After my students too the AP English exam in May, I had some extra time, and wanted to try something new. We’re supposed to read The Great Gatsby during the junior course, and, now having read that book something like 10 times, I wanted to mix it up a bit. What I decided to do was read the book – every single word – aloud to each my two classes.
I have to say it was a wonderful experience. I used to have a colleague who lamented that “silent reading” more or less takes over the American English ccurriculum after 2nd grade, and this was an attempt to counteract that. I hope my students appreciated it. I only got informal feedback, and that’s usually skewed in education towards the positive. Most kids (though by no means all) respect me enough to keep their “I hate this class”-type comments to themselves. So when kids choose to say something, it’s usually positive. Still, they did share positive comments, rather than simply remain silent.
Most of the classes are 50 minutes long, so what I generally did was have a half-hour class discussion about the chapter we read the previous day, and then use the last 20 minutes to read the book to the class. The discussions were vastly improved vis-a-vis previous years’. This is undoubtedly because the entire class had actually done the reading, at least in some sense. I think the discussions were also better because I was able to share some of the love of the book that I don’t get to share when they’re reading at home. Kids even laughed aloud at jokes, something which is usually verboten among high-schoolers.
I myself also loved it, mostly because I noticed things about Fitzgerald’s language I would never see reading it silently to myself. Catalogues of party-goers, classical allusions, onomatopoetic diction, extended metaphors, asyndeton, polysyndeton etc. etc. all jumped off the page for me when I heard my voice speak them. The lyricism of Gatsby’s first few and last few pages is something I never get tired of, even if the book can, on some readings, start to feel a bit shallow. Some phrases I had just never noticed I now have – like when Gatsby and Daisy appear to Nick “filled with intense life.”
At home too, I’ve been reading Ulysses to Brooke. That one poses its own challenges, since the shift from interior monologue to 3rd-person narration to dialogue is usually far from clear – it might actually be easier to see when you’re looking at the page, instead of listening. But again, for me, reading it aloud, I’ve seen things I never saw before. Joyce very deliberately chose hundreds and hundreds of words to make the individual chapters thematically coherent. We most recently read the “Aeolus” chapter, where wind imagery, words and phrases dominate. What seems like a sort of abstract thought experiment when you just look at the words really takes on a life of its own when it’s spoken aloud. And again, the humor of the book comes through in a way that reading it alone, by yourself, it might not.
So try it yourself – read something aloud, to someone else, to a class of yours, or just to hear the sound of your own voice.
(Though I wouldn’t recommend Kant, Nates…)