Monday, January 14, 2013

Read to me, please

I saw an article about how adults are flocking to hear stories read aloud at an art gallery. I got to thinking how I loved being read to as a child, how much I now love listening to audiobooks, and how we go to booksignings in part to hear the author read a scene. There’s some deep, primal connection to the ancient art of telling a story to others.

(Image source: Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Carl Mautz, cartes-de-visite photograph. Creative Commons license.)

One of my fondest memories, too, is reading poetry aloud with a friend in Ireland. We sat by a peat fire and read and read. It’s a sharing—give and receive—of images and human experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how stories are told, probably because I’m deep into rewrite of a fairy tale, which has changed quite a bit since its first version. And also because I’ve brought up the issue in some reviews recently on Goodreads.

There was a time when stories were mainly told by author-as-narrator. Today that sort of narrator is often considered old-fashioned, and many stories are told in close first person or third. This change propels us into the POV of the characters but deprives us of some of the bigger picture view of an authorly narrator.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way. Some stories are made richer with a narrator, others may be stronger without. I do know that I realize I’d be telling my fairy tale in very different ways, depending on which path I journey on.

Here are links to the article in The Guardian on reading aloud to adults and in The New York Times discussing the role of narrator.

Among books/authors where I settle in and really enjoy the narrator are Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST, Ursula Le Guin’s A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, Dianna Wynne Jones’s HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE.

Any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear them.


Bish Denham said...

I have such wonderful memories of my mother reading to me and my sister. When I was sick in the hospital for 9 days hubby read Oscar Wilde's fairy tales to me, and Winni-the-Pooh. Made my time there easier to stand.

Unknown said...

I can't listen to a story. I need to see the words or else my mind starts to wander (ADD). I'm always getting in trouble with my daughter when she reads to me for homework and I have no clue what she said, unless I'm reading along with her. :)

Donna said...

I love listening to a story, too. Right now I'm falling asleep to Clarissa Pinkola Estes' THE DANGEROUS OLD WOMAN: Myths & Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype. It's filled with delightful fairy tales told by this fine storyteller, mythologist and Jungian analyst.

Jemi Fraser said...

I love reading aloud to my students - it's one of my favourite parts of the day! There really is something magical about it!

Hannah said...

One of my fondest memories was of my third grade teacher reading to us. He read the entire Chronicles of Narnia to us. To this day, I feel like they should be read aloud.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Bish: OH! Your husband is a gem. How awesome that he read to you when you were ill. That comment made my day.

Stina: Well, that's a bummer, but it seems by your :) that you've learned to live with reading along when necessary. It certainly is two different ways of taking in the words.

Donna: That sounds pretty intriguing. I'll check it out.

Jemi: Teachers who read to their students are the best! For some kids it may be the only time anyone reads to them, and it is such an important part of developing imagination, I think.

Hannah: What a great teacher! And you point out how long-lasting that experience is. Thanks!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I don't listen to audio books any more, mainly because I did so in the car and now my daughter is old enough to follow the story. We listened to Harry Potter together, but the last audiobook I listened to before that was The Lovely Bones--definitely not kid friendly!

That said, one day I might pick another up. For now I struggle just to get 15 minutes of reading time in every night. I can't wait for summer vacation!

Wen Baragrey said...

I love being read to. In fact, most of what I read is in audiobook form these days, and to avoid eyestrain, I have a program that reads written words for me too, which I love. I do a lot of my own revisions and critiques for others using that program for the first read-through because I hear more in audio form.

One of the things I love is that when you read an audiobook, you never skim a word--because you can't. You get the whole thing.

I loved to listen to the BBC childrens' stories on the radio every Sunday morning when I was little, and I still tune in (online these days) for stories on BBC4 as well as audiobooks. I think there's something about being read to that touches on the best part of stories.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stephanie: Truth is, I love listening to MG stories on audiobook, so maybe you and your daughter could enjoy together!

Wen, yes! I so love children's stories on audio. I guess I remain, always and forever, a kid at heart. Have you ever listened to Neil Gaiman's The Wolves in the Walls? Love it.

Liza said...

I remember loving storytime at the public library. That said, I do better reading to myself. I tend to fall asleep with audiobook. Reading forces me to pay attention!

Faith Pray said...

Gail Carson Levine has done both first person and third person narrative in her middle grade fairy tales, and they still have a current feel to them. I'm doing a mix- third person narrative with first person diary entries in my WIP. What do you enjoy writing? It seems like your passion will make whatever it is relevant to your readers.

Sarah Laurence said...

I love this post!

Even before we had children, my husband used to read aloud to me, with his gorgeous Oxford British voice. We read Wind in the Willows and PG Wodehouse. Then he read Shakespeare aloud to our babies, who later became fans of the Bard. We read to our kids every night and now that they are teens, my daughter still joins us by the fire to read a classic story together. You never outgrow listening to a story.

Reading out loud is my favorite way to check my own writing too. Good literature has a rhythm that is meant to be heard as well as read.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sorry I haven't been responding, but I've been rewriting and I'm proud of that!

Liza: Ha! One of the reasons I listen to audiobooks is to quiet my mind to fall asleep. Although that can backfire if it's a scary story...

Faith: Kathleen Duey has mixed first and third, too. I love the sound of what you're working on!

Sarah: Oooooo, how romantic for your husband and you to read to each other. Love that! I will never outgrow wanting to listen. Ever.
And you're right about the rhythm--when it's good the story sings.