I wrote a little message on facebook about how infuriating it is to be around people whispering in a library. Maybe more annoying than people talking at a normal volume. I've actually been thinking about thinking environments and reading for a little while. My thinking is something like this.
Libraries, dead quiet ones, mostly make me quite tired and bored. At least university libraries do, because they're generally populated by tired and bored students, who contribute to an ambiance of tired boredom. This is occasionally interspersed with whispering, which as I say sends me into a rage. Maybe it's because we can't help but try to pick up on what's being said.
On the other hand I had a really good time spending all day reading at the city-hall library in Hong Kong, and the National Library of Taiwan is brilliant. I should also spend more time at the State Library here in Brisbane.
A cafe can be good for thinking and reading non-fiction, stuff like Malcolm Gladwell or Nassim Taleb. I recently finished Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, and I've been dipping into What the Dog Saw. Cafes can be noisy, but so long as the noise is a hum of conversation, I find it stimulating rather than distracting. A good place where you can come across an interesting idea, then put down the book for a minute or two to digest it.
I can only read novels at home when it's quiet. Even music can be distracting, as it may be of a different mood to the scene in the novel. It's the same with philosophy, at least the more lyrical stuff.
Strangely enough, none of the above seems to apply when I'm reading something in Chinese, possibly because it requires so much concentration that it seems to block out everything else around me.
And thinking, for me, is still best done whilst going for a walk. I wonder if these things apply to most people?