Read aloud

The other night I send our son a text message asking him to recommend a book for read aloud with an adult audience. Within a couple of minutes I had eight excellent suggestions and a couple that we probably won’t choose. There is a distinct advantage to having a son who is a librarian. He can make those kinds of suggestions of the top of his head. He reads a lot and he reads out lout quite a bit. He understands that there are different dynamics in different books. He can see how we are seeking a bit of an escape as Susan continues to recover from a fairly traumatic experience.

I have loved reading out loud since I learned to read. I used to enjoy it when it was my turn to read out loud when I was a student. I learned to read easily and I liked putting a bit of expression into my reading. But we soon learned to read quietly to ourselves and that style of reading dominated my life for decades. I used to go to the library, check out a stack of books, and head to my treehouse where I would read book after book. When I got to college, the reading was a challenge simply because the volume of reading went up. I also had to pay attention in a different manner. I stopped reading in bed for quite a while. I discovered that reading myself to sleep resulted in the bad habit of sleeping as I read. That isn’t good for overall comprehension and retention of the material. I would make sure i was sitting up at a desk or in a comfortable chair and often outlined the material I was reading to make sure I stayed focused.

Eventually, however, we were blessed with children and that meant reading aloud once again. I read some books over and over. I know that some parents get tired of that phase, but I don’t remember it being a problem for me. We used to play games. I’d intentionally skip a page and get “caught” by the child. I would change a word to the same effect. The practice of repeated story goes way back to pre-literate times. When people did not have the capacity to read or write, they told stories. Often the important stories were repeated over and over night after night. They devoted stories that were passed down with word-for-word accuracy. This tradition was formalized with practices of group memorization. Unlike individual memorization where there can be significant alterations in the text memorized, group memorization is extremely accurate. The constant corruption of the most minute details assures consistence in the telling of the story. It is one of the reasons that we have sections of our Bible that date from times before literacy and reading. It is one of the reasons that we can count on the accuracy of those stories of our heritage.

At any rate, I read “Go, Dog, Go!” a lot of times. There were other books as well.

Our children, too, learned to read to themselves. Some of the first books that they read aloud to us were the same books we had read to them. “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” was one of those books in our house. When our children grew into their teens, our home became quiet again as we all read different books.

Soon enough, however, we had grandchildren. Now we have four. The eldest is reading to himself most of the time, but he still enjoys having grandpa read to him. A few years ago, we were visiting and both of us and his parents were all available at story time. We asked him who he’d like to read his stories and after a thoughtful pause he said, “I think adult men with beards are the best story readers.” Since his father has no beard, it was obvious that I was the choice of that evening. I took it as the highest form of praise. His sisters love read aloud, too. Since I am on vacation when we visit, I have more time than his parents who have very busy lives. They read to their children a lot, but reading is one thing I can do that frees up a few moments for the parents. I’ve taken to just reading as many stories as the girls bring to me. Unless we are being called to dinner or it is time to turn out the light and go to sleep, I just read story after story. There are some great luxuries and deep pleasures to being a grandpa.

Then, as my wife recovered from her stay in the hospital, the process of reading aloud came back. We needed a diversion from the trauma we had witnessed and a novel provided just what we needed. We’d dole out a couple of chapters each evening, until we got near to the end of the book and Susan returned to the hospital for a procedure. That evening we just read to the end of the book.

Now I’ve got a couple of the books recommended by our own private librarian cued up for more evenings of read aloud. I think that we are entering a new phase of our relationship. For decades of being married, sharing parenting and working together we often went separate directions in our recreational reading. When we read the same book, it might be months between the time one of us read it and the other got around to it. Having a common story that we are reading together is kind of a new experience for us. It made me think of the days when we both were students and took the same class. We often shared a textbook to save money, but we rarely read at the exact same moment. I tended to read in the mornings and Susan in the evenings. In fact, in the process of joint studying and joint parenting we developed slightly different schedules.

For now we have a new recreation. And we have a librarian who is quick to recommend the next read.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!