Reading: A solitary pleasure?
At the end of this month a book is being published by Chatto & Windus called A Little Aloud: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry for Reading Aloud to Someone You Care For.
The blurb on the inside cover suggests a list of people you might consider reading aloud to: your partner, an elderly relative, a sick parent or child. Frankly I can only see a mixture of dismay and disgust upon the face of any of the above should I hove around the corner, book in hand, reciting lustily for their benefit.
After the age of eight or so reading becomes a solitary pleasure. A chance to escape into another world or to have a thought articulated in such a way that the author instantly becomes someone with whom you assume great affinity.
Television, music, theatre and movies tend to be improved by the shared experience. Books and art are generally ill served by participation en masse.
At least that is what I had always thought, but this book is making me re-evaluate my position on the subject. The publisher is donating all royalties from the book to the Reader Organisation, a charity that promotes reading aloud for the good of your health.
They advance the argument that hearing stories read aloud can aid recuperation, improve mental health and bring great literature to sections of society who have hitherto found it inaccessible.
They promote their aims well enough on their website (although the blog about Milo the cat seemed erroneous), but it is in the book that their theories on reading aloud start to persuade. At the end of each short thematic section there is a brief entry called Reading Notes.
These are not, as you might imagine, useful academic pointers elucidating on the just-read texts, but recorded comments from discussions that have taken place after a reading-aloud session overseen by The Reader Group.
The comments do not provide any great insights into the stories and poems, but they do give a sense of the work of The Reader Group. Some comments are naive, others amusing, but all are heartfelt. The groups, captivated by the literature, were having a good time.
A much better time in fact, as I have been led to believe, than many who attend book groups. The main complaint I hear from friends who are members of book groups is that nobody ever wants to discuss the set book. Instead they want to talk about schools, or houses or how long it took to reduce the delicious tomato and basil sauce being served. Or worse; the group is dominated by some self-appointed literary critic who bores and bullies in equal measure.
Maybe it would be better then to have a reading group, where the host chooses the book / poem, reads a passage out and then chairs a conversation? At the end of the year the group could publish an anthology of everything they have read to each other and post it on the net for friends to share.
If their selections were anywhere near as good as those chosen by Angela Macmillan for A little Aloud - Chekhov, Lessing, Heaney, Dickens - then their friends would be in for a very pleasant surprise.
Now, is everyone sitting comfortably?