The joy of reading aloud, at all ages
Since the weather has gotten warmer, I have started taking my mother to our local park. She can no longer see well enough to read, and we have exhausted our conversation reservoir, so I have begun reading aloud to her.
As a child I tortured my mum to read me yet another story at bedtime. Now that our roles have reversed (I am now her full-time carer), reading aloud has reconnected me with a profound joyfulness. It allows me to decompress from responsibilities and escape into whatever adventures are on the page. It has also opened up new and unexpected conversations between us.
Shortly after we started reading together, I came across Meghan Cox Gurdon (children’s book critic for the Wall Street Journal) who has written a book called The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction. She describes reading aloud as “of profound and delicious value”, “a cure for what ails us”, and “the kind of very human nourishment that we need to help us live in greater balance.” She posits that the busier we are, the more we need to make time to read aloud.
In her research, Cox Gurdon found that reading to others creates a chemical alteration in our bodies by decreasing stress hormones and increasing bonding hormones. She also found it an excellent way for people of all ages to connect or re-connect. Reading together provides a neutral space, physical closeness and allows natural conversations to flow. You may already know that it helps children expand their vocabularies, social and behavioural EQs; but it also seems to work wonders for couples who are in a rut; teenagers at odds with parents; and the lonely or ailing.
“Teenagers don’t necessarily want to be tucked up close to their parents, who in turn can struggle to make conversation that appeals to teenage interests,” says Cox Gurdon, “but a book can be a bridge… where the two of you can connect. Substitute the word: partner / parent / relative / friend for ‘teenager’ and the statement still holds true – as I have found with my mother.
Reading aloud to her has been a joy revelation. As Cox Gurdon advises, “Don’t feel like you have to be heroic. You don’t have to start reading out loud for an enchanted hour every night for the rest of your life. Start today. Start small,” and, as always, let us know how this #TNMAjoyhack works for you.
Alexia Economou is a freelance design and culture journalist, tweet her @thedesignfeedTW