When was the last time you read something out loud, more than just a few words? A poem, a story, even just a page or two from a book. For those without children at home or in the classroom, the answer could well be quite a long time ago. As adults we tend not to do a lot of reading out loud, unless we work as actors, teachers or news reporters. Once we finish our education and are no longer forced to partake in read-throughs of Shakespeare or classic literature, we tend to confine our reading to the insides of our own heads. Personally, I think that’s a shame.
I love reading out loud. I’ve been known to recite poems in the middle of bookshops, or walk around exhibitions reading out quotes or magic spells in daft voices. I should do it more, although I suspect I already do it more than many people. Depending on what I’m reading it can be fun, exciting, emotional, all sorts of things. It’s not practical to read everything out loud, sadly, but it’s definitely worth doing at least some of the time. I find it forces me to think differently about what I’m reading, to take into account the cadence of the words, to consider what each sentence is going to feel like on my tongue, and to think a bit more about what the words are actually saying.
Take this verse from The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe :
To get the most out of this I think there are a few things to consider. First, there’s the rhythm that Poe playfully fits his words around, turning some verses into veritable tongue-twisters. There are some tricky bits to get your tongue around, not to mention working out where to fit your breathing, but once you’ve got the hang of it the whole verse just flows and becomes a wonderfully smooth and sinuous flow of imagery and emotions. Once you’ve got that sorted, it pushes you to think a little more about what the narrator is saying, what he’s feeling and why he’s reacting to the raven in such a way. Some people may well get that simply from reading through the poem in their heads, but for me the act of reading it out loud helps me to understand it, to get into the head of the narrator and to feel some of what he’s feeling.
Poetry is a wonderful art form, and one that I don’t read enough of. I certainly don’t understand it as well as I would like. It’s not just poetry that benefits from being read aloud, however. Yesterday I started re-reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, in preparation for his new novella coming out, and from the very first page I was reminded of how beautiful and lyrical his writing is. The first page of the book is in fact a prologue, entitled ‘A Silence of Three Parts’, which sets up the whole novel in the most perfect way, and simply cries out to be read out loud. So I did, on my own, sat in bed at about 11pm last night. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I’m not exactly planning on putting myself forward for audiobook narration, but even with my untrained voice the writing came to life in my mind’s eye in a different way to how it does when I just read it normally. Try it yourself; take a walk to your local book shop, pick up a copy of The Name of the Wind, and read the prologue aloud. You can do it in the shop, nobody’s going to mind. You’ll see what I mean.
While you’re in that bookshop, take a moment to have a quick look round the children’s section as well. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, reading children’s books; I’ve read loads, they’re great fun. That’s a whole other story really, the snobbery of people who think adults should only read ‘grown up’ books, but in essence it’s nonsense. We all benefit from remembering what it was like to be children, even if only once in a while. One of the best ways to do that is to read a book that’s written for children, and even better to read it out loud. Earlier in the year I read and reviewed Fortunately, The Milk by the wonderful Neil Gaiman. If you see a copy in the bookshop, here’s a challenge for you : pick it up, turn to pages 84 and 85, and read out the bit with the wumpires. If you can read the whole of those two pages out loud without sniggering or chuckling, then I’m afraid you’re beyond helping. If, like me, you dissolve into fits of giggles at the word ‘wiwisect’, then there’s hope for you yet.
My all-time favourite book for reading out loud is a book by Terry Pratchett. Discworld fans may remember that in Thud!, the 34th novel in the series, Sam Vimes reads a book called Where’s My Cow? to his son, Young Sam, each night before bed. In it the protagonist has somehow lost his or her cow, and searches through an imagined farmyard to locate it, first checking pretty much every other animal to make sure it isn’t masquerading as a cow. To coincide with the release of Thud! Pratchett also released Where’s My Cow? in a beautifully-illustrated hardback, subtitled ‘A Discworld picture book for people of all sizes’. I have two copies, although neither of mine are as well-chewed as Young Sam’s. They are very well read however; I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat and read through this book, putting on Vimes’ voice and doing all the animal noises, much to the amusement (or sometimes bemusement) of any friends fortunate enough to be around at the time. Being a Discworld book, the story doesn’t remain purely in the farmyard, Vimes drawing upon his personal experience to populate Young Sam’s city with a wider range of inhabitants, including such eminent personages as Lord Vetinari, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, and Foul Ole Ron. Personally, my favourite bit is Lady Sybil’s slightly concerned, mildly disapproving voice.
So there you have it. Reading out loud is good for the soul, and we should all do it more often. I’ll never stop embarrassing friends by reciting from books in public, and maybe one day I’ll get round to having a go at recording myself reading one of my favourite books. It’ll be fun!