Bookish Musings: How Our Environment Affects Our Reading


I got the idea for this post after reading Greg’s post about seasonal reading. His post got me thinking about why it is that seasonal reason is so much fun and how much my reading experience can be affected by my environment, and voila! A post was born.

Except in this discussion, I’m not just talking about the seasons or holidays. I’m including everything from the weather to the sounds around you to the temperature to the actual room or setting that you’re in. So let’s get discussin’!

As I briefly mentioned above, when I got to thinking about seasonal reading, I realized the reason I like it so much is because my environment and surroundings really do affect my reading experience. The right environment or ambiance or sounds or really anything external to the book can vastly improve a reading experience by drawing me deeper into the book and making me feel more like I’m really there.

In the case of holiday reading, there’s always just kind of something in the air around the holidays even though we can’t really explain it, and that just seeps into my reading experience when I read paranormal books in October or Christmas books in December.

I also like reading winter/cold/snowy books in the winter because the cold weather somehow makes them better.

I’ve always loved listening to music while reading, but not just random music—music that specifically goes with the mood of the book. For me, the right mood music can really enhance the feeling of a book, and it works especially well with books that are tense or emotional or haunting.

I was once reading a scene in one of the Gardella Vampire Hunters books by Colleen Gleason in which the characters were in a room with supernatural demon wind throwing them all over the place, and I didn’t realize until it turned off that my super loud air conditioning was really helping to set the mood and adding to the windy effect of that scene.

When I read Withered + Sere by TJ Klune, it was stormy out all day, and the sounds of thunder and rain, as well as the overall gloomy feeling, were the perfect background for that bleak yet intense dystopian/post-apocalyptic book.

If a book talks about a certain food a lot, eating that food while reading adds a true sensory experience because you actually get to smell and taste the food while reading about it.

On the rare occasion that I do read a scary/creepy/horror book, I love to read it at night in the dark because I think we can all agree that always makes it scarier!

Reading a book that’s set in some specific type of setting (e.g. a beach, a forest, a busy city) while in that same type of setting would probably be amazing since you’d have all the sights and sounds and smells and feelings as the characters without your brain even having to manufacture them.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I love using my environment to enhance my reading experience and get the most that I can from every book. It’s not always possible since not every book really has outside factors that go with it, sometimes we take our books with us when we go out to get reading done wherever we are, etc., but when it is possible, especially when it just happens on its own in an serendipitous sort of way (like the AC incident!), it’s a great feeling and makes reading even more amazing than it already is!


Talk to me!

Is your reading experience affected by your environment?
Do you have any stories about times when your environment matched your book perfectly?


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70 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: How Our Environment Affects Our Reading

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  1. Luna & Saturn

    This is such an interesting post! We do believe that the environment affects the reading experience, but personally, we never listen to music when we read, because sometimes we’ll start mentally singing if it’s a song we know the lyrics to, which can ruin the reading experience. Ah, we don’t read in the dark, because it’s bad for our eyesight, but YES to reading wintery books during winter – it just makes the whole experience more authentic somehow. Love this post <3 , it's so cool.

    ~ PendragonsĀ 

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thank you! I know a lot of people have the same problem with music, but my mind tends to push noise to the background, so having music on works for me. And I have a kindle, so reading in the dark isn’t a problem either. But it’s so weird how reading wintery books in the winter makes them more authentic, right?! Thanks šŸ™‚

  2. Annemieke

    I’m not as changed in my reading habits by the weather or my environment, though I do love curling up on the couch when it rains or snows. Also when it is super hot I am unlikely to pick up a huge physical book, haha. But very interesting post.

