Reading Aloud: An Old-Fashioned, Frugal Pastime

  • DD2 = Dear 2nd Daughter
  • DD3 = Dear 3rd Daughter

My mom’s odd practice of reading aloud

My mother had the odd habit of reading aloud. On her own.

I was able, as a tiny child, to identify “Mommy’s book,” and I knew somehow that when Mommy was reading out loud, I was not to interrupt. My brother, in giving his eulogy for Mom at her funeral service 2 months ago, said, “In the lean years with young children, Mom proved she could handle anything — as long as she could read for an hour or two every afternoon. One of her quirks was that she read to herself aloud –and she would do this at full voice, with great expression, as if she were addressing a classroom of 30 students.”

I remember a friend coming over to my place mid-afternoon one day when Mom happened to be reading. We passed by her in silence, receiving the smile and the raised eyebrow of greeting that said, “I see you, and you are welcome, but I can’t say anything to you right now. I’m reading.” We walked into the kitchen to get a snack, and my friend finally broke the silence. “Ruth!” she whispered in agitation. “Your mom is reading out loud!” I had realized by this point that not all mothers did, but I wasn’t fully aware of how weird it was. My friend continued, “And she’s putting SO much expression into it!”

A life-long habit

Right up to her last days, Mom continued her expressive daily reading. My sister, who along with her husband had taken Mom to Italy only 2 months before her death, shared this story at Mom’s service:

“Mom would read aloud on the deck of our cruise ship cabin. She would send Mark and me off to the gym or out for a hike so she could have the space all to herself. Little did she know that an audience was gathering next door. We met our neighbours in the hall one day and they told me how they loved the way I was reading so expressively to my elderly mother. I resisted the urge to accept this ill-informed compliment and corrected them. It was all mom!

They had been inviting their friends to their room, all of them leaning into our shared wall, listening as Mom brought The Goldfinch to life for them. As they left, they said they would be recommending on their cruise evaluation form that Mom be hired onto the ship’s entertainment staff. ‘Reading time with Jane’ would surely be a hit!”

Wisdom in frugal leisure from the past

I remember one young mother speaking to me after Mom’s funeral service. “Your mom was so smart to do her reading every day! She knew what she needed to do to make it all work!”

Storytelling was a form of entertainment as far back as when people first started to gather around a fire. And reading aloud was a common form of leisure right up until the middle of the last century. Cable TV, Netflix, and Youtube have largely replaced the joy of reading, and they’ve all but obliterated the practice of reading aloud.

The only contexts where reading aloud is at all common today are those involving children: the classroom, where teachers test the skill of their students, and the home, where parents read to their young children before bedtime.

True confession: I love reading aloud too

I suppose it’s not surprising that having been raised by an out-loud-reader, I was drawn to reading aloud myself. I used to love reading bed time stories to my children, and I tried to make the nightly ritual last for as many years as possible. Eventually, each of my 3 daughters told me enough was enough, and I accepted it with regret. (My eldest was 16 years old. After having read all of Jane Austen’s novels to her, I started on Dickens. We made it half way through David Copperfield when she gently told me it was time to cease. She finished the book on her own. Sigh…)

As a high school teacher at a school with many English language learners, I was thrilled to find out that one of the best ways to promote proficiency in English was to read aloud to students! I took full advantage of that permission for as long as I was a classroom teacher. Now, as the teacher-librarian, my once-yearly Jane Austen Book Club gives me only the rare occasion to indulge in reading aloud.

An unexpected opportunity: sick daughters

Last weekend, my two youngest went to Toronto in advance of seeing Lana Del Rey in concert Monday night. They thoroughly loved the event. But almost as soon as they arrived back at their cousin’s apartment, where they were staying, DD2 felt sick. I had heard that the flu was particularly bad this year, and DD2 got it with a vengeance. Nothing stayed down. She couldn’t eat or drink. Within a matter of a few days, she would lose 15 pounds.

DD3 soon showed signs of the flu as well, and the two sisters were stuck in Toronto all day Tuesday – unable to take their scheduled bus ride home. Their bewildered cousin continued to host them until they were able to leave on Wednesday – and then she got sick too.

Reverting to childhood comforts

DD2 lives downtown, but she came home to stay for her days of recovery. DD3, who did not at first  suffer as severely as her sister, came down with a fever. By the time Saturday rolled around, they were both able to eat most foods. And while they were still weak, they were no longer completely incapacitated.

It was DD2 who asked me: “Mom, can you read to me?” Yes!! I ended up reading The Rosie Project, by  Graeme C. Simsion, and they loved it! For hours, we were sprawled out on DD3’s bed, giggling at the sweet awkwardness of Don Tillman’s observations and conversations through the first several chapters of the book (which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it).

We were back in the old days. Not just our old days – the days of their childhood – but the days when reading aloud was a normal leisure activity – even among adults – even healthy ones. So thoroughly enjoyable! And frugal to boot!

Reading aloud: Is it in my future? (I hope so!)

DD2, about 90% recovered, has gone back downtown, but I’m hoping that DD3 will want to finish the book. And not on her own. I would love to read a chapter or two a day to her over the next week or two. And while I don’t think I’ll ever take up my mother’s odd practice of reading out loud alone – I need an audience of at least one –  I do hope I’ll continue to find excuses to read aloud in the years ahead.


Did either of your parents do something that nobody else’s parent did? Are there old-fashioned, frugal pastimes that you enjoy? Can you help me think of more excuses to read aloud in the years to come? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of readaloud.info

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  • I have no recollection of my parents ever reading to me. lol! I think reading aloud is an art form though and I occasionally do it to work on my voice over voice. To get pronunciation right instead of glossing over a word I’m a little stuck on. Yes, that happens from time to time. Flashback to reading aloud in class and feeling stupid when I was stuck on a word. Anyhow, I think you can have fun with it. I had a teacher once in second grade who read willy Wonka and did all the voices in her own interpretation and it was so fun.

