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???

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Walking & Reading - At the Same Time Mind You!

Is it weird that I walk and read at the same time? I love reading, but I run my own business and have quite a hectic lifestyle. Finding time to keep physically active and feed my reading habit is a struggle. So I’ve learnt how to read and walk simultaneously. You would think this skill would take some time to develop, but I have to say that I mastered the art pretty quickly. Sure, there’s been the odd stumble complete with the frantic glance around to make sure nobody saw it happen, but all in all I’m a pro.

This odd reading style has made me something of a local celebrity. I often combine walking and reading with a trip to the corner shops to pick up some groceries. My sojourns always include friendly, and often humorous, comments from locals the most common of which is ‘Must be a good book’. To my delight these off-hand comments sometimes lead to an in-depth conversation about the book I’m reading or books in general.

What has become most clear from the comments I receive is that most people are astonished that I can actually achieve this feat. Is there anyone else out there like me or am I really a reading and walking freak?

Monday, 15 March 2010

An Evening with Author, Elizabeth Kostova

Cynically I am famous for saying that “I never ever win anything”, but my glass is half full friends are always quick to remind me “That’s because you never enter anything”. They are right! So when Good Reading Magazine started promoting Free February on their Facebook Fan Page, I decided it was time to put the clich├ęd got to be in it to win it mentality to the test. The result is in – I was in it and I did win it! My prize, an evening with best-selling author Elizabeth Kostova.

For those of you who don’t know Kostova she is most renowned for her debut novel ‘The Historian’, a part fact, part fiction story based on the legend of Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula, as he is more commonly known. Kostova was in Australia for the various writer’s festivals around the country promoting her new book ‘The Swan Thieves’, and Good Reading Magazine was lucky enough to host an evening with her in Sydney on Thursday 4th March.

Despite my ten years as a bookseller this was my first experience meeting an author. The cosy attic bar of The Arthouse Hotel was the perfect setting for an intimate Q & A with an author whose obvious love for writing seems only equalled by her love of art and history. As a whole the evening did not disappoint. Kostova spoke well and I found out much about her background and childhood, which were all clearly reflected in her writing. However, I did find that the generally dull questions, stumbled over by the interviewer, led to a generic merry-go-round of responses that left little to discern much about Kostova’s real personality.

After the staged interview, Kostova opened the floor to questions and was met with what I assume is the customary nervous silence, before some brave soul had the courage to raise their hand. Alas, this brave soul was not me. I was a little tongue-tied if the truth be told. Despite, or maybe because of, my eager criticism of the interviewer, I was fearful of asking the world’s stupidest question. What followed from the audience was a series of rather predictable questions and a little too much gushing by adoring fans. The Q & A session was saved a by a young man who dared to ask a question outside the box – ‘Do you ever get the feeling that you were born in the wrong era, and if so, when do you think you should have been born?” What followed was a lively and amusing few minutes of banter between the young man and Kostova. The crowd giggled gaily, whilst they learnt the young man would have preferred to be born in the 50s, and Kostova admitted to sometimes feeling largely out of place. When the interviewer called a halt to questions I found myself wishing the young man had asked his question first rather than last as the ensuing Q & A session might have been a more revealing and authentic experience.

As I joined the queue to get my copies of her books signed, I found myself rifling through different questions I could ask when my brief moment with Kostova arrived. I was amazed that the interviewer had not asked Kostova what she was working on next, and thought I might be able to get an exclusive tid-bit of information. I learnt that Kostova had indeed been working on a new project since October, but she was reluctant to give up details. Her only promise was that she intended on finishing the book more quickly than her previous two, and was exploring writing in something other than the first person. I walked away with a smile on my face, two signed books in hand.

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