05 March 2013

Reading aloud

"The day has been entirely mine..."
Throughout my childhood I was profoundly lucky to be surrounded by people of strong character and unfailing kindness who showered me with unconditional love and healthy doses of silliness.  (Any man who brings his wife to a circus on their honeymoon and insists she ride an elephant, or who routinely won arguments by lifting her up and putting her in the kitchen sink, is destined to be a good father.)

Amidst these blessings was having the sublime good fortune of having been read to as a child. Were this the only right and good thing my parents did—rather than one of many right and good things—I would still have considered myself immeasurably fortunate. Reading aloud to a child helps her develop a vivid imagination, a passionate love for the written word, a deep commitment to preserving paper and leather bound books, and, with luck and encouragement, a devotion to writing.

"Picture books in winter..."
As my ears embraced the cadence of A Child's Garden of Verses, my tiny imagination turned the words into verdent landscapes I could tread on my own when alone, visiting them at will as one retreats to a favorite hiding place. While sailing into the sky on Stevenson's swing (up in the air so blue!), I easily imagined the house, the gardens, the wall, and surrounding countryside. While being jostled on his train as it sped along (faster than fairies, faster than witches), I would conjure each rock, rill and field we passed as well as their peculiar occupants.

My mother would supplement Stevenson's rhymes with an anthology of poetry I can still recite from memory. (Zoon, Zoon, cuddle and croon, over the crinkling sea, the moon man flings him a silvered net fashioned of moonbeams three...)  She would also read from 101 Bedtime Stories—barely a page long but enough to send me off to the land of Nod with something to dream about.

Soon I was reading to myself from The Happy Hollisters, The Bobsey Twins and Nancy Drew.  But these were set aside the moment I received my first "grownup" books:  hardbound copies of Little Women, Old-Fashioned Girl, Kidnapped, and Treasure Island.  (The juxtaposition of girl and boy books was my parents' joint acknowledgment of my penchant for climbing trees ... with a doll in my hand.)

"With thoughtful eyes...
As a teenager I enjoyed reciting poetry to myself in the confines of my room, often bringing myself to tears over verses from Mallory's Morte d'Arthur, made the more poignant for having been read by candlelight. Little Women had been replaced by Wuthering Heights and Anna Karenina, and there was a wonderful pleasure, and little embarrassment, in reading the words softly under my breath, capturing the accents of characters who wrung my heart.

Years later, I learned that my Aunt and Uncle would read aloud from the newspaper each morning, and on winter nights they would read to one another by the fire—usually something by Dickens.  On hearing this I was utterly enchanted!  How marvelous to be indulged this way in adulthood, carried away once more by the human voice onto a fictional landscape as we had when we were young. And why shouldn't we be? Why must the pleasure of "being read to" be deemed solely for children?

The written word is precious in its own right, but in the mouths of those we love it becomes balm, paintbrush, and canvas, bringing an entire world to life by wrapping our minds in a sweet fusion of sound and imagination. Reading aloud together engenders an intimacy—and vulnerability—that is unique in our varied communications. Whether it be a poem, an article from the newspaper, or a chapter in the Dickens novel we've been sharing, we are blessed with a treasure trove of discovery, generosity and closeness when we read it to one another.


  1. Loved reading this post! I have a few on my blog that are similar. Try this: http://gardenbugworld.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/meaningful-books/

  2. Hi Haworth,
    Thank you for stopping by for a visit to my blog. I use to read aloud to my two daughters all the time - until they got into middle school!! I teach and if you or the kids are having an off day- grab a book and they lOVE to have you read a book to them!!

  3. I LOVE the way you wrote this...have often thought just as you described. superb story telling:)