How Reading Aloud Can Be An Act Of Seduction

How Reading Aloud Can Be An Act Of Seduction
LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Reading aloud is an activity that we associate with the cosy comfort of children’s bedtime stories. Certainly, children’s classics from The Gruffalo to the Alice books are produced knowing that when they come to be read, the chances are that an older person will be reading them aloud to a younger one.

The extensive benefits of reading aloud to children are well documented. Researchers have found that toddlers who are read to become children who are “more likely to enjoy strong relationships, sharper focus, and greater emotional resilience and self-mastery”.

Unsurprisingly, then, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud to children. It’s even used by sociologists as one of the most important indicators of life prospects.

But if reading aloud is so good for us, why has it become primarily the preserve of childhood?

How silent reading took over

Of course it wasn’t always this way. As Meghan Cox Gurdon, the Wall Street Journal’s Children’s book critic, points out, since the advent of the written word until the 10th century, “to read at all was to read aloud”.

Even after silent reading became more common, it co-existed with what English Literature professor Abigail Williams refers to as “communal” and “social” forms of reading well into the 19th century. Only when the voices of mass media entered the home through radio and TV sets did reading as a shared public activity between consenting adults specifically start to wane.

How Reading Aloud Can Be An Act Of SeductionChildren aren’t the only ones who benefit from being read to. Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

But as books themselves reveal, reading aloud could be more than merely sociable. It can be deeply seductive, forging intimate as well as communal bonds.

Azar Nafisi’s memoir about life as a woman and as a literature teacher in post-revolutionary Iran, Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), features students Manna and Nima, who “had fallen in love in large part because of their common interest in literature”. If a love of literature draws this couple together, it’s reading it aloud that cements their relationship. The words they read aloud conjure a safe space from the difficulties of their word.

Likewise, in Mansfield Park (1814), Jane Austen uses reading aloud as a highly charged turning point in the relationship between protagonist Fanny Price and her recently declared suitor, Henry Crawford. When Henry reads aloud to the gathered assembly, his skill and sensitivity is such that Fanny is forced to sit up and listen despite herself.

Her needlework, upon which she determinedly focuses all her attention at first, eventually drops into her lap “and at last … the eyes which had appeared so studiously to avoid him throughout the day were turned and fixed on Crawford, fixed on him for minutes, fixed on him in short till the attraction drew Crawford’s upon her, and the book was closed, and the charm was broken.”

This insistent repetition makes for fairly steamy stuff in the Regency drawing room.

Reading as seduction

Elsewhere, reading aloud goes beyond such (ultimately unsuccessful) wooing. Spoiler alert: Crawford scuppers his chance with Fanny and runs away with her (already married) cousin (gasp!).

In Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader (1997), reading aloud underpins the relationship between the narrator, Michael, and his much older lover, Hanna – played in the 2008 film adaptation by David Kross/Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet.

Whether to keep Michael on track, or out of pure self-interest, Hanna insists that Michael read to her before they make love. Only much later do Michael and the reader discover that Hanna has two secrets (spoiler alert): she is a former concentration camp guard and she is illiterate.

Here, reading aloud is not just the warm-up act but an integral part of an intimate “ritual of reading, showering, making love and lying beside each other”. Reading unites these two very different individuals both physically and emotionally. Much later, when Hanna is imprisoned for war crimes, Michael continues to read to her from a distance; the taped recordings he sends ultimately allowing her to learn to read herself.

The unhappy fates of some of these relationships show that reading aloud is not a one-way ticket to the happily ever after. But these scenes do reveal its deep sensuality. According to Gurdon, the Wall Street Journal’s Children’s book critic, “there is incredible power in this fugitive exchange”.

Gurdon also suggests that reading aloud “has an amazing capacity to draw us closer to one another” both figuratively and literally. Where solitary reading drives us into ourselves – producing the cliched image of the couple reading their own books in bed before rolling over and turning out the light - reading aloud is a shared experience.

Reading aloud takes longer, but that is part of the point. Slow reading is sensuous reading. As opposed to the audiobooks now so firmly a part of the cultural landscape, for adults as well as children, reading aloud is responsive, intuitive and embodied.

