Wrapped in the rhythm of words

Words have at least two lives: one visual and silent; one sonorous, carried on the undulations of the air.

I sometimes find, when I am reading, that words demand to have that second life. That if anyone is nearby to hear, a certain phrase simply must be spoken. Recently, a coworker patiently endured my interruptions as I discovered the wonderful cadences of "Moby Dick." "Listen to this," I said after grabbing her attention with a series of giggles: "A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly...." Squitchy? Had I ever heard that word before?

I can't thank my parents enough for reading aloud with me and my sister when we were growing up. I can see us piled onto our squeaky wood-frame couch, with its square foam cushions upholstered in blue and green plaid, passing around a paperback copy of Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time." I was in elementary school, and what I remember is not the plot but the joy of listening and awaiting my turn to narrate.

Today's lead story traces how couples and families negotiate what to read out loud. My literary life is mostly solitary, but even with no audience, I sometimes give voice to what I read. I've decided to read the Bible this year, and the best way to get through Old Testament ancestral rosters is to speak them. It takes away the tedium, conjuring up images of a time when oral history prevailed.

But I've marked on my calendar a chance to experience again the thrill of group storytelling. Each January, there's a marathon reading of "Moby Dick" in New Bedford, Mass., where Melville set off on the journey that inspired the novel. Sign me up to read the chapter that lets me say "boggy, soggy, squitchy."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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