One of the less known glories of the Blue Mountains is a website called Reading Project, run by Mark Bryce of Springwood since 2017. A beautifully designed collection of reviews, covering all sorts of books, it attracts thousands of readers each week from around the globe.
Q: How did you come to start the website?
A: I like to have a project on the go. I’ve always been a reader, and a conversation with a friend named Victoria in late 2016 sparked the idea for the website. I thought I could teach myself web design, have a record of the books I’ve enjoyed, and try to engage others in reading.
Q: Were you aware of anything like it?
A: I was aware of Goodreads and book vloggers on YouTube. But I wanted control over the layout and design — I wanted to add as much interest as I could for readers in the reviews, given any time and knowledge constraints.
Q: Have you always been a big reader?
A: My love of reading was sparked by a fourth grade teacher who read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aloud to our class as we sat on the floor at her feet each afternoon.
Q: What sort of book do you read most?
A: I say on our website “I prefer ‘literature’ rather than genre fiction”, but I read across most genres, including science fiction and Fantasy, historical fiction, crime fiction, thrillers and children’s books.
Q: Favourite authors?
A: I have favourite books, like Moby Dick, Foucault’s Pendulum and The Magus. Authors who have stood out for me have been Salman Rushdie and John Fowles — but on different days I may say someone else. I also have an inclination towards humorous writing and the absurd. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has long been a favourite, and I also love Tom Sharpe. He writes like P.G. Wodehouse on speed.
Q: What makes you want to review books?
A: I found that I often had an opinion about a book, but a long time after reading it I couldn’t articulate the specifics of my thoughts to someone who was interested. Memory is what it is. When we first started, I liked the idea that the website could double as a kind of reading journal. I also find that reviewing makes me read more carefully. I chase down references in books, I learn about historical events or people, and I often make notes that help draw together ideas that an initial reading might miss. Strangely, I find it fun.
Q: Some people read certain books for pleasure, and others with more serious intent. Do you have different sorts of reading?
A: I do. For instance, I have long called Matthew Reilly my guilty pleasure. Sometimes I like to read a book that will turn off my brain. Reilly’s books are actually well researched, but he doesn’t want you to take them too seriously. Some reading also serves my interests, such as my desire to more fully understand America and what is happening there, which led me to read The Federalist Papers. But mostly, I just love a good thought-provoking story.
Q: Who else is involved with the website?
A: From the beginning I wanted to include as many people as I was able. But you can only encourage people so far before you realise it’s best to let those interested find you. So, from the start there was my wife Jenny, and Victoria. Jenny doesn’t read a lot, but she is keen on thriller writers like Harlan Coben and John Grisham. Victoria has a keen interest in crime fiction, particularly authors from the Golden Age of Crime in the 20s and 30s. We have also had contributions from India, Japan and America. We always welcome contributions.
Q: How many people read it each week? Do you know where they come from?
A: The raw numbers from Neocities, the platform that hosts the Reading Project, show fluctuations throughout each week. The statistics from the last 30 days show an average of 1,988 unique visitors a day in the last month. Back in 2017, when we first started, I was pretty thrilled when we began to get 20 or 30 a day. The audience for the site seems mainly centred in America, but we get visitors from right across the world, even Russia.
Q: What do you hope to do with the site in the future?
A: I’m hoping to continue reviewing books we read. But the idea of the site is to also include longer term projects that allow greater detail and time to be spent on a book. I did this for The Federalist Papers and The Count of Monte Cristo. I am currently trying to keep a detailed reading of Homer going, and I’d also like to do some detailed pages on Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji in the future. My real problem is that there are too many interesting things to tackle.
Q: How long have you lived in the Blue Mountains, and why do you choose to live here?
A: We moved to the Mountains in January 1995, to be specific. I had had a long association with the Mountains prior to that. I caught the train to the Mountains for years to bushwalk through the area and spend time in places like Katoomba, which I love. The Mountains had an old world feel, with its shops and markets, and its old parks with old-fashioned play equipment and gardens. I’d wanted to live here since I was at school, and the house I’m living in now is one of a few I would pass in the train and dream of living in. I like to think it’s similar to the nine-year-old Charles Dickens, hoping one day to live in Gad’s Hill Place, and his dream actually coming true.
Dickens has long been a favourite author, too, I should have said that earlier. He can be screamingly funny.
Anyone interested in reading – or reviewing for – the website should hasten to https://readingproject.neocities.org/