Hello everyone! First of all, I know everyone joins me in sending our love to Elena and her family, along with best wishes for her husband’s speedy recovery. I’ve big shoes to fill, but I’m honored the Riskies have invited me to guest blog today. It’s always such fun to be part of the lively exchange of ideas here!
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about not just the written word but the spoken word. I wasn’t one of those kids who went out for school plays, so when my editor at Grand Central Publishing asked me to do a podcast on why I love the Regency era, I was more than a little nervous. And then, on top of that, I was asked to be part of a romance reading in New York City next week. Gulp. Speak aloud? Read from my books? The sweat was already trickling down my spine.
Writing the podcast was easy–then I started to practice saying it aloud. The first attempt came out as a croak. The second herky-jerky stumbling. Finally, I was able to get through it without too many hitches. But now, that reading awaits, and I’ve started another round of practice. For those who haven’t tried it, reading aloud isn’t easy! Oh, mumbling the words doesn’t take much effort, but to capture the mood and nuances of the story, to make the characters come alive, is a daunting challenge. It made me realize how, with CDs, DVDs, TV, I-pods, and the Internet to keep ourselves amused, reading aloud is pretty much a lost art.
Of course, that wasn’t so in the Regency. Just look at the novels of Jane Austen to see countless examples of how the practice was woven into the fabric of everyday life. Fanny Price, like so many poor relations and paid companions, was expected to keep her aunt’s boredom at bay by reading to her. The Bennet sisters had to sit through Mr. Collins’s pompous readings of religious texts.
We’re also constantly reminded of how one of the main sources of evening entertainment for a family was reading a novel together after dinner, with each family member taking a turn. Poetry was also popular–though I imagine not many parents allowed their daughters to recite Byron’s Don Juan aloud!
The more I thought about it, the more I realized the oral tradition of storytelling has been part of the human experience since the dawn of civilization. Starting with the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates from around 2000 BC, where we see the archetypal theme of “hero and quest”–ha, you see, romance was at the root of our imagination even then! This continues with Beowulf and epic Greek poems like The Illiad and The Odyssey.
The Middle Ages saw the rise of the troubadour tradition, which combined epic poetry and song. The French courts developed the idea of Courtly Love, and Eleanor of Aquitaine brought this tradition to England when she married Henry II. During this time we also see the rise of the Arthurian legends. Love, honor, jealousy, sex, betrayal–the romance is heating up!
Dante, Milton…I could go on and on, but fast-forward to today, where the idea of going and listenting to someone reading aloud seems something of an oddity, a quaint, old-fashioned throwback to the past. I suppose that audio books are the closest thing we have to the oral tradition.
But back to my own experience. After practicing until I’m blue in the face, I have come to two realizations. One–I made a wise career choice in steering away from the performing arts. Two–much as I want to like listenting to stories, I still prefer to read them. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t follow a narrative well by listening. It seems to go in one ear and out the other. My mind wanders–I forget what I heard–a particular voice isn’t my idea of the character. I need to see the words on the page (yes, I still prefer books to e-readers!) to go at my own pace, to hear my own voices for the characters.
What about you? Do you enjoy both? Can you absorb both?
What are some favorite stories for hearing aloud?
Andrea will be reading, along with Hope Tarr, at 7:00 pm on February 2, at Madame X, 94 West Houston Street! More details here
Hello, Andrea ! I add my thoughts and prayers for Elena and her dear hubby.
Funny you should blog about this. Last night was Louisa Cornell’s debut as a public speaker. I was asked to speak to our local library society about the life of an aspiring romance writer. Now I have been onstage in front of thousands singing, but speaking is another thing entirely.
It actually went pretty well …. I think. They seemed attentive. I had my speech printed in a nice large font and I only stumbled a few times. Then after questions they asked if I would read a chapter from one of my manuscripts. GULP !!
I will get even with my buddy, Tammy, because she is the one that suggested it. BUT, I just thought about reading it out loud to my students (which I did a hundred years ago when I taught) so it went okay.
I tend to agree. I prefer to read a novel rather than have it read to me.
Sounds like you did great, Louisa. I hope I pull it off as well as you did.!
I sometimes listen to audio books on road trips, but I don’t think I’m very good at it–my attention drifts, or I don’t like the reader, or whatever, but sometimes one is just right and helps the miles pass by! I think I would enjoy a cozy evening by the fire reading poetry with friends, but have never had the chance for that. Maybe I need to organize a poetry party?
