Reading Aloud

There was a moment, while reading the opening chapters of this book, when I realized I needed to hear the words aloud. All at once, I wanted to share it with E. Though we focus on different art forms, and mostly read entirely different books, we have a similar aesthetic taste, one that complements and builds on the other. The movies and books we love are not always shared by most people we know; he’s usually the only person who understands why I love (or hate) a book or a film or a gloriously colorful piece of subway art. In this way, he understands me. And so, upon finishing this chapter, I knew not just that he would love it, but that it would resonate with him the way it did for me. He would “get” why I had to read it, that chapter, that scene, those words out loud.

So I turned off the television (I tend to keep the TV on while reading; I call it “background noise”; E calls it agony) and I told him I wanted to read him something. He was surprised. I haven’t read aloud in, I guess, years. I am shy in person, but I love to read aloud, love it. I even love giving readings—and I’ve gotten better at the whole eye-contact thing—not because I want people looking at me—I do not—but because I like the feel of the words, my words, in my mouth. It’s all very selfish.

I started reading. E listened while I gave voice to a short chapter about a girl lying on a bed, asleep. Nothing happened beyond that. She slept; we observed. But there were hints at what would come next, hints at unsettling things. (If you’ve read the book, please don’t tell me; this week swallowed me and I haven’t read past that page.)

Then I reached the last sentence. I held my breath. Did he see in it what I did? Yes, oh yes. His reaction was just what I’d hoped for. He was as taken by it as I was. It reminded me how much I love writers, how they carve whole worlds out of nothing. What is more magical than that?

It now occurs to me what I might be missing from my own work: the chance to hear the words, my words, out loud. Part of my process, long ago, was to read pages out loud to myself to work through the rhythm, the meaning, the sounds. This becomes difficult while living in the city—thus my calculated use of “background noise” to drown out my voice so my neighbors don’t necessarily overhear. I only do it while alone. It would be embarrassing, mortifying, for someone to find me reading the same paragraph to myself again and again and again (and again) like a broken, but enthusiastic, record. But maybe that’s why I feel so unsure of myself lately. So lost. I’m all for trying any remedy, homeopathic or otherwise. There must be a way to dig myself out of this creative rut.

Maybe tonight. Maybe I will sound out my story when no one is home, with the TV blaring, the windows closed, the fan on in my face, but I’ll hear them, my words, I’ll hear what they sound like off the page. Maybe I’ll know what to do then.

Or, I will curl up on the couch and keep reading this book.

3 responses to “Reading Aloud”

  1. I also love reading aloud. Like you say, I think it comes from a lifelong love affair with words and the magic they create.

    My children benefit enormously from my willingness to hear my own voice, but I am demanding of what I read. If it doesn’t gel, irritates or uses grammar or constructions that rankle, then I refuse to read it. However, there are beloved favourites I can read a thousand times over and not get bored.


  2. You’ve made me want to run out and buy this book! Well, I already had it on my list, but you’ve intrigued me.
    I also need to read my writing aloud while I’m working on it. And this is why I love to listen to stories on NPR…I learn what sounds right aloud and what doesn’t, for my own work.


  3. I really want to read that book now!

    & I hope you do get your time & space to read it aloud and that you liked what you heard & I hope it helps.


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