Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Have you Heard About Atmospheric Reading?

The act of reading itself has always been a great joy to me. No matter where I am or where I’m going I always have a book with me because you never know when you might get an opportunity to flick open the pages. I read on the beach, in the bath, whilst walking, in bed, in TV ad-breaks, on public transport, you name it I read there. Inspired by a recent article I read about the lost art of reading aloud, I decided to push the boundaries of my reading habits even further and embark on an experimental journey into the world of what I’d like to call ‘atmospheric reading’.

Eager to discover whether manipulating the environment in which a book was read enhanced, detracted or had no effect on the overall reading experience, I needed to find a suitable place to start and, where better than with a classic! Critics claim ‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James is one of the best psychological, gothic thrillers of all time. As such, it has long been on my list of must read books, but I’d never felt a strong enough desire to actual pick it up. Until now!! It seemed to me that one of the easiest and most distinct atmospheres to create was a creepy one, so I set about scaring the living daylights out of myself.

For two consecutive evenings I became a lone reader taking a long hot bath, listening to the rain drizzling onto the window with only a few dim candles lighting the page and not a soul nor sound in the house. The experience did not disappoint. I won’t give away the storyline of the book itself, but I will describe how it made me feel. For every curious noise that leapt off the page of Henry James’ masterpiece, I heard another three as my house betrayed its’ own ghostly mutterings. The strange apparitions seen by the governess had me darting my eyes in suspicion towards dark shadowy corners of my bathroom. The flickering candlelight at once charming and beautiful was in another instant evil and sinister, just like the young boy Miles. Sensory overload made the silence unbearable, chilling. After I had read the final page and closed the book I could still feel it all around me and it took me quite a while to come back to reality.

Later, I realised that I hadn’t just read the story. I had been physically a part of it. I often feel emotionally connected with a book, but I rarely feel that kind of physicality. The sensation was new and bought a fresh dimension to the escapism normally sort for in the reading of a book. Having never read ‘The Turn of the Screw’ before, I can’t claim that I wouldn’t have felt the same way without the artificial atmosphere. What I do know is that I am keen to start on my next atmospheric reading adventure – maybe Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’ on the beach…….your thoughts???