Small Pleasures

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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.

Man reading to small girl who is very intent on the book.
Reading with Grampy.
Photo courtesy of Connie Lagerlof.

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.

child reading to a black and white cat.
And then what happened? source

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?

Linking up with #ShareAllLinkUp at Not Dressed as Lamb, and Thursday Favourite Things at Marilyn’s Treats.

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41 thoughts on “Small Pleasures”

  1. It is one of my favourite memories and the way how I’ve learned to read myself,listening to favourite picture books over and over again and the connecting the letters afterwards
    I’ve read a lot to my cousins and my son-it was always double pleasure and such a joy to share my favourite children books-and I love the genre so much even today-with them!
    And Heidi….the sound of fir trees and melted golden cheese…….
    I’m so sorry I didn’t read to my cat 🙂 (what a great idea,for the children and the cats),but I’ve read aloud to myself aloud ( The Milkman recently,it was much better,and Renato Baretic’s-our writer- The Eight Commissary,there is a film,too-the book is translated only in German,written mostly in fictive island dialect)
    I have to try to listen to audio books
    Lovely photo
    Dottoressa

    1. I remember my nephew announcing to my sister he could read, at age 3 or 4, whereupon he sat with the book upside down and proceeded to parrot the whole story that his parents read to him often. Ha. I always loved that story.

  2. Wendy in York

    I love that cat picture even though you know I’m a dog person . Cats are nice too . My parents didn’t read books to me as a child but dad used to to make up bedtime stories for us . One character , Harry Hedgehog , had some wonderful adventures . I think he would like to have been a writer . I used to enjoy reading to my niece & like to think I helped her become a bookworm . It was so exciting the first time she was able to read to me ! I keep meaning to try talking books to give my poor eyes a rest – or eye as only one works properly & it does get tired sometimes . What equipment do you use ? Not sure I would listen to books on walks though as I enjoy the silence of the countryside .

    1. Your dad sound like he was a lovely man. I remember you saying a while ago how he talked politics at the dinner table and you said he could have a political argument with himself… or something. My sister (five years older than me) told me bedtime stories, very imaginative ones.

  3. my 25 year old daughter was saying to me the other day how many happy memories she has of me reading to her as a child. when she was about eight she had a horrible stomach bug for a week and she remembers me reading to her for hours.. only stopping so she could throw up, and then starting again! we read all the narnia books and the first couple of harry potter… she took over for herself with the later ones. it also gave me a chance to enjoy my childhood favourites, cs lewis, enid blyton and all the classics. i was always a precocious reader and read my much older brothers books from a really early age, often getting nightmares but not admitting the reason so i didnt get my reading censored!

    1. Those stories must have made being sick a lot less awful! Love that you didn’t tell your parents about your reading habits for fear of censorship. Ha.

  4. Some of my happiest memories are of reading aloud to my children and to my primary school classes back when I was teaching. I also listen to audio books on the way to and from work. I love it and it’s amazing how many books you can listen to during a working week. I have to admit though that I have little tolerance for annoying voices. If the narrator grates on me it’s all over pretty quickly ?

  5. Definitely read to as a child and did so as a parent. Lovely to see my adult children doing the same with their children. One of my grandchildren (an 18 month old) will stop playing with his sister, run to grab a book and thrust it at me as he scrabbles onto my lap, leans back and waits for me to read (using character voices, of course). He does this regularly with his father.
    Thanks for the Pym recommendation–just put a library hold on the audio version by Ms Entwistle. I’ve been going through audio books nonstop for the last couple of weeks. Narrators make or break a book, so like you, I am very picky.
    Long car trips are excellent for reading a good book to the driver, too.

  6. I have so many happy memories of being read to by my parents and of reading to my own children. Now I read to my granddaughters! It’s bliss!

  7. What a lovely post. I do remember my mother reading to me when I was very little, fairytales mostly, but I know that I began reading to myself when I was fairly young. I recently asked one of my sons if he remembered me reading to him at bedtime, and he said definitely yes. That made me feel good, the fact that he has those memories, because I remember being curled up with him when he was teeny tiny, and reading to him. (He isn’t teeny tiny anymore!)

    It’s funny that you mentioned Jane Austen. I actually use my mini iPad to fall asleep at night, most frequently putting on pride and prejudice and occasionally sense and sensibility . (I tuck the iPad near a pillow and face the screen with its light away from me.) I put on films to listen to that I have access to through my cable subscription, and I have listened to them so often that they very much seem like being read to, and I can probably repeat a fair amount of the dialogue!

    Something else that your post has maybe nudged me into, that I have not seriously considered before – listening to audiobooks. I so love the feel of a book in my hands that I have hesitated to ever try audio, and I have recently been in a reading mood, and not my usual tons of journalism. I love to read essays, but I have returned to novels recently. Unfortunately, I cannot hold a book in my hands at the moment given my little mishaps to do with palms and wrists and fingers (sigh), all taking a bit longer than I had hoped. So I just may try a few audiobooks if one of my services I already subscribe to provides them, which I think it probably does. So thank you for your wonderful description of the experience!

    xo

    1. Thanks DA. Sorry you’re still feeling poorly. Was the hand problem from that tumble you took? Ouch. Our library has free downloadable audio books… maybe yours does too.

  8. I love reading out loud and have since childhood — I think that my siblings are as likely to remember me reading aloud to them as my Mom — all of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and many more. Now I often read to Paul on road trips, while he drives, and at home, while he cooks.
    Sadly, I have little patience for being read to, and I am weirdly protective of any quiet time I have, generally preferring to let me thoughts wander and sort, wander and sort. So as long as my eyes let me continue reading to myself, I’ll probably not start an Audiobook habit — but should they ever fail, it’s so good to know that there are really good options for having books read to me by very good readers.

