28 November 2006

In praise of reading aloud

Recently, I found myself thinking about my tendency to read aloud. When the opportunity arises, I read aloud for enjoyment. But I also read aloud while reading the Bible, praying with a prayer book or working on my novel. Increasingly, I even find myself reading aloud when editing or proofreading.

This flies in the face of years of conditioning to believe in the superiority of silent reading. The moral superiority of silent reading is drummed into us from our schooldays onwards – the silent pupil is the good pupil, the silent reader is the good library user. Its intellectual superiority is reinforced by all those jokes about people’s lips moving. And its practical superiority is extolled by any number of books on effective studying, which equate efficient reading with fast reading and fast reading with silent reading.

Reading aloud is, of course, a slower way of reading. And, for me, that is its chief virtue. It creates a reading experience that is quite different from fast reading. It forces me to slow down sufficiently to give every bit of the text the attention it deserves. By helping me resist the temptation to skim over the text – a temptation created by too many years in academia – slow reading helps me to get more out of the text.

I find myself with a strange ally in defence of slow reading. According to Friedrich Nietzsche:
let us say it slowly . . . we are friends of the lento, I and my book. I have not been a philologist in vain – perhaps I am one yet: a teacher of slow reading. . . . Philology itself, perhaps, will not ‘get things done’ so hurriedly: it teaches how to read well: i.e. slowly, profoundly, attentively, prudently, with inner thoughts, with the mental doors ajar, with delicate fingers and eyes (from the preface to Daybreak)

No comments: