Monday, November 8, 2010

Rediscovering the Joy of Reading Aloud

About a week ago, Craig and I drove to Albion, Michigan, to visit our daughter, Nora, who's attending college there. It's about a ten-hour drive in the best of conditions, easily 11 or more depending on the whims of Chicago traffic.

When we drove Nora out in August, we brought along an audio book (one of the Artemis Fowls), but we didn't have one this time, so I brought instead a thick novel—Driftless, by David Rhodes—that I had bought from the publisher, Milkweed, at the Twin Cities Book Festival in October. I selected that one largely because it is set in southwestern Wisconsin (in the driftless region), and since we would be driving through Wisconsin for a good portion of our trip, it seemed apropos. I had also read the foreword and liked how the author strung his words together.

So I read aloud as Craig drove, for as long as my voice and the fading daylight made it possible, with several long breaks to rest my voice as we listened to one of our music CDs. By the time we returned to Minneapolis, I had made it through about half the book. After we got home, Craig took up the role of reader, and over several evenings this past week, followed the book through to its conclusion.

It's a terrific story (many stories and one story, skillfully interwoven) and I hope to get Craig to write a review of the book for the Minneapolis Observer blog soon, but right now I just wanted to tell you about the experience of sharing a book by reading it aloud to each other. It's so entirely different than reading silently, separately. For one thing, it drew our attention to the rhythm and sound of the words, and with a writer as skilled as Rhodes, that's especially delicious. Playing the role alternately of listener and of reader further enhanced this aspect.

Second, it led to an ongoing discussion about the book, and a very different sort of discussion than one you might have with a book club or even with your partner when each of you reads a book separately. It's very immediate, and we were always at exactly the same place in the story, so neither had to worry about giving something away that might spoil the other's experience of the book; and these pauses to discuss the book informed our inferences when we continued. And we've continued to talk about the book over the last couple of days since we finished it.

When our kids were little, we used to read aloud to them, of course, as all parents do. And I remember some discussion with other parents about the joys of reading aloud and how you never grow too old to enjoy being read to. And during that time, as well as before we had children, we used to read to each other once in a while—usually essays or poetry, though, not so much whole novels.

But somewhere along the way of raising children and the ordinary demands of life, we stopped doing that. And I don't think it would have occurred to me to resume the practice if I hadn't been looking for something to pass the hours on that long drive to Michigan and back. But now that we've shared a book in this way, we both agree we want to do it again soon.

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