In an endeavour to rediscover the lost art of reading aloud, several UCL Publishing students attended ‘A Night of Reading Aloud’ at Waterstones Gower Street, led by Francesco Dimitri, the author of To Read Aloud. His new book is a curated collection of excerpts from well known (and some lesser known) books that are designed to be read aloud. They are categorised thematically through experiences such as change, pleasure, loss, love and wonder. In becoming the reader, or the listener, you are challenged to remain completely in the present, focusing solely on the words.
The evening started with a little history. Whilst we now consider reading aloud as an activity for a child’s bedtime, it only went out of fashion in the twentieth century. It was so popular with Cuban miners in the nineteenth century that they would pay to have a lector during their working hours! The room was set up in a speed-dating format, and we were told that if we didn’t sit with a stranger we would be moved (gulp). There were three rounds, each one consisting of a reader and a listener. The first was a warm-up round, with an extract under seven minutes. The second was slightly longer, and the listener got to choose their extract this time. The third round was much like the second, except the listener had to wear a blindfold.
The evening was not only interesting, but also surprisingly insightful. Reading is, of course, nothing new to us. Yet reading aloud introduced several new elements. Firstly, it forces a busy mind to stop and simply be present (simultaneously reading and thinking is just not possible. I tried!). As a reader, it was odd to hear my voice shape words in to existence for the sole purpose that this stranger would listen. As a listener, I focused less on their voice and more on shaping the words to form a picture in my head. I had one chance to fully grasp this; there were no pages to look back on to remind myself of crucial details.
Yet perhaps the most surprising part of the evening was that Francesco was right: reading aloud formed a connection with a stranger that completely bypassed any formalities. I talked to my partners about ambitions, politics and their grandchildren without hesitation.
I, for one, am behind this quiet revolution to re-introduce reading aloud to adults as normal once again.