Friday 28 July 2017

Do you enjoy reading aloud?

When it comes to driving a car, I refuse to have my husband as a passenger. Even when I've gone to pick him up from somewhere, I prefer to slip across to the passenger's seat and let him get behind the wheel. He's just better at it than I am. He has a perfect sense of direction and finely-tuned reflexes. But most of all, when I drive he clutches the sides of his seat and looks agitated, making digs about how bad I am. He's simply the best person for the job. In the same way, when it comes to reading stories out loud, I believe I'm the best person for the job.

When we first got married, we headed off on a holiday with a trilogy of novels to read together. We'd intended to take turns reading, but it quickly became clear that he wasn't the right person to do it. He was too erratic, often pausing to figure out words he felt tough to get his tongue around. Sometimes, he was so busy just trying to read sentences out loud that he had to pause to glance over them again for their sense of meaning which interrupted the flow. It didn't take long for him to decide that as I enjoy reading out loud, I could do it permanently. I was happy with the deal, as I'd been reading out loud since I was very small, to any captive audience. It was most often my mum.

Since then, I've had years of opportunities, as I've been homeschooling our three kids. To be honest, I'm not keen on being on the other side of the book and listening. I like to have control. I can choose the right inflections to use in different characters' voices and use accents if possible. I get to utilise dramatic pauses at moments I choose, and emphasise whatever I want to, whether or not it's written in italics. I have some degree of control over how I want my listeners to feel about the characters, as it all comes out in the delivery. I love to be the person who knows what's coming, to anticipate the surprise on my listeners' faces, the gasps of shock or bursts of laughter. Not least, I appreciate it when one of the kids comes to me holding the book, saying, 'It's time to hear another chapter.'

This hobby isn't everyone's cup of tea. I had to smile as I thought of three famous novels in which an unwilling young character is coerced (or forced) into reading out loud to an antagonistic elderly person.

1) Little Women. Jo is a hired companion to rich, crabby old Aunt March (who is actually her great aunt). It's a hassle for poor Jo to be pinned down to a seat, reading the dry old books Aunt March wants to hear. The main thing which helps her bear it is that she can duck into the library to find a book of her own choice for silent reading when the old dame nods off.

2) The Book Thief. Young Liesel Meminger manages to soothe the angst and panic of the neighbours on her street, as they huddle in the bomb shelter, dreading what might happen suddenly. She considers herself to be handing out words, but doesn't expect mean old Frau Holtzapfel, who spits on their door, to come knocking, asking for Liesel to come and keep reading to her in the privacy of her own home. To Liesel's dismay, her mama, Rosa Hubermann, agrees, as Frau Holtzapfel promises to stop the spitting, and to hand over her coffee ration in return.

3) To Kill a Mockingbird. Jem Finch is ordered by his father, Atticus, to read to bedridden, nasty old Mrs Dubose. There is no way he can wriggle out of it, as it's ostensibly his punishment for losing his cool and going berserk in her garden. Even though she behaves very strangely during the reading sessions, not until later does Jem discover the real reason for her request. I'm sure his reading probably did help distract her.

Even though these three situations appear less than ideal on the surface, they show the power inherent in reading out loud, evident in the creation of truces and ties which weren't there in the first place. The power of a good story breaks down walls and barriers between people who, on the surface, are very different. The act of a reader and listener sharing an author's intentions and inspiration is an excellent way to promote good feeling between them, even when it wasn't there to start with. And I'm sure Jo, Liesel and Jem would all look back on those reluctant sessions with nostalgia. Jem's little sister, Scout, who went along for moral support, certainly did.

So I like to be the reader, and my husband and children prefer to be listeners. When it comes to reading aloud, which end of the book do you like to find yourselves?

Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, you may like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review.


  1. What a great topic. I loved reading aloud to my children and now my grandchildren. We go in a family holiday once a year and this year I plan to read my two oldest grandchildren the first Harry Potter book. Last year it was Matilda by Dahl. I'm also privileged to be a Bible reader in church, a task I don't take lightly, something to practice for and also enjoy - a tremendous privilege. I think it all started when we used to have to take turns reading Shakespeare aloud in high school, and I suddenly discovered I had a slight knack for it, ham that I was. Haven't looked back! Studied have shown that reading 3,000 hours to small children before they begin school leads to a higher ease with literacy, when you break it down that's around 5 hours a well, if maths serves me correctly (it might not!). But anyway, that's the before-nap time sorted, and also the bedtime story. Reading aloud is just wonderful.

    1. Hi Malvina,
      It's such a lot of fun. You have a lot to look forward to, reading Harry Potter book to a fresh audience. I read the books to all mine, and the youngest is now 13. And I can imagine how much fun reading Shakespeare and the Bible to an appreciative audience is. The statistics you mention are so manageable for reading to our kids, just one hour each week day. And I'm sure many of us easily pass this, when we're reading a great book and get requests for more :)

  2. Sorry, that should have read five hours a WEEK.

  3. Great post, Paula. I've always loved reading aloud. In fact, it was typically how I studied English Lit at uni - I simply read the novels and plays aloud. A play has to be read a loud methinks.

    I'll grab any chance to read aloud now as it brings the theatrical side of me out. I'm reading Troy Branston's biography of Paul Keating to my elderly dad at present and am loving the experience.

    1. Hi Ian,
      I think there's evidence around that your method for study is the best way to go, because we get used to the meter and flow as we read. What a wonderful time you and your dad must be having :) You've given me hope that I might still be doing the same reading out loud in the years to come. As you say, why ever stop when there's a willing audience?

  4. I enjoyed reading to my children and now my grandchildren, however, I actually don't like being read to. I can read so much faster when I read to myself. I think I must just be impatient, as I'm always in a hurry to get to the climax/point!

    1. That pretty much describes me too, Susan :) I know some people love getting hold of audio books to listen to, but I've never been tempted to try. I do appreciate it that others in my life have been willing to listen to me read though.


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