Reading Aloud

“God made man because he loves stories”
-Elie Wiesel

I would like to offer a reminder, to anybody who hasn’t done it for awhile, that reading a book aloud is one of the best ways there is to pass long, slow, lazy days.

Despite the fact that I’ve always loved reading, the idea of doing it aloud was something that for much of my adult life I only associated with picture books for children. It wasn’t until my partner and I, in the early stages of our dating, were stuck in a Labour day ferry line-up heading to Vancouver Island that I discovered this new pleasure. Confined for six hours in the parking lot at the Tsawwassen terminal, it wasn’t long before we finished all the sections of the newspaper, got bored with talk shows and classic rock on the radio, and turned to a book for entertainment. It was a book that my sister had sent me for my birthday. It was Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor, a multigenerational story about two Mexican families. The writing was beautifully descriptive, and it wasn’t long before we were caught up in the characters’ struggles for survival, and in the descriptions that filled the pages of religious customs, vibrant landscapes and food.

Despite the fact that the book is a hefty five hundred odd pages, it was so engrossing that we’d finished it by the time we caught the ferry home again in the middle of the following week.

Since that day, Bill and I have read seemingly countless books to each other. Long hours spent in laundromats waiting for clothes to dry, in soggy campgrounds waiting for rain to pass, and in airport holding lounges waiting for planes to land, have been transformed into memorable experiences by the words of John Irving and Tom Robbins and Barbara Kingsolver. When we’ve had arguments and been too angry to speak to each other, Wayson Choy and Margaret Atwood have acted as tactful go-betweens.

When we had a child (who we decided to name after Scout from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird), it added a whole new dimension to this activity. We soon discovered that it was possible to find books, like H.A. Rey’s Curious George stories and Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books, that were attractive to even the youngest children, but still entertaining for adults to read aloud. From there, we progressed through bookcases full of books, including A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, Baum’s Wizard of Oz, Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and eventually Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, and Richard Adams’ Watership Down. I will never forget one dreary and potentially cranky car trip from Moose Jaw to Calgary that was turned by Tolkien’s The Hobbit into an enchanted journey through Middle Earth.

One of the best things about reading aloud, especially for a frustrated actress like myself, is to take on the voices and personalities of the characters. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are perfect for this. The characters and their ways of speaking are so vivid that’s it’s almost impossible not to slip into their voices. In the space of a half-hour car drive you may find yourself becoming a gruff-voiced but tender-hearted giant, a precocious bookworm, a snivelling bully, a werewolf, a house elf, a young wizard, a malevolent teacher and a condescending politician.

The following is a list (completely random, in no particular order, and with gaping omissions) of some more particularly wonderful books, with the sort of characters that capture the imagination and the type of writing that simply flows off the tongue. If anybody has any other read-aloud favourites to share, I’d love to make a note of them. Happy reading.

Great read-aloud books for adults:

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson
Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
The Echo by Minette Walters
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
A Recipe for Bees by Gail Anderson Dargatz

Great read-aloud books for the whole family:

(with younger kids)
Anything by Robert Munsch
Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut by Robert Munsch
Nonsense Songs by Edward Lear
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

(with older kids)
After Hamelin by Bill Richardson
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Silverwing, Sunwing and Firewing by Kenneth Oppel
The Trolls by Polly Horvath
Charlotte’s Web by W.B. White

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