Read to me
July 13, 2010
It was once the custom for workers in Cuban cigar factories to have a lector read to them from novels and newspapers as they rolled tobacco leaves. It seems so humane and so civilizing a way to pass the long hours one almost wonders why the practice was not more widely adopted, but then the cigar workers were considered a revolutionary lot, key to the Cuban Independence movement. Too, it was likely not applicable to other industries, where the din of machinery would drown out any human voice. Imagine trying to read over the roar of a cotton gin or giant loom or as swinging meat carcasses buffeted down the line–OK, my 19th century factory experience is nil, and anyway this all is just a roundabout way of getting to the idea that I love to be read aloud to, so much so that the most noxious household chore or wearying evening constitutional is made palatable by an audiobook.
I tend to listen to things I would not otherwise opt for in print, and in fact, it’s probably better that way; I nearly ruined my regard for Cormac McCarthy via an audiobook of All the Pretty Horses narrated by Brad Pitt. In this case the abridged version was preferable. Unabridged, however, is practically unaffordable, a luxury for the well-heeled blind. I have several local libraries’ limited selections of unabridged audiobooks to thank for my now-abiding appreciation for the work of P.D. James, and I also migrated to her in print, as well as to many other mysteries. Why hadn’t I been reading them all along? Some kind of literary snobbery, no doubt, but I wish I’d been more attentive during some formative phase in my writing life so that plot and structure might have more firmly imprinted themselves in me.
When my boys were infants, I could keep a low audiobook murmuring in the background, and for some reason (perhaps purchased for a road trip) we had one Harry Potter volume on CD—blue cover, Harry’s godfather plays a big part; his family house with the disapproving wallpaper is the resistance hideaway?—so I have now heard it at least twice through, about a million hours of that great narrator Jim Dale who can do all the voices just so but still somehow not better than my husband, whose Hagrid I so look forward to my children hearing. Because that’s the real deal: a live voice reading especially to you.
We read most of the Harry Potter books to each other, alternating chapters. I don’t know how we fell into that. We were living in Nashville, so it was about ten years ago, and we were relative latecomers to the series. We didn’t do other books that way—I dimly recall trying the first of the Narnias, and it didn’t take aloud somehow. But reading HP together was sweet and cozy and slowed the whole thing down and made it something we shared, some adjunct entertainment to our art installation of a home theatre consisting of two TVS and two VCRS with complementing functions in their listing corner stack.
Only one previous boyfriend had read to me and I to him consistently, as part of our courtship. To me it was a sign of the adult seriousness of our union as well as our common literary intentions. Mostly we read anthologized short stories, and then as I remember it in the late stage before our final rift, it seemed that he read to me exclusively, it was always Sherlock Holmes, and I would close my eyes and drift cleanly away on his even tones—and that was the intention, a soporific. For years after we broke up I wondered how I could have made a man hate me who once would read me to sleep.