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Reading Aloud for Pleasure and with Purpose
I met my husband at an author reading at Kettle of Fish in Greenwich Village when he sat in an empty seat at my table and politely endured an endless round of rapid-fire questions from my friends (including JJ!), so I knew he liked books from the beginning. But on our third date I knew he was a keeper, because that’s when he offered to read a book aloud with me.
We were sitting on the couch in his studio apartment in Prospect Park, rounding out yet another hour of moving seamlessly between making out and talking each other’s ears off in that perfect alchemy of third date magic. At some point I brought up the fact that I love reading aloud.
Reading aloud was a ritual in my family when I was growing up. I love books and I love the sound of my own voice, so reading aloud is my ultimate indulgence. When David offered to read a book aloud with me I was surprised and pleased, but I didn't quite believe it until he showed up for our fourth date with a paperback copy of The Hobbit in hand. Reading aloud has been a mainstay in our relationship ever since.
Over the course of nine years, a move half-way across the country, several new jobs, graduate school, marriage, and one child we have read nearly 30 books aloud together. Some weeks we read every night, snuggled up next to each other in bed. Other times we’re in a slump and months go by without so much as a glance at our shared book. But we always come back around. There’s a beautiful intimacy in curling up on my husband’s shoulder and falling asleep to the rustling of the pages and the low hum of his voice. And of course we read to our daughter daily. I eagerly look forward several years in the future, when we can move on from boardbooks and pictures books and select a novel the three of us can read aloud together, just like I did with my parents and my sister when I was young.
I love reading aloud for pleasure, but I also often read aloud with purpose: to improve my writing. I read my own work aloud at various points throughout the writing process and I'm consistently rewarded for my efforts. Whether I'm stuck in the midst of drafting or polishing up a revised manuscript, reading my words out loud is enormously helpful.
Typos Reading aloud is one of the best ways to spot elusive typos. Before you can fix a typo, you need to know it's there. When I read silently my eyes tend to slide over these minor mistakes, correcting them in my mind even if they aren't correct on the page. But when reading aloud I stumble instead of slide. Tripping over typos calls attention to them, and that makes it easier to fix them all.
Dialogue The easiest way for me to know if my dialogue is realistic is to read it out loud. Does this sound like something a person would actually say or does it sound false or convoluted? Do my characters have distinct dialogue that's unique to them, or does everything sound generally the same and indistinguishable? Reading aloud pinpoints these issue quickly.
Pacing Is anything happening? Sometimes it takes saying the words out loud to recognize that your prose is a bit purple, or that your climax is a bit cloudy, or nothing has happened in your story for approximately a million years. Ahem. That last one may or may not be my personal albatross. Still, if you read your own work out loud and start getting a bit bored, well, now you know you need to pick up the pace.
Perspective Finally, reading aloud gives you a slight objective edge, and that edge is priceless. When we write we spend so much time inside our heads; it can be easy to forget that a book isn't going to live inside us forever. Because a book is meant to be read. It's going to go out into the world and be read by many different people, and all of those people have rich interior lives that are likely different from yours. Reading aloud can give you a little bit of distance, and allow you to consider your work afresh. Hmmm, is this appropriative? Does this content align with my intentions? Are there clarity issues here? Are the funny bits landing? These are all questions I've asked myself, and reading my work aloud is one of the most effective ways to answer them.
Do you read aloud for pleasure? What are your favorite books to read aloud? To whom do you read? And what about reading aloud with purpose? Do you find that reading aloud improves your writing? In what ways?