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Monday, 26 October 2009

Reading Out Loud

Is there anyone else out there that reads whole books out loud? Is it really an activity for grown-ups?

Well, my partner and I have taken to doing this, and it is a great way to share a story. The tricky part is finding something you will both enjoy and are both willing to invest the time in, as reading aloud to someone else is slower than solo reading. But the rewards for a writer are that you develop a sense of hearing how the story flows, finding out what sort of language really triggers the imagination. You become more aware of the sound and texture of the language, and less concerned with writerly devices.

Reading it yourself is much more active than listening to a "talking book" as you have to make your own decisions on tone of voice, pauses, and dramatic interpretation.

We have had one disaster - we read Ben Okri's Starbook, which had rave reviews and started out with us both loving the language. But unfortunately it seemed to be all writing and no substance, and very repetitive and dull when it was read aloud, and we had to force ourselves through gritted teeth to read to the end.

Much more enjoyable were Lindsay Clarke's two books about Troy, The War at Troy and Return from Troy which despite their weight were gripping, readable, and balanced when read out loud. Once we had read the first, then we had to have the second one, and it did not disappoint - a cast of Gods, heroes and ordinary mortals against the seething background of the ancient world. Excellent. Historical novels where the history does not outweigh the plot. (Though we did have varying pronunciations of all the names ...)We followed this up with his Celtic Romance, "Parzival and the Stone from Heaven" - much shorter, more like a snack than a meal.

Anxious to avoid disappointment, and hooked on the ancient world of Greece and Rome, we then plumped for "The Bull from the Sea" by Mary Renault. This was superb, and had us both in emotional knots by the end of the book. So much so that we were both really sad to see the last page. The prequel to that, "The King must Die" is also a great read.

We have another Mary Renault lined up, but that seems a little bit safe. And wouldn't it be nice to live dangerously sitting on our sofa at home.

So - if there is anyone out there who can recommend suitable reading aloud books, it would be great to have some suggestions. Although we seem to have been lodged in the classical world, we are ready to try new horizons. Any suggestions?


  1. I dunno, it's pretty hard to improve on Mary Renault.

    Although Patrick O'Brian is a joy to read out loud. I sometimes insist on doing so when I come across a passage that particularly pleases me.

    Probably the best book to read out loud is Carrie Fisher's "Wishful Drinking." It is adapted from her one-woman show, so it has a natural cadence, and is hilarious.

  2. I think you might like Philippe Petit's 'To reach the Clouds' (Man on Wire), the book of the film. It's very French, poetic and amazing.

  3. Thanks David and Lyn for your suggestions, I'll be following them up - something hilarious and something poetic - great diet!