The Act of Reading
It's been 10 years since the writing of The Atlantic's now classic essay Is Google Making Us Stupid? in which Nicholas Carr addressed how our reading habits (and our cognition in general) have been collectively affected by the use of the Internet. Carr observed his own scattering of attention, a lessening of concentration for extended periods of time, which overall makes the act of reading more and more fragmented, impoverished and shallow. To quote Carr's eloquent metaphor: "Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski." And over the past decade, our nearly ubiquitous access to the World Wide Web has made things worse.
The conspicuous consumption of our daily reading is a steady stream of piece meal information coming from a medley of screens: we endlessly scroll through posts, comments and messages, nervously bouncing from site to site, skimming, browsing and searching, jumping from our latest email or text to social media chatter, compulsively trying to satisfy our information craving. Reading is not what it used to be, and that's that.
But reading comes in different shapes and forms, and is not only for absorbing content. Imagine this: take a few minutes to sit down quietly with someone you care about. Choose a piece of writing you like, and share that piece of writing—reading it loud to the other person. You'll find something uncanny going on.
Reading aloud to another person is indeed a peculiar experience, something we are not used to, or if we are, it's mostly for children. In the past, reading aloud—and listening—was a widely enjoyed leisure activity, as well as a way of giving and receiving advice. Going far beyond a simple sharing of valuable content, the spoken word casts an enchanting magic spell, becoming a transformative force to alter consciousness.
In fact, reading aloud breeds human moments. A notion coined by Harvard lecturer Edward M. Hallowell, a human moment refers to the psychological encounter that can happen when two people share the same physical space, actively listening to one another. During a human moment people are totally present—physically, emotionally and intellectually—offering each other undivided attention, concentrating on the here and now, with no desire to be anywhere else or in any hurry to move on. Such moments foster connection and intimacy, and are vital to our mental health and general wellbeing. Yet we have fewer and fewer of these moments, even with our closest friends and family. And that sucks!
To Read Aloud
To take a crack at this kind of reading/listening experience, we have a portal straight to that Middle Earth where magic happens: To Read Aloud – A Literary Toolkit for Wellbeing by Francesco Dimitri. Born and raised in Italy, Dimitri is one of the most successful and popular Italian fantasy authors. A writer of both fiction and non-fiction, he moved to London at the peak of his career to find a bigger pond, and started writing in English.
To Read Aloud is a refined example of the literary self-help genre (it is noteworthy that Dimitri is on the faculty of The School of Life, an outstanding literary/philosophical establishment founded by philosopher Alain de Botton). The book is a curated selection of 75 extracts from heroes of Western literature: Epicurus, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Giacomo Leopardi, Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde, Simone de Beauvoir, Anaïs Nin, Neil Gaiman.
The book is divided into thematic sections—Love, Loss, Lightness, Pleasure, Work, Nature, Change, Chaos, Wonder—with each piece acting as a probe for existential exploration, shedding light upon timeless and eternal aspects of the human experience, deepening the knowledge and understanding of our existence. Each section opens with a piece written by Dimitri himself, deftly interpreting tales from Greek mythology with amusing wit, irony and lightness.
Overall, To Read Aloud is a goldmine of a collection: each literary gem can be savored independently, yet are woven together to form a rich tapestry of beauty and meaning. This treasure will crack your mind—and soul—open, both when read aloud and otherwise.