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In praise of reading aloud as adults

Posted on January 20, 2016 at 6:00 am

In praise of reading aloud as adults By Gwendolyn Haley | Spokane County Library DistrictBy Gwendolyn Haley

When my husband and I were newlyweds we lived overseas in a place with very few English speakers. Since we didn’t speak the language, we were sometimes a little starved for entertainment beyond the random English language movie on TV (a pastime we dubbed “Mystery English Language Theater” or “How we stopped being picky and learned to love Elvis movies”). One night I was working on a cross-stitch and Greg was reading The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien. I had never gotten around to reading it, although I had enjoyed The Hobbit in grade school. He started to read aloud, and before we realized it, an hour had passed. We spent the next few weeks reading through the entire trilogy, and then moved on to C.S. Lewis‘ Cosmic trilogy. There’s just something magical about having someone read out loud to you; when that person is someone that you love best in all the world, it’s even better. I would have never selected either of these series on my own, but now The Lord of the Rings ranks among my all time favorites—largely because I hear Greg’s voice when I read it.

Even now, we still read out loud to each other from time to time. Since we don’t have the luxury of long, uninterrupted evenings anymore (the kids took care of that), we tend to select essays and short stories to read aloud. We read NurtureShock, a book that really changed some of the ways we approach parenting, out loud during a long car trip. Most recently, we’ve been reading short stories from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2015 to each other.

If you’re thinking about reading out loud to a grown-up in your life, here are some tips to help in your selection (many of these are the same tips I recommend when choosing a book to share with a child in your life):

  • Pick something you want to read, and that you enjoy reading. Seriously. Life is too short to spend reading something that you think you ought to read rather than something that interests you. If it doesn’t grab you in a few minutes of reading, move on to something else.
  • Choose something short to read aloud in the beginning. Short stories, essays and novellas are a great place to begin. Or something with quick, short chapters that give you a good place to stop and rest your voice.
  • Look for something with language that rolls off your tongue and feels natural. If you’re struggling for breath before finishing a sentence because the book is filled with unpronounceable names and arcane vocabulary that you’ve never encountered, that’s not a great choice.
  • Select your time and place well. Reading aloud should be relaxing and focused, not rushed and distracted.
  • Start today. Really, there’s no time to waste. If you need a little inspiration, check out some of NPR’s “Selected Shorts” programs to hear well-known performers bring stories to life.

Gwendolyn Haley

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