Reading Out Loud

June 23rd, 2022

I love reading to my daughters. They love being read to. The problem is that we have different tastes in bedtime books. Currently, Eliza is really into the Dory Fantasmagory series (I enjoyed the first four or five read-throughs) and Phoebe is into graphic novels about unicorns, which are not so much fun to read out loud. 

Every once in a great while I get to pick the book, and my preference is weird quirky quasi-religious old-timey fantasy type stuff: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland.

Recently we came across the book that inspired the awesome Miyazaki animation The Secret World of Arrietty: The Borrowers. It’s about a mythical class of tiny humans that lives inside of certain quiet houses, tucked away in the countryside, where people live by a predictable routine and the tiny Borrowers can pilfer what they need to live their lives under the floorboards and inside the walls. You know the type — a matchbook for dresser drawers, a knitting pin for a sword, that kind of thing. The Borrowers are practical albeit feisty little things.

These kinds of classic children’s books are sheer escapism for me, right down to the old-fashioned vocabularies they often employ. For some reason, a lot of these books are based in England and include copious olden-days English jargon. Sometimes I’ll be reading along, trying to decipher by context clues what a “sledge” is (apparently what they call a sleigh in Narnia), and it will occur to me that my daughters have no idea whatsoever what I am talking about. I’m honestly reading to myself.

That’s actually not that weird for me, and if I can get them to be quiet while I indulge myself, I win. Long before I had kids, when I lived alone in a tiny cottage in Mill Valley, I used to read to myself at night all the time. Reading out loud helps me slow down so I absorb the story better. Also, I love the sound of words. I still tend to read out loud a lot while I’m working, too. It helps me parse my thoughts. This is why I have to work alone. 

Sometimes, my kids are so rambunctious at bedtime that I become exhausted and sit down on the floor and start reading in hopes they’ll overhear me, get completely curious about the story, and settle down. That never works, but I do get a fair amount of reading done that way. In truth, one of the best things about being a mom, for a writer, is getting to relive the magical books of my childhood, and get around to reading the ones I somehow never did. 


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