How reading aloud can be an act of seduction



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Kiera Vaclavik, Queen Mary University of London

Reading aloud is an activity that we associate with the cosy comfort of children’s bedtime stories. Certainly, children’s classics from The Gruffalo to the Alice books are produced knowing that when they come to be read, the chances are that an older person will be reading them aloud to a younger one.

The extensive benefits of reading aloud to children are well documented. Researchers have found that toddlers who are read to become children who are “more likely to enjoy strong relationships, sharper focus, and greater emotional resilience and self-mastery”.

Unsurprisingly, then, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud to children. It’s even used by sociologists as one of the most important indicators of life prospects.

But if reading aloud is so good for us, why has it become primarily the preserve of childhood?

How silent reading took over

Of course it wasn’t always this way. As Meghan Cox Gurdon, the Wall Street Journal’s Children’s book critic, points out, since the advent of the written word until the 10th century, “to read at all was to read aloud”.

Even after silent reading became more common, it co-existed with what English Literature professor Abigail Williams refers to as “communal” and “social” forms of reading well into the 19th century. Only when the voices of mass media entered the home through radio and TV sets did reading as a shared public activity between consenting adults specifically start to wane.

Woman reading out loud to three children in a classroom
Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from being read to.
Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock

But as books themselves reveal, reading aloud could be more than merely sociable. It can be deeply seductive, forging intimate as well as communal bonds.

Azar Nafisi’s memoir about life as a woman and as a literature teacher in post-revolutionary Iran, Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), features students Manna and Nima, who “had fallen in love in large part because of their common interest in literature”. If a love of literature draws this couple together, it’s reading it aloud that cements their relationship. The words they read aloud conjure a safe space from the difficulties of their word.

Likewise, in Mansfield Park (1814), Jane Austen uses reading aloud as a highly charged turning point in the relationship between protagonist Fanny Price and her recently declared suitor, Henry Crawford. When Henry reads aloud to the gathered assembly, his skill and sensitivity is such that Fanny is forced to sit up and listen despite herself.

Her needlework, upon which she determinedly focuses all her attention at first, eventually drops into her lap “and at last … the eyes which had appeared so studiously to avoid him throughout the day were turned and fixed on Crawford, fixed on him for minutes, fixed on him in short till the attraction drew Crawford’s upon her, and the book was closed, and the charm was broken.”

This insistent repetition makes for fairly steamy stuff in the Regency drawing room.

Reading as seduction

Elsewhere, reading aloud goes beyond such (ultimately unsuccessful) wooing. Spoiler alert: Crawford scuppers his chance with Fanny and runs away with her (already married) cousin (gasp!).

In Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader (1997), reading aloud underpins the relationship between the narrator, Michael, and his much older lover, Hanna – played in the 2008 film adaptation by David Kross/Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet.

Whether to keep Michael on track, or out of pure self-interest, Hanna insists that Michael read to her before they make love. Only much later do Michael and the reader discover that Hanna has two secrets (spoiler alert): she is a former concentration camp guard and she is illiterate.

Here, reading aloud is not just the warm-up act but an integral part of an intimate “ritual of reading, showering, making love and lying beside each other”. Reading unites these two very different individuals both physically and emotionally. Much later, when Hanna is imprisoned for war crimes, Michael continues to read to her from a distance; the taped recordings he sends ultimately allowing her to learn to read herself.

The unhappy fates of some of these relationships show that reading aloud is not a one-way ticket to the happily ever after. But these scenes do reveal its deep sensuality. According to Gurdon, the Wall Street Journal’s Children’s book critic, “there is incredible power in this fugitive exchange”.

Gurdon also suggests that reading aloud “has an amazing capacity to draw us closer to one another” both figuratively and literally. Where solitary reading drives us into ourselves – producing the cliched image of the couple reading their own books in bed before rolling over and turning out the light – reading aloud is a shared experience.

Reading aloud takes longer, but that is part of the point. Slow reading is sensuous reading. As opposed to the audiobooks now so firmly a part of the cultural landscape, for adults as well as children, reading aloud is responsive, intuitive and embodied.

The reader is also an observer, who adapts gestures, facial expressions and intonation in response to cues. Listeners observe too of course, their attention centred on the person before or alongside them.

With conversation petering out after months of lockdown and no restaurants, museums and cinemas to go to for some time yet, it’s worth remembering that learning and romance are still to be found under the (book) covers … as long as we read the words aloud.The Conversation

Kiera Vaclavik, Professor of Children’s Literature & Childhood Culture, Queen Mary University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Five tips to get reading again if you’ve struggled during the pandemic



We all read much more than we give ourselves credit for.
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Alexandra Paddock, University of Oxford and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, University of Oxford

Like many people, you may have resolved this New Year to read more in 2021 and spend less time on your screens. And now you may be wondering how to find the time to do it, especially in lockdown conditions, with different time constraints and anxieties pressing on us.

