Rediscovering the Lost Power of Reading Aloud

A read about the power of reading aloud. For most of human history, stories were transmitted using the spoken word. The idea of "silent reading of the sort we practice with our books and laptops and cellphones was once considered outlandish, a mark of eccentricity."

Once upon a time, none of these stories had yet been fixed on a page (or a clay tablet), but were carried in the physical bodies of the people who committed them to memory. Long before Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press, and 1,000 years before cloistered monks and their illuminated manuscripts, the principal storage facility for history, poetry, and folktales was the human head. And the chief means of transmitting that cultural wealth, from generation to generation, was the human voice.
In ancient Greece, the voices belonged to rhapsodes; in ancient India, to charioteer bards called sutas. Elsewhere were skalds (Nordic history poets) and rakugoka (Japanese storytellers), along with the jongleurs, minstrels, and troubadours of medieval Europe. Shamans passed on the stories of tribal people native to North America. In West Africa there was, and is, an itinerant class of griots, the traveling tale-tellers and musicians who have been called living archives.

As someone who has spent quite a bit of time reading out loud of late (and reading the same stories over and over and over again) I do admit to enjoying the differences a story can take with a change in intonation here, or an accelerated pace there. Granted, "Honk when the dump truck, coming through, I've got big important things to do..." isn't quite the same as The Odyssey but so be it!


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