Sounding It Out

reading aloud music in reading

This is an essay by John Kilhefner.

It’s unnatural to lose the beat when we routinely read to ourselves or dutifully hammer words onto the page. Discovering the rhythm in the sound of words is akin to uncovering a new language — a language you perhaps once knew, but forgot.

Like any other studious child, I read. I read the books I needed to read. Few of them, if any, interested me. Einstein once said intelligence is fostered in part from the fairy tales we consume well before school age. Toddlers find words exotic — being aloof to deeper meanings, their intrigue owes to the aesthetic; their continued intrigue to the reward of word recognition by sound or visual representation. In school, well-behaved children read. The older I got, the less lustrous the words appeared. They were just words.

Still, I read. Not out of interest in reading, but eagerness to please. I was terrified of not being liked. Of letting my parents down, of academic ignominy at the desks of my teachers. I read, as studiously as I could, to impress.

Undoubtedly, it was the reading which fostered my natural talent for writing. Well, that and my dad’s uncanny ability to tell me a new story from his life every night. But I had no interest in writing, unless it was assigned. Or unless it was on my dad’s typewriter. The sound of the keys spelunking into the metal framework entertained me.

By adolescence, I replaced childlike eagerness with childlike rebellion. The latter satisfied me. And by high school, my head spent more time on desks than in books. Daydreaming, my thoughts roamed free. My senses melded with words which became sounds which became visuals, all simultaneously. Lucid synesthesia. Waking up meant the words were just words again.

Like any other studious child, I involved myself in extracurricular activities. I learned to read music and play the trumpet. I chose band, because my older brother was in it. I chose the trumpet because it was his instrument, and I looked up to him. The magic I would come to know in music was absent from my music classes. The curriculum dulled its hypnotic effects, turning it into another chore.

Then, in the ninth grade, a friend of mine brought in an Eminem CD and played it over the band room speakers. The song elicited a reaction in the band director, one I’d never seen before — his face was beet red when he whipped the CD out of the player and chastised us. As juvenile and explicit for the sake of explicitness as it was, I saw a certain power in words. So I listened.

When we think of rhythm, our minds don’t go immediately to the written word, but to expressive forms like music or dance. Our minds and bodies are naturally hardwired for it. If you squint, you can find rhythm in anything — from our body’s basic biological cadences to the rise and fall of the seasons due to the motion of the planet. It manifests itself in human creations, such as sports, and, of course, in song. When it comes to the latter, the reverberation of two carefully chosen words is literally music to the ears.

An explosion of ecstasy takes place when we hear a pleasing rhythmical phrase or lyric. This is immediately gratifying in music, while it takes a carefully seasoned ear to unlock the rhythms inherent in prose.

When writing, reading our finished work aloud allows us to experience the full breadth of what we just wrote. If it doesn’t flow, reading it aloud is often the lens that exposes flaws. Words, when on a page, only reveal half of themselves. Hearing the sound words make creates a multi-sensory experience fostering comprehension.

Like any other rebellious child, I listened to music my parents hated. I listened, at first, for acceptance. The more I listened, however, the more every word and every note I read coalesced. Exotic. Through music, I discovered joy in the sounds of words. Something I once knew, but forgot.

By the time I was out of high school, I read more than I ever read and played more music than I ever played in all my years as a student. I even started nurturing whatever structure I cultivated as a writer prior to academic-induced stasis. And by the time I took English literature in college, you would be hard pressed to find me not reading.

Reading and writing unveils its truth when both the writer and the reader think within the syncopations of jazz musicians or the choreographed beauty of ballet dancers. Prose consists of the interplay of carefully chosen and arranged words to form a complete composition.

Much like the tone of an instrument, the writer’s tone, too, influences the rhythm of words, sentences and paragraphs. The reader’s task is to infer tonal shifts, using the proper inflection to yield the full impact of prose.

While working at TIME, Hunter S. Thompson re-typed the entirety of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” He did this to understand Fitzgerald’s prose style and feel how writing a novel was like. Thompson was well aware of the rhythms of prose, subtle as they may be. To write well, one must find the natural sound within literature.

My flirtation with sound hasn’t just taken me down a path, it’s created a lifestyle. Today, I’m learning Japanese and, you guessed it, music is the primary motivator. I discovered Japanese hip hop, a marvel of globalization on its own, and am once again transfixed by the power of words. Or, in this case, the power that culture has on words. The English language is more suited to rhymes than Japanese, meaning the evolution of Japanese rap, or J-Rap, required a re-thinking of the structures of the language. I’m transcribing the songs I like into Romaji, and, because I only currently know about 200 words, learning the meaning of each word as I go. Eventually, I’ll cultivate enough of an understanding to be able to read an entire new culture. Now that sounds interesting.

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Johnny Kilhefner is a freelance writer specializing in the intersection of technology and culture. His work appears in Five out of Ten magazine, Unwinnable, PopMatters, Writer’s Weekly, Bridged Design, and much more. When not writing, he raises two young daughters while indulging his Sisyphean quest to brew the finest cup of tea. You can find him on Twitter.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Rima Xaros

If You Don’t Like Reading, You’re Doing It Wrong

don't like to read

This is an essay by Taylor Church.

