The picture on the left is Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand, where I am at the moment. Purely by chance the book I am reading is Paolo Cognetti’s Otto Montagne, to be published in English in March as Eight Mountains. The novel won the Italian Strega Prize and, as the title tells us, is about mountains and mountain-climbing. I shall be reviewing it on return from my travels. It is set both in the Italian Alps and the Himalayas and Pietro, the hero/narrator, both of his parents and his best friend, Bruno, are lovers of mountains. It is a real joy to read it while looking at Mount Cook and the other peaks in the range.
Does reading a novel in an appropriate place enhance the reading experience? Should we read Wuthering Heights at Top Withens? War and Peace at Borodino? Voss in the Australian desert? 古都 (The Old Capital) in Kyoto?
I have occasionally made a conscious attempt to read a work in the place it was associated with: I read some of Ulysses in Dublin, Yeats poetry in Sligo, Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts at Briggflatts and even some Hemingway at Key West. However, on the whole, like most people, I have read most books at my home, none of which have had any particular literary associations.
Does it make a difference? I think it does. Whenever I read about Pietro going up a mountain, I look out of the window and imagine him climbing here. Sitting next to me is my wife reading, as she always does when we come to New Zealand, Lord of the Rings, and, everywhere we go, she can associate with some part of Tolkien’s novel.
Most of us will continue to read at home or, perhaps, on the commute to and from work, but it is certainly occasionally enjoyable to read a novel or poetry with the place it is associated with.