few non-negotiables when it comes to plein-air readings: sunscreen, hydration, repeat. You don’t want to stand up and look at the stars – they’re in the middle of the cover. Plus, the humble reader leaves the speakers at home. No one wants to listen to your Jimmy Buffett playlist, even in Key West.

This summer, The New York Times sent photographers to beaches, parks, courtyards and cafes across the country — from New York City to Minneapolis to Seattle — to document our fearless tradition of enjoying words and nature at the same time. For. His photographs are reminiscent of the magnificence and magic of this combination.


Produced by Rebecca Halleck

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