Will You Read Me a Story?

When I was a child, my mom used to take me to Story Hour at our local library. At Story Hour, one of the librarians would read one book out loud, slowly and deliberately. She would complete one page then open the book toward us so that we could see the illustrations. She had a great reading voice – pausing and creating inflection where appropriate.

Like most people, I don’t remember very many things about my childhood, but I absolutely do remember Story Hour.

These days, one of the greatest pleasures I can imagine is having someone read a story to me. But I’m rather picky. I can’t stand when people read in a monotone voice or stumble on words, unsure of pronunciation. The reader must know how to use punctuation as a guide. And, above all, the person has to read in such a way that demonstrates his or her respect for the written word.

For this reason, I like to attend literary readings where authors read their work. The annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs is a great place to see literary readings. Listening to a writer read work can provide a lot of insight into the way he or she imagined the reader would interpret the work. Listening to a writer, you may think, Oh, the dialogue was supposed to sound this way?. Just as you may misinterpret the meaning and tone of a text message from your friend, you may be hearing words incorrectly (or just differently?) in your head.

In some cases, the reader can make the writing sound better than it actually is. I remember attending a reading in college (the writer’s name escapes me), and I was so charmed by the way she read her short story that I bought the book immediately after the reading. I even asked her to sign my book, admitting how impressed I had been with her use of humor. Later, when I read the same story on my own, I couldn’t find the same excitement in it – why had I liked it so much? The writing wasn’t that impressive.

A bad reader can also make the writing sound worse than it is. Not all writers are meant to read their work out loud, which is why they’re writers, not public speakers. But a good writer who is also a good reader is something of a bonus.

I like listening to people tell stories so much that it sometimes makes me seem socially awkward. I can become so totally enraptured by a friend or acquaintance who’s telling me a story that I forget I’m part of a conversation. I am so fascinated that I forget I will eventually have to say something. I could sit for hours listening to people I like tell me interesting stories.

Do I like listening to stories because it reminds me of my childhood? In a way, probably. But there is an inherent pleasure in listening to well-written prose – it should be musical, more controlled and varied than common speech.

(Photo by edenpictures)

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