This article was sent to me by a fellow MOAT. Sometimes I think we stop reading aloud when chapters enter the picture. What a shame to miss out on meaningful family time just because a tween/teen finds it potentially “embarrassing”. I’ve noticed that when we make the time to share a book together, it’s like our puzzles … the crowd might be sparse at the onset, but before long the couch is filled and eager to hear what happens next. Include me in that mix. I love a good book enjoyed together. We’re never too old to read aloud.
Thanks for walking the road with me.
It was too late for our walk, I remember, one crisp evening in the South of France, so Sylvie, who was visiting from Paris, took a book from my shelf—short stories by the British writer H. H. Munro, known as Saki—and began to read out loud. The adventures of Tobermory, a gossiping house cat who exposes the private foibles of guests at a country-house party, soon had us in such stitches that our ninety-three-year-old hostess sent a servant down the hill to the guest house to see what was causing all the merriment.
When she learned what we were up to, she asked if she could join us. “We used to do that,” she mused. “There is no greater pleasure.” After that, Sylvie and I and our hostess read to one another every night. And I have been reading aloud ever since.
Once upon a time, this was an activity people did in company to amuse each other on cold winter nights round the fire. People read to one another in more difficult circumstances as well: Melanie Wilkes, in the film “Gone with the Wind,” rescues a crucial moment by taking out her copy of Charles Dickens’s “David Copperfield” and reading out loud to calm the nerves of the anxious wives who are waiting to hear whether their husbands will return home alive or dead. “I am born,” Melanie affirms in her quiet, authoritative voice. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
In Victorian times, and even as late as my own grandfather’s generation, reading to someone was a pleasure and a comfort, an amusement or a distraction from more pressing troubles. We still read to children, but for the most part the enjoyment of sharing a book in this way has been forgotten among grown-ups. If not for my chance rediscovery ten years ago, it might have been lost to me.
Sylvie and I still read to each other every summer in France: In the afternoons, we spread out under a huge sycamore tree with tea and Proust. I am hoping it will take us several more years to finish “À la recherche du temps perdu” (“Remembrance of Things Past”). In between, during the long New York winters, my husband and I also do the same: When I’m in the kitchen cooking, he entertains me with a new novel or the travels of a 19th-century Englishman in Arabia or an old favorite like Dickens’s “Great Expectations.” I like reading to him too: The anxieties of a long day at work drop away as we both let ourselves fall into someone else’s world.
Reading aloud intensifies the way I experience a book. My feelings, I realize, come to the surface more immediately: I’m expressing them already in the tone and color of the voice I’ve chosen. Sometimes I read a passage one way and feel it isn’t quite right, so I go back and try another expression, letting instinct lead. And I often discover feelings I didn’t know I had. I like Jane Eyre less when I find out how prim she sounds, telling Mr. Rochester, “I like to serve you sir, and to obey you in all that is right.”
Hearing my own voice enriches my use of language as well. I am much more aware of the music of words. The wonderful precision of Jane Austen’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” comes alive when I must find the sentence’s rhythm for myself. Phrases echo in my mind in a way they don’t when the words pass through the eyes alone—phrases I later find dropping into my conversations.
My husband and I never go on a long trip now without bringing a book on tape. When we drove to Maine recently, we listened to Dame Peggy Ashcroft interpreting Jane Austen’s “Emma.” As we wondered whether Harriet would ever find a husband, the miles between New York and Maine evaporated, as did the nearly two centuries that separated us from the adventures of Austen’s meddlesome heroine. We arrived before the tape was over, so we read the ending to ourselves as a bedtime story. My husband, who had never been fond of Jane Austen’s novels, was converted.
When I read a book aloud, I feel that somehow I’ve made it my own. When one shares a book in this intense way with a friend, it becomes intertwined with the place, time, and friendship. I shall never again open the short stories of Saki without thinking of Sylvie and the South of France and the laughter that could be heard by our hostess all the way down the hillside.
Angeline Goreau, Victoria Magazine, January 1995