My father usually read to us, although my mother gave us Little Women aloud on a road trip across the south when we were in grade school. But Dad had the gift of doing voices, and reading with a coherence that always felt rehearsed. (I mean rehearsed in the best sense, as though he’d practiced his delivery.) The first novel he read to me was The Wind in the Willows and his Toad was magnificent. No one will ever deliver mayhem quite so well again.
He read the Chronicles of Narnia (one of the best characters was named Jill!), and that little known beauty of Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. He read The Secret Garden and Kidnapped and Treasure Island. He read poetry to us, and Shakespeare. The first time I ever heard a monologue from Hamlet, my father recited it. He made those books alive and vibrant: the language a breathing thing.
Every year, my mother would re-read Jane Austen’s novels. Her favorite, Persuasion, was regarded as a lesser novel, but my mother made a case for its being Austen’s finest work. This was all before the Jane Austen revival in America. Back when she was considered subordinate to the Brontes. I cannot imagine my life without these books, and the voices of my parents reading them to me. The finest of all their gifts was their love of stories.
Gavin and I are not to novels yet, though I have shelves of books awaiting his interest. Right now we are still in first readers. But the other night I read Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Two Bad Mice to him, and he loved it so much that he asked for two more of Potter’s mischevious stories. Occasionally, he’ll fall asleep before we finish a book, and I’ll watch him dreaming, and wonder if he’s still inside the story. Sleep makes him timelessly my child. And I know now, the pleasure of reading aloud, of introducing a child to a story for the first time, the eagerness and curiosity, the delight. To discover, again, the adventure.