I think one of my fondest pleasures as a child, besides skipping and playing marbles, was being read to at bedtime. Or any time, really. My brother and sisters and I were all read aloud to as children. Mum and I still chuckle about reading Heidi at bedtime when I was little. How when we read the part about Heidi and her grandfather toasting the thick bread and goat’s cheese on the fire, we’d both be so hungry we’d have to get up to have a snack.
And speaking of grandfathers, that’s my stepfather, below, reading to my sister’s daughter Elisabeth. Elisabeth looks very intent on the book, doesn’t she? I love those little pigtails.
Being read to is still a pleasure for me. But these days it’s more likely to take the form of audiobooks. As I’ve said before on the blog, listening to books keeps me doing many things I know I should be doing, but probably wouldn’t if I couldn’t listen to a good book at the same time. Like housework, or sitting on my exercise bike, or walking the trail on my own. In fact, there are days when I don’t encourage Hubby to accompany me on my walk because I secretly want to listen to my book.
One pleasure I am currently enjoying is listening to books I know and love, and have loved for years. In the past I’ve listened to favourite mystery books. Books like Agatha Christie’s Poirot or Colin Dexter’s Morse. Who can resist Poirot read by Hugh Fraser who plays Hastings, or Morse read by Kevin Whately who is Sergeant Lewis in the television series? Not me, my friends.
A few months ago I branched out, and started to listen to cherished books that were not mysteries. I began with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility read by Rosamund Pike. I spent twenty-two hours happily immersed in Jane Austen’s world. Sigh. Rosamund Pike’s wonderful narration brings the familiar stories to life. If you’ve ever tried to listen to an audiobook where the narrator is too shrill, or unintelligible, or takes loud gulps of air, or simply speaks the words without actually making the characters live, you’ll know how important the reader is. I listen to a preview of each book before I buy anything. In fact, I’ve jettisoned books because I knew I couldn’t stand to listen to the narrator’s voice for one hour, let alone eleven.
Here’s a lovely little video I found on YouTube, of Rosamund Pike talking about her narration of Jane Austen’s works. Have a listen.
This week, based on the recommendation of Denise in a previous post, I’m listening to Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. Oh, my. It is simply the best. And narrated by someone called Jayne Entwistle. How perfect is that? Like Denise, I find I am revelling in Pym’s use of language. The quiet but perceptive observations of her main character Mildren Lathbury seem so much more pointed when read at exactly the correct pace, and in just the right tone of voice. I’ve found myself laughing out loud, which I never did when I read the book myself. I smiled a lot, but I never laughed out loud.
In particular, I’m enjoying characters which I must have given short shrift to before because I didn’t even remember them. Characters like Sister Blatt, a large woman who, in her flowing dresses on her old-fashioned upright bicycle, makes Mildred think of a “ship in full sail”. Ha. I loved that. And when the vicar throws open the doors of the church jumble sale, and the customers rush in, Sister Blatt says it must be what storming the beaches of Normandy was like. Pym is so droll and witty. I’m falling in love with Excellent Women all over again. And Entwistle (besides having the perfect name for reading a Pym novel) is a wonderful narrator.
When I’ve finished Excellent Women, I think I will look for other audio versions of cherished favourites. I anticipate that spring will be a season with lots and lots of solitary walking, folks. I’ll let you know how I get on.
We all know the value of reading to our children, parents and teachers alike. As a teacher I loved to read to my students, despite the fact they were teenagers. I read the first couple of chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird out loud to so many grade nine classes, I’m sure I know it by heart.
When I was in grade three in the sixties, we had a young teacher who devised all kinds of exciting and new activities for us. In one of them, I remember, we formed reading groups of three of four and took turns reading to each other. We loved it. No more painful reading out loud to the whole class for children who stumbled over words and could barely wait until the torture was over. Reading to three other classmates was much less terrifying. And for those of us who loved to read out loud, we had many more turns than if we read to the whole class. Funnily enough, according to my mum, the parents who showed up on “Parent’s Day” to observe their child’s classes were scandalised at such a loud and unruly class. Ha. Student engagement not being a thing back then.
Reading to someone, or being read to, is one of life’s small pleasures, I think. I recently read an article about a program called Book Buddies run by the Berks Animal Rescue League in Berks County, Pennsylvania. School age children read to rescue cats. Apparently the sound of the human voice is soothing for the cats, and the children improve their reading skills. How cool is that, eh?
The program in Pennsylvania started in 2014 and has caught on all over the place on both sides of the border. I can imagine the cats feel nurtured by the children, and vice versa. Like the boy and the very serious looking cat below. Parents have said that the reading program has given their children more confidence with their reading. And I think that probably quite a few rescue cats have found new homes this way.
I know I’d be hard pressed to go home without my reading buddy. After all, the only thing better than reading or listening to a good book is doing so with a purring cat on your lap.
Unless you’re an avowed dog person, that is.
How about you my bookish buddies, did your parents read to you as a child? Is it still one of your small pleasures?