And I wish I could be in NYC for the reading! It sounds like fun. 🙂
Gosh, Andrea, I wish I could be there to hear you and Hope read, two of my favorite people! Please tell her Diane said hello. And thank you so much for filling in for Elena.
The word we have received from Elena is that her husband is progressing nicely.
Louisa, O Doggie One, I’m sure you were charming as well as entertaining!
I only read my work aloud once, at Riversdale House, the Historic House where our Janet is a docent. I never even practiced and setting a high standard there was none other than Mary Jo Putney and the beautiful and talented Kathryn Caskie and Sophia Nash. But I had a great selection, very dramatic, ending with a surprise and the audience actually gasped. Quite relieving!
Some books transfer well to audio, especially books I never would otherwise have read. I fell in love with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe because of the audiobook reader, William Gaminara. When my library purchased a different brand of audiobook for the Sharpe series, the reader was terrible. I never read another of the Sharpe books.
Amanda, I love the idea of a poetry night with friends, especially if it includes lots of hot toddies (or the tropical drinks you discovered on your, er, research for Stowaway LOL)
Diane, I wish you could be in NYC too for moral support. I will definitely say hi to Hope for you.
The few times I’ve tried an audio book, I found the reader had SUCH a big influence on the story. I’ve yet to find one that really appealed to me.
On a a different note, I have had fun listening to some history lectures lately. For those of you who might find it interesting, Yale University offers a selection of different classes online. You can download the whole semester of class lectures, exactly as the students get them, along with reading lists etc. And it’s totally free! Go to oyc.yale.edu and check out the selection. I’m listening to the Intro to Ancient Greek History. Milton is next!
A huge welcome to Andrea Pickens!! Hi, roomie! 🙂 I’m excited about Lady Jane’s salons. What a cool idea to not only increase the popularity of romance novels and the research that goes into them, but also to support Maya Rodale’s charity. Last fall, I boxed up a large number of my books to send to them.
The other day, Anna Campbell and I were lamenting the loss of reading aloud and memory-recitation. As a school-kid, my private girls school relied on it: poems, speeches, sonnets, songs, you-name-it, we memorized it and presented in front of groups of girls or at assembly. I’m pleased to see a little bit of that coming along in my kid’s school, but it’s not nearly enough. You learn the rhythm, the meter, and the intonation of speech.
Like instrumentalists should learn to sing (and vice versa), writers should learn to read aloud and recite.
Louisa, writing to say once again, how thrilled I am with your public-speaking debut.
Diane, what a relief to know that Elena’s husband’s health is progressing well.
One good example of an author whose books have to be read aloud, otherwise you lose the point, is Dr. Seuss. (He’s currently tops fave in our house. Ms. Wee will even read a 60-page book because it’s so much fun, then again, with her memory, I don’t how much “reading” there is as “recitation”.)
A word of advice, Andrea, if I may: Don’t practice any more. You don’t want to overdo it, because then it can come out stilted. It takes a ton of experience (ask Louisa and Cara) to redo the same opera/play and have it be “fresh” every time.
Hi roomie (waving back wildly to Keira)
I think you are so right that reading aloud should be part of school curriculums. It definitely teaches appreciation for language and rhythm—and builds self-confidence through having to stand up and perform.
The Salon should be great fun. Wish you all could be there. And thanks for the excellent advice about not becoming too over-rehearsed. I’ll try to take a deep breath and just let it flow.
I love reading aloud! Though I admit that I’m better being the reader than the readee nowadays — my attention does wander a bit. 😉
Todd and I have read various books aloud to each other over the years — some Austen, several Heyer, a couple Diane Wynne Jones, and we’re now working on our third or fourth Nesbit.
I find older books work better for reading aloud, because they were often written with the expectation that they would or might be read aloud, so their rhythms are sometimes better suited to reading aloud than reading silently some jokes work better, etc…
Also, I think books with a lot of attention to verbal humor, or to the prose, work well aloud. (Barbara Metzger is very funny aloud! In fact, I think much humor is better aloud.)
One nice thing about reading aloud is that it turns reading into a communal activity…which can make it very powerful.
Of course, a drawback is that it’s slower…often a lot slower…
Good luck on the reading! And is your podcast up yet?
