My eyes couldn’t leave her mouth. With each syllable, I focused on the movement of her lips. The tightening and loosening of muscles unseen. The brief flash of enamel every few words. The intensity in her eyes as she looked up to see how the story was landing on young ears.
I am sitting on the worn gray carpet of my 7th grade classroom, being read to by Mrs. Young’s teaching assistant, a girl fresh out of college clutching a teaching certificate and a naive belief that she will kindle the love of reading in every student she encounters. My head is resting on my battle-scarred knees and I am utterly mesmerized. This young, beautiful woman has decided to share with us Lois Lowry’s The Giver. A book that would go on to be The One… the reason I fell in love with the written word. And I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if I discovered it was more this experience than the story itself that secured its forever place in my heart.
I am only 12 years old, but being read to has long been a thing of the past. Gone is the guarantee of a journey to another place with a steadfast tour guide at the helm. I can read now. I’ve been able to read for awhile. And once my literacy surpassed that of Dick & Jane, I was on my own. This was a treat. I remember having that fleeting knowledge of the fact that as a preteen, this was a moment that would become unknown as I delved further into the world of crushes, fashion, self-esteem issues. Sitting there, I knew that this experience was special and not likely to be repeated.
I now have a four year old daughter of my own. We read every single night and it is absolutely a highlight of my hurried day. But I hadn’t really pondered this lacking in my own life until I came across the new podcast “LeVar Burton Reads”. In it, the beloved host of Reading Rainbow reads fiction short stories and then reflects on the piece with his own insights into the work and how it relates to his own experiences. My favorite moment in his podcast: when LeVar instructs his listeners to take a deep breath before he begins reading. It reminds me of the bedtime rituals of my youth. Even behind the wheel of my car, I take steady, deep breaths and give myself permission. Permission to enjoy the tale without worrying about errands I have to run, chores I have to do, groceries I have to buy. If only for forty minutes. If only right now.
I know, you are currently yelling at your screen “but we have audiobooks!” But, is it really the same? Burton is a masterful storyteller. His reading is unlike anything you encounter on Audible, even with the most lauded narrators behind the microphone. The way he reads truly makes you feel like you’re cuddled safe in your bed, being read a story about aliens, fish, the heist of a McDonald’s. The short stories he selects are some of his favorites, and that comes across clearly in the love and passion evident in his voice. It’s the difference between being read AT and being read TO. And it’s only recently that I realized the difference.
I’ve come to understand that being read to is an incredible gift. One we don’t allow ourselves. We’ve relegated this joyful pastime to something that happens solely out of necessity. A toddler can’t yet read so there’s no other option but to lend a physical voice to the stories on the page.
However, as a woman making the not-slow-enough journey into her 40’s… I can tell you that I would love to saddle up to that carpet once again, sit “criss-cross applesauce” and have someone transport ME, for once.