I’ve been thinking a lot about the act of reading aloud lately, because my husband and I have taken to reading aloud for each other, usually for a half an hour or so right before bed, so that we don’t go to sleep still thinking about the academic work we’ve been doing. (I’ve done that; it usually isn’t pretty. Last time, I stayed up an extra hour frantically putting together a new paper topic when it turned out that a prominent music theorist had already written the exact paper I had intended to do – oops! I ended up sleeping badly, waking up often to worry over the new idea. When I woke up in the morning, I was exhausted – but I did have a viable new topic!) Reading aloud has become, for us, a wonderful chance to connect in a way that has nothing to do with the academic work we’re doing. We don’t read theology; we don’t read nonfiction.
It started when we moved halfway across the country last August. It was a really long car trip, and unlike our other long drives, we couldn’t bring any audio books from the public library, because we wouldn’t be returning. For a change of pace, I started reading aloud one of the children’s books that I had brought – E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan. I hadn’t read it since I was a kid, and didn’t really remember it, and my husband had never read it at all (which was a real shame, since it’s such a great boy’s book with its strong male characters and powerful descriptions of nature and wilderness survival). We ended up enjoying it so much that we decided to keep reading the book aloud after we had gotten settled in our new place.
Since then, we’ve finished The Trumpet of the Swan and have moved on to Christopher Morley’s excellent The Haunted Bookshop, sequel to the equally fantastic Parnassus on Wheels but which stands alone really well – in fact, my husband originally read this sequel first. Our position is reversed from our first book – this time, I didn’t know the book beforehand, and he has been doing most of the reading. Here are a few of the things I’ve been pondering:
- Reading aloud takes a long time, just like audiobooks. Much longer than normal reading, at least for
us. Unlike an audiobook, though, you can
follow along in the text, which helps when you’re as visual a learner as I am.
- I wonder whether this longer time it takes to get through a
book helps or hinders the book’s strengths and weaknesses. Are characteristics emphasized by being drawn
out temporally, or are their their impacts and noticeability reduced?
- Who reads? For us, it’s
generally my husband. He’s a lot more experienced
in public speaking than I am, which means that he speaks in a more healthy and
sustainable way, and his voice doesn’t get tired as fast as mine does. This is something I need to address, though –
as a future professor, I’ll need to be able to talk for long stretches of
time. Plus, if and when we ever have
kids, it would be nice to be able to do a lot of the reading aloud to
them. On the other hand, my husband does
- How much should you read at once? I suppose this probably depends on the
book. For The Trumpet of the Swan, a children’s book, we always read a
chapter at a time, but for Morley’s longer novel, we often read until I start
falling asleep, and then find a decent stopping point. This may not be the best plan. I often need to be reminded what happened
last before we start back up again.
- What makes a good read-aloud book? We’ve enjoyed our two books so far, and I’ve
noticed that both of them have fairly simple prose with frequent humor. Neither required too much thinking. On the other hand, we used to frequently read
poetry and Shakespeare aloud. Those are
by no means simplistic reading, and the slower pace of reading aloud often
helped make these texts more easily understandable.
- Is there a difference if you’re reading aloud to kids versus to an adult? I can’t speak to this, as I don’t have children and haven’t done much recent babysitting. I do know that this has been a wonderful relationship-building activity. Cuddling is one of the things I most enjoy when he reads to me. I’m sure someone wiser than I has contemplated why reading aloud – hearing your partner’s voice – is so wonderful in a romantic relationship.
Please, jump in here! Do you ever read aloud? With whom? What did you read, and how did you select it? Do you have any special family traditions involving reading aloud? Do you have any fond memories of reading aloud with your parents – is it perhaps how you fell in love with reading in the first place? I’d love to hear your thoughts!