Is there a perfect time to read a given book? A moment not too early or too late, where you’re not too young or too grown—not to mention not too tired, worn out, beaten down by the world, or too excitable and distracted and enthused about other things? What about a perfect place?
The experience of reading a book at what feels like precisely the right time and in just the right place can probably be had deliberately, but as often as not is a matter of chance. I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia on a train, on deadline for a review, before trains had wifi. In my memory it was a gloomy day, so there was nothing, not even scenery, to distract me. The rhythm of the train propelled my reading, but also connected with it, so that I always think of that book with movement and focus.
That was an unexpected blessing of place. But when I think of the ideal window of reading opportunity, I mostly think of time, which is another way of saying context: How much have you lived? What are you bringing to the book, and what is it bringing fresh to you? Where are you meeting each other, in the stages of your relative existence?
For some books and readers, this window never closes. But for others, it sure feels like it does.