Reading out loud (to adults)


After visiting Dinosaur National Park in Utah sometime in 1997, Ralf and I were making our way back up to Seattle through Wyoming and Montana, which meant a lot of driving. Generally I am not fond of idle chatter, but eight hours of silence in a car is too much even for a Finn.


It probably started with me leafing through the book we’d just bought (Hunting Dinosaurs by Louis Psihoyos) while Ralf was driving, finding something interesting and saying “hey, listen to this…” and before long I found myself reading the entire book out loud to him in the car. 


It would take almost ten years before I read out loud to him again. We had just moved into our first (new) house and Ralf hadn’t started working on the home theatre yet. We don’t own a TV, so one night I opened up a new book on the coffee table and started reading out loud to Ralf who was stretched out on the other sofa. By the third page I noticed that his breathing sounded different – like that of a person sound asleep. But a couple of evenings later, I started again on page one and somehow ended up reading the entire novel out loud to him in the evenings after the kids were in bed. It must have taken us three months to finish it - all 998 pages of Der Schwarm by Frank Schätzing. (The Swarm. A Novel of the Deep in English). 


Last March we were in Lapland and since I had booked our trip too late, we did not get a place in the night train on our return trip and had to drive the 1000 km back from Jerisjärvi to Helsinki. Then there is the 26 hour boat trip between Helsinki and Travemünde in both directions. So, since Ralf had never read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, I thought he should hear the story at least once before we watched the movie. Our teenage boys listened as well, actually taking out their earphones and turning off their music to hear about Bilbo’s adventures, even though they already knew the story. The last chapters had to be finished at home after the trip, and I have to admit that this is one of my favourite images of my family – all clustered together in the living room after dinner or a Sunday afternoon, listening to a story… (It’s such a rare thing these days.) 


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon is another one read out loud. I remembered having had read it many years ago and enjoying it. Max had won the book as part of the Bundeswettbewerb für Fremdsprachen (Foreign Language Competition) and on our way back from the competition I read the cover text out loud, causing Max to say he refused to read a book that starts off with a dog being killed. I flipped through the first few pages and informed him that the dog was a poodle, so it didn’t sound quite as awful anymore. Had the dog been a Labrador or a Husky, the book wouldn’t have stood a chance with my younger son. To prove that it was a good story, I began reading it out loud and between Uelzen and Buchholz, we made it all the way to chapter 53. Yes, that far, really. The chapters are numbered by prime numbers making the last chapter of the book number 233! Needless to say, I had to finish reading this one to Ralf too. He was fascinated by the main character, Christopher, because the story made him understand how an autistic thinks. And Max continued reading the book on his own as well.

Despite the abundance of audio books available these days, it is quite different to hear someone next to you read out loud than to hear it on tape. Nobody in our family has ever been interested in audio books (all right, so I WAS the audio book for years...) I tried listening to some a few times while ironing, but found myself drifting off in my own thoughts over and over again.




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