How To Read Aloud

In college I had a professor whom I believed to be addled.  I was in an advanced literature class and had been expecting Socratic questioning about the specific work's place in the pantheon of greats, thematic relevance to issues of the day, and other such lines of inquiry.  Instead, our professor stood in front of class and read aloud.  

Since then, I have come to realize that this professor was one of the best I've ever had, for from him I learned a true appreciation for the music and cadence of language.  Here are some tips he might have offered on how to read aloud:

  1. Breathing.  Breathing is underrated.  Some spiritual practices recognize the importance of breath and the fact that most natural cycles work in systems analogous to that of our breath-in/out, exhaust/replenish and so forth-but breath awareness is certainly not a common practice in everyday American culture.  Before you begin to read aloud, take a moment to pay attention to how breath feels inside of your belly, inside of your lungs, and then how it feels poised for a moment in your mouth before you exhale.  Breathing has a wonderful  rhythm all its own that allows for natural pauses and musicality.  Great literature will have breath built into the words, so you don't need to pay close attention to your breath, but do remember to breathe as you read aloud.
  2. Choosing your titles.  Which books you choose will depend upon your taste, of course, but the classics are always a good place to start.  One of the qualities that makes great literature great is its musicality.  I believe that said musicality alters our senses in such as way as to allow us to receive the book's message on several different levels at once.  That's why you can't go wrong by starting with the classics.  Keep in mind that the classics include children's books as well.   
  3. Start small.  If the idea of reading an entire book aloud overwhelms you, you can always start small.  Choose books of poetry and then pick out those poems with pithy titles, say "Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet" from Tony Hoagland's Donkey Gospel before segueing to even juicier titles (that I am unable to mention on a family-friendly site).  Poetry has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popular culture (thank God!) but if, when it comes to poetry, you have no idea where to begin, try
  4. Relax.  Let the words do the work for you.  One of the wonderful advantages of great literature is that it is well-written and difficult to improve upon.  So relax into the words and let them do the work for you.  There is no better way to butcher fine prose and insult the intelligence of your listener than to use overwrought inflection to lead the listener to your predetermined expectation of how they should interpret the work.

There is almost no greater gift than to read aloud to another person, whether it is a book to a child or the Last Rites.  Reading aloud is a favor that we perform for each other here around the offices of HowToDoThings that is always appreciated. And believe it or not, reading aloud can even be an aphrodisiac if you choose your books well.  In short, no matter how you go about it, give reading aloud a try.


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Great site, great article!

By Pete Hurtado