Our Reading Lives

The Joy of Reading Out Loud

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

I’m not talking the joy of audiobooks read by famous actors. I’m talking about you reading out loud to an assembled group of people lounging on oversized pillows and ottomans, rapt, in your livingroom. When was the last time you had a reading party?

My grandfather told me that “back in the day” this happened all the time. He remembered after a dinner party, his mother could hold her friends spell-bound over dessert, reading with great flair and drama, Kipling’s Rikki Tikki Tavi from The Jungle Book and emphasizing the ssss-es when it was the cobra Nag or Nagina’s turn to speak.

He, in turn, read to me and the rest of his grandchildren Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, Holling Clancy Holling’s Seabird, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Sometimes, he would even read Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas, his favorite poem.

“Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs/
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,/
The night above the dingle starry…”

And though I used to giggle at the word “dingle,” I will hear those opening lines in his voice for as long as I live.

I read to my kids nightly, of course. All the parenting and early literacy research supports this, and I like to give Hobbes of Calvin and Hobbes a special tiger voice, but my son, 8, says, “Please, Mom, don’t.”

Not to toot my own horn, but I do a really good vampire rabbit voice that the kids beg for when I read Bunnicula. “Do ‘I vant to suck zee bloood of a carrot!’ again, Mom! Use the towel as your cape!” With relish, I say.

But read outloud to my friends? Would anyone be in to the retro pleasure of the intimate communal experience of being read to?


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