Reading Out Loud Is Magic

When the Boy was growing up, I read Chris Van Allsburg’s beautiful The Polar Express to him just before bed every Christmas Eve. I bought it the year he turned two, and we probably did it for ten years or so. (Now our traditions run more to cocktails and sausage balls, but that’s another story entirely.) It’s a wonderful, moving story with gorgeous illustrations (I’m a Van Allsburg fan), and it’s made ineffably more so when read aloud.

Poetry, of course, is meant to be read aloud. That’s why we have poetry slams and why Taylor Mali does so well at them. It’s special to hear a poet read his own work (go here for a link to Mary Oliver reading her “Starlings in Winter.”) But I delight in a poem read aloud not just as performance but between friends, or lovers (I’ll trust your imagination here). Think of E. E. Cummings’s “[I carry your heart with me(I carry it in]”—the emotion of it makes me weep. Or William Butler Yeats’s “When You Are Old,” which I loved when I discovered it in my teens and cherish even more now. Garrison Keillor (who is quite a poetry fan himself) once did a reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”) on A Prairie Home Companion that just knocked my socks off, coming unexpectedly as it did in his Lake Woebegon monologue. He has a great voice.

So I was intrigued when I read this little blurb about reading aloud … to adults. A woman whose husband is not a natural reader noticed he was struggling to get through a book he really wanted to read, so she offered to read it aloud to him. As it turned out, this enhanced the reading experience for both parties, and allowed them to enjoy—and discuss—the book together.

Reading aloud is obviously not just for kids, and benefits the reader as much as the listener, I think. I’ve read pieces of books aloud before—passages I thought were funny or moving—but never a whole book. Have you? Maybe it’s time to start! I’m thinking if you’re in need of a last-minute Christmas gift, a hand-drawn certificate for a book read aloud might be a magical gift.

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  1. Marti Pieper says:

    Our family loves reading aloud! We began it when our kids were babies and never stopped. I still read aloud to our youngest two daughters as a part of our homeschool every day. And do you know what? I’ve raised a family of readers. Reading’s not the only thing, but it’s one of the most important.

    As a writer, I’ve also found I hear off-voice elements best when someone else reads my work aloud. Often, I can identify the problem before the reader or other listeners give any critique.

    Here’s to reading aloud and to books. At Christmastime and always!

    • Jamie says:

      Marti, I tell authors all the time to gather friends to read dialogue aloud. Anything that’s “off” just pops right out. :) Thanks for you always wonderful comments!