Happy Day for Granger Gang

Stop the clocks! Jim Dale’s recorded book version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finally became available for my children to check out from the local library. They put their name on the waiting list when we moved here last June and the three CD copies went into circulation early last August, so, do the math. A Nine Months Wait!

These books may have fallen from the New York Times bestsellers list, but it’s Deathly Hallows Day again at my house. I have read the book aloud to the younger trio, of course, and one of them has read it herself – but, when they came home from the library yesterday, you would have thought Santa had come early to Allentown this year. They ran into my office saying “Dad, look what we’ve got!”

It doesn’t get much better than that, frankly. We’re on an Artemis Fowl binge here (about which, more later) and we’ve read every one of the Redwall, Narnia, and Ralp Moody Little Britches books together at night after prayers — but Harry Potter is still king.

I spent too much of Sunday reading the RDR/JKR trial transcripts, looking for serious reader nuggets in Ms. Rowling’s testimony. I found one interesting joke (from Fantastic Beasts, something I confess to not having read closely) and no end of demeaning unpleasantness. Seeing three faces lit up with excitement about hearing a favorite story told by a master comedian really helped remind me of the magic of the books and to put away the painful copyright-story distraction (in which, sadly, there seem to be too many Heep-like martyrs and not a single sacrificial hero). I think I’ll be taking Jim Dale breaks from the computer all day today just to feel the excitement again.


  1. Marmee March says

    John, how old have your children been as you’ve read through the books to them? Did you allow all of them to progress through the series as soon as they each wanted to? I’d like to hear more of your and others’ thoughts on this.

  2. Travis Prinzi says

    It doesn’t get much better than that, frankly

    Well, it could be better than that … if it was the Stephen Fry version.

    *Ducks and runs out of the room*

  3. (Sound of glass breaking in doorway where Travis escaped)

    “And stay out!”

    Anyway, Marmee Marsh, I have just read the stories out loud to the little guys while they color and translate gnomish from the bottom of Artemis Fowl pages. I have not ever told any of my children they were too young or too old to sit in on daddy reading time. I have, on occasion, had to talk with them about what we just read.

    Most traumatic reading experience: the “death” of Frodo in the Shelob trap set by Gollum. Completely reduced my two oldest daughters — and the reader — to tears. Lots of hugs from mom and dad (and a quick jump to the chapter where Frodo re-appears) saved the day.

  4. Ahhhhhh…the memories of reading aloud.

    Last summer the oldest grandson and I committed a few hours each evening of our visit together immersed in OoTP the week prior to the DH release. He would read on his own during the day and *adventure* with me at night. While I was on track to do my own DH read, the g’son agreed to wait until he had read HBP before tackling the final book. Alas!!!! He did not finish HBP until the next fall, 5th grade being what it was…BUSY! Nevertheless, he made sure I knew that when we came for Christmas, he would be ready for DH 🙂

    One of the joys for me in reading book 7 with the grandson was having the opportunity to revisit the 6 previous books when we came across references to prior events and people. Rarely did I have to actually pull one of the volumes off the shelf to verify a fact; the child’s memory was that good.

    Like you, Professor, I spent time answering questions. I knew they would come, and I was very glad to have the opportunity to help my 11-year old see the bigger picture in Harry’s story. Despite the frequent pauses, inquiries, and rush to get the final chapters read in a short week’s time, I wouldn’t trade the time together for anything.

  5. I would suggest, after a decade of reading aloud and reflecting on my childhood of television and no reading-aloud from books, that reading books to oneself in silence is to the experience of reading what reading a play is compared to experiencing a performance. Though silent-reading is far and away the rule for book lovers and even serious readers, I begin to suspect that it diminishes by half or more how the novel, poem, or play works on us.

    Your thoughts?

  6. Been reading aloud for seven years. Was read aloud to a bit as a child. Get impatient with audio books, since we can read a lot faster than someone can speak, especially if they approximate the usual pace of speech.