    • I’m sorry that your parents didn’t read to you : (
      But I’m glad you had a teacher who made it fun. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get “a little stuck” on a word from time to time. Cool that you read aloud for voice overs.

  • I don’t recall my parents reading to me. My dad was an avid reader, newspapers, books etc. He loved to read about history and world events. My wife and I read aloud to our children when they were young. Our daughter is the avid reader of the bunch. I feared reading aloud in school, I had trouble pronouncing words, and spelling still haunts me today. I could never claim a proficiency in English. There is something enjoyable about hearing someone read aloud who can bring a story alive. It sounds like your mom had that. It also sounds like your reading skills still comfort your daughters. Which I sure warms your heart. 🙂

    • It does warm my heart! And true to my wish, DD3 did ask me to keep reading The Rosie Project out loud to her : ) So I have a couple of weeks of indulgence in reading aloud ahead of me. I’m sorry that your parents (like Tonya’s) didn’t read to you. I’m also sorry that you have bad memories of reading aloud in school. We all trip up on pronunciation and spelling sometimes. I find that there are two approaches to teaching English: one tends towards ostentation and snobbery, and the other tends towards authentic expression. I like the second way. It leaves no room for fear of mistakes.

  • I think everyone has a feeling that their parents are a little “off” when their friends are around. My mom did not like to read, but she loved to talk and joke around with my friends. My friends loved it I think because their parents didn’t do it. And yes, I would find it embarrassing sometimes because she seemed to be the only parent who did that. Now I see what a blessing it was. I loved your story. I was always an avid reader and passed that on to my son, and strangely enough, my husband. When I met him, he was like my mom when it came to reading. I think what really changed that for him was when he started reading the Bible. It was a game changer. I hope you get lots of opportunities bring joy to yourself and others through your love of reading!

    • Thank you, Kay : ) It’s interesting that what embarrassed us about our moms as kids and teenagers became the things that made us so proud of them in adulthood. You know, I hadn’t thought of it until I read your comment, but I think the same is true of my DH. I believe he does read more now than he did before he met me, and his digging into Bible reading and study is definitely a part of that development.

  • I also have zero recollection of my parents reading to me but I do remember always having my nose stuck in a book – I didn’t really need any help to turn into a lifelong reader, and I actually remember having friction with my mom because she was annoyed that I read all the time! (literally. I read until dawn, I read in the bath, I read while walking, I read while eating, I read in class.) I had to trade piano lesson time for reading time 🙂

    Naturally I cherish the love of words and am doing my best to pass that on to JB, we read to zir every single night. We’ve only missed about 3 nights in the last 2 years.

    • I often wonder if not having reading aloud modeled to me was the reason I hated reading aloud, or if it’s just part of my personality that I hated speaking loud enough for people to hear me as a young child. Now, though, we get such positive feedback from JB that it’s a lot more fun than I ever thought it could be.

      • I think it’s interesting that you became such an avid reader despite the fact your parents didn’t read aloud to you. Clearly you were going to be a reader no matter what. I’m really glad that JB has allowed you to discover how much fun it can be to read out loud. I wonder if you’ll ever have the opportunity to see if that transfers to a classroom-type setting – where you actually enjoy reading aloud for adults. I hope that JB will let you keep reading those bedtime stories for a long, long time to come : )

  • I have fond memories of my mom reading out loud to me — including later years when I was sick. In the hospital — since I couldn’t hold a book on my own and usually had my glasses off — I relied on Mom reading to me to stave off boredom. That’s how I finally “read” The Princess Bride!

    I don’t think I could handle out loud reading for my own purposes. But I wouldn’t mind getting back into reading to Tim. His ADD makes it hard for him because he loses his place so easily, then can’t remember where he was and has to start at the top of the page. We were reading Game of Thrones but it wore out my voice pretty badly after just a chapter or two. But it was a nice bonding time, so maybe I’ll revive it. With something other than GoT.

    • Nice to hear from you, Abigail. (I have not yet read your book! I feel badly about that. I’m slow at getting to books to begin with, and my mother’s illness last year made reading a rare indulgence. I still plan to read it!) You are the first to say your mom read to you. I’m glad you had that experience – even when you were older. I hope that you do find a way to read to Tim. It would be a good idea to start with – say – no more than 15 minutes of reading the first day, and then build up from there to your maximum – let’s say 45 minutes. It is, as you say, “a nice bonding time.”

  • I don’t recall my parents reading to me, but my father did make up the odd story relating to his vegetable garden hobby. The stories usually involved crows stealing the corn, etc. but were fascinating to a child. I developed an early reading habit with Golden Books and would sit there for hours rereading my whole collection.

    Ruth, have you thought about writing a children’s book based on your mom as the main character? Her trip to Italy alone would be a good story and it would be a testament to her life.

    • I think that whole garden-story series is charming : ) So sweet to think of a dad fascinating his young daughter with tales that he was stringing together on the spot. I remember Golden Books too! And I love the idea of the book about my mom!! I will keep you posted if the ideas you’ve kicked off in my mind come to fruition.

  • I don’t recall being read to as a child either, but I definitely, definitely read to my oldest daughter, starting when she was a baby and obviously had no idea what I was saying! 🙂 I am a huge bookworm and thankfully so is my daughter. Now with a baby, I will also be reading aloud to her as well 🙂

    • I think it’s fine to read to kids before they are able to understand what you’re saying. They learn to associate reading with a cozy warmth. I remember trying to spend some reading time with each daughter – and just falling asleep with them with a book in my hands. There might be some of that coming your way : )

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