How to Read When the Power Goes Off

Last night, at Chateau Mabuse, the power went off. We were sorry to see our pages on the computer lost into the ether. But this did, nevertheless, lead us to the romantic notion of reading by candlelight for several hours.

It proved more problematic than we expected. But since we had a few unexpected hours on our hands, we took the time to experiment and iron out the kinks. Here’s a checklist to help others plan for successful reading during a blackout:

  • Have at least ten candles in reserve, but you will likely need twenty. Depending upon the health of your eyes, you’re going to need enough light to focus on the text without straining too much. Votives and tapers can put out a lot of light, particularly if the wax hasn’t burned into the telltale concave circle of use, eating into the wick’s vertical alignment. Get about six votives placed on an ample surface space in the center of the room (say, a desk or an end table moved to the center of the room) to ensure that you have enough fill light thrown upwards for general ambience. Your sitting or recumbent position should dictate the candle positioning and should allow for fluctuation in body movement (e.g., if you read the lefthand page while laying on your left side, make sure that there’s some candles on your right). Be sure to place at least four bright candles behind your general reading position to throw enough light onto the page.
  • Even if you do manage to perfect a well-lighted room, you’re still going to be contending with less light than a light bulb. (When the power goes back on, the photographers or filmmakers in the peanut gallery can whip out their light meters and see that there’s a notable gap in foot candles between the two illuminated states.) So the books that you read shouldn’t be too unwieldy in weight, nor contain particularly tight typesetting or small font size. We found that a 300 page trade paperback we were reading proved to be more ideal by candlelight than Ian McEwan’s Saturday, a bulky edition of MFK Fisher’s The Art of Eating and even a Nero Wolfe mass market paperback we dug up for trial and error. The ideal book by candlelight should be something that doesn’t easily fold into itself (the mass market paperback being the most egregious offender), but that is small enough to hold without difficulty.
  • Prepare yourself for the unexpected shock of the power going back on. Once we had attained an ideal reading position, the sudden whirs of appliances and various lights scared the shit out of us. Turn all your lights off and be aware of what will go on. Because if you get lost in a passage, it’s likely that the sudden climate change will make you believe that this nation is at war with yet another enemy and will take about three minutes to recover from.
  • The added advantage of candles is that they smell very nice. If it is possible, try to coordinate your candle selection with scents that you find desirable. Be aware that this scent will linger, even when the power returns. Be sure that you don’t have a vanilla scent competing with a strawberry scent. None of the scents should be particularly overpowering. Likewise, none of the scents should distract you too much from the reading experience.

One Comment

  1. This post should be extremely useful to the citizens of Iraq, given the glacial pace of Dubya’s “reconstruction” of the country’s infrastructure. Now, if you could suggest what to do about raw sewage flowing down the middle of the street, they’ll be all set.

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