Reading aloud, more reader reports

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

As an enabler of my continuing study of the pleasures of adults reading aloud, Maud Newton dot com regular reader Robert has consented to share his delightful account of a quarter century of reading aloud:

If you read aloud for half an hour a day on a regular basis, you will be surprised by how much material you can get through. We were generally too poor to afford a washing machine, so one of us would wash the dishes while the other read aloud. Though a native of San Diego, Michele spoke with what sounded like a faint British accent, so she read books by British authors. I read books by Russian authors, and we split American authors.

During those 24 years we read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House, The Little Drummer Girl, and many, many other books.

Some authors are easier to read aloud than others. Dickens is probably the best.

He wrote in long sentences, but as you read them aloud you find that his sentences break down into phrases and clauses that fall naturally into your respiratory cycle, so you don’t have to stop to take a breath or hurry through the last few words of a sentence before inhaling. I think this is one of the things that made Dickens so popular in his own day: he is very easy to read aloud.

Another author who reads aloud easily is John Le Carre. You’ll find that almost any of his novels go by very quickly if read aloud.

A good readaloud author is not necessarily a great author. There are many books that you might enjoy reading aloud that you would never take the time to read silently. (By the way, did you know that it was not until the late Middle Ages that people learned how to read silently? Until then, I have read, people always read aloud, even when they were alone. Such is the connection between the written and the spoken word.) If you take up the practice of reading aloud to an adult with whom you are intimate, you find that reading aloud quickly becomes one facet of your intimacy, a way of being close and sharing something. It is, therefore, not primarily a literary activity. I would say that it partakes more of sex than of literature, but perhaps intimacy is a better word than sex here.

Still, I think I would have been very put out if I had discovered Michele being read aloud to by another man, and if asked to choose between that and catching her in bed with another man, I honestly don’t know which I would have considered the greater infidelity.

The point is, you can guiltlessly select trashy books to read aloud, books such as War and Remembrance or The Key to Rebecca. In fact, spy and thriller novels are a lot of fun to read aloud. I do not consider Le Carre trashy. I think he is top drawer. He is an excellent writer, and his novels also happen to be packed with suspense. But there are other novelists, such as Herman Wouk, who are not so great but are nonetheless appealing to the ear.

Long books are especially rewarding. Once you get into a book, it is something you share, and you don’t want the experience to end too quickly. Again, it’s essential that you read aloud regularly for at least half an hour each time you do it. It doesn’t have to be literally every day, but no fewer than four times a week. If you do it this way, you’ll find that, like anything else you do together on a regular basis–going to movies, taking drives in the country or walks through town, dining, making love–it becomes part of the fabric of your relationship, sharing at a very deep level.

More about reading and manuscripts in the middle ages, speaking of. Apparently reading silently to yourself was quite the subversive activity:

If you read a book “to yourself”, your inaccuracies couldn’t be corrected nor your private reflections censored by the (church) authorities, and they might be heretical.


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