The reader is also an observer, who adapts gestures, facial expressions and intonation in response to cues. Listeners observe too of course, their attention centred on the person before or alongside them.

With conversation petering out after months of lockdown and no restaurants, museums and cinemas to go to for some time yet, it’s worth remembering that learning and romance are still to be found under the (book) covers … as long as we read the words aloud.The Conversation

About The Author

Kiera Vaclavik, Professor of Children's Literature & Childhood Culture, Queen Mary University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfifrdehiiditjakomsnofaptruessvtrvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Marie T. Russell's Daily Inspiration

INNERSELF VOICES

What Does Our Authority Rest Upon?
Transitioning from Authoritarian "Outer" Authority to Spiritual "Inner" Authority
by Pierre Pradervand
For thousands of years, ever since mankind started settling in cities, we evolved in rigid,…
The Birthing of A New World Which Is Struggling to be Born
The Birthing of A New World Which Is Struggling to be Born
by Ervin Laszlo
Talk of fundamental change in the world around us is often met with skepticism. Change in society,…
Win the Battle In Your Head: Perspective Matters
Win the Battle In Your Head: Perspective Matters
by Peter Ruppert
We all experience positive and negative self-talk on a regular basis. Whether you realize it or…
Horoscope Current Week: April 19 - 25, 2021
Horoscope Current Week: April 19 - 25, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
If You’ve Contracted COVID: Healing and Moving Forward
If You’ve Contracted COVID: Healing and Moving Forward
by Stacee L. Reicherzer PhD
If you’ve contracted COVID, you not only had health problems that may have been life-threatening,…
Awakening to the Dream of the Earth and Loving the World
Awakening to the Dream of the Earth and Loving the World
by Bill Plotkin, Ph.D.
The most important question is not how to survive biodiversity loss, climate disruption, ecological…
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career 
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career
by Paula Caligiuri, Ph.D.
Even if your tolerance of ambiguity is lower, there are proven ways to build this important…
How To Use Family Stories To Build Young People's Resilience
How To Use Family Stories To Build Young People's Resilience
by Mary J. Cronin, Ph.D.
One approach that addresses the challenges families face today comes down to a familiar but often…

MOST READ

Is Your Bedroom Sacred?
Is Your Bedroom Sacred? Honoring Your Personal Sanctuary
by Jon Robertson
The bedroom is home to our prayers and dreams, our solitude and sexuality. In this inner sanctum,…
Age of Pisces to Age of Aquarius
Transitioning from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius
by Ray Grasse
The Age of Aries brought an awakening of the outwardly directed ego, but the more feminine Piscean…
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career 
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career
by Paula Caligiuri, Ph.D.
Even if your tolerance of ambiguity is lower, there are proven ways to build this important…
3 Ways Music Educators Can Help Students With Autism Develop Their Emotions
3 Ways Music Educators Can Help Students With Autism Develop Their Emotions
by Dawn R. Mitchell White, University of South Florida
Many children with autism struggle to find the words to express how they feel. But when it comes to…
Domestic Violence: Calls For Help Have Increased – But The Answers Haven't Gotten Any Easier
Domestic Violence: Calls For Help Have Increased – But The Answers Haven't Gotten Any Easier
by Tara N. Richards and Justin Nix, University of Nebraska Omaha
Experts expected the increase in domestic violence victims seeking help last year (2020). Victims…
At What Age Are People Usually Happiest? New Research Offers Surprising Clues
At What Age Are People Usually Happiest? New Research Offers Surprising Clues
by Clare Mehta, Emmanuel College
If you could be one age for the rest of your life, what would it be? Would you choose to be nine…
Viking DNA And The Pitfalls Of Genetic Ancestry Tests
Viking DNA and The Pitfalls of Genetic Ancestry Tests
by Anna Källén, Stockholm University and Daniel Strand, Uppsala University
According to recent estimates, over 26 million people from across the world have purchased a…
How Reactivating Traumatic Memories Could Reduce Their Impact
How Reactivating Traumatic Memories Could Reduce Their Impact
by Caitlin Clark, Texas AM
Researchers could be a step closer to finding a way to reduce the impact of traumatic memories,…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.