When I was young, we didn’t fly to our family vacation destinations; we drove. Hours and hours in the car, lunches from a cooler at roadside rest stops and lots of breakfasts at Waffle Houses. The only redeeming quality I remember about those hours in the car was reading aloud.
We read many books cover to cover out loud while traversing miles of Kansas flatland and Indiana cornfields. This is how I first “read” Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte’s Web, and Bridge to Terabithia. My brother was old enough to read when my mother’s choked voice couldn’t finish some of the pages. I’m not sure why she picked so many sad books!
It seems like we “out-grow” being read to sometime before middle school. So I didn’t rediscover the value of listening to books until my early twenties. While training for a marathon, I absorbed the prose of Jane Austen, Amy Tan, Maeve Binchy and even a little Janet Evanovich and Nora Roberts (while poo-pooed by the literary elite, those last two ladies have sold a lot of books!).
Mickey, my husband, was initially averse to listening to books, but I convinced him to let me read the first twenty pages of Memoirs of a Geisha out loud. There’s something about speaking the text aloud. When it’s your voice bringing it to life, all of the “I” statements seem that much more personal. Thankfully, he was hooked. Writing like this won him over:
In our little fishing village of Yoroido, I lived in what I called a ‘tipsy house.’ It stood near a cliff where the wind off the ocean was always blowing. As a child it seemed to me as if the ocean had caught a terrible cold, because it was always wheezing and there would be spells when it let out a huge sneeze – which is to say there was a burst of wind with a tremendous spray. I decided our tiny house must have been offended by the ocean sneezing in its face from time to time, and took to leaning back because it wanted to get out of the way.
Those first pages were the beginning of our tradition of reading aloud together. Now our shared collective includes everything from Rob Bell’s nonfiction to Twilight and The Kite Runner to Fifty Shades of Gray.
Yes, we read Fifty Shades together. Some of it was sexy and some of it was disturbing (all of it was poorly written). It did give us a new euphemism for sex as Ana and Christian “found their release” like every five pages. But I think this book drives at what makes reading together so valuable. I remember stopping multiple times while were we reading to talk about things like power and shame. Conversations like that can build as much intimacy as “finding your release.”
Books give us a new shared frame of reference. Every book is a whole new set of inside jokes. We pick up phrases and accents, are inspired to try new things, travel to new places, and we can talk about the characters like they’re people we both know. I’ll be honest and say we’ve read some bad books, but, the good ones stay with us.
Mickey’s all time favorite book is The Kite Runner. I remember reading it aloud in the car on a long road trip home. We were both so engrossed that we went an hour past one of our exits, but we didn’t even care because it meant more time to read. We finished it that night lying on our bed in our tiny newlywed condo handing the book back and forth to give each of our choked voices a chance to recover. I dare you to try to finish it without a lump rising in your throat. From The Kite Runner:
It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when Spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.
Mickey is the main reader now. He is better at staying awake these days and also better about stopping when I fall asleep. (I am known to press on farther than I should after I hear his breathing signal sleep and leave him lots of pages to catch up on.) I love falling asleep to a story.
I mean, honestly, who said we had to outgrow bedtime stories?
Mickey and I already look forward to when our children are old enough to follow a story longer than a dozen pages.
We will read The Hunger Games together and talk about the politics of power and how much our country can seem like The Capital (and even look like it on Oscar night).
We will read the Harry Potter series with them and talk about friendship and loyalty and doing the right thing even when it’s the hard thing.
And I will probably have to hand them the book to give my own choked voice a chance to recover. History has a funny way of repeating itself.
It doesn’t matter how much you know about someone (their family, education, etc.), if you don’t know what they think about things, how they see things, you don’t really know them at all. Books can get the conversation started. We are given only one lens and one body for this life, but when we broaden our realm of experience through the lens of others through books/blogs (and honest conversations), we broaden ourselves.
Try reading aloud together; I think you’ll love it.