About eight years ago, my husband and I decided to relegate the use of the television to a very minor part of the family’s entertainment — mostly for sports or for use with the VCR to watch a movie, about once a week. Instead of watching television in the evenings, we decided to start reading aloud together.
We have found reading a loud to be a great way to spend quality time together; it fosters intellectual growth for both of us, it stimulates interesting conversations, and it sets a good example for the children. During the day, of course, I read books of varying levels to my children and supply them with great selections of books to read to themselves, rather than letting them sit and passively watch the TV all the time. Why should my husband and I spend our evenings together any differently?
The choice of the book is crucial. Even though part of our motive is to improve our minds, it’s better to choose a book that we’ll enjoy enough to finish rather than to choose one that improves our minds the first night and is never picked up again. Also, it can be a mistake to always try to pick a book both of us will like equally — we end up with a book no one likes at all. Instead, we often take turns picking a book, while avoiding books that either of us will actually hate. Some books that I was sure my husband would like we had to stop because they took so long to get into. It’s hard to tell. A book that’s great to read by yourself can seem awfully long and tedious to read a loud. Books with a lot of description generally don’t do well, unless both reader and listener love descriptive books. On the other hand, some of the books that my husband really didn’t want to start he ended up thoroughly enjoying. “Miss Buncle’s Book?” he repeated unbelievingly. “That’s the name of a real book? And you think I’ll like it?” Well, despite its odd title, this light novel by D. E. Stevenson had us laughing for weeks. (Her other books are generally too feminine to appeal to men, but this one is a sure winner.) The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman was another title that my husband balked at, and my description didn’t help much. “It’s a book about an old lady who becomes a spy for the CIA,” I told him. “It’s supposed to be funny and suspenseful.” Well, it was, once he self-sacrificially agreed to try it.
But we didn’t start out with those questionable ones. First we tried some adventure novels like Treasure Island by Stevenson and The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope that I was sure would appeal to my husband. In fact, we’ve read the latter aloud twice, and then watched the fabulous movie version with Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Next we went through some religious books. Unfortunately Chesterton’s fiction, we’ve found, is very difficult to read out loud because he uses so much description, although The Man Who Was Thursday has less than some of his others. We’ve read some of his non-fiction aloud with more success, however. Since my husband likes both theology and science fiction, we read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. Those had more description than I prefer, and since I do not like science fiction, they were a little tough for me, but I did enjoy the allegorical meaning behind them. We also read some of his Narnia books, too. When my sister lent me The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi, I recognized in the aggressive but humble title character a person that my husband would relate to, and we ended up reading all of the books in the series that have been translated into English. We both got to like Don Camillo and the equally aggressive, communist Mayor Peppone so much that we couldn’t imagine going to the hospital to have our fifth child without bringing a volume! (We never did get around to reading it there.) The Left Hand of God by William E. Barrett was another fun choice. Then we got into a mystery phase, reading the works of Agatha Christie and Rex Stout (although we had to be careful to avoid his more risqué novels).
I can’t say how much my husband and I have enjoyed our time reading aloud together. Much as I dislike the phrase, it is truly a bonding experience. As we listen to each other read, we hear each other’s voice and envision in our minds the scenes the author is painting for us. Because we have time to read only a few chapters a night, we live through each plot together over the course of several weeks, the characters and storylines lending a unique flavor to our days. We find our readings spark conversations and jokes and all sorts of wonderful memories that watching television can never do.
For spouses reluctant to spend their leisure time way, I suggest starting out with one night a week for reading out loud. Then, as you find yourselves wondering what will happen next – long before the reading night comes – you may discover you’re reading a little more often than you planned. It’s something of an acquired taste. There’s no immediate gratification like when you’re watching TV. Even reading silently to yourself gratifies curiosity much more quickly. Yet there is a uniquely satisfying joy in slowly but surely making your way through some favorite books with the person you love.
I highly recommend it!