Friday, April 02, 2010

Reading Aloud in the Age of Twitter

O tempora, o mores!  ("O the times, o the mores!")  Could Cicero possibly have twittered this?
I know how Cicero felt.  I know far too much about how Cicero felt.  He never shut up.  I've read his speeches.  I've read his letters.  He would have been a blogger, not a Twitterer.  
And undoubtedly he would have blogged about the demise of reading aloud.
There was a lot of reading aloud in ancient Rome.   Poetry and prose readings, you know.  An entertainment at dinner parties.  Cicero, Catullus, Cornelius Nepos, and all the boys.  
There's no use moaning about the times. This is the 21st century. It is what it is.  But do you remember reading aloud instead of of e-mail and iThings?  
Reading aloud is something we did when we were young and poor.  Stranded in Veracruz?  Buy the only book in the English bookstore, D. H. Lawrence's The Plumed Serpent , and read it aloud.  Far out!  (No, I never talked like that.) When you're making $10,000 a year, you don't spend a lot of money on amusements.  The Orchestra or Theater in our thrift-shop dresses and sports jackets?  Hardly.  We went to the beach and read aloud.  
Among our favorite reading-aloud books were the humor books of Betty MacDonald.  Her hilarious memoir, The Egg and I , chronicles her experiences as a chicken farmer.  This  entertained us for several hours over a period of days.  We enjoyed The Plague and I and had a long-standing argument with a humorless librarian about whether we had returned it.  We ended up paying for it.  Well, guess what?    It turned up under the couch.  So it was ours!
A friend of mine told me he recently read aloud Trollope's Miss Mackenzie to his family. They read aloud in the evenings.  Doesn't that sound so, I don't know, Amish?  Very nice, though.  
My husband and I weren't read aloud to much when we were children.  Oh yeah, I did wake up my mother every morning at 5 a.m. and demand that she read to me.  But as soon as I could read myself that stopped.  It never occurred me to ask to be read to after the age of six.
But our teachers read to us and, wow, were those books good!  My fifth-grade teacher had the best taste.   Snow Treasure  by Marie Mcswigan was about a group of Norwegian children during World War II who smuggled gold bouillon out of town on their sleds so the Nazis wouldn't get it.  Then there was Ginger Pye , a Newbery Award winner, about the Pyes' acquisition of an adorable puppy, its disappearance, and their solving the mystery.  And I loved A Spell Is Cast by Eleanor Cameron.  I vaguely envied the displaced heroine because she lived by the sea.
We rediscovered reading aloud as hipster adults.  Was it a trend in the '80s?  I knew other people who read aloud.  One couple read aloud Carol Shields' books before anyone knew who she was.  
The strange thing is I don't have a lot of patience with reading aloud these days.  My husband and I recently resolved to read a short story a week from a 3-volume boxed set of anthologies of several decades of New Yorker stories.  We lasted three weeks.  
Why don't we get back to that?  I just don't know.


Hannah Stoneham said...

What a wonderful post to wake up to on a Saturday morning. Oddly enough, my husband and I were talking about this only the other day. I was read to as a child, even once I had learned to read - and I still absolutely love the feeling of being read to - it also kind of teaches you how to read aloud by example - something that so few people can do with any dramatic effect at all. I think you are right about Cicero. He would have been one of these anonymous bloggers whose blog is turned into a book and becomes a best selling conscience of the age type thing.

Lovely post, thanks for sharing
and Happy Easter!


Frisbee said...

Happy Easter!

Being read to is a luxury and my husband says he wants to get back to it. He's slyly trying to persuade me to read Joseph Conrad (again!). We went through a stage where we read a lot of those books at the same time and then discussed them.