The best position for reading


You can read in almost any position, but there are some rules that serious readers should adhere in order to avoid neck strain or arm fatigue.


readingI recently overheard a conversation in a library (yes, I go to library regularly; and yes, I eavesdrop occasionally… whenever I can).

It went like this:

Library user Number One: “Why don’t you get this one; I hear it’s good.”

Library user Number Two: “Oh no, I can’t! Look how big and heavy it is! I wouldn’t be able to hold it while I read in bed!”

Inwardly, I gave a little smirk of superiority. Surely, I thought, what matters is what’s in the book!

But that night, as I lay in bed balancing a rather heavy volume on my lap, I remembered the words of library user Number Two… and had to admit that they contained a grain of truth.

Content is king when choosing your reading matter, but you also must consider the circumstances in which the book will be primarily consumed. A volume that props nicely against food processor on a kitchen table, allowing you to turn pages with one hand and munch delicacies with the other, may not be suitable for reading in bed.

However, as I learned after extensive research, that’s merely scratching the surface. Whether sitting or lying when reading, you need to position yourself well in order to keep the body comfortable and the mind perceptive.

Sitting and reading

reading in a parkHere is what experts say: place the book on a desk at the downward angle of about 60 degrees, keep your back straight, both feet on the floor and the thighs parallel to the floor.

Well, yes, that sounds great, if you’re studying for an exam… But as every avid reader knows, this ideal posture simply will not do for pleasure reading.

Luckily, there are some perfectly comfortable variations of the sitting-while-reading position. My favourite is sitting in an armchair with the feet on the coffee table, knees bent to avoid strain in the back of the legs and to provide support for the book placed on the thighs – so no tired arm either!

I also like reading while sitting outside, in my garden or in a park. It’s really great to occasionally peel your eyes off the book and rest them on greenery while contemplating some particularly poignant point you just read.

Lying and reading

reading in bedAs somebody wise once said, reading in bed ranks high among the minor pleasures of life.

Some people like to read while lying on their stomach. They advise putting two or three pillows under the chest, so that your arms don’t get tired from holding up the whole upper body. Still, after a while you may feel a strain in your lower back; besides, this position puts some pressure on the belly, and not everybody enjoys that.

Most avid readers will tell you that reading while lying on one side and using one arm as support is a sure recipe for getting pins and needles in that arm. The only way to get around this is to place your cheek on two or three pillows and prop the book against the back of your soundly asleep partner (then hope that she or he does not turn around and ruin the whole setup).

And this is where I come to the absolute winner (in my eyes, at least): reading while lying on your back. Just use an extra pillow or two to prop you up and support your head so there’s no strain anywhere. If the volume is heavy, it helps to rest it on a pillow you placed on your lap. For utmost comfort, put a couple of pillows under your bent knees… Pure bliss! (Except for the part when you have to hunt around for all those pillows in the morning.)

Other good reading positions

young man readingDid it ever occur to you to read while standing? Try it, you may find that it agrees with you. You can either rest the book on a high mantelpiece, or slowly pace around the room with it.

As for reading while lolling in a bathtub… This one has a great potential, if only somebody would think of making water-proof books for grownups!


If you find that your reading position gets uncomfortable after a while, switch to a different one. Whichever position you choose, make sure to have good light… and an absorbing book!