Community & Current Events

The joys of reading aloud

Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

The joys of reading aloud

Elizabeth Hay, Late Nights on Air (McClelland and Stewart, 2007)
The holidays don’t begin until I look into the grumpy, good-natured eyes of Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs. He’s a splendid character, an expert on creature comforts and cosy solitude, never without a Thermos and lunch bag as he voyages from Dec. 24 to 25 in beautiful panels depicting snow, sleet, rain, fog, rooftops, chimneys, house interiors, dawn, sunrise, daytime and home. My children and I pore over this book every Christmas, luxuriating in the spectacle of prolonged effort amply rewarded by the bliss of plum pudding, cognac, cocoa, a hot water bottle and bed.
    
    
Miriam Toews, The Flying Troutmans (Knopf Canada, 2008)
Last year our family went to Costa Rica for Christmas, and we passed around a book called The Fan Man, by William Kotzwinkle. It’s a pretty funny book, written in the ’70s, about a guy called Horse Badorties who collects fans but whose real dream is to put together a choir. We all laid around on the beach reading passages of it aloud to one another, including a few pages made up entirely of the word dorky. It was goofy and fun. We were all quoting a lot of Horse Badorties that Christmas.


David Bergen, The Retreat (McClelland and Stewart, 2008)
The Conversion of the Jews by Philip Roth is a wonderful story to read aloud. It might seem an odd choice for Christmas, but the nonviolent message is perfectly done. It is tremendously affecting in its depiction of young Ozzie Freedman, who challenges the hypocrisy of his religion and ultimately of all religion, and is physically punished by his mother for doing so. Ozzie desires certainty, and at one point, high on a rooftop looking down at the street below, he wishes for a coin in the sky (provided by God, of course) that would say either “Jump” or “Don’t jump.” The ending to this story is pitch-perfect; it’s a great Christmas read.

Ami McKay, The Birth House (Vintage Canada, 2007)
Our large, dusty box of Christmas decorations held three old books – my great-grandmother’s cookbook, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll, and Robert Service’s The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses. Winter wouldn’t be complete without hot chocolate, Gran Tilly’s lebkuchen, and recitations of “Jabberwocky” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”

Gail Bowen, The Brutal Heart (McClelland and Stewart, 2008)
Christmas was my mother-in-law’s favourite holiday, so when our first child was born, she gave me a journal for recording our new daughter’s first 25 Christmases, the inscription straightforward and wise: “Fill this book!” – and I did.

For 36 years, I have recorded our family’s Christmases. Our best have celebrated beginnings; our saddest were shadowed by loss. But all the memories are recorded, and at some point during the holidays, all of us read the Christmas journals.

Last year my husband and I made copies of our Christmas books for our three grown children, and we gave them each their own Christmas journal, inscribed with Babba’s joyful command: “Fill this book!”

Page 1 of 2 - Read page 2 for five more classic holiday books
Evan Solomon, Nathaniel McDaniel and the Magic Attic, Volume 2: The Sabre-Toothed Tiger (Puffin Canada, 2007)
As much as good food and drink, words and music have always been part of my holiday. On the family side, we celebrate Hanukkah. The highlight? Before the presents are opened, we belt out “Rock of Ages,” a song about the miraculous drop of oil that burned for eight days.

But there is also one poem, “For Friends Only” by W.H. Auden, that one of my closest friends sends to me every year, as a kind of ageless gift.

This excerpt, where Auden assures the reader that true friendship is never diminished by time or distance, has become, for me, the prayer of the holiday.
    May you fall at once
    Into a cordial dream, assured
    That whoever slept in this bed before
    Was also someone we like,
    That within the circle of our affection
    Also you have no double.


Andrew Pyper, The Killing Circle (Doubleday Canada, 2008)
I’m a novelist, a professional maker-upper – I thought I knew how to tell a story. And then our daughter Maude arrived. She likes books (and is destined to receive a small library this Christmas), but what she loves is for her dad to invent another chapter involving Pickles and Freckles, best friends who can leap off her bedroom table lampshade and pursue incredible adventures. The books I write (mostly) pay the bills. But Pickles and Freckles are my real living now.

Roy MacGregor, Forever: The Annual Hockey Classic (Red Deer, 2005)
We tend to sit with our own books and, in rare moments, will say, “Did you know...” or “Listen to this....” Yet for the most part, we read quietly in that marvellous “cone of silence” that those who come from large families (there are six of us) tend to adapt just to survive. For a busy family such as ours, especially during the even more busy holiday period, books are a double escape – first from the white and multicoloured noise that is the reality of any demanding household, and second into the indescribable pleasure of finding a special story that seems to speak, silently yet loudly, to you alone.

Barbara Reid, Fox Walked Alone (Scholastic Canada, 2006)
My husband, Ian Crysler, started our Christmas Eve read-aloud tradition when our daughters were small. We each take turns reading verses from The Night Before Christmas. Now that they are teenagers there is a bit of eye rolling about it, but aren’t embarrassing family traditions the best ones of all?
   
Jean Little, The Sweetest One of All (Scholastic Canada, 2008)
Although I am not a fan of winter, I look forward to the poems and longer stories we read at Christmas. But, in our household, the greatest reading takes place at our “Dickens Party,” which I have held, wherever I happen to be, for more than 40 years. About 15 people come together at 7 p.m. to help read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol aloud from start to finish. We read, taking turns around the circle, until we come to the break before the Ghost of Christmas Past. Then we stop to eat and drink and cheer one another on. It is wonderful fun and often brings Christmas to life more than the day itself.

This story was originally titled "The Joys of Reading Aloud" in the January 2009 issue.

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The joys of reading aloud

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