The Joy of Reading Aloud

Do you remember what it felt like to be read to as a child?  Were you cuddled up close to your The Joy of Reading Aloudmother, all cosy in your Donald Duck pyjamas as she read your favourite book? Was it your father who always read to you as he tucked you into bed? If you recall being read to at an early age, then somewhere within you is a body-memory of the rhythm of the reader’s voice and the feeling of closeness that being read to evoked.

Early in our relationship, my (now) husband captured my heart when he read to me The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  I remember the warm tones of his voice, and the feeling of intimacy that the reading evoked. I also appreciated  his love of words and his desire to share them with me.

There currently seems to be a market for stories delivered by the human voice. The sale of audiobooks continues to rise dramatically. Industry VP Anthony Goff points out that audiobook sales jumped from $480 million in 1997 to today’s $1.2 billion*.  People listen to them on the go – while jogging or taking public transit, or when tired eyes need a rest.  Audiobooks are generally well-produced, with actors doing the reading.  But they don’t feature the voice of someone you know, reading with their unique voice, inflection, intonation and emotion.

In her article “Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud“** author Verlyn HeartKinkenborg points out that “in the early 19th century, about the time of Jane Austen…literate families and friends read aloud to each other as a matter of habit. Books were still relatively scarce and expensive.” I’d like to encourage a revival of this “lost art.” In our Writing from the Centre retreats, we devote the morning to writing short pieces in response to prompts, and reading aloud some of the pieces we have written. It is an honour for group members to hear work that is newly-birthed and read in the writer’s own voice.

Being read to has many benefits:

  • enhanced emotional connection – the person doing the reading cares enough to take the time to read to youFlowered Chair (2)
  • there is shared enjoyment of the process, for both the reader and the listener
  • the story or poem comes alive through the personal presentation of the work – the reader’s inflection, emphasis, intonation and emotional tone
  • both the reader and the listener slow down. The pace is slower than if you were reading to yourself, and this may result in new insights about the work
  • if the piece being read has just been written, there is the joy of witnessing a newly-birthed piece of writing

Some tips if you’re the reader:

  • read in your own natural voice. Don’t try to sound like an actor reading the workDSC01703
  • read at a relaxed pace. Your listener shouldn’t have to strain to make sense of what is being read. Check with then to determine if the pace is right
  • remember to pause slightly after each sentence, and take a longer pause at the end of each paragraph
  • if you feel comfortable doing so, you could “play” the parts of the characters when you read the dialogue
  • if reading a novel, try to select one with fairly short chapters, so that you can read an entire chapter at one sitting
  • poetry lends itself well to being read aloud. A good resource is Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud by Robert Pinsky, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009
  • remember to hydrate frequently – keep some water nearby

 To whom should you read? Here are some ideas:

  • if you have young children, read to them every day.  Encourage them to “read” their DSCN5015books out loud, even if they can’t read the words yet. They will “pretend” read and make up the story as they go along
  • for Valentines, give your sweetie a book of love poetry, then take turns reading the poems to each other
  • read together as a family. Share a meal, and afterwards take turns reading a book you have chosen together
  • propose to your book club that at your next meeting, each person read a short passage that stood out for them, from that month’s book
  • offer to read to your elderly parents and relatives
  • volunteer with a community agency that can connect you to isolated individuals in the community that you could visit.  Offer to read to them
  • volunteer to read to groups of children at the library
  • share your time as a volunteer reader for individuals who are newcomers to Canada, and are just learning to speak English
  • join a writing group that writes on-the-spot then reads what they have written

Do you have memorable experiences of being read to, or reading aloud?  What books would you recommend as particularly suitable for reading aloud?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,



Our next writing retreat will take place on Sunday, March 23, 2014.  We hope you can join us.

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All photographs and drawings in this post are by Janis McCallen.




2 comments Write a comment

  1. This is great. I love being read to. I wonder if we could start a book club that would read a book to each. Each person there could read a chapter or two outloud and maybe after 2 or 3 meetings go on to a new book. I would love that.

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