    1. Kristen Burns

      There is something special about curling up on the couch during bad weather. And lol I never even thought about not wanting to lug around a big book when it’s hot, but good point! Thanks šŸ™‚

  3. chucklesthescot

    Interesting post and I thought you described your thoughts really nicely! I admit that I’m the exception rather than the rule as I’m not affected by any of these factors in my reading…I’m not sure why. I totally get why people read Christmas books at Christmas, horror books at night etc and it’s perfectly logical when you think about it. I don’t get why I’m so different but I’ve always been a bit weird…! I’ve always had a lively imagination which helps in my reading but I’m only really affected by what genre I’m in the mood for reading, and sometimes I feel like reading the same genre for a month or reading 3 different genres in a night! Although it doesn’t relate to my own reading experience, I found it really interesting to read about how your environment adds to your reading experience. Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! But it looks like you might not be the exception since apparently a lot of readers are not affected by their environment. I’m also a mood reader though, so I completely understand not enjoying a book as much if you’re not in the right mood for it. Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed my post, and I like hearing your thoughts even if they’re different from mine šŸ™‚

  4. verushka

    hm, you have given me much to think about. I’m not a seasonal reader, but in terms of environment, most of my reading is done on my commute, but otherwise, I like quiet — or rather the hustle and bustle of familiar noises like at my local cafe. That ambient sound is so comfortin and familiar it lets me get into the book.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I agree in that I tend to read whenever I get the chance, wherever that may be. Ambient sound like a cafe is SO HELPFUL for concentration. I college I would often go to the student union just to read textbooks and study.

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s so true, it does break up the monotony and give us changes and things to look forward to in our reading! And I’m also a night owl and night reader and love when it get dark earlier šŸ˜› I love your post! Each season really does have its perks in terms of reading, curling up with seasonal drinks, lying out in the sun, etc.

  5. Melissa

    S true though rarely do my books and the environment line up…except for the fact that I do tend to read seasonally a bit especially in December when I try to do all Holiday reads!

  6. Tanya Patrice

    Very interesting discussion. I don’t read much in the summer and the beginning of the year because there is so much to do. Towards the end of the year and in the winter, I’m a homebody though, so I tend to read a lot more.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thank you! That makes sense to read less during times when you’re busier. But at least you get to read in the winter, and that’s the best time anyway since you can cozy up on the couch with a hot drink and everything šŸ™‚

  7. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

    This discussion took a totally different turn than I expected! I don’t usually adjust my environment to what I’m reading and seasons don’t really change my TBR, but it actually sounds kind of fun to do that? Like you said, eating a food that’s mentioned or sitting in a darker room while reading a horror would totally make a difference in the reading experience! I shall try it soon lol

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol I’ll consider it a good thing that I surprised you šŸ˜‰ I don’t generally adjust my environment either, aside from music when that’s possible, but it’s nice when it just happens on its own! And reading in the dark at night is at least an easy one to do šŸ™‚

  8. Literary Feline

    I definitely think the environment can affect my reading, whether it be the time of day, the room I am in, what’s going on around me. There are books in which their effect is enhanced if I read at night in bed and books that seem perfect for reading outside on the porch glider. I can’t really say I seek out any particular environment for each book I read–I read when I can, where I can–but I do think the environment can play a role in our reading experience.

    Then there’s the more basic issue of noise. Some books I have no problem reading with a running TV in the background or people talking about me. And then there are others I need perfect silence to read or I can’t concentrate.

    (And similar to Luna and Saturn – I prefer not to listen to music with lyrics while reading or I’ll start singing along.)

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly! I don’t generally seek out certain environments because I read when I can, but it’s nice when things just kind of line up on their own as it can definitely affect the experience!

      I agree, there are some books that I can’t listen to music or have TV on while reading. But others I’m able to listen to music or have background noise. Lol I don’t have that problem with lyrics, my mind blocks them out pretty well!

  9. Lola

    That’s interesting, I never really thought of my environment with reading or maybe I don’t get effected by it as much. I usually read on the same place, either while sitting with my ipad at my table or on my couch with a kobo or paperback copy. I do always remember where I read a book. I can probably tell you without error on which device i read a book and in which format. And if i read a book around a special occasion or on a different place I often remember as well. I also do remember a lot of external factors. But I feel like I mostly just remember the external things, not get effected by it as much.

