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reader1There’s a reading meme abroad – and Jack Shalom, over at Jack Shalom – Music, Memories, and Magic, nominated me to answer ten questions about… well, basically about reading habits. And since there are very few reading-related things I can resist,  thank you, Jack – and let us begin.

1) Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

Yes and no – in that I have many places. Apart from reading in bed, very late at night, I seek the cool spots in summer, and the warm ones in winter. I adore to read by the fire, and there is one half of a certain settee that is mine by long agreement. I’ve been known to take refuge on my tiny, wisteria-covered balcony, and in hot weather I like the cool, tall and slightly cavernous staircase. In theory, I love to read in the garden, but there are far too many mosquitos in my corner of the world.

2) Bookmark or random piece of paper?

I buy bookmarks compulsively, I have dozens of them, all of them so very pretty… and hang me if I can find one when I need it. So usually it’s old theatre tickets, scraps of ribbon, scribbled index cards, museum leaflets, birthday cards, dried leaves, postcards… Whatever is at hand. It makes for interesting finds whenever I open again a book after some time.

3) Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter/a certain number of pages?

Oh dear, I’m dreadful at that. Especially when it comes to late night reading. I belong to the “just to the end of the chapter” tribe – in theory. As a matter of fact, I regularly end turning “just another page”, and then another, and another, and how can I stop here, let’s just finish this one chapter, another page, just another… Until I fall asleep, stopping where sleep catches me.

4) Do you eat or drink while reading? Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?  

I drink tea – lots of it. I try not to eat, because I hate food stains on books, but I read during meals when I’m alone. Bad habit, I know, but what is one to do? And I like to listen to music while reading. In some cases, the right music was so much a part of the reading experience that I cannot imagine it otherwise. If I ever re-read Dino Buzzati‘s Tartar Steppe, it will have to be again to Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, and I cannot hear Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus without thinking of Napoleon’s army camped on the Island of Lobau in Patrick Rambaud‘s The Battle. On the other hand, while I can read and watch TV simultaneously, I have not taste for it.

5) One book at a time or several at once? 

Several at once. Heaps. Besides having an “upstairs” book (usually the Kindle, these days), a “downstairs” book and a handbag book (a small one to carry everywhere together with my notebook), there is that I cannot come across an interesting book without taking a peep at the first page, then at the second, then at the third… You know what I mean, don’t you? And yes: when it comes to books, my lack of restraint is appalling.

6) Reading at home or everywhere?

Everywhere – but everywhere. I’ve been known to read during college lectures, boring conferences, student’s meetings in high school, ten-minute breaks during rehearsals… I’m a bit of a joke to family and friends. As I said above, I always have a carry-around book. Endless queues, delayed trains and suchlike joys are not exactly uncommon in Italy. Having something to read (or to write) makes me much more philosophical about it. When I travel, I go to some pains to take with me a book that is related to my destination. Just before my last trip to London, I was given by a friend a vintage book I had been dying to find and read for ages. My first thought was: this comes to London with me… But on second thoughts, a novel set in Medieval Italy was not right for London – so I left it home, and brought instead Noyes’ Mermaid Inn Tales to re-read.

7) Reading out loud or silently in your head? 

Silently in my head is my choice when reading for pleasure and alone – but I love reading aloud provided there is some kind of audience. I do it a good deal, too – for work, writing and theatre, and for pleasure. Ad Alta Voce/Aloud and Il Palcoscenico di Carta/The Paper Stage did not happen by chance.

8) Do you read ahead or even skip pages? 

Right – confession: I skipped parts of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Victor Hugo‘s Les Misérables (the damn sewers! the Parisian argot!) and Ben Jonson‘s Catiline, his Conspiracy. So yes – at times I’ll skip. As for reading ahead… I have a friend who always reads the ending first. She says it rids her of a good deal of unwanted tension and she enjoys the reading better. I could never do it – but at times, when the story really grabs me, it’s a struggle not to take a peep ahead – just to know what happens next.

9) Breaking the spine or keeping it like new? 

Neither, actually. I won’t go to the extremes of not even fully opening the book to avoid the least crease in the spine, but I fidget a lot when I see people actually breaking a spine, and it makes me very unhappy to have borrowers do it to one of my books. It used to be a constant cause for argument with my spine-breaker father. Now the Kindle has made things easier.

10) Do you write in your books? 

Only in exceptional cases, and usually in pencil. But at times I jot down a date, a reading circumstance, an impression… Writing on books makes me nervous, so it must be something really important to move me to do it. Well, I remember riddling with exclamation marks, indignant underlines and sarcastic little comments one particular historical novel so very bad I couldn’t believe it had been published – but that was a… Well, let us call it an experience I am in no hurry to repeat. On the other hand, I love it when I open an old book and find a little note, a name, or maybe a dried flower – so I like to think that, one day, my own little notes will make someone else smile. Someone not yet born maybe, who will wonder who this Clara was…

Right, I’ll stop here, before I grow maudlin. Thank you again Jack – it was great fun. And as for my nominations… (roll of drums…)


Shawn L. Bird

BookNotes and FootMarks