Monday, October 21, 2013

Read to Each Other

I can be anything;
Take a look,
It's in a book:
A Reading Rainbow.
—"Reading Rainbow Theme," Tina Fabrique

It's almost Halloween again, when kids go trick-or-treating, adults get drunk and go to costume parties (I assume?), and my friends and I gather to read aloud to each other. I've already written here about this odd household Halloween tradition of mine, so I thought instead that I would take some time to write about my more general experience with the joys of reading aloud.

I have been read aloud to* for as long as I can remember. Like any two-year-old with an ounce of sense, I was obsessed with Goodnight Moon and insisted that it be read to me on an extremely regular basis. I also loved Are You My Mother? with a burning passion and, if what you needed was to make three- to six-year-old me laugh till I couldn't breathe, all you needed to do was read me the climax in which the baby bird realizes that a steam shovel is not its mother.** And when my kindergarten teacher introduced the class to The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, I thought it was the most amazing thing on God's green earth.

But more than these early favorites, what really ignited my love of reading aloud was my father's practice of reading to me and my sister every night before bed, starting when we were in 4th or 5th grade or so. He began with the Chronicles of Narnia and then moved on to A Wrinkle in Time and The Hobbit. When his mother expressed concern that in reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone his children might become enamored of witchcraft and sorcery, Dad reassured her by saying that he would read it (and, as it turned out, its sequels) to us to make sure we didn't get any weird ideas. Dad was fantastic at this stuff; he created different voices and personas for the characters, adopting as many distinct accents and tones of voice as he could to create the impression that we were really encountering the different people in the pages of the books he read to us. (Dad's interpretation of Hagrid is still my preferred one.)

In college, I learned that it was, in fact, possible for adults to read things to other adults for fun, when a friend invited a group of us over for a reading of Faust during my first year of school. We read by candle light and delighted in the darkness of the story and the oddity of what we were doing. That night was born both the idea for the Library of Babel podcast that I created and ran thoughout college (named for the first story I read, for which this blog was also eventually named) and for the annual Halloween story nights I would start a year or two later. (I wanted to do a radio show on the college radio station, but they didn't have room for me until much later in my colege career; the podcast was created in the meantime as a balm for my frustrated soul.)

The greatest joy of creating the podcast was in learning to inhabit different characters and animate a story on my own, overlaying the more basic pleasure of having created a thing for its own sake, that is, not an assignment or requirement but a personal project, an accomplishment. It was a good thing. I may return to it someday.

Me, reading to an audience at Story Lab

The most recent project in this vein has been even better, though, in its way: learning to tell others my own stories. In truth, it has been a joy just to know I have some exciting and fun things to say, which is still a fairly new thing. I have not sought out adventure in my life often, so it's taken a while to build up a collection of things to tell others about. But more than that, it has been a joy to share, to try and delight and entertain and inform others with the facts of my life.

This communal element, this sharing, is the best reason for people to read to each other. Sometimes we run out of things to say, out of reasons to be together, out of ways of connecting. I think reading aloud, whether our own stories or someone else's, can help us fill in the gaps, strengthen the bonds, and enrich the spaces between us. I encourage you to give it a try sometime. Perhaps you can go, right now, find a friend, and read a short story or a poem together, maybe something by Roald Dahl (this, perhaps?). Or find a couple friends, and get together to read a book (how about The Giver? It's a classic, an easy read, and good for talking about afterward.) Or maybe sit down in front of a computer, record yourself reading something, and just send it to somebody. Read to each other, is what I'm trying to say. Read to each other.

*Side note: I once came across a contest to end a sentence as many prepositions as possible. The winning entry was a sentence in which a child asks his father why he brought the wrong book up to his bedroom: "What did you bring the book I didn't want to be read to out of up for?"
**Your other option was showing me a VHS of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, particularly the part when Piglet is trying to fly a kite but nearly gets blown into the sky by the heavy winds. But I digress.

Photo sources:
3. Nate Irvine  

1 comment: