Books to read aloud to grownups

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading aloud, and why it is assumed to be more of a thing for kids than for adults. A couple of weeks ago the Millennium Library hosted an event to honour Freedom to Read week (February 24 – March 2), where we took turns reading aloud segments from books that had been recently, or famously, banned or challenged (especially those challenged in Canada). Of course, some of these were more interesting read aloud than others.

My department has also been working with the Writers’ Collective of Manitoba to hold open mic-type events where new and established writers can read sections of their works-in-progress to each other.

Finally, we are experimenting with a program that was started by the folks at Westwood Library called Tales in the Afternoon, which is basically a story time for grownups. Our amazing Reader Services staff are selecting stories and spending a half hour reading them aloud in a public area of the library. Feedback has been positive, especially for the humourous selections. This seems natural to me; I believe we don’t ever outgrow the love of a good story.

Being involved in these three programs has piqued my interest in the idea of reading aloud to adults, and I started wondering what books out there might make interesting choices. Here’s what I came up with.

I personally love hearing stories that were written in the first person, maybe because it allows the person reading aloud to transform into the narrator. (Or maybe it’s just more pleasant than hearing the protagonist’s name over and over and over.) It also often allows a playful attitude toward language use and dialects.

To Kill a MockingbirdFor this last reason, I think the classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee would be perfect for a read aloud. It would bring to life Scout’s voice, humour, and observations of the Depression-era workings of her “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama.

Many modern stories also feature strong first person narratives. For something in a completely different direction, how about a fictional reimagining of biblical figures from someone who claims to have known them personally?

You think you know how this story is going to end, but you don’t. Trust me, I was there. I know.

LambThe first time I saw the man who would save the world he was sitting near the central well in Nazareth with a lizard hanging out of his mouth. Just the tail end and the hind legs were visible on the outside; the head and forelegs were halfway down the hatch. He was six, like me, and his beard had not come in fully, so he didn’t look much like the pictures you’ve seen of him. His eyes were like dark honey, and they smiled at me out of a mop of blue-black curls that framed his face. There was a light older than Moses in those eyes.
“Unclean! Unclean!” I screamed, pointing at the boy, so my mother would see that I knew the law, but she ignored me, as did all the other mothers who were filling their jars at the well.

Yes, that is Jesus he is talking about (or Joshua as his buddy calls him), and if you want to know more about his childhood and early adulthood you will have to read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.

Another classic that I’d love to hear read aloud is Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Though not written in the first person, the storytelling is largely restricted to Gregor Samsa’s experience of transformation, in brain and body. Plus, it is purely bizarre, from the first words to the last.

Candian Pie

Let us not forget about non-fiction and memoirs, where the stories being told (often in the first person) are true and/or true to the best of the author’s recollection. How about the wry and often dirty humour in Tina Fey’s Bossypants? Or the unique collection of thoughts and patriotic musings in Canadian Pie by Will Ferguson.

Canadian Pie has been featured a couple of times in our Tales in the Afternoon: Readings for Grownups, which, by the way, returns to the Millennium Library on Wednesday, March 20 at 4 pm.

And just FYI, the open-mic event Library Out Loud is scheduled for Sunday, March 24, Sunday, April 28 and Sunday, May 26.

Maybe I’ll see you at one of our events, enjoying the read aloud experience.

And, let me know if you end up trying any of these suggestions yourself!


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