This week my husband and I drove down to Ohio so I could hang out with my parents while he attends a nerd conference in Boston. I decided that a good way to pass the time would be to read aloud to Dan while he drove. I had wanted to re-read Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass for a while so it was my book of choice. I figured it would help me cross one of the New Year’s resolutions off my list, get the husband to read more. Reading to him totally counts.
It didn’t go quite as planned. Our Ohio road trips never do. I sat in the passenger seat, literally petting the book in anticipation of reading the story again. The His Dark Materials trilogy has been one of my favorites for years. I remember flying through the first two books and waiting for what felt like forever for the third book to come out. It’s one of the few intermediate reading level books that also gets shelved in the adult sci-fi section. The more I read it, the more I see in it. The political and religious undertones largely escaped me when I read it as a child, but now they are why I love it as much as I do.
Dan was driving and we were listening to the radio. I started talking up Philip Pullman. I mentioned his only book for adults, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. I talked about how important it was to me to have Dan know my favorite stories. I stroked the cover of The Golden Compass. Dan could tell I was getting antsy; I wanted to get started. The husband and the baby had other plans.
As much as he wants to read my favorite books, being read to aloud isn’t really in my husband’s plans for a good road trip. I have to admit, the idea of it felt a little awkward. Being a real live audiobook felt a little like I was treating him like a child. Here, I will read this story to you because you can’t read it to yourself. But I had the book and I wasn’t going to let it go entirely unread. After reading about 20 pages to myself the baby decided he had had enough of this sitting quietly thing. The fussing had begun.
Lately, when the baby fusses, talking to him in a steady, low voice will calm him down. I don’t always have a lot to say. The things I come up with get repetitive. Lots of “I love you” and “It’s okay.” The NCAA tournament has helped. I sportscasted the Wisconsin game to the baby and he stopped squirming and listened quietly. On our road trip I climbed into the backseat next to his car seat and quickly ran out of things to say. Then I decided that if the husband didn’t want to listen to one of my favorite books, maybe the baby would. So I finally got to read aloud.
Since he’s a five-month-old and has no concept of plot I got to pick up right where I left off. It went perfectly. I got to read my book and calm the baby down at the same time. He still doesn’t care about books and pictures so he didn’t care that he had nothing to look at. The baby calmly chewed on his owl toy and listened to my voice. And I learned something interesting. Reading aloud is hard! It helped a lot that I had read the book before so I knew what to expect. It also helped that I was reading to someone who couldn’t be confused about my mispronunciation of difficult words. I think I said Pantalaimon and dæmon differently each time. Baby didn’t care. I stumbled over longer sentences and didn’t put proper inflection into sentences. But I got better. I learned to skim ahead and read how the character said something so I could say it in the same tone of voice. I started to pause when a character was thinking before speaking.
I also got more out of the story. Usually when I read I skip over the “he said angrily” and “she said while starting to make dinner,” I don’t care what they’re doing, just what they are saying to move the plot along. Even when I’m re-reading a book and don’t have that same sense of anticipation for what comes next I skim. I feel as though I already know the background and so I can skip bits. I can just read the fun parts closely and move quickly over characters I am less interested in. Sometimes when I reread a book I skip entire chapters that are about plot points I care less about. But when you read aloud you have to slow down. You have to include all the words. You have to pause to take a breath.
Even after the baby calmed down and eventually fell asleep I found myself continuing to read slowly. I was reading aloud in my head. I realized that Pullman does give information about the political upheaval in the very beginning of the book. I learned more about the nuances of the characters. After a while I sped up my pace again, but I could make myself slow down. I think it’s a good way to read.
I can’t wait to read aloud to the kid when he’s old enough to know what’s going on. I would love to read a book to him that I haven’t read before so we can experience it for the first time together. And in my imaginings of these magical nights of reading to the baby, my husband is lingering in the room so he can hear the story too.