    Although I do think that a the environment can enhance your reading, I just think it doesn’t happen as often to me. And reading a Christmas book around Christmas can enhance things for example. It just makes me look more forward to my own Christmas and get in that Christmas feel. But I think that feel would still work even when reading it in another season, but i still prefer to read them around Christmas if possible. There’s also something to be said for reading a book set at the beach while it’s actually cold. And for a long time I preferred to read contemporary romances during summer as the book that got me back to reading that genre I had read on a very hot summer day and somehow I still associate that book with that warm weather. But I don’t think I have that connection as strongly anymore now. Great topic!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, I remember your post about connecting certain places and things with the books you’ve read. I tend to read almost all my books at home nowadays too, but things like cold weather and music still affect me, even in my usual reading spots. And music is the one thing I can control.

      I’ve never read a Christmas book not around Christmas, but like you said I’m sure it would still be a good book, it just wouldn’t give me that Christmassy feeling of excitement. And that’s true that reading a book that’s the opposite of your environment, like reading a book set at the beach while it’s cold, can be even more of an escape since it transports to somewhere completely different! Thanks šŸ™‚

  10. Greg

    I love this topic! Your first paragraph- exactly. I always think back to a certain series I read- Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams and it has a melancholy tone in some ways- and I used to listen to this ambient/ New age music when I read it, and it just added to the experience. I didn’t realize how much at the time, but if I listen to that music now it just brings MS&T totally back to me! It’s like a soundtrack now. šŸ™‚

    The environment adds so much. I love reading something dark if it’s storming out, thunder and lightning. And edgy stuff always appeals to me in October lol- when the leaves are skittering and everything is a little spooky. Like you said about holiday reading- I do think there something in the seasons that affects our moods, and therefore our reading.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Ok somehow you always manage to, like, read my mind about future posts when you comment lol because I have another upcoming discussion specifically about book playlists and how the songs end up reminding me of the book. But that just goes to show how they can really affect the experience!

      That’s a good point how seasons affect our moods, so why not also our reading? It really is cool though how the environment is able to affect our reading so much!

  11. Amber Elise @ Du Livre

    Oh I love this post so much! I love reading in the winter time because it’s such cozy weather, but I feel like I haven’t read at all this winter. Too much Netflix methinks.

    I’m someone who can’t read in loud public areas, but I don’t like reading in complete silence either. I’ve tried listening to music, like playlists that are made for the book but it’s a hit or miss for me. I’ve started listening to instrumental music and it helps sometimes.

    I really hate that I can’t read in public because I would love to read at a coffee shop with a piping hot latte but I’m always in my head. “Have I been here too long? Should I order something else? How long should I wait here? Do people want my seat?”

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! Cold weather is the best for reading, there’s something about curling up and getting cozy that makes it better.

      I used to read pretty much anywhere and never had a problem with loud places. Nowadays I mostly read at home, but yeah, I’ve never liked complete silence either because then my own thoughts just start roaming lol. Sometimes I use music with lyrics, but instrumental definitely works great too because it’s less distracting. But lol I think maybe you just think too much when you read in public šŸ˜›

  12. Bookworm Brandee

    I don’t often read certain books around certain holidays. I like the idea and even add books to my ereader thinking I’ll do it. Then don’t. :/ I do agree with you about certain external elements adding to the experience though – like reading a book set in Texas while I’m there visiting in the summertime. It’s hot as hell and if an author is describing that heat, I “feel” it even more acutely. And I love certain foods being mentioned throughout a book…it oftens gives me cravings, particularly for foods I miss. (they don’t know how to make Tex-Mex in Colorado) I don’t listen to music while I read – unless one of my kids is playing an instrument. I think my brain can’t handle to the two forms of stimulation or something. But I did buy a cd that was a companion to a book because it’s supposed to help set the mood. I’m going to read it soon (relatively lol) and I’ll let you know how it goes. šŸ˜‰
    This is a great post, Kristen. But then your posts are typically thought-provoking! šŸ˜‰

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol maybe one of these years you’ll actually do the holiday reading with all those books you keep adding šŸ˜‰ That does sound fun to read a book set in Texas while in Texas! That would definitely be some realistic heat, haha. And yes, I read one book that had so much gingerbread in it and had to buy some cookies while at the store. Lol about the instruments. Let me know how that companion CD works out!

