Today**, for almost twelve full hours, I sat in a chair and read out loud 267 pages of the Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games.
It started on a whim. Our neighbors were going to watch the movie and invited us along. Neither Randi nor I had read the Hunger Games, and the writers in us wanted to read the book first. “You’ve got time,” my neighbors said. “It should take you a few hours. It’s a fast read.” They were going to watch the movie at 7. That left us six hours. Little did they know that we’d read the entire book out loud.
What you should know is that Randi and I read stories out loud fairly often, but usually during road trips, passing the fifteen hours to and from California (or eight hours to and from Oklahoma) with strings of short stories. But never have we sat and read an entire novel like that. At least not in one sitting.
Daniel Mueller, author of How Animals Mate & professor at UNM, calls the act of writing the most intimate of art forms. Movies, artwork, photographs: in these, (here I generalize) the artist produces something that can be shared by a greater audience. You know the drill: you sit in a movie theater, and everyone around you laughs, or cries, or cheers. You stroll through an art gallery and people murmur around you, some on guided tours, some simply strolling along, stopping and going at the pieces that strike their fancies. But writers. We communicate with a reader in a one-on-one experience where the page (our medium) can completely disappear and our audience members can lose themselves for hours upon hours. (At least if we are doing our jobs).
In “Your Brain on Fiction,” an article posted recently in the NY Times, Annie Murphy Paul explores this phenomena, pointing out the way reading causes physical reactions in our brains. For instance, words like “lavender” and “soap” activate the sensory cortex, and words describing motion activate the motor cortex. All of this culminating with a conclusion that we, as readers, intuitively know: that
reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that ‘runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.’ Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.
Perhaps that is why I love the experience of reading something out loud. It is the closest thing I can get to sharing that private, intimate experience with someone else.
Today, this marathon of reading (I was sipping tea with honey to keep my voice from completely dissolving) has reminded me of the joys of reading in a way I haven’t experienced in a very long time. It is simply about the way you can lose yourself in a piece. The way a writer can hold you for hours, locked into their imaginative world. And at the end of the day, what better inspiration for a writer is there than that? The ability to captivate? To recreate? To enthrall, through hunger, through to-do lists, through beautiful sunny days, to sit for hours on end, and lose one’s self in a story.