Work Title: Book and Breath: Discovering Books Through Authors' Readings
Work Author(s): Anne-Marie Oomen
Byline: Anne-Marie Oomen
Because I struggled with learning to read, I loved being read to. One of my passionate childhood behaviors consisted of settling next to the most adept reader in the room with my current favorite book and being read to. I even loved being read non-narrative writing: letters, recipes, directions. However, as my competence in reading grew, the need to be read to fell away. I became an avid reader, but I lost touch with the pleasure of hearing literature out loud. The idea of listening to someone read up close and personal did not come alive again until my adulthood.
Decades later, when my writing career was just taking off but still felt thin and undirected, I was looking for a way to connect more deeply with story and language. One icy night in March, I drove to Interlochen Arts Academy for a reading that a friend had mentioned so casually I almost dismissed it. The wind reflected my mood---all bluster and worry. I needed distraction and naively hoped the stories would be good---what did I know?
That night, three readers took the stage. The first was Mary Oliver, one of this country's great nature poets. She announced she would read poems from her book, American Primitive, which had won the Pulitzer Prize. In minutes, her authentic voice, deep rhythms, and vivid imagery led me to re-experience as an adult the alertness of imagination that I felt when being a read-to child. I had returned unknowingly to that moment of intimacy with the author. William Least Heat Moon read next from his award-winning, Blue Highways. And the finale? Gary Snyder reading from the now legendary Turtle Island. Listening to them, I could barely breathe; I walked out caught in the magic of spoken literature, inspired by a real person's voice.
Because I had been in a highly receptive state, those readings meant more to me than they would have in another time. They resurrected the pleasure of being read to, particularly by an author reading her own writing. As much as I loved randomly picking up a book, when I heard someone read from her work, I became physically in touch with her breath, the heart of her language and meaning. Listening also helps me as a writer.
It has never stopped. When I heard Ron Powers read from Flags of Our Fathers I recognized a cadence that I hear every time I open his pages---the sound of my own father's...