In Praise of the Lost, Intimate Art of Reading Aloud

Parents have long read to kids, but there's power as well in adults reading to adults.

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Julius LeBlanc Stewart / Bearded Roman

Lauren Leto's new book is a love letter and a hodgepodge. The love letter is directed at reading, and the hodgepodge encompasses, well, lots: Judging A Book By Its Lover features cheat sheets on how to sound like you've read Tolstoy and how to write like Didion, tweet-length reviews of celebrity memoirs, musings on how The Berenstain Bears or Madeline will screw a child up for life, an argument that the term "bookworm" should be replaced by "bookcats," and a guide to the words you'll find in book reviews (Morose! Laconic! Indelible! Bingo!).

And then there are Leto's affectionate essays on the art of reading and its role in shaping our identities and our world. She tells us how to hook up with someone you meet in the bookstore, and about how a love of reading feeds a love of words, debate, and conversation—all very important things in a romantic relationship, she says. But there's one kind of reading that I was sorry to see go unmentioned in Judging A Book By Its Lover: reading aloud.

When I was a kid, I was read to a lot. My parents used to read to my sister and I while we were in the bath. The rules were simple. We were grown-up enough to wash ourselves, but if we stopped washing, they would stop reading. This led to a very stop-start sort of storytelling: My sister and I would get too engrossed in the book and forget what we were meant to be doing. To this day, when my mother abruptly stops talking in mid-sentence because I'm checking my phone, or my dad falls silent because I'm biting my nails, I remember those disjointed and wildly inefficient baths.

The last time I was read aloud to as a child was at age nine, when my teacher recited the beginning of The Hobbit to a classroom full of fidgety fifth graders. My best friend loved it and went home to read the book for herself, but the seemingly endless description of the Shire bored me. After that, there was no more reading aloud. As my friend demonstrated, we were advanced enough to read for ourselves, and we were being assigned books that were far too long for teachers to read to us.

It wasn't until years later that I rediscovered the joy of being read to, this time in bed instead of in the bath. I was dating a towering nerd of a man, the kind of guy who got as excited as I did about a road trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky or as appalled by the travesty that is Shakespeare conspiracy theories.

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Chloe Angyal is a freelance writer and an editor at Feministing. She is currently working on a book about romantic comedies.

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