Reading Rituals and Places: Do They Matter?
November 01, 2017
I first saw her on an August afternoon. She was sitting on a circular tree bench beside a tumultuous road in Bangalore. Dressed in a plaid uniform, black leather shoes and a pigtail, she hunched over a hardbound book with legs dangling above the ground. On a closer look, I saw that she was reading The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer. She didn’t notice me. Nor did she notice the bustling traffic on the side street or the constant flow of pedestrians walking past her. In that moment, she was in Sawyer, Finn, and Thatcher’s world.
Many adults, on the other hand, are not only selective about where they’d like to read, but also have their own set of preferences and idiosyncrasies when it comes to reading habits and routines.
During my first year of graduation, being new to the city and with most of my school friends in other colleges, I spent a lot of time in the university library. Initially, it seemed like a daunting task, sitting for hours in a room so hushed that all I could hear is the flipping of pages, or someone clearing their throat. But, in a few weeks, I found solace in the quiet of those sunny rooms, those never-ending aisles of books and the musty smell of paper.
From experience, I know that many people would not enjoy the silence, even if given the time to adapt to it. A lot of people I know like reading in bustling environments like cafes or parks.
We all have places that we like reading in and then, of course, there’s what we may call ‘relaxation reading’ during a vacation. In my adult life, I don’t recall ever travelling without a book. As much as I like reading in the comfort of a hotel room, I find it especially fulfilling to laze on the beach and read, listening to waves roll up and crash onto the shore.
On the other hand, reading at a hill station has a completely different charm associated with it. My grandmother’s house in Shillong has a long line of windows in the hall that opens up to a small flower garden and a quiet residential street in front. Whenever we stay overnight at her place, I make sure that I find time away from huddled conversations with the family to read by those windows, with the chilly breeze in my face, an overcast sky above and the smell of wet soil from the previous night’s rain.
Many of us have reading habits and routines that are not only an essential part of our day-to-day life, but also hard to get rid off easily. I once worked with a woman who had to read for at least an hour before she could sleep at night. She told me that on some nights despite being exhausted from the day’s work and wanting to get some sleep, unless she read for a while, there was no sleep to be had.
There are other reading habits and quirks. When it comes to keeping track of one’s reading, some cannot do without bookmarks. Others have the habit of making dog ears, or placing the books facedown, or like me, making a mental note of the page they’ve read and failing each time to remember it, but regardless, continuing to do so out of habit.
About her routine of tracking what she reads and of bookmarking, one writer shared, “The first step of my reading ritual, after choosing a book of course, is to choose a bookmark. Selecting a bookmark to is a semi-serious decision for me. I began collecting bookmarks as a teenager and student. … So now I have hundreds of bookmarks, each one waiting for the pages of a book to rest in between.”
Often, our reading preferences and routines can feel overwhelming but it’s also true that they are an integral part of our reading experiences. Sometimes, I wonder if our habits and preferences were born out of a pleasant experience(s) that makes us want to relive that experience multiple times or recreate it.
20 years later, I still fondly remember Harriet K. and our reading hours under Balipara’s blue skies, the sun shining down on us. Maybe that explains why I like reading out in the open- in parks, backyards, and gardens.
Prarthana Banikya is a graduate in Sociology from Miranda House with a certificate in poetry. She spent her formative years in the valleys of Northeastern India from where she draws inspiration for most of her writing. Her work has been featured in several journals including Aaduna, Asia Writes, Aerogram, Danse Macabre, Poetry Super Highway, Namnai, and Pratilipi. In 2016, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for poetry and in 2018, was the recipient of the Orange Flower Award for poetry. She blogs at prarthanabanikya.blogspot.in.
You can read her articles here.