Close bonds develop through reading aloud: two stories

I recently heard the story of John and Mary. They’re both in their 80’s. Ten years ago, Mary’s husband died. A year or two later, she had a stroke. Unfortunately, her eye sight was affected. Although she could wear glasses to read for a while, her eyesight continued to deteriorate until she became legally blind. Then she could no longer drive. Wanting to help herself, she signed up for a braille class. John’s wife who was also legally blind had been attending the same braille class and John had been helping his wife by reading to her for many years. When John’s wife died, he realized that he enjoyed reading aloud to people so much that he went to the braille class to see if there were others who wanted him to read to them. That’s how he met Mary. Now John reads to Mary at least once or twice a week. They both attend their local senior center and participate together in a book club ─ John reads the books aloud to Mary and they discuss it in their group. Their new friendship has been forged through reading together.

In “Reading for my blind grandfather” (The Guardian, June 24, 2011), Sarah Franklin movingly describes how she grew up reading aloud from a young age to her grandfather – a “privilege she will always treasure.”

“I have an abiding memory of my grandfather, Jack. It’s 30-odd years ago; Grandad’s sitting in his customary high-backed armchair in the front room, his stick hooked behind it. I’m seven, perched next to him on a stool I’ve fetched from my grandmother’s sewing room. The Sunday afternoon light’s drifting in through the window. We’re reading aloud, our two earnest, bespectacled heads bent over the page in front of us, a finger marking the words; separated by seven decades, brought together by words. It’s a common scene in families; except, in our case, the usual order of things is reversed. Grandad’s been blind since I was tiny. Rather than him reading to me, I’m reading to him. An avid reader from the moment I cracked the code, I was indiscriminate in my choice of material. When you’re reading aloud, you read something that’s of interest to the listener. So I didn’t read children’s books; I read the sorts of things Grandad liked to hear about.”

Franklin explains, “Our reading sessions weren’t really about the dissemination of knowledge; they were about much more than the information on the page. It was a way for us to spend time together when other mutual pastimes were out of reach.”

Among Franklin’s take-a-ways, “More so even than simple conversation, reading aloud is a contract between two individuals, forming a connection that endures beyond the words themselves.” Franklin cites research by The Reader Organisation, a group devoted to the benefits of reading aloud, that “the closeness of the attention being paid to the listener by the reader, and the intimacy that reading aloud brings, has tremendous benefits to both parties. This can have an enormous emotional impact on elderly people in particular.” Franklin finds that “reading together creates an experience that’s simultaneously utterly unique and completely universal, and that remains imprinted on us long after the final pages are turned.”  <>

Both stories underscore the numerous benefits of reading aloud to all ages, especially the elderly. Perhaps paramount among these benefits, the close bonds that can be forged for both reader and listener.

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