Good luck for next Monday, Andrea, I know you will do great. I tried out for a radio play once, as a kid, and my audition was the first chapter of Jane Eyre. My dad–my coach–kept telling me to slow down. I didn’t get the job, but man, was it hard!
Cara, my brother and his wife read aloud with their kids when they were little instead of watching TV, and both are now avid readers as young adults. I think it’s great and wish I could like it. But without type to focus me, I have trouble concentrating. I agree that banter is wonderful aloud—but it requires the reader to really get the inflections right. And yes, my podcast is up on my website under the “news” button
Megan, thanks for the encouragement. Are you sure you can’t get a babysitter and join us?
I don’t care for audio books. That being said, every March I participate in a Tolkien Reading Day with the L.A. smial Tolkien Forever. One or two libraries will allow us to come, dressed in costume, and share passages from Tolkien’s work, interspersed with a bit of music. I look forward to sharing bits of “Flight to the Ford” and the “Destruction of the Ring” every year. I feel those delicious butterflies, but draw on them to sharpen the presentation. It isn’t uncommon for a Tolkien smial (chapter of the Tolkien Society) to have Hall of Fire evenings, where music, poetry and readings are presented.
Years ago, I heard the author of the “Hank the Cowdog” books present as a Storyteller. Now, that was truly magical. He had the story memorized and different voices for all of the characters. Amazing.
Best wishes, Andrea. Practice only so you’re comfortable with it. The voice I use reading Tolkien is not my regular speaking voice. I find it’s actually easier that way, as I feel like I’ve slipped into character. It isn’t quite as scary when it isn’t ME up there but my persona. 🙂
I just remembered. I had a coworker whose son-in-law read Georgette Heyer to his wife while she was in labor!
Ladyhawk, the Tolkien readings sound wonderful. I like the idea of costumes, especially at a library. And thanks for the advice. All hints are most welcome!
Diane, that is too funny about the labor reading. I hope she named the child a suitably Regency name!
Andrea, there is a reason why I write books now rather than perform on stage professionally as I used to. I do, in the end, prefer to write and read the stories rather than hear or act them. The one exception, however, is Charles Dickens. 🙂 Can’t wait to see you on Monday at our Lady Jane’s Salon launch!
Thanks for stopping by, Leanna! I’m excited about the reading, though a little nervous as well. But will try not to trip over my tongue! And Dickens does seem like a perfect author to read aloud. maybe Wilkie Collins too.
Wonderful post and yes, I quite agree with the previous comment: stop practicing! It doesn’t always make perfect after all.
Diane, darling, waiving wildly back at you. I wish we could beam you to NYC for Monday’s debut of Lady Jane’s Salon, Manhattan’s very first (and so far only) reading series devoted to romance exclusively. And as you Regency grand dames well know, the success of any event hangs on its exclusivity.
In this case, proceeds will fund author Maya Rodale’s charity, Share the Love, which reaches out to groups serving women-in-transition.
As Amanda said, Andrea will be our first reader, rolling out Monday’s program, followed by yes, Yours Truly. (I’ll try not to botch it). Echoing Leanna Renee to say how super excited we are to have Andrea joining us and reading from her wonderful works.
And the cocktails at Madame X, which mind I’ve sampled purely in the interest of group safety (I give and give…) are well, divine. 😉
I love reading aloud from my books and I think it really cranks up the interest level at signings.
I tend to fall asleep if I’m read to for any amount of time, although it’s very enjoyable.
Hope your reading goes super well, Andrea.
Hope, I think I’ll let you go first LOL
But thanks for the nice words and the encouragement. And same to you, Janet. Wish we could have all the Riskies there to share in the celebration of this wonderful cause!
Hope. I’m ready BEAM ME TO NYC!!!!
I’ve had to do a lot of public speaking–both as a teacher (lecturing to college students) and as a researcher, giving academic seminars and such. It does get easier with practice. Fortunately, in my own field (physics) the bar for quality as a speaker is set very low, so it’s not hard to come off relatively well. 🙂
Cara mentioned that we read books to each other aloud sometimes. Nowadays we often do it on car trips, which means that Cara (who generally navigates while I drive) does most of the reading. We’ve also done some reading aloud when one of us is ill in bed. Fortunately haven’t needed to do that for a while…