Essay

Reading Rituals and Places: Do They Matter?

Prarthana Banikya

November 1, 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.

There is a moment in time when a child becomes a reader. It’s when she realizes that she can do something fun all by herself, free of adult supervision. It’s endearing how a child can read just about anywhere.

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.

I know a friend who finds it difficult to read anywhere else except her bedroom. She tells me that in the other rooms, the sound of hawkers and flower sellers who frequent the street outside her home, constantly wafts in. I, too, enjoy placid spaces but am not particularly bothered by a certain degree of activity.

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.

Many years ago, as a teenager, I read an article in the Sunday newspaper where a columnist (whose name I can’t seem to place) wrote that he found it close to magical being lost in the happenings of a book and simultaneously being able to take in the sounds and sights of the outside world. He expressed what it was like to experience a story in a book while flight announcements were made, people were meeting and parting and a bevy of travellers was making its way to different parts of the world all at the same time. He said it was like living in a world inside a world!

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.

Although reading during a vacation can be fulfilling, what I savour most is comfort reading. And here, I don’t mean books that we read for comfort. I am referring to those little things that add to the reading experience- that piping cup of beaten homemade coffee, a favourite quilt, the sound of rain on your tin roof or the safety of your mother’s lap while you read your favourite book. My new favourite is reading on our corner couch with a throw blanket and my cat, Haiku, curled up beside me.

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.

When I was 13, our boarding school had an English teacher named Harriet K. During her classes, she’d often take us out to the central courtyard where we’d read on the warm winter grass. Some of the students would sit upright, others would curl up and a few of us would lie down on our stomachs, elbows digging into the grass and book held upright. Every week, I’d eagerly wait for those classes.

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.

What are your reading rituals? Where do you like to read? Share your rituals and spaces with us in the comments below!

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Prarthana Banikya

Prarthana Banikya


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