Bookish Ramblings: How Setting Influences Your Reading Experience

This week, the JCrew has been on a mini-vacation of sorts. We’re holed up in a quaint little cabin in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, just a few miles from the WV border.  1175714_10151883896058760_157902884_nWe figured this trip would be a great way to spend the final days of summer before the boys start school again on Tuesday.

Our cabin is literally in the middle of nowhere. We have to drive down the mountain on a one-lane road to get to the main road, then another 15-20 minutes before you hit a decent sized town (Harrisonburg, home of James Madison University).  We leave the cabin to go on short hikes and to go fishing, but as a whole, we haven’t had THAT much interaction with others.

Anyway. I decided that I would spend this little getaway to do  a reread of Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood. I accomplished half of that goal. I did finish my reread of Oryx and Crake, but then I had to stop. Why? The setting that surrounded me, the desolate, quiet wilderness, caused me to have such a strong reaction to this novel. Those who have read this novel understand how starkness and darkness contained within.  The entire planet is decimated by a virus that we, humans, create.  On purpose. Intentionally. So, here I am in the middle of nowhere, and frankly, it really made me ponder the world created by Atwood in this phenomenal novel.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this novel. I really did. But would my experience and reaction be different had I read it in the comfort of home, just minutes away from the chaos that is a part of living in the DC metro area?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how important our setting, the venue in which we read a novel, can affect our feelings and reading experience.  While I know without a doubt I would have enjoyed this novel no matter where I would have read it, would the pure loss and devastation I experienced in reading it be as intense?

Tell me I’m not crazy. Tell me you, too, have had an experience in which the setting in which you read a book influenced your overall reading experience?

9 Comments to "Bookish Ramblings: How Setting Influences Your Reading Experience"

  1. August 30, 2013 - 10:59 AM | Permalink

    Oh yes! Not only setting but season and weather. I read Dr. Zhivago during a particularly stormy and cold January. Even though I was sitting in front of the fireplace I was colder when reading the book than when I wasn’t reading.

  2. stacy (The Novel Life)'s Gravatar stacy (The Novel Life)
    Twitter: thenovellife
    August 30, 2013 - 11:10 AM | Permalink

    setting definitely influences my reading experience. probably the best example i have is when i read chevy stevens still missing ~ it was a dark pitch black night and i lived in a cabin in the woods, pretty much like the one you describe. i didn’t have blinds or curtains because it was such a secluded cabin but oh my gosh, reading still missing that night brings back feelings of terror and hiding under the covers! excellent post and discussion!

  3. August 30, 2013 - 11:50 AM | Permalink

    For me, setting can make a world of difference. When “Clan of the Cave Bear” first came out, I read it in my home. I liked it but it was earthshaking. A few years later, I reread it while on an extended camping trip- making meals over a fire, sleeping in a tent- that, while it was a million years away from the books setting in terms of comfort and ease, still put me in a mental space to really, really sink into the book.

    I’ve found I have trouble sinking into a horror story in a public setting, like sitting in a airport; I need to be at home, preferably at night.

  4. August 30, 2013 - 6:24 PM | Permalink

    On vacation, it’s necessary to tailor your reading to the venue. For example, if you’re at the beach, lightweight beach reading is nothing to be ashamed of. It just gives your brain a rest along with your body. So, the beach and Carl Hiaasen, are a great pairing. Your post got me thinking and I wrote a bit about this topic on http://www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com

  5. Nancy's Gravatar Nancy
    August 31, 2013 - 9:35 AM | Permalink

    Sounds like I had a bit better luck with my vacation reading last week. Our setting was a cottage on a lake. Hardly anyone around, but you could read indoors on the screened in porch when it was too hot, on the deck, or sitting in one of the many chairs or swings that sat looking out over the lake.

    In this setting, I managed to finish four books:
    Beautiful Ruins (which I brought on my vacation last year, but it didn’t seem right then)
    Tell the Wolves I’m Home (although I brought 10 books with me, this one I picked up at the local indie while on vacation)
    The President’s Hat (unexpected gem of a novel – a handsell at the indie)
    The Illusions of Separateness (this one has been on my pile for a while, just needed the right day to ready it!

    Even thought our August vacation is always about relaxing and reading they don’t always work out this well for me – I got lucky this year!

    Now that we’re back home, I am wondering what to read next? The setting is certainly different.

  6. August 31, 2013 - 12:36 PM | Permalink

    I think that’s definitely true with books, but the best example I have deals with movies instead. About 10 years ago or so, I went on vacation to Deep Creek with some friends. We rented a vacation house with a movie theater in the basement (primarily because of me, because—as you know—I am not someone who’s going to want to go on hikes). Deep Creek, in case you don’t know, is a very wooded rural area in far western Maryland.

    So, me being me, I brought a ton of books and even more movies. And what did I watch the first time I was alone, while my friends were out hiking or doing whatever the hell outdoorsy people do?

    The Blair Witch Project. Obviously I’d seen it before, but never in a cabin in the middle of the woods (MARYLAND woods, at that). I scared the crap out of myself and spent the rest of the day reading Marian Keyes on the very, very bright sunporch.

  7. August 31, 2013 - 7:48 PM | Permalink

    It only affects me if it’s a horror book – for which – quiet, lonely locations – and reading in the night – can make me more scared while reading the book.

  8. Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll)'s Gravatar Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll)
    Twitter: joyweesemoll
    September 1, 2013 - 7:37 PM | Permalink

    I don’t usually read chunkster books, but have in the last year and a bit become a huge fan of Edward Rutherfurd. Someone handed me a copy of Ireland Awakening in the middle of our Ireland trip last year and it added so much to my experience! I probably never would have started it at all if it weren’t for the setting where I read it.
    http://www.joyweesemoll.com/2012/06/22/book-review-ireland-awakening-by-edward-rutherfurd/

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