On Reading Aloud

I began reading to my daughter before she could talk. I’d sit her on my lap with the simplest of picture books and page through, describing what we were seeing, just to get her used to the routine. We worked our way up from there, reading chapter books to her while she was still in preschool. I always assumed that when she had progressed to reading on her own, she would tire of me reading to her.

She never did. I kept reading.

As she got older, some of the books I read aloud were her choice—books she was capable of reading to herself (Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl, among others, in the middle grades) but that she claimed she got more out of from hearing me read them. Other books I chose because they were slightly ahead of her reading level, or were ones I remembered from my own childhood and wanted to pass on.

In hindsight, it seems as if I read to her all the time: at bedtime, while Dad fixed dinner, in the car (Dad drove) on our weekly 45-minutes-one-way trips to my mother-in-law’s. Dad listened, too (he couldn’t avoid it, stuck in the car with us), and would get interested in the story, whatever it was, and started coming to sit on the end of her bed at bedtime so he wouldn’t miss out.

I kept on reading. Now, when she’s home from University, when I call out “story time,” my daughter comes and sits on the end of our bed with her needles and yarn, and knits while I read for 15 to 30 minutes. Then we say goodnight, turn out the lights, close the door, and go to sleep. She stays up for another hour or three, playing video games and chatting with her boyfriend.

When she’s not home, I read more adult fare to my husband.

Weird, eh?

Well, we are, but not just because I read out loud to the family. I thought we were the only ones that did that until a friend said she read to her adult family. (Thanks, Lisa!)

In the nearly two decades I’ve been reading aloud, I’ve read, among others:

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy (not including the appendicies!),
  • The Harry Potter canon,
  • More of Piers Anthony’s Xanth books than was probably healthy,
  • Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (loved The Golden Compass, didn’t love the others),
  • A hefty assortment of Edward Eager, Bertrand Brinley, Hugh Lofting, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, Christopher Stasheff, Mary Stewart, Ellis Peters, Mercedes Lackey, Randall Garrrett, Louisa May Alcott, Rick Riordan, Eoin Colfer, …
  • And, naturally, multiple drafts of the stories I’m working on.

The stories we’ve read—both good and bad—have been jumping off points for long discussions of religion, ethics, science, history, politics, sex, philosophy. You name it, we’ve probably touched on it. And regularly laughed ourselves silly. As a mechanism for family bonding, and passing on our family’s values, it’s hard to imagine anything that could have been more effective.

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