    1. I remember your saying about reading to Paul on long car trips. My older sister (5 years between us) told me bedtime stories when I was little. I even remember some of them.

  9. I don’t remember my parents reading to me, but I did enjoy reading books myself. As small children we had storytime in class when the teacher would read to us all and I remember enjoying that very much.
    Before my hearing loss became too severe, I used to enjoy listening to BBC Radio 4’s afternoon play. In the office, I would plug in my headphones to my small transistor radio and listen to the play whilst typing away.
    These days I can’t hear well enough even with hearing aids so I just read now. My local library is running out of books that I haven’t read!

    1. I loved listening to “stories” on the radio as well. I still do at Christmas; CBC has a favourite Christmas story read every Christmas Eve. I always plan to be cooking dinner when it’s on. Does your local library do inter-library loans? Ours will get books from all over the city… but also from outside our system. Worth asking about.

  10. Hi Sue
    I cannot remember if my folks read to me as a child. I asked my husband if his parents read to him and he cannot recall. Mmm! Great parents though.
    I was one of those kids who would make themselves small so the teacher wouldn’t pick to read aloud.
    My children were read to in there early years. My granddaughter has books galore. She is read to constantly. I love to see this.
    Thanks for this post…Kevin Whately and Rosamund Pike, reading aloud…I may like that.
    Robin

    1. Kevin Whately narrates the Morse books so well. He even sounds like John Thaw when he reads Morse’s voice…. especially when he says, “Lew-is!”

  11. Nancy Faraday

    Love, love, love the picture of the kitty looking up at the boy reader. The idea of people reading to cats makes me purr.

  12. I am honoured to have been mentioned by name in this post, and delighted that you are enjoying Excellent Women on audiobook. Like you, I found myself laughing out loud at intervals. I have always been charmed by Pym’s quiet wit, but a skilled narrator makes her even more irresistible.

    My small collection of audiobooks consists just about entirely of books that I already know and love via the printed page. One of these days, I’ll have to branch out and “read” something entirely new by listening to it.

    1. I have some audio books that I have no interest in reading. The Rhys Bowen series Her Royal Spyness is so light I’d probably not enjoy reading it… but the narrator is so wonderful it’s fun to listen to while I walk, or pedal… or do housework!
      P.S. Thanks so much for recommending Excellent Women. I’d never have thought to look for it.

  13. Sue- I’ve tried to reach you via your gmail address to ask a question about your trip to Rome. Can you please email so I can ask my question off line? Thank you so much for your great blog and for sharing your life with us.

  14. This is now one of my favorites of your blog posts. It brought back wonderful memories of reading to my daughter each night at bedtime. Some of her favorites over the years were Corduroy, Charlotte’s Web and Caddie Woodlawn.
    I also love Pym’s Excellent Women. I’ve read it several times, but your review convinces me that I still have more to learn and enjoy by listening to the audio book.

  15. One more comment:
    The style of little pigtails worn by Elizabeth was called “piggy wiggles” in our family. I don’t know if this is a common term or just a cute description made up by my mother.

  16. I wasn’t read to as a child but we did have access to lots of books. I enjoyed reading to my nieces and nephews when they were little.

    I don’t like to be read to nor do I like podcasts. When I walk I like wandering in my own thoughts.

    1. We all do what pleases us most, eh? My husband can’t listen to books either, he gets lost in thought and forgets to listen, and then has no idea what he’s missed.

  17. Thanks for the Pym recommendation, I see it’s available at my library. Like you, I enjoy audio books while doing those less desirable tasks (housework). I haven’t listened to one for quite some time so your post was a great reminder.
    That’s a wonderful initiative, reading to cats. And lovely to reminisce about our childhood reading.
    Thanks for posting Suz from Vancouver

  18. Who else would mention Pam and Austen in the same post? Love it. I started listening to audio books when I was working and driving a lot-I never got upset about traffic again and actually relished delays. Now that I’m retired I listen while I cook (my private pleasure) and although my husband is supposed to do dishes I sometimes tell I’ll do them just so that I can listen to my book. I also listen when I go on my walks. I have listened to almost all of Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford books and all of Robert Parker’s Spencer books. I love the ones narrated by Joe Mantegna.

    Of course I read to my children and many times they would wake me up because I read myself to sleep! Later they would read to me. Lovely times.

    1. My sister says she would fall asleep when reading to her son as well. I love listening to the Wexfod books. Whoever reads them (I can’t remember) gets Wexford and Burton just perfect… IMO.

  19. We have programs for children who lack reading skills, combined with rescue dogs.

    My last school year someone said to me our English teacher always asks the same 3 people to read (I was one and never noticed till I heard her disappointment. Sigh)

  20. My favourite thing to do is read to my children and that they still love it. Even though they can read independently now we still read together each night before bed. There are so many engaging chapter books that my boys love and that I love too. The best though is that if I am not feeling well enough to read, Ethan reads me a chapter of our book.

  21. I don’t remember being read to by my parents but I suppose I was. I do, however, remember my delight at finally being able to read to myself properly – in my head – and after that I never wanted to be read to. But my teacher, Miss Welch (terrifying in some ways) always, always read to the class at the end of the day. That last quarter of an hour, head on arms or gazing out of the window, as she read to us from Enid Blyton adventures was absolutely the best part of any school day. As a result, I tried as often as possible, to do the same with my pupils, especially the older ones who still loved a good story before home time. Stories make us who we are. Thank heavens for BBC Radio 4 Extra.

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