Recently, I had a chance to do what I do best, namely, read aloud in front of an audience. Not exactly a big claim to fame. Since I was attending the annual Pacific NW Writers’ Conference at the time, reading was of no help in getting a book contract. However, the experience did save me from public embarrassment, as well as provided me with happy childhood memories.
When I was four, my dad taught me to read. I asked him to, so he came up with a system similar to what teachers used back then: flash cards. These were little index cards on which he printed a word. He’d hold up the cards one at a time and make me pronounce the word.
(I once saw a case where a child taught by this method could read aloud, but had no idea of the meaning of the words she was reading. Her parents wanted her to skip a grade, because she read so well. Oops. So I understand that learning how to recognize and pronounce English words is not always enough. But this method worked fine for me.
Friends from first grade still tease me about our teacher, Mrs. Carlson, whom they remember as the one who kissed us all goodbye each day as we left her classroom — another practice not current in today’s elementary schools. She had me read aloud in class often and sent me to read to third graders. Not a good strategy for encouraging other students to become better readers, I’m sure, but one that got me oodles of attention.
One of the sessions at the writer’s conference involved having a panel of four agents critique query letters submitted by members of the audience. I turned mine in with the others. According to the rules, the letter writers’ names were confidential, so a conference volunteer was to choose and read a letter aloud for the agents to comment on. He read one and I cringed. He was not the reader to present our queries. When he stumbled over the protagonist’s name in the second letter, its author jumped up and said, “Would you like me to read mine?” My query was the third chosen, and I wasted no time racing to the stage and grabbing the mic. I looked out at the crowd. As an audience to perform in front of, they were no different from the first and third-graders of my past. I filled my reading with emotion and energy. The critics all said, “Good letter.”
I noticed after I left the stage that the most enthusiastic among them was reading my letter to himself, and had begun critiquing again. He suggested shorter sentences and fewer clauses, and complained that one sentence was in passive voice.
Maybe I read aloud with too much fervor. I might have to look for an agent willing to listen to my novel being read to her (agents are almost always women) or one who specializes in audio books.