    Right off the bat, I’d put poems and especially plays in a separate category than novels. Most poems are meant to be read out loud, I think. They are closer to songs than they are to novels. And plays are clearly meant to be spoken. They are as dry as dust – drier than dust – if you just read them.

    I think that the two experiences – reading to oneself and reading aloud are very different. The reading aloud is like hearing a play, although only if well written. Some children’s books “read aloud ” well, others are very difficult to get your tongue around. When it is well written, it becomes a pleasure to speak the words. Try reading “The Grinch Meets his Max” some day. You can almost taste the words.

    Reading to oneself is on a different plane. There is a relationship you enter into with the written word when you read to yourself which is hard to describe. It’s like another dimension, or a sixth sense. It’s like swimming in the sea. It’s total immersion in my natural element.

    Poems, plays, reading novels out loud, reading novels silently – I think it’s futile trying to compare them on a single dimension.

  7. I’d disagree.

    The human being is designed for story, it seems, or, at least for aural/oral instruction older to younger. The two experiences of story that are possible for readers, consequently, silent or aloud, can be compared, at least with respect to which makes us “more human.”

    Aural reception of story, parable, or lesson, especially if in the company of the story-teller, involves relationship and an engagement with something (someone!) greater than the the personal self or ego. As the end of good story-telling, it can be argued, is “conformity of the soul to reality” or some contact with the transpersonal self, hearing a poem, play, or a novel is almost by definition closer to the end or telos of the exercise.

    Am I against reading to one self? Nope. Am I suspicious that, because of its dominance (and the restriction of reading aloud to the nursery and poetry workshops and coffee houses), the human ear has atrophied to little more than an ipod bud holder? Yep. With the ear’s demise, as Ralph Johnson told his UC students when trying to teach us how to scan and hear Virgil (with little success), the mind has “become mush.”

    Reading aloud isn’t just another way to experience story. It’s the right way.

    John, jumping off hyperbole soap box

  8. Perelandra says

    I am reminded of an anecdote about St. Augustine. Reading aloud to oneself was apparently still the standard in his day, in part I think because Roman MSS didn’t separate words. (That was invented by Irish monks in Merovingian France.) So it came as a shock for young Augustine to see Bishop Ambrose of Milan reading silently.

    I don’t read aloud to myself nor use audio books, but I do at least subvocalize what I write to give the text a smooth rhythm.

  9. John,

    This is the third time I’m trying to write this response. If it sounds elliptical, it’s because I’ve tried to express these thoughts several times before.

    There are many many ways of experincing a story: reading to oneself, listening to someone else read, listening to someone tell a story, watching a movie, watching television, going to see a play, an opera, a puppet-show, reading comic books, and even, to a certain limited extent, playing videogames. And there must be others that I haven’t thought about. Rock operas, songs, poems, pantomime.Those little video clips on YouTube featuring Lego Star Wars figures. Flashmobs. Performance art. Commercials. Comic strips. Animated shows and movies.

    Are you really arguing the position that one of these many ways is superior to all of the others, and that one way is reading aloud?

  10. May I add another thought? I thoroughly enjoy silent reading, though my husband will attest that I am anything but silent, especially with the Potter series. Having watched the movies repeatedly over the last some-odd years, I tend to read *in voice*; the actors supply an internal audio that allows me to also visualize the text as if I were watching a movie!! Consequently, I find myself bursting forth in laughter or moaning in empathetic distress in the course of a “quiet” read. Sometimes my spouse will patiently endure my need to verbalize the text and share the moment. Mostly he grins and goes about his business.

  11. Chosen66 says

    I read aloud to myself all the time. I find it helps make the content clearer, and I can retain the information better. Spontaneously while reading HP I will find myself reading out loud, not having realized I was doing it. Completely agreed with reyhan, with some books you can just taste the words.

    With some books, you hardly even need to look at the words on the page, each word is so perfectly placed that you simply know what word inevitably must follow.

  12. “Are you really arguing the position that one of these many ways is superior to all of the others, and that one way is reading aloud?”

