Reading out loud

In the pre-broadcast entertainment era, reading out loud was an amusement as habitual as going for a coach ride - for the social strata who had leisure time and literacy skills of course. In even older times, pre-medieval, there are records of people commenting with surprise on seeing someone read silently, it was so unusual. Kafka used to read his stories aloud and laugh until the tears ran.

Try reading a short story to someone your own age, or older, including much older. A friend, your auntie, your cat (yes, someone gloriously reported having done this)!

Think ghost stories around the fire and try something chilling. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a time-honoured read-aloud, with its deceptively normal opening, gradual building of apprehension, culminating in a terrible reveal. Plus, plenty to talk about afterwards, as everyone wants to know what it means. Shirley Jackson claimed she herself didn't know.


Or get yourself a collection of the haunting horror stories of Daphne Du Maurier. Read The birds and then watch Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation, or Don't look now, less widely known because Hitchcock didn't film it, but Nicholas Roeg did, an atmospheric bloodcurdler which made film history not just for its sex scenes between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, although perhaps most loudly for those.

Daphne Du Maurier
For something less frightening, but just as unsettling, try Ray Bradbury's otherworldly stories, often futuristic but not always. The Fog Horn is my favourite, a soul-stirring imagining of an ancient sea monster's tragic encounter with the modern world, inspired, Bradbury said, from his having come across the coils of a disused rollercoaster laid out on Venice Beach. If you want to have a look, you can read it online in plain-to-the-nth-degree text on the Internet Archive, or get it in print from the library as Bradbury would have wanted you to. He fought digitisation of his books tooth and claw, happily claiming his right to try to prevent the future.




How about a Sherlock Holmes story? My personal choice would be The hound of the Baskervilles, which I've always thought of as a story but which I've just discovered is technically a novel. Let's call it a long story. You could tell yourself you're going to do in parts... and then see if you're able! It's another one you could pair with a film viewing - the 1939 Basil Rathbone classic or the 1950s version: Christopher Lee! Peter Cushing! A slew of other B-cinema names!

If you like the idea of the great sleuth but you want something easier to tackle at a sitting, I've checked it out (not being a Sherlock expert myself) and A scandal in Bohemia sounds like just what you need. It's only about a 10 minute read, and introduces a Sherlockian-fandom superfavourite, the shadowy Irene Adler. "To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman." is the first line of the story.

You can't go wrong with any of the nine stories in Nine stories by JD Salinger.

If you prefer something more contemporary, which picks up on the maddening, sad and/or scary aspects of the world we inhabit today, without forgetting the comic side, try George Saunders. Have I ever been so disturbed by a story as "The semplica girl diaries" in Tenth of December? Possibly only by "The lottery".

Or Tobias Wolff, and here I will point you to Bullet in the Brain. Someone once phoned the library looking for this story right when I had the book in which it appears, Our story begins, sitting on my bedside table. He was looking for it because he'd seen it described as one of the most perfect short stories ever written. I agreed! Unlike that customer, who had to wait for me to return the book (but I did the very next day, even though it wasn't even due yet, because bonding), you can now read it right away online at P.O.V. No.27.

A Christmas story, given the season? O.Henry, master of the plot twist, wrote one of the most famous and sentimental Christmas stories of all time: The Gift of the Magi. You'll find it, and many of his other stories, online at the Literature Network, where you will also find such savoury read-alouds as Edgar Allan Poe's stories ("The cask of Amontillado"! "The Pit and the Pendulum"!), Oscar Wilde's heartbreaking fairy tales, Gogol's very funny classic "The nose" (a barber starts the day by finding a familiar-looking nose in his loaf of bread), and Ambrose Bierce's spectacular "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge".

And let's not forget that classic story "The Lady or the Tiger", whose very title has entered our language, referenced by both Sylvia Plath and Batman, an appropriate story to end on. I challenge you to read it (it's very short and very worth it) and find out why I say that!

Comments