I was not a bibliophile from the beginning. My love of books did not come until late in my adolescence. I never loathed literature, but reading books I found boring and irrelevant in school did not nurture a healthy longing to read.

I mostly stuck to the basics: Garfield books, books about NBA players with copious amounts of pictures, and the occasional novel about Wayside Schools or perhaps a fictional baseball player trying to make it the big leagues.

As my juvenility slowly progressed into my pubescent years, I began to form a somewhat broader interest in reading. But it only went further into the subject of sports. All I read was books about various athletes and maybe the occasional biography on a musician. The only real progress was that at age 14 or 15 I was reading decent-sized books with little or no pictures inside (often just a few choice photos in the middle of the book). One instance altered my paradigm forever.

I was 16 and in California on vacation with my family. We were lounging one day for hours at Huntington Beach. My parents were engrossed in huge paperbacks per usual. I was laying in the sand reading a book about post-retirement Michael Jordan. My dad took an inspired break from his guilty pleasure and accosted me. He said quite sardonically, “Why don’t you read a grown up book for once?”

I laughed and shrugged. I had no clever or reasonable retort. He then tossed me a paperback of some 500-plus pages and said, “Start reading this, if after the first two chapters you are bored or don’t like it I will leave you alone, but I think you will enjoy it.” I reluctantly agreed, thinking I was going to prove him to be the fool.

Well I was wrong. John Grisham had captured me. The book was The Runaway Jury, and I was hooked. Never before had I realized how enjoyable reading could be. I mostly just liked learning trivialities about my childhood heroes. So I got a late start, but almost 10 years later I have read almost 500 books since that fateful day on the shore.

I am afraid too many people are stuck in the same place I was 9 years ago. They do not hold reading with disdain or harsh feelings. They simply do not know how to love reading. They are stuck with the notion that reading is tolerable and enjoyable if the subject is just right.

But one must love reading! One must be enthralled with learning, exploring, finding, and searching for new ideas. One must learn from the past and study to conquer the future.

I have met too many people that claim “I like reading. I just do not have the time.” I assure them that the busiest people in the world find time to glean knowledge from the priceless pages of timeless books. Louis L’Amour in his book entitled Education of a Wandering Man said that within a year he could read upwards of 25 books simply in the time he spent waiting for things.

Ipso facto, we all have time to read. We simply must make the time. For Mr. L’Amour also said: “Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.” What terrific incentive we have to not waste away our time. Thomas A. Kempis so wisely said: “Never be entirely idle; but either be reading, or writing, or praying, or meditating or endeavoring something for the public good.”

My personal secret for making the leap from liking reading to loving it, to having an obsessive passion with it is simple. I dominate the books I read. No matter the book, if I come across a word I do not know, I do not read another page until I have looked up said word and written the definition in the margin.

Even if I have a pretty good idea what the word means from context, I look it up to homologate my suspicions. Why be unsure if we can be certain?

In reading works of history, I omnivorously look up subject matter, whether it concerns names, geography or organizations. Why just learn about something if you can become expert in it? Why are we so determined to know much, but be expert of nothing?

My books are precious to me. They are filled with food stains and scratchy annotations. They have underlined salient phraseology, and highlighted pieces of poetry. But I never vacillate with the idea of lending my book to another. The point of a book is that it is timeless.

As long as one copy is extant, its inspiration and influence can know no bounds. So why limit a book’s influence by keeping it on a dusty shelf or in a battered book bag? After all, knowledge begets knowledge. So if you are having trouble finding that passion for literature, do not fret. You needn’t run out and procure the works of Tolstoy or Edward Gibbons.

Read something small that sounds interesting. Knowledge begets knowledge. Read Wikipedia, read magazines, read blogs, read comics. But do not ever read just to read. Read to learn, read to edify yourself, read to find answers, read to escape. Let your mind be tangential.

If you just finished a book you quite enjoyed about two young lovers in South Carolina, read up on South Carolina on Wikipedia. Maybe you will find that James Brown is from there, or that Ray Allen grew up there. Or maybe you will come to remember what you heard once in an 8th grade social studies class – that the Civil War started in Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Let your curiosities dictate what you learn. And lastly, do not limit yourself to one book at a time.

Perhaps you think it does not make sense to read more than one book at a time. But should you not have a book ready at hand for your every capricious mood? Sometimes you just want to escape, get away from it all and delve into a guilty pleasure type book.

Sometimes you just want facts, so you read the Sports Almanac, or Guiness Book of World Records. Sometimes you need healing, so you read a religious piece to enhance your spirituality. Sometimes you just get recommended a book, and absolutely have to start it immediately because it looks so interesting.

I am always reading between 5-10 books at a time. And it is perfect for me. But find what is perfect for you. My advice would be however, to start a book any time you feel inclined to do so.

I will finish with a few words of sagacity by Henry David Thoreau: “A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”

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Taylor Church is from Utah, enjoys learning languages, is working on two non-fiction books and hopes to teach high school history.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Evan Bench

Discovering My Passion & Talent Through Writing

finding passion in writing

This is an essay by Ashley Kabajani.