    I am really offering for your consideration the possibility that listening to a story being told by another person is the way we are designed to experience story, and, perhaps, because this design matches the purpose of experiencing story, it is the best way to experience story.

    Arguments from analogy are never demonstrative but they can be instructive.

    We are designed to walk on two legs with feet (“bipedal walking”). We can move or travel in many other ways that are different than, faster than, less tiresome than, or to some just preferable to bipedal-walking. There is something about bipedal-walking, however, that comes from and fosters the human telos (see James Cutsinger’s discussion of human motion in Advice to the Serious Seeker).

    That doesn’t mean that people in wheelchairs are not human or that they cannot achieve theosis because they cannot walk. It means only that there is something unique to bipedal, upright, forward motion as designed that harmonizes with and reinforces human life: mind, body, and spirit. Anyone who has seen the thrill of a young child taking its first steps (and the parents’ excitement, though the accomplishment introduces a remarkable new degree of responsibility to their lives!) sees this.

    I’d say the same thing is true of oral/aural experience of story. For your consideration — please don’t feel obliged to swear off those lego-videos on You-Tube!

  13. Design and purpose, eh?

    Why then did we invent written language? Why did we assign at first words and then sounds to arbitrary symbols, and develop this new way of communicating with each other?

    Because that is what writing/reading is. As much as telling/hearing stories is a way of engaging in a relationship with someone else, so is writing/reading. You can not tell me that when you read, you are not moved beyond your immediate surroundings to some plane of undertanding or experience which exceeds your personal ego. Whether you are conscious of the author as a person or not – shades of the last post! – while you are reading, you are sharing the author’s thoughts, you are seeing through the author’s eyes, hearing through his/her ears, the whole sensory/cognitive/emotional/spiritual ball of wax. Can’t get much more intimate with another human being than this.

  14. I guess we’ll have to agree that we disagree. I think it is prima facie evident that listening to the author speak is a more intimate experience than reading the author’s words to one self. You disagree.

    I’m sorry that you believe I am saying reading to oneself is not valuable or edifying in itself. I don’t believe that; I only offered for your consideration the possibility that the best way to experience story was oral/aural. Did you see the golden part of “aural”? I’d say reading silently was “silver.” Still precious.

    I hope we can still be friends.

  15. Of course I did not think that you could believe that reading silently to oneself is not valuable/edifying in itself. The written word is your meat, after all. That’s why I had such a hard time with this post. I was trying to figure out what you did mean.

    Agree that we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

    But before I let it go, here’s an experience you would have enjoyed. I took my 7 year old and his best friend to a Robert Munsch story-telling a couple of months ago. It took place in a concert hall. When Munsch tells stories, he invites a kid from the audience to sit on a stool on stage; he then tells one of his stories using the child’s name as the chacter in the story. Most of the kids (and parents) in the audience know the stories by heart. When you hear them told again, in person, by the author, to a child who is actually sitting in front of you, eyes wide with delight, and the audience reciting the choice bits along with the author – well, that is an incredible experience. Intimate and communal at the same time.

    My 7 year old and his friend both got invited to the stage (mine became the lead character in “No Clean Clothes”.) The crowning touch to the evening was afterwards, while I waited in line for an autograph from the authors, watching the two kids sitting side by side, reading from the Munsch books they had each brought along.

    As they say in the commercials: priceless.

  16. Puffy Griffinclaw says

    John, I think you have some “brain science” on your side here. When we read, our brains translate the visual cues (little black squiggles on a page) into words that we literally “hear”. Several have mentioned “hearing” the stories in the voices of the movie characters or Jim Dale. When we hear a story read aloud, we bypass that translational step, so the story is more immediate and I think more intimate.

    Although I am a visual learner, I love to listen to books. There are certain professional readers I adore for their ability to make the reader feel every bit of the story. Authors generally make lousy readers (always the exceptions, my favorite being Bill Bryson). Although I read the HP books in print at least once, I’ve listened to them many times, and in the listening is the resonance with the joy, the dread, the tears, the determination. If I want to go back for analytical purposes, I do it in print, I use my left side.

