No Silent Reading

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Ambrose was scanning the page of the book before him, Augustine said, and his heart was obviously deeply involved in the meaning of what he was reading, but “his voice was silent and his tongue was still.”

So what was the extraordinary, even shocking behavior the bishop apparently practiced?

He read to himself. All the time. That was. . . remarkably unusual.

That’s because from antiquity, what was written was meant to be spoken. Books were rarities, and were intended to be shared for the good of the many (who often could not themselves read at all.) And the rhythms and nuances of the world’s finest writing often must be voiced to be appreciated, even if experienced alone.

I listen to recorded books all the time. One reason is that I can’t stand to let my mind go idle while I do relatively mindless tasks like dusting, yard work, mopping, and long-distance driving. I can give myself a mental vacation and not feel guilty because I’m getting a lot done otherwise.

But secondly, it enforces a discipline. By listening, I make myself a captive audience and give a book a chance (at least the first 45 minutes) that I might not give a print book –I’d be scanning ahead, thumbing through, impatient.

Recently listening to an audio book may have rescued my writing career. About three months ago I was so deeply discouraged about my writing –in fact, perhaps for the first time in my life, even in a state of depression—that I could not write. I would sit for days in front of the computer without being able to complete a good sentence. I was completely stalled and sinking farther by the moment.

I prayed. I asked others to pray. I fasted. I meditated. I descended.

I shop for audio books at a local charity store. Usually I listen to something a previous owner donated: which means that my selection is usually quite limited and most often not what I would have bought for myself nor checked out of a library. But in that, I feel a guidance and direction of my listening.

Just how significant that is, became apparent during this great, bleak, wordless period. I began listening to The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. Within ten minutes I was entranced. More than that, the glue of the depression began to moisten and loosen.

It’s not a Christian book at all (though Karr subsequently became a Christian.) But it was excellent, insightful, articulate writing. I found myself hearing the voice and participating in the wonder of words. I began thinking about a situation from my childhood and suddenly I knew exactly how to write it.

And now I am back to writing.

How about you? What role does the spoken word of literature play in your life as a reader or a writer?

(This post appeared first on Go Ahead and Wear the Purple)

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