Saturday, February 14, 2009

Read-aloud words assault?

An earnest suitor, riding on the crosstown bus in New York City, reads aloud to his beloved. While she is besotted with the caress of his words, many on the bus register outright hostility. Why is reading aloud akin to hoisting a blaring boombox on that same bus?

Robert Gray was on that bus, and he shares our curiosity. While the bus situation was a bit extreme -- reading aloud like that is more of a performance than a shared pleasure -- there does seem to be divides in the literary community on standards of reading aloud. In poetry, there is a segregation between what Mr. Obie Joe calls the "slow" or formal poetry readers versus the spoken word poets whose words reflect both the paper and the poet.

Then there the readers, often nonfiction, who depend on a colloquial, barstool approach. Each anecdote they tell seem like a great story. Rick Bragg is like that, though he is also an unusually good reader of his own books, too.

The worst? Those who read with an affected or theatrical voice. Look, unless you have the silky smooth of Chip Kidd, just read in your regular voice. Like the suitor on the bus, leave it at home.

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