      Thank you!!!

  13. Barb (boxermommyreads)

    You’ve really hit it on the head here. There is something about reading a thriller or horror movie while it is pouring down the snow outside or a horror book after dark or during a storm. The environment really can add to the book. I used to listen to music while I read, but now I do a lot of my reading while Mr. Barb is watching TV and I pay attention to it some as well so basically that is my music – haha. Great discussion. And by the way, the BEST way to read King’s The Shining is in the dead of winter, preferable while the wind is blowing and the snow is flying – not that I’ve put any thought into it šŸ™‚

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes! Storms are so perfect for horror and darker reads. I’ve never read the book, but I’ve seen The Shining, so I can definitely see why reading it during a snow storm would be perfect! I don’t have snow where I live though, so that’d be a little difficult lol.

  14. S. J. Pajonas

    I’m a total summer reader because I love reading at the pool. I love the sun on me, the sound of the kids in the pool, and the lazy feeling. It’s the best.

  15. Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    I’m not sure I’m affected by my environment per se, as I don’t really mind reading wintery novels in the summer – especially if it’s really warm! Like, because the characters are cold, I somehow don’t feel the heat so much šŸ˜€ And depending on who the author of the horror novel is, I have to read it when it’s light outside – because you’re totally right, much more scary in the dark šŸ˜€
    I need to be comfortable, though! So that part of the environment is very important. I need to have a nice, comfy chair / couch / bed / seat so that I don’t get distracted from my story because I hurt somewhere šŸ™‚
    Great topic this week, Kristen!

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s true that reading books about the opposite season can help you combat the heat or the cold šŸ˜› Lol I don’t generally read things that are too scary, so I like reading my moderately scary stuff in the dark! Ah yes, comfort is important too. Having to sit in painful positions is definitely distracting! Thanks šŸ™‚

  16. Wattle

    I read a lot of winter themed novels during summer, mainly because it’s summer here at Christmas so…also it makes me feel cooler? At least, that’s what I tell myself! But then I also read a Christmas themed book during July when it is actually winter. There’s no logic to my reading patterns it seems.

    I usually cannot read with a lot of noise. But I can listen to music on my headphones and read a book (I totally tune out the music, I’m always surprised when a playlist finishes and there’s silence).

    Haha I refuse to read horror at night, it gives me trippy dreams! Actually, reading anything before I go to bed gives me weird dreams, so I only do that when I just cannot put something down.

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s a good point, that the weather is different in different areas of the world. So that makes sense. And lol reading about the cold in the heat somehow does make you cooler and vice versa, right?

      I’m the same! Apparently lots of people can’t listen to music while reading or blogging or doing things, but my brain tunes it out into the background. TV and talking is harder for me.

      Lol I do end up with trippy dreams after reading dark books sometimes. It just happened to me the other night actually! I figure it just means the book was good since it’s still on my brain šŸ˜‰

  17. Em

    I can not read in the quiet, unless it is me reading in bed to fall asleep and even then I have to sounds of the road or my cats to be there. But, at work on my break, I have to have some sounds going. I have no problem listening to music or even the tv while reading. I have found that if a book talks a lot about food, I’ll find myself snacking more. Sadly when this happens I tend to speed read through the book, to get through parts that make me want to grab a handful of cookies. I do also notice I tend to never touch a romance around Valentine’s Day. When I was younger I did read them, but now they just feel so fake to me.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I agree, I have a hard time reading in the quiet because then my own thoughts get in the way. I don’t have a problem with music either, but I have to turn the TV volume really low so that the talking doesn’t divert my attention. And yes, books that talk a lot about food totally make me hungrier! A lot of romances aren’t realistic, so I completely understand how they feel fake.

  18. Let's Get Beyond Tolerance

    Oh, I love the story of your AC mimicking the strong wind in the book. How exciting would that be? I really love the idea behind this post. I think it’s true that some books really work better in certain environments, like when I went on vacation to a beach – I brought quick or humorous books because the nicer weather just makes them more fun to read!


