Next Monday at 7:07 a.m., daylight will dawn on another Reading Week at Yale. Most students will probably respond by burrowing deeper under the covers, but sooner or later the sun will send them scurrying around campus in pursuit of an idyllic niche in which to prepare for the coming squall of exams and papers. Luckily, Yale and New Haven boast some exceptional study spots where atmosphere and seclusion combine to make hours of hard work go by like minutes.
For those enamored of profound, arresting stillness, Sterling Memorial offers an abundance of well-advertised havens, such as the yawning atrium of the Music Library, the Puritanically-furnished Newspaper Room and the fluorescence-soaked Franke Periodical Reading Room .
But a harried Yale student needs more than good lighting and acres of table space to get some high-caliber studying done, and to sit in one of Sterling’s chambers is not so much to be soothed by silence as to be plunged into a bottomless ocean of white noise. In the Starr Main Reference Room, for instance, one can hardly look up without making awkward eye contact with some other poor soul who’s logging his seventh hour on his philosophy paper. The sheer, menacing emptiness of that vast space hanging overhead can be equally unnerving. It’s hard to carve out a private world in such a beehive without retreating into the sonic refuge offered by iPod earbuds.
Sterling’s real gem is the lower-profile, gloriously idiosyncratic L&B Room, named after the 18th-century debating societies Linonia and Brothers in Unity. If the Starr Room attempts to simulate some past era with its Gothic trappings, then the L&B Room — known colloquially as the “Green Room” and located just past the door that reads “Telephones” — is a much more genuine relic. The sculpted Gothic windowpanes are dappled and decrepit. The lanterns hanging from the whitewashed ceiling are more like rusty scraps of jaggedly-carved metal. The tiny clock mounted into the wooden paneling on one wall eternally reads 5.
But students who can look past the fact, say, that the Exit sign is unapologetically jury-rigged with a couple of unvarnished two-by-fours will see that the L&B Room has an understated charm all its own. Individual study alcoves look out into the beautiful Selin Courtyard. Leather chairs, some of them ripped and bleeding their stuffing, are as comfy as any on campus. Best of all, the space itself is just right: Both claustrophobes and agoraphobes will find this wood-paneled Eden as unassuming as an old brown shoe.
For those who thrive in the murmur of surrounding conversations and opening cash registers, New Haven’s coffeehouses double as sanatoriums for the due date-crazed. Au Bon Pain, an obvious choice, is seriously short on ambience, even if its pain is tres bon. And it’s too close to campus to avoid the fishbowl effect: Just try sitting by the windows without being pestered by acquaintances passing by. Ditto for Koffee Too?, although finding a seat by the windows is a challenge unto itself.
For a supposedly soulless multinational corporation, Starbucks has surprisingly good taste in its choice of music and wall decorations, and they certainly know how to make a decent cup of coffee. The corner of High and Chapel streets also offers a fascinating vista. But to avoid the bustle of Starbucks (or the brand name, if you’re into that sort of thing), students would be well-advised to head up Chapel just one more block, where they’ll find the best study perch of all: the Book Trader Café.
Book Trader not only excels in its selection of sandwiches, pastries and drinks but also exudes liveliness and warmth. The tables, located in an old greenhouse, are bathed in the pale sunlight of a New Haven winter, and the interior brick walls are complemented with rows of bookshelves and a tasteful array of black-and-white photographs. The entire café seems to reduce one’s blood pressure by a notch or two.
The only complaint against Book Trader is that it closes at 10, but that only means that students should be in time for the nightly free-bread-rush at Atticus nearby. And it’s always a fun challenge to see just how much cinnamon-raisin bread one can wolf down on the way to a further three-hour sequester in the deep, smothering silence of Sterling Memorial Library.