Sea of Reads

Peripatetic, itinerant, eclectic musings about books, politics, history, language, culture, and anything else that interests me.

On Reading Aloud

Reading aloud is such a pleasure. I read entire books aloud.

I didn’t used to do this. I used to read books silently, as seems to be the modern norm. But for the past 10 years or so, I have found that I cannot enjoy a book to nearly the same degree unless I read it aloud.

Why is that? And does reading aloud have any benefits apart from the enjoyment it brings? (Not that that isn’t enough of a reason to do it!)

Yes! replies Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times:

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. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.

Here is a passage from Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, from his chapter on Keeling Island, in the Indian Ocean:

The long strips of land, forming the linear islets, have been raised only to that height to which the surf can throw fragments of coral, and the wind heap up calcareous sand. The solid flat of coral rock on the outside, by its breadth, breaks the first violence of the waves, which otherwise, in a day, would sweep away these islets and all their productions. The ocean and the land here seem struggling for mastery; although terra firma has obtained a footing, the denizens of the water think their claim at least equally good. In every part one meets hermit crabs of more than one species, carrying on their backs the shells which they have stolen from the neighbouring beach. Overhead, numerous gannets, frigate-birds, and terns, rest on the trees; and the wood, from the many nests and from the smell of the atmosphere, might be called a sea-rookery. The gannets, sitting on their rude nests, gaze at one with a stupid yet angry air. The noddies, as their name expresses, are silly little creatures. But there is one charming bird: it is a small, snow-white tern, which smoothly hovers at the distance of a few feet above one’s head, its large black eye scanning, with quiet curiosity, your expression. Little imagination is required to fancy that so light and delicate a body must be tenanted by some wandering fairy spirit.

Darwin’s extraordinary gift for descriptive writing gives pleasure even when read silently. But how much more can one savor the sensuality of the language when one speaks, and hears, aloud, in the ears, a sentence like “The gannets, sitting on their rude nests, gaze at one with a stupid yet angry air”!


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This entry was posted on February 14, 2010 by in Language, Reading Life.
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