One solution is to go with shorter bursts of reading. Our Summer 2020 pop-up project, Ten-Minute Book Club, was a selection of ten excerpts from free literary texts, drawn from a wide range of writing in English globally.

Based on our larger project, LitHits, each week the book club presented a 10-minute excerpt framed by an introduction from an expert in the field and suggestions for free further reading.

We found that the top two things people responded to were the core idea of brevity – one of the most common terms in tweets about the project was “short” – and the quality and diversity of the literature. Our analytics showed that readers dipped in and out of the project over the 10-week span rather than regularly following along. One possible reason for this is that finding regular time for reading literature is not easy, especially right now.

Perhaps surprisingly, then, this article contains no advice about time management or habit-building. Instead, our five tips for reading are about fragments: literature interrupted.

This is nothing new. It is sometimes easy to forget that the 19th-century novel developed by the likes of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell, which appear so dauntingly thick in book form, were first read in magazine instalments featuring a chapter or two at a time. Brevity was a significant part of their original appeal.

1. Don’t start from zero

Begin positively by noticing how much you are already reading in your life without even thinking about it. Even if you have not opened a book in over a year, remember that we are in an age of hyper-literacy and our days are saturated with words. You can harness this.

You probably flex your reading muscles all day long without giving yourself credit for it. Recognising that is a step towards choosing different content, if that’s what you want, or simply considering how you engage with the texts you already read (even if they’re often 280 characters or fewer).

Two people on their phones
Reading tweets and scrolling through the news or even emails counts as reading.
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2. Quality, not quantity

Prioritise the quality of the attention you are paying to words. Reading well is the practice of noticing carefully and with an informed perspective – it’s not so much what you read as how you do it.

Throw away your inner “reading activity tracker” and enjoy curious and provocative engagements with whatever you’re reading, without worrying about racking up the literary miles. This will also dispel that sense of guilt about not reading “enough” that can make reading seem like yet another chore, akin to “not getting enough exercise”.

In his introduction to Sudden Fiction International (1989), an anthology of very short stories or “flash fiction”, American novelist Charles Baxter made the point that the duration of our attention is not as important as its quality: “No-one ever said that sonnets or haikus were evidence of short attention spans.”

3. Lose track of time

As well as not keeping a count of books read, try to note how different the time spent reading feels. Many people assume that reading takes time, the very thing most of us lack. Yet there is another, more subtle temporal element to reading that has more to do with the cognitive experience of the text itself.

Centuries can flash by in seconds and moments can roll out over aeons. Jia Tolentino captures this brilliantly in her characterisation of reading the work of Margaret Atwood: “nothing was really happening, but I was riveted, and fearful, as if someone were showing me footage of a car crash one frame at a time”.

4. Be opportunistic

You can find pleasure in a few snatched moments of reading, and these are just as worthwhile for the immersive experience they bring through the encounter with language, images, and ideas. There is no ideal environment or place to read – just do it wherever you can and whenever you have some spare moments.

5. Connect and take control

Choose what you read and find ways to try texts out for yourself to help your search, rather than relying on recommendation sites. Such sites are usually not as objective as they claim. For instance Goodreads, the social site where people can compile books they’ve read or would like to read, as well as find recommendations, is owned by book-selling behemoth Amazon.

Recognise, too, the difference between buying a book and reading more. In her 2019 book, What We Talk about When We Talk about Books, Leah Price emphasises that every reader finds the text through their own journey, in the conversations, forums and different devices that could have brought them to it.

Rita Felski too, in Uses of Literature, talks about the ways that texts need to connect with us, and “make friends” – surviving history necessarily because they make connections with people again and again.

So, will you be reading more in 2021? Reader, you already are.The Conversation

Alexandra Paddock, Lecturer in English and Assistant Senior Tutor, University of Oxford and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, Professor of English and Theatre Studies, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Chrome Extensions to Increase Reading Speed


The links below are to articles that look at Chrome Extensions that aim to increase reading speed.

For more visit:
https://ebookfriendly.com/spreed-chrome-extension-read-twice-faster/
https://the-digital-reader.com/2020/11/05/read-at-triple-your-normal-speed-with-one-of-these-five-chrome-extension/

One quarter of Australian 11-12 year olds don’t have the literacy and numeracy skills they need



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Sergio Macklin, Victoria University and Sarah Pilcher, Victoria University

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, very remote areas, and Indigenous Australians are up to two times more likely to start school developmentally vulnerable than the national average.

