About a month ago, a friend of mine held a reading evening. The ingredients for this were pretty simple – a group of about fifteen people gathered, in a circle, and reading aloud pieces we loved to each other. Poems, polemics, bits of novels, non-fiction, diaries, letters – these were all by women, but you could theme it anyhow you wanted.
It was a chilly basement, with strip lighting. We had wine in plastic cups. We had our coats on. I don’t know about anyone else, but the chill rain outside seemed the perfect pathetic fallacy for my mood. Despite all this, such a simple idea had quite an impact on me. I began to hear the pieces as never before, and spot new subtexts in familiar works, and find myself moved in different ways as the words were formed in other people’s mouths, taking shape outside of my head and into the world. I began to have ideas, and scribble notes on the back of my print-outs.
There were sad pieces, that left a hollow space in the air for just a few seconds. Funny pieces – a big laugh on Caitlin Moran’s line about the revolution ‘not being smart casual’. There were sexy pieces, and angry pieces, and interesting pieces. The air filled with words, and smiles of recognition, and the voices of long-gone women speaking as if right into our ears. You could almost feel their lost breath, trapped between the syllables.
Reading aloud is something of a lost art, like barrel-making or recording mix-tapes so you don’t end up with just a few lines of one song at the end. I think we should revive it. Being read aloud to feels like someone coming up behind you and taking you in their arms. It’s the ultimate act of patient, and love, and sharing.
Try it. Get a group of friends, some wine (or drink of your choice), and gather, and take it in turns to read things you love, things that move you, things that make you angry, make you laugh. It’s free and fun and you will emerge refreshed and inspired. What will survive of us is words.
And wine, of course.