    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol I thought that was so funny, especially since I didn’t realize how atmospheric that AC was until it turned off. But yeah there just are some books that go great with outside environment things. And reading on the beach is great, especially those kind of breezy, funny books!

  19. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    This is awesome, and I must admit, I had never thought about it before! But I think you are definitely right! I mean, I haven’t read in very many places. Like.. ever .99.9% of the time, I just read in bed But I did try to read some of Wintersong while waiting at the hospital, and in that environment, I couldn’t get swept away in the magic. On the other hand, I read Sweet Madness (a book about Lizzie Borden) on a dark bus ride, and I could NOT put it down- it totally enhanced the experience! So I think you are right for sure! Now, I need to book vacations all over the place, and test these theories šŸ˜‰

    1. Kristen Burns

      Oh I almost always read nowadays in bed or on the couch too lol. But things like music and weather still work indoors! Yeah, I can definitely see how it’d be hard to get into a book at the hospital. That bus ride sounds great though! Wouldn’t that be great if we could actually take book vacations for this purpose?!

  20. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    To be honest, I don’t even notice how the environment affects my reading. I mostly block the world out when I’m absorbed in a book so not a lot will influence my reading. That being said when it’s a really hot day I want to read nothing strenuous, so romance and fluffy contemporary YA are perfect reading for me. Other than that, I mostly just read whatever. I do love a good Christmas book in December (or any time of the year, really) but I’m not too fussy. I think in winter I like wintery, cold reads but I find I like to read books set in summer or warm places as an escapism from a dreary, cold winter’s day. I feel the same way in summer as we have so few truly warm days in the UK so I like to have a warm summery read transport me.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Reading about warm weather when it’s cold and vice versa can definitely help combat whatever weather you’re currently in and make you feel like you’re in some other place even more. But it does sound like you’re pretty good at blocking out the world while reading!

  21. Victor

    In the early 80s I was in the USMC and stationed in Camp Lejeune, NC. Every so often we would go out into the boondocks and set up communication networks to make sure that the operators nor the equipment became rusty. I always requested the graveyard shift to man a radio inside of a jeep that was in a remote location. I loved the late shift because 1. I am a night owl and 2. there is usually not a lot of radio chatter at night, so less work.

    Re-reading The Shining one night just as I was getting to the good parts, the radio would break the silence with an operator at another location wanting a radio check (basically they wanted me to tell him/her how clear their signal was being received). Of course at first I wouldn’t register the voice as coming from the radio but from a serial killer that managed to find me in the woods. After the third time, I requested that we shut down the network since the only activity were radio checks and command granted my request with the stipulation that I fire up the radio at a predetermined time.

    So I got my wish. Now I am all alone, in the woods, where black bears have recently been spotted and my only means of communication, in case I need help, is not being monitored at my request. I don’t think I ever been so scared reading a book. I loved it. While the radio was good for a few jump scares an hour, the silence of the woods were infinitely more ominous. I kept checking to make sure the e-tool (short shovel) was strapped to the side of the jeep until I heard a noise (still unidentified 33 years later) that caused me to place it on my lap.

    The re-read in that location was far better than when I first read the story on my bed in my room. Nowadays when I’m reading horror, I do so with all the lights off, the exception being my reading lamp.

    Great discussion Kristin šŸ™‚

    1. Kristen Burns

      Wow, you take using your environment to read scary books to the extreme, haha. I love your story! That just sounds terrifying even without the book, so I can only imagine. Though I’m curious about that noise now… Btw, with a kindle you wouldn’t even need your reading lamp šŸ˜‰ Thanks for joining in!

