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?

Books and Booze

I have been reading since I was a child and as I have grown up, my reading habits have inevitably changed with the ebb and flow of my everyday life. When I was in grade school and had the summers off I would buy a book and binge it until 4AM because I could. In college I would read chapters between engineering problem sets to make sure I got through some books during a busy schedule. When I was working as a shift leader in my previous job I would bring in books to read on the off shifts when things got slow. No matter what the circumstances were, I have always managed to meld my lifestyle with my love for reading.

Perhaps the best addition to my literary lifestyle, though, has sprung up in the last five years. That would of course be the occasional addition of booze to my reading time. Whether it be a cocktail in a quiet café on a Saturday afternoon or a cold beer at five o’clock on a Wednesday, there is something magical about sipping on an adult beverage while devouring a novel.

Now, to be clear, I am not talking about reading after consuming 3 tequila shots on a Saturday night – maybe that’s okay for some people, but for me the words would definitely start to blur together and I would find myself ten pages from the last part I remember and have to back track. What I enjoy is that light buzz one gets from one or two drinks and how it helps you get lost in the pages just a little more easily. I love reading at all times of the day, but as someone who is ultra-sensitive to ambient noise and the distractions that come from being alive in 2019, a bit of a buzz helps hone my focus and block out that background noise.

In addition to the aforementioned aid to my focus, there is something romantic about reading a literary piece while sipping a glass of whiskey or gin. A lot of famous authors – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac – drank while writing and a lot of their works use alcohol as a catalyst for some of the adventures, thoughts and often mayhem that their characters experience. Many of these authors had an unhealthy relationship to booze – something I want to explore in a later post – but it cannot be denied that it played a large role in their writing process. As a result, I often feel a deeper connection to a piece when sipping pleasantly on a glass of something strong.

Whether it be sipping ouzo in Greece while reading a classic or hunkering down with a fun fantasy romp and a glass of Guinness in my apartment on a cold night, booze and books is one of favorite combinations. Do you like to occasionally mix alcohol and literature? Let me know in the comments below.