Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why Would You Read Aloud?

ZMKC notices an account persons reading aloud, and wonders whether the custom has lapsed. Probably it has, but why did it have such a long run? I can think of a number of cases where it makes sense
  1. The audience cannot read.
  2. The audience can read, but is occupied in work that leaves enough attention free for listening to what is read.
  3. The audience can read, but there is light enough for only one reader.
  4. The reader is accustomed to reading to others, perhaps in a liturgical setting, and the audience is accustomed to its role.
  5. Reader and audience simply enjoy one another's company.
  6. The reader and the audience particularly enjoy words, and this offers a chance to reflect on the work read, and to share their impressions of it.
Case 1 may be the most common now, as parents read to small children. In the ages before widespread schooling it must also have been the most common.

The classic example of case 2 is the cigar factory.: at one time, when cigars were hand rolled in the factories, the factories would employ someone to read to the cigar rollers. This case has largely been overtaken by radio or by personal audio devices. I remember spending a day in a warehouse where young men assembled computers, where the radio was going constantly. Now maybe they'd have earbuds in.

Jane Austen's family probably combined cases 2 through 4, maybe 5. Or if it takes as much light to embroider as to read, perhaps we can leave out case 3.

Case 5 pure and simple might be Paolo and Francesca. Does anyone read to seduce now?

Case 6 is probably in all times the rarest. I believe it covers the cases that ZMKC cites. Most people who read take small notice of how the words and the sentences work together, just as most of us who live in brick houses couldn't tell you whether the bricks were laid in Flemish bond or otherwise.


  1. Does anyone else feel that poetry should be read out loud.

    Much more enjoyable (to me) than poetry on the printed page.

  2. Outside of the classroom, I've seldom heard it read aloud. But when I'm reading it, I always hear it with the mind's ear. In fact, it's hard for me to imagine reading it any other way than with the words sounding, aloud or imagined.

    Some years ago on NPR I heard a snippet of a recording of Theodore Roethke reading "My Papa's Waltz". I remember that he emphasized the stresses more and paused longer at the line endings than I'd have supposed.