READING… by candlelight candlelight

‘READING..’ is a new feature that I’m bringing to RobAroundBooks in which I explore the very act of reading, and the ways in which the experience can be enhanced and enriched. In the first of this series I’m looking at reading by candlelight, and the surprising warmth and atmosphere that can come from engaging with a book amid the glow of a flickering candle.

It all started when I picked up a rather splendid brass candleholder in a charity shop a couple of years ago. If you know me then you’ll know that I’m hugely into anything vintage, and in invoking in our modern world a sense of days gone past. And so it was inevitable after buying this candleholder – which is actually quite splendid and looks as ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ (even if he did run around with a lantern) as is likely to get – that I’d set about trialling reading by candlelight (cue *rolling eyes* from Mrs. Rob), and I’ve got to say that what come out of it was something pretty spectacular.

The book I had chosen to read by candlelight the first time was Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery (Vintage), which was ideal. Set mainly in the dark and seedy backstreets of nineteenth-century Paris, the book was calling out to be read in the gloom and flicker of candlelight, and reading it in such a way REALLY enhanced the mood of the book. My surroundings echoed the descriptions in the book, and I found myself drawn in like nothing I’d ever used to enhance my reading experience before.

Since then I’ve read, and even written, a number of times by candlelight, and each time I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There’s something truly warming about reading a book by the light of a candle, especially when the book is an old classic written in a time before electric lighting. You just seem to get pulled into a book in ways that you wouldn’t any other way – even when reading by the light of a low energy lamp – because aside from the fact that the candlelight does not stray far from the book, so eliminating all exterior distractions, the flicker of the candle and the smell of it burning stand as nothing but delicious enhancements.

But I’ll agree that it’s not all plain sailing. Aside from the inconvenience that comes from needing to change around candles on a fairly regular basis – while all the time being fully wary of the fact that naked flames do *indeed* start fires – there’s the issue of eye strain; a point raised by a very good friend of mine on Twitter. It’s true that a degree of ‘settling in’ time is required to get the eyes adjusted to reading in the dimmer surroundings, but it’s surprising just how quickly they do get used to it. And coming with blinking eyes from candlelight into the harshness of an electric bulb, one feels enriched with the feeling that one has just journeyed deeply to another place, and perhaps another time.

I’d say that the choice of book is also imperative. Reading Bravo Two Zero by candlelight just won’t have the same affect as say reading a ghost story by M.R. James, or an historical novel from the likes of Hilary Mantel. But pick the right book and you’ll be stunned at what ‘reading by candlelight’ can do for you.

So good people, I really do urge you to give this candlelight reading thing a whirl. There can be so much enjoyment and reading enhancement to be gained from it, and you’ll congratulate yourself for having given yourself the experience of being transported more deeply into the book you are reading.

If you do set about reading a book by candlelight then I’d love to hear of your experiences, good or bad. Let me know what you felt, what you read and whether you’d repeat the experience again. Also, if you have any recommendations for the best books to read by candlelight then I’d love to hear about these too. If nothing else, you’ll be encouraging fellow readers to try it. Priceless!

EDIT: I forgot to add one of my favourite passages relating to candlelight. It’s not exactly reading by candlelight, but it does feature, albeit briefly, candlelight as a main focus. The passage, which I *have* featured previously in a Daily Bookshot (remember those? :)) comes from the first volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (Wordsworth Editions):

But I begged her again to ‘Come and say good-night to me!’ terrified as I saw the light from my father’s candle already creeping up the wall, but also making use of his approach as a means of blackmail, in the hope that my mother, not wishing him to find me there, as find me he must if she continued to hold out, would give in to me, and say: ‘Go back to your room. I will come.’

Next week on ‘READING..’ I’ll be looking at old editions, and exploring whether the reading experience can be enhanced reading dusty old editions, with their foxed pages and musky mould (you know where I’m going with this, right? :)).

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. You’ve made this sound so inviting. I must try it.