An interesting piece in the New York Times today about “The Lost Art of Reading Aloud.”
It’s a compelling read, especially here:
Instead of making music at home, we listen to recordings of professional musicians. When people talk about the books they’ve heard, they’re often talking about the quality of the readers, who are usually professional. The way we listen to books has been de-socialized, stripped of context, which has the solitary virtue of being extremely convenient.
Perhaps the only place anyone reads aloud anymore is to their children. This is certainly true in my case. But I’ve made it a point to extend it longer than I think many people do. I read “Watership Down” to my oldest son when he was 10; we would read a chapter a night most nights. Skeptical at the outset, my son soon came to relish this before-bedtime ritual. My only regret is that we didn’t follow it up with more volumes.
And now I’m reading to my younger son Lloyd Alexander’s “The Book of Three.” Hardly the same league as “Watership Down,” but few things are. We’ve already blown through most of Roald Dahl’s works, as well as a few others I remember enjoying in my youth, like “Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy” and “A Cricket in Times Square.” It’s a special time for us, and has instilled in him a keen appreciation of the unique experience of immersion into a separate world through text, an appreciation I’m not sure most of his peers have acquired.
The result is that my son, who will go into first grade nexxt year, is supposedly reading at a third or fourth grade level. I think this says less about my son than it does the abysmal standards we’ve come to accept in the American educational system. And ourselves. Does this line from Throbbing Gristle describe your life, as it does those of too many people I love?
“This is the world now: Sit in a chair and pictures change.”
I love the technology that makes it possible for The Long Afternoon to record and disseminate our work worldwide, but the crucial step in that process is the work itself. Without the creation, there’s nothing to share. And this article’s point about most of us just sitting around listening to music, and not making it — just like we drive around listening to books, not reading them aloud — seems spot on to me.
It’s exactly the point I was trying to make in the song “Bother” from Signifying Nothing: It can be so easy to just sit around and enjoy the work of others. But that’s not enough. We have a cultural obligation to DO something; otherwise, why are we here? I don’t believe we were put here (exclusively, anyway) to suffer and die. But neither can I accept that we were put here to watch TV, or listen to records, or audiobooks, or otherwise just absorb the culture without interacting with it.
A bright note: One of my best friends, who recently celebrated the birth of his second son, read nightly to his beloved throughout her pregnancy. It was a great way to share not just the time, but the experience of some great literature as they waited for the new arrival. Would that I had been so tuned in when we were awaiting our own deliveries.