The Question That Helped Me

Being the last born in a huge family of seven (six girls and one boy), it is not easy when your older siblings all have found their purpose, gifts and talents. See, I come from a family of strong, established go-getters, and I always seemed like I was trying to follow in someone’s footsteps but never finding my own path.

It all began when a friend of mine, who admires my siblings, gave me a call to ask me the strangest, yet most life-defining call. She asked me how I felt about being the last born when all my sisters and brothers are very successful in their own right. My mind started racing, and I gave her a long essay-type answer about advantages and disadvantages. It seemed simple but for some strange reason, it had me pondering and meditating for days on end.

The Little Girl Who Craved Information

I grew up in a small mining and farming town called Kadoma in Zimbabwe. My mother tongue being Shona, I was not articulate in English until I was in school. My siblings made fun of me all the time whenever I pronounced something wrong.

From the age of 8, I discovered a secret world where I could escape that boring little place, and it was reading. My father made all of us join the local library, which was not free by the way, but he was amazed at my massive appetite for information. I remember my friends were choosing books with pictures and big letters, but I wasn’t interested. I discovered Roald Dahl and never looked back. I read all the Nancy Drew series, the Goosebumps series, the Sweet Valley High series. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, even encyclopaedias, student companions and even newspapers. You name it, I read it.

From Reading To Writing

Before long, my written and spoken English improved, I was excelling in my studies and was always in the school quiz team, which included general knowledge, spelling and other topics. In high school, I was a bit lost. All the comparisons started from teachers who had taught my siblings or those who became teachers and were in school with them.

Life dragged on. I never really knew what I wanted to do. My sisters wanted me to become a doctor, my parents joined the bandwagon. I was lost. Everyone was busy with their lives and force-shaping mine. I continued to drift through life’s challenges and had journals for almost every defining moment and reading to escape my reality.

When my father lost the battle to anaemia, I was 15 years old. Crying didn’t help. I decided to write a letter to God, and I just poured it out on paper. I didn’t think as I wrote. I wrote about how I felt and asked God why this happened. Even though there was no answer, I felt at peace.

Decoding The World With Words

This trend continued, even when my mother passed away too. I just wrote it out and cried through the pain. From my first heartache, to my major heartbreak, to my prayer requests and even dreams, hopes and goals. I wrote more than I read as I began to experience the pain, pleasure, disappointments, accomplishments, joys, sorrows and just every other ideology I had that was shattered by life. I was living this life and things were happening, and all those defining moments were shaping and forming my character and writing skills.

I continued reading up on everything and everyone. I made sure I was a member of the library everywhere I went. I was not only escaping but learning. Soon the internet made reading more interesting. All this wealth of knowledge out there, and I could easily access it. I would read the news, read about medicine, new developments, read and see the world from my own home.

In the midst of all this searching and learning, someone asked me to start blogging after picking up one of my very full journals, full of pictures, notes, prayers and letters. I still haven’t come around to do it, though I write every day. Not too sure to who but I just write. In all this scribbling and reading, I seemed uncertain about one thing – my talent. Who am I? What am I doing here? Am I just a wife, mother, sister and friend?

The Epiphany

I got married at 25, had a baby at 26. He is now a gorgeous 1 year old little man. Though I lived most of my young life (all of 17 years) in Zimbabwe, I followed my sisters who had previously relocated to South Africa. I met my Namibian husband while studying in Capetown.

I moved to Namibia after we got married and hadn’t been able to find a decent job, so we lived on one income for so long. I think I sent a hundred job applications every week, but to no avail as more than half of the Namibian population’s unemployed.

Out of frustration and pure drive of finding my calling, passion and talent, I asked myself, “What is it that I can do with my hands that I can contribute to the world?”

Then I remembered how my research topics and assignments in university easily got distinctions. The answer was simple. I can write, but how do you make writing something resourceful?

An idea came to my mind and I started my administrative services business recently, and I offered my services to various businesses and individuals. Before I knew it people were asking me to help them write company reports, including CEO statements, speeches and other administrative jargon.

Words Are Powerful

At this point, something in me clicked. That’s my talent and my passion, and I had been doing it gladly without getting anything out of it. But now, I actually get incentives. But even if they were removed, I’d still be writing anyway. This is it! Looking back, I see where it stemmed from. It started with reading books as that curious, information-craving young girl to that lost young lady who used words as a way of decoding and escaping from her world.

If there is any advice I would offer anyone, it’s to find joy in reading in this technological generation. Even the gadgets should be channels to use to read, search for knowledge and connect with the world using words. Words shaped who I am today. And at the age of 27, I may be a late bloomer, but I certainly have blossomed and no longer will you find me questioning who I am.

Both reading and writing have proved to be more than just words. They provide therapy, entertainment, knowledge, information and can even paint a picture without using drawings or photographs.

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Ashley Kabajani is a wife, mother, sister and businesswoman from Namibia. When she’s not writing about business, she enjoys writing about topics that drive and inspire her and encourage others.

Photo: Some rights reserved by matryosha.