    And I’m sorry, but I will disagree with Mr. Prinzi. Perhaps it is my American ear, but when I listened to the Stephen Fry versions, the characters all sounded the same, except for the women, who sounded like they stepped out of the old Monty Python shows, ludicrous falsettos. Perhaps Jim Dale is more of an actor-reader than a pure reader, but the voices he so thoughtfully created are gems.


  17. John,

    I hope Travis was not hurt by the flying glass as he escaped! LOL!

    If I may quote your brilliant statement on reading aloud to others,

    “The human being is designed for story, it seems, or, at least for aural/oral instruction older to younger. The two experiences of story that are possible for readers, consequently, silent or aloud, can be compared, at least with respect to which makes us “more human.”

    Aural reception of story, parable, or lesson, especially if in the company of the story-teller, involves relationship and an engagement with something (someone!) greater than the the personal self or ego. ”

    The first example that came to mind from your statement was from the Gospels and the power of Christ addressing the people in parables.
    The power of parables, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable, is the beautiful way that Jesus would use story (parable) to teach moral principles and life application examples through the prescriptive subtext of the parable. He would bring the teaching of the Kingdom of God to the people through “story-telling” in a way that each person could relate with in his or her everyday life, ie. the parable of the Sower of Seed, most Israelites were of a agricultural profession in His day.
    How important is this example to follow with our children today?

    John, I can still remember my daughter as a toddler, when it was time for Mom or Dad to read her a story and she would be sitting in Dad’s big chair excited and eagerly awaiting that next chapter from where we finished the night before! Sigh!!! they grow up too soon John. Now she is reading on her own at the University.
    However, we will always cherish those days of a book waiting on Dad’s chair.


  18. Arabella Figg says

    About to possibly bust another pane of glass here.

    I’m an avid reader and like to be alone with the story when I read it, becoming completely immersed in that world. And I don’t like being interrupted as it abruptly and disorientingly yanks me out of it. It takes two or three tries for someone to get my attention as I’m utterly caught up.

    While I enjoyed being read to as a young child, since then I can’t stand it. It simply drives me crazy and my mind wanders. When I read silently, I see the images evoked and hear the individual voices (movies or not); that three-dimensional experience becomes flattened when read aloud by one person. When a friend brought over a Jim Dale HP tape, I couldn’t stand it and begged her to turn it off after a few minutes.

    I’m a very visual person. Perhaps because I have synesthesia (a rare condition in which a person experiences the blending of two or more senses, possibly due to neural cross-sensory activation–I have colored letter, number, hearing and time synesthesias) written words take on much more importance, coloring the story. Although I can hear synesthetically, if it’s printed, I want to read it.

    And the idea that poetry is meant to be read aloud was a new concept to this poet several years ago, during a poetry workshop. I’d always thought poetry was meant to be visually read to relish the wording and its arrangement (although by sentence, not line). Despite doing drama for years, I found it difficult to interpretively read my own poetry. Perhaps this is also a synesthetic thing. Plays I’d rather see; I don’t find them easy to grasp as written, perhaps because they lack narrative.

    Yet, if it’s personal storytelling I love to listen. We have a friend who’s a born storyteller (true stories) and I can be riveted as he makes his experiences come alive. So I could likely enjoy hearing an epistolary or 1st person novel; yet, I know I’d prefer to “color” it myself, rather than let another person do that for me, unless it was the author (one good at reading their stuff).

    That said, there is great value in the intimacy of reading stories together, especially for families, because it builds a special bond. Since I experienced little of this, I remember little of it. And I’ve enjoyed my husband reading to me when I had a migraine–very soothing, helping me to sleep.

    Perhaps because we learn differently–aurally, visually, kinetically–we each appreciate the written word differently.

    This is a very interesting conversation. Please don’t hurl the glass shards after me as I flee.

    Little Flako saw a bird in the back yard and ran into the sliding glass deck door trying to catch it; he looks a little dizzy…

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