Jorge Luis Borges’ “On the Cult of Books” analyzes how the idea of the book has changed from being a mere substitute for dialogue to being regarded as sacred thing in of itself (359). As an avid reader and an older sister, I have read many books both silently to myself and out loud to an audience, and the experience of reading a passage of Borges’ article both silently and out loud made me recall many looked over differences between the two actions.
For one, reading silently is much faster, something that St. Augustine also realized in his observances of St. Ambrose’s silent reading that, “[if] his time were used up in that way (reading aloud), he would get through fewer books than he wished” (Borges 360). Silent readers do not have to spend time vocalizing every word they read, or even bother with proper pronunciation of unfamiliar names or words originating from other languages (something I personally struggled with). Reading aloud is also more exhausting, wearing down the voice (Borges 360) and taking more energy to convey the meaning properly beyond what the reader personally can understand.
However, silent reading really is strange because oral language must by necessity come first, and the act of reading silently is like a conscious effort to sever the written word from the spoken word that writing was supposed to be supporting. Without spoken word, the written word would not exist, yet the written word seems to now exist without being spoken.
Almost any well-written book can be read aloud given the right circumstances, and some I would dare say should be read aloud. In her Atlantic article “In Praise of the Lost, Intimate Art of Reading Aloud”, Chloe Angyal explains how reading aloud made her relationship with her boyfriend more intimate [https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/10/in-praise-of-the-lost-intimate-art-of-reading-aloud/263436/]. Within my own family, a family where everyone reads and the walls are covered with books, reading aloud was a kind of bonding experience within the family. When one of us would get too excited about what we were reading, we would dart from room to room so we could read the passage aloud with anyone we could find. Reading aloud really is a way of sharing a love of reading with those you love.
Angyal, Chloe. “In Praise of the Lost, Intimate Art of Reading Aloud.” The Atlantic, October 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/10/in-praise-of-the-lost-intimate-art-of-reading-aloud/263436/, Accessed 7 Sept 2021.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” Selected Non-Fictions. Translated by Eliot Weinberger, Penguin, 2000, 358-363.
3 thoughts on “The Silent and the Spoken”
I really liked your idea that reading aloud can strengthen the relationship between the reader and listener. There’s something special about sharing a good book with another person, especially a person whose company you enjoy. And it also opens a space for discussion– the listener can stop the reader at any point and ask for clarification, or point out an interesting detail, and so instantly begin a conversation.
After noticing some things that make reading aloud to others a special experience, and some things that make reading silently a special experience, I wonder, what might make reading aloud to oneself special– does it foster a unique relationship to the text in the same way that the other two experiences do?
I really like your connection to stories bringing people together and freaking out about certain parts of books. I know I have definitely done that same sharing with people I know.
And I definitely related to part of the struggles of trying to read aloud. When I tried it with this book, I paused whenever there was something like a Roman numeral or a name that I did not know, which I had not realized when I read silently to myself.
While you only said it briefly, I appreciate that you brought up how reading aloud is tiring for the voice. Now knowing that most people read orally back then makes me ponder more about how their voice was affected in all of this. Were they more raspy, or are our’s raspy after a while because the tradition was lost over time?