Ambiance and Reading

Last week I published a post about how the occasional alcoholic beverage can enhance the reading experience and this brought another thought to mind – what role does ambiance play in the reading process? Ambiance is something I spend a lot of time thinking about because it is important for my general happiness that a space feels a certain way. I enjoy the challenge of taking a room and turning it into a space where I can think, rest, read, entertain or any other number of things. As this applies to most things in my life, it obviously applies to reading as well.

First off, there are two different kinds of ambiance that I want to discuss. There are many situations where a natural ambiance is good enough to promote good thought in a reading space and then there are situations where a synthetic ambiance is something I strive for to recreate a space and make it into a place where I can dive into a book. Both of these can make reading more enjoyable and I think whether we think about it or not, everyone has a preferred “feeling” for a space where they choose to read.

Natural ambiance is my favorite kind because it feels more real and comforting than the synthetic variety. Some of my favorite memories of reading have been outside and the feeling of peace and calm that this environment breeds is perfect for devouring a novel. When I was in Greece with friends this past summer, on the island of Mykonos, we stayed in a small AirBnb in the hills outside of the main towns and had a phenomenal view of the Aegean and the white towns nearby. The wind blew pleasantly at all times of the day and the sun shined warmly. We had a large patio outside of the small square living space and I would sit on the patio at the height of the day and read a book. The combination of the warm sun, the breeze blocking out noises from town and the beautiful view created a reading experience that I will never forget. Another example is from my younger years growing up in upstate NY. My parents live in a rural area on a small hill – the area where I grew up being in a large valley in the Finger Lakes region. I used to go to a small lake nearby in the summer and sit near the water with a good book. You could hear birds and frogs and the light sound of families enjoying the warm days. Those days were so relaxing that I often think of them in the heart of winter to try and warm my soul a bit.

Synthetic ambiance, while not as inspirational as being outside, can be a good way to make an indoor space more fitting for reading. I find that this helps my mood tremendously during the winter – something I learned through my understanding of the Danish word Hygge (translated loosely to coziness). When it is cold and gray outside and the sun sets at 5PM it is perfect to light a couple candles, grab a warm knit blanket and read under the light of a lamp. I find that while winter is definitely the most ideal time for me to hunker down and burn through my to-read pile, it is also the hardest time of the year for me to focus on reading because I struggle with seasonal depression. I notice it hit me around November every year when the skies start to stay gray day after day and the sun sets earlier in the day. However, with the right ambiance I can usually inspire myself enough to read a little each day. Probably my favorite example of perfect synthetic ambiance comes from my time living alone in my first apartment. I had a large living room and after suffering through my first winter I decided to make some changes to the space. By the time fall and winter rolled around for a second time I had established a nice space for reading and staying sane during the cold months of the year. The first rule for me is always scent – I personally find that earthy scents (sandalwood incense or pine candles are good examples) set the mood for me to enjoy a good book. The second rule is some light background noise. I picked up a record player during this time and when I wanted to read I would put on a jazz record on low volume to keep my brain from picking out and getting distracted by the sounds on the street outside. The third rule is lighting – I prefer to have a lamp or two lighting the space with vintage LED bulbs to give the room a nice warm glow. The final rule is warmth which I always find through the use of thick knit blankets because I keep my apartment pretty cool during the winter. With these things combined I find myself a lot more willing to sit down with a book even when I am feeling low.

Ambiance obviously plays a large role in my reading routine and helps me develop memories that I can often associate with books I have read in the past. Having these memories provides me with inspiration to keep reading even when I may not feel up to it. What role does ambiance play in your reading lifestyle?

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