Perhaps the best part, for me, of my book launch week-end in NYC, was that I had a chance to read aloud Friday at the launch party and again Saturday at the reading (and, oh by the way, tomorrow night at Noir at the Bar).
“Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th- and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company.” (Klinkenborg, Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud).
I worry sometimes that we place too much emphasis on the importance of meaning. That we have made reading too practical. (It is, I admit, an odd thing to worry about, but I worry, nonetheless). Because a love of the written word owes as much to how words sound as to what they mean. Books come alive when you hear the rhythm and the melody of the words on the page. It is why, when I am writing, I need to read the words aloud. I want the words to sing and I want you to hear them singing. It is why I enjoy having my books published as audiobooks in addition to ebooks and the original hardcover and paperback editions. But to be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with my own audiobooks. Because the narrator makes the words sing differently than I do. Not better or worse. But different. And I struggle with that difference, when I listen to her narration.
Klinkenborg argues that podcasts and audio books have taught people to listen aloud, but they have done little for the lost art of reading aloud. Reading aloud is a social activity with its roots in the 18th and 19th century.
“In those days, literate families and friends read aloud to each other as a matter of habit. Books were still relatively scarce and expensive, and the routine electronic diversions we take for granted were, of course, nonexistent.” (Klinkenborg, Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud).
Klinkenborg goes on to point out that when people read aloud today, they tend to focus on meaning, at the expense of the words themselves. “What gets lost is the inner voice of the prose, the life of the language.”
When I was in elementary school (back in the Stone Age), reading aloud in groups was a routine (and sometimes excruciating) part of the school day. I have no idea whether it is practiced in school today. But I want to thank my first grade teacher, Mrs. Purcell, for teaching me to read aloud. I think she may very well be responsible for making language a part of my body. And I would be neither a very good reader nor writer had I not been shown the magic and the music in the words themselves.