Study Aides.

I got in the habit of reading aloud in a serious way nearly two years ago: I’d just brought home Hero and Leander and thought I’d settle them in by reading Marlowe’s poem to them [i]. Really, I just liked reading aloud — something about the habit appeals to me; I seem to remember texts more effectively after reciting them. Surrounded by a houseful of people, however, it somehow seemed a saner thing to claim I was just reading to bond with two baby guinea pigs.  I read aloud a lot more often after I started my MA, and even more in the last year since Cynthia, the neediest cat that ever did knead, moved in; she’s a willing audience for hours at a stretch, so long as her reader is also willing to scratch her behind the ears. It got to the point where a few tetrameters could wake her from snoring slumber; she’d dart out excitedly from any of her numerous hiding spots. [ii]

And then E. moved to Japan, and asked people she knew to record short stories for the long journey. So I tried it, and found that I not only remembered the texts better afterwards, but that I paid a little more attention to structure and tone. After listening to the recordings, I found myself going back and re-recording paragraphs. Because hearing how the sentence, or paragraph or narrative as a whole ends changes how I’d would read earlier parts. Listening to my own recorded reading also points out very clearly the bits where my attention wandered.

And then, later this term, I was trying to get through my readings for a presentation on An Collins. But it was that time of the term, and I was exhausted and having trouble focusing on the poems. And I really didn’t have the time to do what I’d normally do in that situation (put the books aside, sleep, and try again the next day). In desperation, I turned the audio-recorder on, and read aloud. I didn’t even bother to listen to the recording then, but the habits of reading aloud and of forcing myself to pay attention sustained my focus long enough to get through the material in a half-awake state.

I suppose I could have done it without actually recording — that bit was just a mental trick. But I’m pleased now that I did actually record, because it’s that time of year: end of term paper writing frenzy, and I’m exhausted from spending far too many hours staring at text. In the middle of my paper on Collins, and finding myself needing to get through large swathes of her text again, I hit “play”. Admittedly, it’s not a great reading (as I suspected!): there a places where I can tell I was getting tired (the reading speeds up immensely for some very speedy meditations indeed) — but it helped. The poems I wasn’t terribly interested in I listened to, the poems I was interested in I scanned along with, taking notes all the while. And I’m realising that recording readings is a useful tool for me, not only because it helps me pay attention to and interpret the text as I’m reading aloud, but also because it helps me think through and process the texts as I listen to them later.

All of which is to note that — sometimes — it pays to indulge habits that seem ever-so-slightly insane.

19 April 2011 ~ Hamilton


[i] Marlowe’s poem. This was before I started calling the four-footed beasts who live with me by Jonsonian names. Luckily, a friend reminded me that Hero and Leander also pop up in Bartholomew Fair, so I can claim retroactive consistency.

[ii] hiding spots. For awhile, I was using poetry to lure her away from her H&L stakeout before I left the apartment, but she’s gotten wise and waits to see if I’m actually going to sit and read before taking the bait.


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