Why I continue reading to and with my grown-up children

I once read to an adult, one beloved to me, who was in the throes of depression. Feeling desperate and anxious myself, unable to reach her in any other way, I read her a children’s book. I don’t know why I picked a children’s book except that it was an uplifting story about a young boy who undergoes a great loss and comes out of it in the only way he knows how to. I remember worrying about its theme at the time, its appropriateness given the circumstances, but decided to trust my instincts and go ahead with it anyway. I would read till my suffering kin fell asleep and that seemed a great achievement in itself. I would like to think that hanging on to my voice helped in some way because maybe that was all she was looking for then. After a few days, she began to engage with the story and look forward to the time when I would sit by her bedside for our ritual attempt to stay connected. Sometimes she would have a few words to say about the book or the author. All I know is that I will be forever grateful to both for helping us through those dark days. In fiction, readers will recall the moving episode in To Kill a Mockingbird where Jem, punished into reading to old Mrs. Dubose who’s dying of cancer, discovers a thing or two about himself and judging others.

This is not to say that one must read only to the sick and the elderly or in the hope for moments of self-realisation, but to stress that reading to someone can never be a bad thing, no matter what their age. I, in fact, lobbed this question, if I may call it that, to my children, both of who are old enough to have been reading on their own for a long time now. I wanted to get their perspective because I was surprised to think that there might be an age limit for reading aloud or being read to. Though I do agree that most of us, having successfully helped our children embark on the journey into the world of endless imagination, do tend to leave them to go it on their own when they become independent readers. And it is important to do that too. However, I still read to and with my children whenever I get the opportunity. I find that I really like being read to, especially since I have developed something of a resistance to the very idea of reading as I grow older.

These are some of our collective insights, though I’m sure other readers will have their thoughts to add to this small list.

  • We all respond differently to different texts. Reading aloud with another person helps you extract more from a book because we all don’t comprehend things in the exact same manner. It helps get a deeper understanding of the text and allows for an easy exchange of ideas.
  • When we read aloud we often pause to discuss, enriching the experience and bringing clarity to our thoughts on a scene, situation or character.
  • Often, because reading is linked with academics, it can become a chore. Reading with someone can bring the pleasure back into the activity.
  • It is easier to approach a challenging or complex text if you’re reading with someone. I recently helped my son get through 1984 by George Orwell, a book that he was beginning to find increasingly draining as it neared the climax. Reading aloud sometimes helps you face your fears.
  • Reading with someone can gently take you where you have hesitated to go before. I, for example, am not a huge fan of non-fiction. But when I read with my son I am able to enjoy and even look forward to writings on science/travel/history as much as I do the make-believe worlds I naturally veer towards.
  • Reading aloud can also show you the places you absolutely don’t want to be led to, gently or otherwise. Like this time when we hit a road block with Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue – we’d chuckled our way through most of the book when we came to the chapter on swearing. “I already know all this stuff so feel free to educate yourself. A little self-study is never a bad thing…go forth and be enlightened,” I said airily as I handed over the book slash burning hot coal to my children who, I guess, did go forth and acquire a comprehensive vocabulary of swear words. I wonder how many of their peers can brag that their learning happened with the blessings of and under the watchful eyes of a parent!

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