Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A feeling for sun, sand and a book

Sophie Cunningham's Sarsaparilla post on how the location and moment of reading a book can indelibly affect one's experience and memory of the book is fascinating. Her recollection of reading Johnathon Fanzen's The Connections in Sri Lanka is well worth reading, if not only for the great photo she took leaning out a train window!

I was inspired to share my fond memories of reading Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow on the beach one hot summer holiday - 10 years ago! I so enjoyed that trip down memory lane that I'm sharing here what I wrote in the comments to her post.

The writing and the plot left a big impression on me, but the main memory is of the odd juxtaposition of reading a story set in the dead of Denmark’s winter, while enjoying the heat and sunshine of a Queensland beach holiday.

I had spent six months working as a temp in the public service in suburban Melbourne (and hardly the headspace to read anything decent).
I was not long out of university and this had been my first full-time, 5-days-a-week job and I was desperately in need of a holiday. At the end of my contract I went up to Queensland to visit family.

I picked up a copy of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow at my sister’s house, and took it on my well deserved backpacker’s holiday to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. So there I was caught up in what I thought was a ‘whodunit’ (it ended up with more layers than a trifle) set amongst the cold and dreariness of Denmark and the icy expanses of Greenland.

Meanwhile I was seeing sunspots from too much sun while lying on the beach reading, which made it hard to focus on the page at times, and feeling really hot while reading of ice and snow. That is my abiding memory of the time. I read about baking bananas with sugar and ground cinnamon to ward off the cold, and tracking footprints in snow, while feeling hot sand on my skin and cooling off in the surf, taking walks through lush, sub-tropical forest, and encountering rosellas, bush turkeys and other tropical birds, and lizards.

That experience of where and when I read the book has stayed with me as much as, if not more than, the book’s settings, characters and details, (I even experimented with baking bananas with cinnamon and sugar with mixed success that following autumn). I can’t think of any other ‘when and where’ of reading - in my experience - that can match it for me.

The photo
above is one I took of a massive grass-tree at Noosa Hill during my last family holiday up in Queensland. I didn't have a camera with me on that Noosa holiday 10 years ago so I've no photos from then. No sun or sand, but you get the picture.

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