Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Read-Aloud texts

So, over the past year or so my voice has gotten increasingly soft and whispy. Which is something of a problem, since part of what I do is to occasionally present papers on Tolkien at places like Kalamazoo* and symposiums, and I need to be able to speak loudly enough to be heard. I'm also occasionally asked to appear on podcasts. Not to mention that it's a great inconvenience for the barista at friendly neighborhood StarBucks not to be able to hear what I'm ordering (though here the fact that it's almost always exactly the same thing helps).

The solution? Speech therapy. This is mostly a home-exercise course in that the speech therapist takes readings, assigns specific exercises, and suggests equipment that might help (ranging from a decibel meter to I-pad apps), and has me check back in on a regular basis to see what progress I'm making.  At first this involved me counting (typically up to a hundred and back down again), saying the names of days of the week** and months of the year, saying the alphabet (sometimes backwards for the sake of variety, which is harder than you'd think), and the like, all while trying to speak at a specific decibel level. My current exercise involves reading aloud ten minutes once a day, with a borrowed I-pad (Janice's) to measure my average decibel level.

At first I tried something from Tolkien, naturally: a section from the BOOK OF LOST TALES' version of the creation of the Sun and the Moon. That turned out to be a bad choice: too many unfamiliar names, syntax a little baroque for my purposes, and in general finding the content distracting me from the exercise.

Next I tried Henry James, an author I've feel I shd read more of, choosing a book of his I've never read. Luckily I have an old copy of THE AMBASSADORS*** that I set aside as a cat-walking book several years ago and never got back to after a few pages. My renewed effort was no more successful. I found that in this book James indulges in long sentences and long paragraphs with no subordination at all.****

So, casting about for something that was actually written to be read aloud, I settled on THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK. Next came Edgar Poe: a sequence of five or six of his best poems, which improves with repetition. For the past week or so I've been working my way through another Edgar's work: Edgar Lee Masters' SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY.***** I must have read a poem or two from this back in school but came away thinking of him as a second-tier Edward Arlington Robinson with Spoon River as another Tilbury Town. I was wrong about that: it's much more like the graveyard scene in OUR TOWN, except that here each poem is what shd be on his or her tombstone. Some are self-deceptive, some perceptive, some poignant, some deeply ironic, with many offering different perspectives on the same event. And the poems are conversational in tone and shortish, which makes them well-suited to my purpose -- though at this point, approaching the book's mid-point, I'd continue reading it aloud even if it were no longer part of the therapy.

I'm now starting to think ahead and am considering other poetry collections I have that are in slim easy to handle volumes and might make good read-alouds: Lovecraft's Mythos sonnet sequenceTHE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH, Blake's SONGS OF EXPERIENCE , TSE's OLD POSSUM, and a collection of Browning's best known dramatic dialogues. We'll see what works out and what for whatever reason just doesn't.

--John R. current reading: new Edward Gorey biography (just finished: disappointing), short biography of Herbert Hoover (restarting)
current viewing: the third Peter Capaldi season of DOCTOR WHO. so far so good (two episodes in)

*my talk this May is on the role of Tolkien's invented cosmology in his failure to finish THE SILMARILLION, plus taking part in a presentation about Marquette's recataloguing of their LotR Mss currently in the works.
**shades of "The Diary of Horace Wimp", except I don't skip over a day
***with cover art by Edward Gorey, as it turns out --in fact, reading the description of it in the Gorey biography and realizing I own a copy is one of the reasons I thought of giving the James a try in this context
****I love to write long sentences myself, but I'm careful to mark the syntax by identifying all the subordinate elements (sometimes multiple ones in the same sentence, all differently marked) as such.
*****this was another cat-walking book (Hastur, 7/12/14), where what little I read made me decide I shd someday come back and read more, though it's taken me a while.

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