Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
This is an edited extract from a post on http://egsforbreakfast.com/.
The fact that I had not read Winnie the Pooh is an indictment of everyone who has known me up until this point. The Pooh-shaped hole in my life is a collaborative failing of every teacher and family member I have known for twenty years. This week I fixed it.
Winnie the Pooh is the sort of book that ought to be read out loud, so I got my grandmother to read it to me. I understand that not everybody has the luxury of a remaining grandmother, let alone a grandmother who is well-positioned to read stories out loud, but I do and mine is, so there.
My grandmother’s handwriting, Owl’s Door-Greeting.
Good out-loud readers sit on the Venn diagram overlap of “people with good aural skills” and “people who understand narrative”. My grandmother is a former school teacher-slash-librarian so she is the royal flush of readers. One afternoon last week I went to her house and I sat in her living room and she read me Winnie the Pooh, doing all the voices and singing all the songs.
Here is a small bit of her being both Pooh and Piglet in a rather charming exchange.
When we got to the part where dear old Owl (who you may recall rather exaggerates his grasp of reading and writing) is asked to inscribe a birthday message on a pot Pooh plans to give to Eeyore, grandma slid this handwritten note across the table.
I don’t think the whole thing could have been any more charming, and if it’s an experience that’s at all available to you I would highly recommend it.
Nothing bad happens to Winnie the Pooh. He isn’t hit by Weltschmerz, A.A. Milne doesn’t make us aware that he is marching inexorably towards the grave, he isn’t filled with a restless dissatisfaction that comes from too much comfort. I wasn’t afraid of anything while grandma was reading to me, I didn’t feel like at any point the bubble an author had made for me was going to be ripped apart.
That brand of contentedness is rare, and it got me rather pensive about the purpose of reading. This is notionally a recreational task. You presumably have a job and maybe a partner who you have fights with, and it’s probably fair enough that you don’t want an author trying to drag you through a verbose emotional quagmire just before you’re about to go to sleep.
Maybe that’s why reading’s on the decline. Maybe what we’re told to read is just too trying.
Who says I can’t read Winnie the Pooh for the rest of my given days? Who says I need tragedy and discomfort to make me a well rounded person, and who thinks the real world isn’t a rich enough source of both?
My heartstrings – and yours too, I imagine – get a decent yanking in a world where the Sandy Hook massacre is both a thing that happened and a thing that wasn’t that surprising.
If you are the sort of purist who wants a book to make you feel Big Things or not bother, I would like you to ponder this: at no point in your life can you wake up one morning and think to yourself “that’s it, I’ve made it, I’m safe now, I won’t get cancer or lose my house in a fire or watch my child go under a bus”. At any given point any (or all) of that stuff can happen to you. When you’re done processing that, phone your grandmother and get her to read you Winnie the Pooh.