A Reverence for Words

Thursday, October 29th, ©2009 Marcus Brooks

I’ve just been reading to my wife. Some nights it’s hard for her to get to sleep, and it helps when I read aloud to her. It can be hard to decide what to read, though. Obviously, it doesn’t help to read anything that’s too exciting. Then again, some works bore her to distraction, and others are just off-putting.

For a while I was reading her stories by P. G. Wodehouse, one of my favorite authors. Those went well until I got to a dialog of Beans, Eggs, and Kumquats, or some such. I expect the occasional “old bean” now and then, but this story didn’t admit to a single human in the few pages I read, only groceries. I guess it was making fun of some British idiom, but I never tried to figure that out. Shea found the literary device so irritating that it put her off Wodehouse entirely, and I haven’t tried him on her again.

Another book that went over well was Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. I’m not sure why I stopped reading that to her, except perhaps that we only have it on Kindle. The Kindle is great, but it is inconvenient to pass back and forth if Shea’s been using it for her daytime reading. I can’t afford to buy a second one, at least not now.

Recently I tried picking passages out of an old English Lit reader, but that’s hit or miss. Apparently I can’t help reading some things a little too dramatically, especially verse. Some of the more antiquated passages are laced with strange or unexpected words, which Shea enjoys about as much as talking food.

To be fair, there are some things that I don’t want to read. For a while I was reading aloud from the Harry Potter books, but I had to stop. They are great books, but I’ve read them all fairly recently. Also they have a good deal of dialog, which I tend to read in voices. In scenes with lots of characters this simply got too difficult. Sometimes it even made my throat hurt.

For the last few times, though, I’ve been reading from what might be the best bedtime book I’ve tried. A Reverence for Wood, by Eric Sloan. This is a book I remember loving long ago, when I first found it on my Dad’s bookshelf, looking slightly out of place among various political rants.

A Reverence for Wood quietly rambles through the barns and woodlands of America’s past, thoughtfully examining ways that people shaped wood, and wood shaped people. Sloan describes wood-related skills, tools, and habits already much forgotten as he wrote in 1965. Some are hard even to imagine nowadays, when most wood comes to us as paper or particle board. Sloan’s accounts are complemented by pen-and-ink drawings that not only decorate the text, but also beautifully illustrate concepts that might be hard to visualize from words alone. (Fortunately, the text is clear enough to stand by itself, as it must when I read it aloud.)

It was almost an accident that I ever read A Reverence for Wood. Now I am happy to see that this and several other titles by Eric Sloan are still in print. I intend to read more, aloud or silently. You might want to do the same, especially if you like a good informative read about things forgotten that deserve remembering.

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply