Read this entry aloud

May 19, 2009 at 5:24 pm 1 comment

You can easily make the argument that reading silently is an economic artifact, a sign of a new prosperity beginning in the early 19th century and a new cheapness in books. The same argument applies to listening to books on your iPhone. But what I would suggest is that our idea of reading is incomplete, impoverished, unless we are also taking the time to read aloud.

I love Verlyn Klinkenborg.

There, I’ve finally said it. This sentiment has been floating around in my mind ever since I read The Last Fine Time, about a family in Buffalo who owned a bar right after World War II, a book I loved so much that I made my grandmother read it. She loved it so much that she read it out loud to my grandfather, about the time he started entering the last stage of his cancer.

The fact that my grandmother shared this book out loud is appropriate in light of Mr. Klinkenborg’s article in the New York Times last Saturday. In this article, titled “Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud,” Mr. Klinkenborg laments the fact that reading out loud, once a social and family-oriented pastime that was taken for granted, has fallen by the wayside.

He’s right — no longer do we have those quaint scenes like in Jane Austen, where Marianne and Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood sit and listen to Edward read, judging by his reading style whether he would be suitable for Elinor to marry. First, books are cheap enough so everyone can read their own copy, and second, books have mainly been replaced by television and other more visual forms of entertainment.

Mr. Klinkenborg suggests that when we forget how to read aloud, we also forget about the ‘life of the language,’ or just the basic way the words sound when spoken the way the author put them together.

For example, Dr. Seuss is best read aloud, as it still is to countless children before bedtime. Even when I read Seuss silently, I cannot help hearing Dr. Seuss’s words in my head as if I were speaking them, or even sometimes as I have heard them spoken — I still can’t read The Foot Book without thinking of the way my sister read it when she was really little. (She loved the “Up in the AIR feet! Over a CHAIR feet!” part best, and read it with particular enthusiasm.)

I urge you to try this at home, perhaps with a book you’ve found boring before. It’s especially effective with books where you can tell the author spent time on language, like Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or possibly Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.

If those seem too ambitious, try some Jane Austen — after all, she must have expected her work to be read aloud — or children’s stories like Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table or Enid Blyton’s Mr. Meddle’s Muddles. Even if you feel silly reading out to an empty room, I can guarantee you’ll be paying more attention to the language than you ever have!


Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  May 21, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I like how LT is becoming not just about reviews and has these occasional literary-themed essaylets!

    Anyway, this one is really great and I’m sad I missed the NYTimes article on Saturday! Happily, the paper copy is still banging around my apartment, so I can read it on the plane or something.

    Reading aloud does seem to be a lost art form consigned to children’s bedrooms. I miss those before bed read-alouds! Funnily, when my mom and I stopped reading to each other before bed sometime in middle school, Posie got all thrown off her tiny groove. She had gotten used to the speaking and reading before bed and was visibly disoriented and restless when it no longer happened!


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