  22. Clara @ Lost in My Library

    This is so interesting! I haven’t thought much about this before – I know I tend to read contemporaries at the beginning of summer, but I think that’s the extent to which I’ve made conscious reading decisions based on environment. Also, if I’m reading a book in a noisy place that makes it harder to concentrate, I might not like it as much. This post has given me so much to think about!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! I’m the same in that when I’m distracted by too much noise or something, I don’t get into the book as much, and then I don’t enjoy it as much. Glad I could give you something to think about šŸ™‚

  23. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    I don’t think I ever do this, but the idea is very intriguing. I DO think it would be fun to read a beach read on the beach, etc. I don’t listen to music while I read, but it could be interesting if it set the mood (and didn’t have words). Hmmm …

  24. Rebecca

    I like the idea of enhancing a reading experience, but no, I’ve never done it myself. I more like to pick up a book and go! Having said that, I did make homemade gluten free Oreo-type thing reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and the tv show Pushing Daisies made me want to bake ALL THE PIE. I didn’t though, but it’s my dream to rewatch and eat lush pie.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Haha, picking up a book and jumping right in is good too! I actually do almost all my reading inside at home, but I do really like using music when possible. That’s cool that you made the Oreo thing while reading Simon! I’ve not read it but I’ve seen people mention Oreos lol. And you should totally rewatch Pushing Daisies and eat the pie šŸ˜€

  25. Lori

    This is such an interesting post! I don’t usually read holiday books unless it just happens, but I agree that it makes it a better experience. I love reading cold, snowy books during the winter. I always find myself reading summery contemporary books during spring and summer too. I also have to have quiet. I can’t concentrate if there’s music or other people talking.

    Great post! Thanks for linking it up on Saturday Situation!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! I do like to read a couple holiday books around the holidays, it’s fun šŸ™‚ And yeah, books that match the season are great! A lot of people can’t read with music though, so I totally understand that.

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  27. Michelle @ FaerieFits

    I think the only real instance I can think of for this with me is rainy weather. There’s something about a good downpour going on outside that makes curling up with a book that much more RIGHT. Otherwise, I don’t think I’m really affected. Although since I’ve never paid close attention, maybe I am and just don’t realize it?

  28. Sebastian

    This topic is really interesting, great choice!

    I usually don’t intentionally try to pick my reads according to the environment but I do enjoy when book and environment match and the reading experience gets more intense this way.

    However there are some times during a year when I actually try to find the perfect book for the season, especially in October when I’m anticipating Halloween and try to focus on creepy and scary reads. I will for example never forget how I read “I Remember You” by Yrsa Sigurdardottir in one sitting while it was dark and storming outside and the book scared the shit out of me, something that usually doesn’t happen. I’ve been wanting to re-read this book ever since but I’m too scared that the second time won’t live up to that extraordinary experience. šŸ˜€

    I also try to find at least one “Christmas read” every year by which I mean either a cute contemporary read (which is usually not my genre at all) or an epic fantasy novel because somehow the holidays are the perfect time for me to dive into fantastic worlds and spend hours reading massive books.

    So yes, I would definitely say that sometimes my reading experience is affected by my environment! šŸ™‚

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! Like you, I don’t usually choose books to match my environment, but it’s awesome when it just lines up on its own.

      It’s definitely fun to find a few books to read around holiday seasons though! Ooh, in the dark during a storm is a great time to read scary books šŸ˜€ And I tend to go for Christmas-themed books or books set in some sort of snowy place around Christmas.

      Glad you agree!

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  30. Zeee @ I Heart Romance

    I never really thought about seasonal reading or reading to match the environment. I mean, for the longest time, I lived in a tropical country and we basically had 2 seasons rainy season and warm season (which are not technically seasons, so yeah) so it was pretty easy for me to avoid seasonal reads. I also didn’t really think about reading Holiday stories during the holidays, especially Christmas. I actually don’t remember if I have.

    Now, even though I live in a country with multiple seasons, I never really thought about reading books to match. But I’m a mood reader, anyway so I usually pick up whatever I think is a good book to read based on my mood… šŸ™‚

  31. Sam @ Sharing Inspired Kreations

    Interesting post. I have to say, I don’t really think that environment affects my reading all that much. I don’t read horror books around Halloween (at least not on purpose). I just read random genres year-round without considering the time of year – I just go with what I feel like reading at that moment. I also can’t listen to music while reading! I find it waaaay too distracting. That’s great that you can, though!

    1. Kristen Burns

      For the most part I just read what I feel like, but I do like to read some holiday-ish books around Christmas/winter. Apparently a lot of people can’t listen to music while reading, but I love it!