Joelle Phillips has been thinking of those summer days long ago in Auburn, Alabama – days too hot to play outside – when she and her sister would sit in the den, “slurping popsicles while my mother read stories to us.” Summer wasn’t all about popsicles, though. Mom and Dad had important goals for their kids. “Growing up,” she remembers, “summer always included some sort of lessons or project, like learning to dive or mastering the survival float.” In the eternal way of things, what goes around comes around: “I still like to have a summer project,” Joelle notes. “On this summer’s list: coaxing my mother onto Facebook.”
Joelle has another major project in the works right now as well. As president of AT&T Tennessee, she and Mayor Dean have recently announced the rollout of AT&T’s gigabit service in Nashville, currently in progress.
Joelle will get in the weeds with you if you want to talk technology. She admits that her “happy place” is in the weeds! But she’s always happy to talk about books as well. Today, she thinks about the difference between reading and hearing a story. For her wonderful post last year on finding the humanity in technology – and an introduction to Joelle – please click here.
From Joelle, today:
Tell me a story.
Whether it’s a news article or a novel, that’s what I want from the author. I want a story. I want the story to hold my attention while I read, and I want it to linger after I finish reading.
After the story ends, I want it to provoke new thoughts and ideas – just the way she would close the book and talk with me about the story.
My family read aloud long after my sister and I were old enough to read on our own. My mother is especially good at it. The gifts that make her a great singer also make her an excellent narrator. Her voice has range. Her diction is precise.
One summer, my father asked her to read To Kill a Mockingbird to us. Our family listened together as Scout’s story unfolded. The story became a shared frame of reference for our family, a shared source of helpful examples and comparisons. We asked each other to “pass the damn ham.”
In the many times I’ve read the book since that summer, I always “hear” it in my mother’s voice.
Hearing it read aloud still helps me to connect to a story.
Recently a friend recommended that I read The Brothers Karamazov. Shifting to Dostoevsky from the last book I’d read (Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet) proved challenging. I made several false starts with The Brothers – bogged down by nineteenth century syntax and lost in Russian nicknames. But the story captured me when I set aside my paperback, picked up headphones and clicked on the Audible App. In Constantine Gregory’s voice, the cast of characters came alive. The story held me rapt.
Reading aloud also connects me to the reader.
My husband and I read to each other. When Brant chooses fiction, he usually prefers short stories to novels. His favorite is Fitzgerald’s Babylon Revisited. He read it to me while we were on a trip, and we talked about it the entire drive home. The parts of the story that moved him most were not the same things that resonated with me. His impressions and ideas about the story deepened my appreciation for the story but also provided insights into Brant.
Last weekend, I sat on the screen porch and listened as The Brothers’ story came to a close. Alyosha shares this insight with the schoolboys gathered for their friend’s funeral:
“You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education.”
Listening to a story told – consuming it through the sound of a human voice instead of silently reading the text – enhances the power of the story. That’s something I learned in my childhood home, a sacred memory from the house filled with books where my mother still lives.