If asked to describe my relationship with other half I wouldn’t say we’re overly bothered by your stereotypical notion of romance. We don’t celebrate anniversaries, Valentine’s Day passes us by and our first New Year’s Eve together we were tucked up in bed by 10pm and have yet to spend another together. But as they say it’s the little things that make the difference and let you know someone loves you. When I get in from my cycling commute, if he’s home, there is a glass of juice on the table for me and a bath run. We give ourselves enough time in the morning to have cuddles before going to work and recently we’ve turned off the TV and started taking the time to read to each other.
We first started reading to each other by pure chance. We were away at his father’s for the weekend and he hadn’t brought a book, I was just starting a new one, or an old one depending on how you look at it, The 39 Steps. I asked jokingly, “do you want me to read aloud to you so you can join in too”, he said yes, and there started one of our loveliest activities we do together. We’ve both agreed to take turns, the reader gets to choose the book and it must be one they’ve read before and want to share with the other. He’s currently reading The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth to me and my next book will be Wuthering Heights.
There are many things I have grown to love about our new pastime. Anyone who has read previous posts by me will know that I’m quite passionate about what a book can say about the person who loves and cherishes it. Reading our favourite books to each other is about sharing a part of ourselves. It’s also about being vulnerable, he could hate the book I read, I could be bored senseless by his choices but you take the risk because your desire that they too love that book is greater than the fear of rejection. Having the choice of book taken out of my hands is opening my eyes to new books. I would never have chosen to read The Day of the Jackal, the chapters are long, the book incredibly descriptive and detailed and between you and me I wasn’t sure at first if it was fact or fiction (don’t tell the other half). And yet, being able to sit back and just listen something changes, the chapters are all too often over too quickly, I’m eager for the story to develop and disappointed when I realise conflicting work schedules mean we won’t get any reading time at the weekend. Another joy for me but I think annoyance for my other half is that I can ask the questions in my head out loud to someone. I’ve realised I’m terrible at this, trying to second guess the story, piece parts together and pre-empt the surprises and twists in the plot.
There are some down sides to being read to. You move forward at the pace of the reader, if they’re tired and don’t feel like reading then it’s another night without your fix. It’s incredibly soothing which means if we’re in bed I’m going to be fast asleep before he’s finished the first sentence – oh how he loves recapping for me! Voices, accents, characters to do or not to do? We agreed not to do voices, a comedy French accent is probably not best placed when reading about an assassination plot. I think it would probably end up a bit too much like ‘Allo ’Allo! Maybe we’ll save the characterisation for future years when we’re reading to our children.
As I’ve been writing this I’ve been trying to think what is the essence of being read to, what is it that makes it so special? As children we’re read to because we can’t grasp all the words and the process helps stimulate our developing senses and builds our listening and memory skills. We progress to reading with someone developing our language and literacy skills, learning new things together, bonding over an adventure. In school we continue to develop our knowledge of words and comprehension of their meanings and spellings through reading aloud in class. And then for no reason we stop it being a shared experience and begin to read alone.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying every book you read should be read aloud either by yourself or someone reading it to you. For starters it would make commuting more hellish than it already is and probably one of two librarians wouldn’t be too happy with me. But, I do think if you want to bring a new dimension to your reading experience, if you want to share something special with someone then think about reading together and don’t just wait till you have children do it now and you’ll realise what I have…
Being read to or reading to someone is an amazing experience because that’s how stories are meant to be told. How did stories start, with story tellers, it was an oral tradition. People sat around listening to a tale unravel. The magic of not knowing what is to come. Experiencing someone else’s tone, inclination, timing can completely change a story. My other half isn’t just reading me his favourite book, he’s reading me his favourite book how he sees it. It is his tale to share by the fire.
In writing this piece I came across an article in The New Yorker by John Colapinto which echoes my point above. Although Colapinto focuses on professional audiobooks I think the sentiment translates to home reading.