Reading Aloud

A few weeks ago, I spent a day chanting with Fr. Elias Bitar, a gifted and knowledgeable instructor who teaches at several seminaries on the East Coast.  I was working on learning the barest basics of Byzantine Notation (you can try your hand at it here, but I work better with a tutor.)  The drive to Fr. Elias' church in New Jersey is about 3 1/2 hours each way, and I had to do it twice in one day, so I was stocking my iPod when I suddenly decided to purchase an audiobook.

Audiobooks are nothing new for me, but I usually reserve them for well-loved and well-known works.  I own a few: Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence (which we listened to on a family vacation once in high school, and no one thought it odd when Dad decided to stop for bread and cheese and olives instead of Wendy's), The Iliad (Lattimore translation, of course), the full Arthurian legend (read by Derek Jacobi) and the King James Bible.  But I wanted something I hadn't heard before, something I'd be interested in enough to stay awake and alert through 7 hours of driving.

The book I chose was Ender's Game.  I'd first heard of it at summer camp about 15 years ago.  I vividly recall being told I *had* to read it by someone I greatly admired, and writing the name of the book and the author down on a Post-it note.  I kept the note for years, but eventually threw it out without even making an attempt to read the book.  Last spring, one of my classmates chose it for a project, so I knew the basic plot of the book (including the Sixth Sense-esque plot twist at the end.)

The book was wonderful, but what surprised me was the intensity with which I listened.  When someone's reading aloud to you, you can't drift off into your own thoughts without losing the thread of the story.  You can't skip the "boring" parts or plotlines that don't interest you.  You really have to hear it all, and your appreciation for the narrative is that much deeper for it.

I've since recommended audiobooks to several of my students, especially the struggling readers.  If you can have the text in front of you while another reads it aloud, so much the better, but even just hearing it -- multiple times, if possible -- really increases comprehension.  And it's enjoyable -- being read to is a little like being chauffeured, or having your hair washed, by someone else: a small, but luxurious, privilege.