In 2018, 21.7% of Australian five year olds (70,308 children) were not developmentally ready when they started school. And in Year 7, nearly 25% of students (72,419) didn’t have the required numeracy and literacy skills.

Our report, Educational Opportunity in Australia 2020, is the first to examine Australia’s performance against the goals set out in the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration, a national statement agreed to by Australian education ministers in 2019.

The statement aims for a quality education system for all young people, that supports them to be creative and confident individuals, successful learners and active and informed members of the community.

But our report finds students’ location and family circumstances continue to play a strong role in determining outcomes from school entry to adulthood.

While this crisis in educational inequality isn’t new, it’s likely to get a lot worse, as COVID-19 increases levels of student vulnerability and remote learning widens gaps in achievement.

Disadvantaged children missing out as school progresses

The Alice Springs declaration sets two ambitious goals:

  • the Australian education system promotes excellence and equity. In part, this is about ensuring all young Australians have access to high-quality education, inclusive and free from any form of discrimination

  • all young Australians become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community. This includes all children having a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, cultural, spiritual and physical well-being.

The declaration was signed last year, and builds on previous ones signed in Hobart, Adelaide and Melbourne over three decades. It recognises the role education plays in preparing young people to contribute meaningfully to social, economic and cultural life.




Read more:
The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians: what it is and why it needs updating


Our report uses the best available data to paint a comprehensive picture of Australia’s performance against the above important goals.

It shows the gap in academic learning as well as other key areas, such as creativity and confidence, is clear from school entry and usually grows over time.

Analysis in our report tracked students’ learning from when they started school in 2009 to when they were in Year 5 in 2014. It showed that in literacy and numeracy for instance, the gap between the proportion of children from the most disadvantaged and advantaged families meeting relevant standards grew from 20.6 percentage points at school entry to 27.2 percentage points in Year 5.



The report also shows too many students in the senior years of school are not developing key skills. In 2018, 27.8% of 15 year olds (88,314) didn’t meet or exceed the international benchmark standards in maths, reading and science.

While some students receive the support they need to catch up to their peers, many don’t.

A lot of young people are also not developing the qualities needed to confidently adapt to challenges in adulthood and contribute to their communities.

The report shows that in 2017, 28.1% (110,410) of 23 year olds were not confident in themselves or the future and 29.9% were not adaptable to change and open to new ideas. It shows 38.1% (145,056) of 23 year olds were not actively engaged in their community and 33.2% were not keeping informed about current affairs.

Additionally, many young Australians are not being well prepared and supported to find and secure meaningful employment. Overall, according to the 2016 census, nearly 30% of 24 year olds (112,695) weren’t in full-time education, training or work.

Around half of all 24 year old Indigenous Australians, and one in three of the most disadvantaged Australians, were not engaged in any work or education, compared to 15% nationally.



This failure to address educational inequality reproduces and amplifies existing poverty across generations. It saps productivity, undermines social cohesion and costs governments and communities billions of dollars.

On an individual level, it hampers young people’s search for secure employment and is connected to poorer health and lower quality of life.

What should we do?

There are no quick ways to fix educational inequality, but there are several key improvements that will make a difference.

Closing gaps in participation and lifting the quality of early childhood education services — particularly in disadvantaged communities where services tend to be lower quality — should be one of our highest priorities. Early childhood education is critical to giving every child the best possible start. Evidence shows preschool raises children’s chances of being developmentally ready for school in key areas by around 12 percentage points.




Read more:
Preschool benefits all children, but not all children get it. Here’s what the government can do about that


Despite efforts through the Gonski reforms, there is still significant room to improve how Australia targets funding and support to schools with the highest level of need. We need to address the imbalance in resources between advantaged and disadvantaged Australian schools, which is the worst in the OECD.

This is not just about money, but building strong leadership and teaching capability in every school. High quality teaching is proven to be critical to improving student outcomes. We also need to support high quality use of data and assessment to tailor teaching to students’ needs, provide feedback and measure progress.




Read more:
How to get quality teachers in disadvantaged schools – and keep them there


Government projections show 90% of employment growth in the next four years will require education beyond school. This means we must prepare young people for an economy requiring higher levels of skill than ever. We need to rethink existing models of tertiary education to make it accessible to all students.

Addressing educational inequality is as much about what happens outside the classroom as inside. Nurturing every child’s development and well-being is best achieved through a partnership between schools, families, communities and other support services.

Australia cannot afford education systems that fail so many students. That’s not just in economic terms – because the cost of lost opportunity is even greater down the track – but also in human terms. We know the social and health costs of disengaging in education are significant.The Conversation

Sergio Macklin, Deputy Lead of Education Policy, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University and Sarah Pilcher, Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.