Reading Out Loud
When I was little, my parents would read aloud to me before bed. They read to me every night at bedtime until I was eleven or so and, in this manner, I was introduced to many of my favorite books. I first experienced Little Women, the entire Anne of Green Gables series, and most of the Harry Potter books, among many others, as sound, rather than as written words.
But from the time when my reading level allowed my bookish impatience to know what would happen next to eclipse the value of a bedtime story, books went silent for me. I was never one of those young readers who quietly read aloud, mouthing the words over the book. Instead, my eyes danced along the page, rushing and gulping up the words. There was no time to speak the words or even mouth along; I was sprinting through books without a glance backwards.
Bedtime story time ceased and, with that ritual, the pleasure of hearing a story aloud also disappeared. In the intervening decades, I can pretty safely say the no one has read even a short story aloud to me, let alone an entire book or a whole series. The best I got was senior year of high school when some friends and I obsessed over Shakespeare and would pace the halls, reciting and savoring his language spoken aloud. Other than that, books remained a silent and largely solitary activity.
And, for the most part, I found nothing unsatisfying in that. I was and am a fast reader and I considered reading out loud to be merely a slowing down of the reading experience best left to moments of dire necessity like road trips. It wasn’t something to miss.
Cut to this autumn. My dog Millie was suffering from a long-running ear infection and was generally not feeling well. She sulked and drooped and itched and quivered and just seemed generally miserable. As I racked my brain about what I could possibly do to make her feel better, I suddenly remembered another part of those bedtime stories that I had forgotten: how much my childhood pet, Posie, loved them. When they stopped, she had been actively confused, wandering between my room and my mother’s room at bedtime and whining for someone to read her a story.
Millie seemed so sad that I was willing to try pretty much anything, so I plucked Mansfield Park from the shelf, plopped down on the floor next to my sad dog and began to read aloud: “About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton…”
Soon, Millie was curled up against my leg, calm as anything, and I was totally enthralled in the joy of hearing a book again. Even as my dog fell asleep, I kept reading out loud just because I was enjoying it. There is something wholly different and transporting about hearing a story rather than visually galloping over the written words. You can taste the story, you can picture it, and you can savor its language. Just as our old high school enthusiasm for speaking Shakespeare aloud had heightened my appreciation of his plays, so did reading Mansfield Park aloud transform my experience with the book. It was a whole new way to read — the old way.
Since then, and with Millie on the mend, I’ve started reading parts of books — passages I really like or phrases that beg to be heard — out loud to myself. It’s not a whole book, and it’s still solitary, but reading these bits out loud lets me enjoy the flavor of audible words every so often. And, with my little auditory renaissance, ignoring the value and magic of reading out loud is not a mistake I’m likely to make again.
I’d invite any of our readers here at LT to pick up whatever you’re in the middle of reading and read the next few pages aloud, even if it’s just to yourself. You’ll be amazed at the immediacy and connection you’ll find simply by hearing it.