But from the perspective of a reader in, say, the early 19th century, about the time of Jane Austen, there is something peculiar about it, even lonely.
In those days, literate families and friends read aloud to each other as a matter of habit.
She points out that asking someone to read aloud is the best test of their understanding, and follows that with a wonderful description of how reading aloud embodies words:
Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th- and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.
Klinkenborg holds out little hope that reading aloud will make a comeback, like listening has:
I suspect there is no going back. You can easily make the argument that reading silently is an economic artifact, a sign of a new prosperity beginning in the early 19th century and a new cheapness in books. The same argument applies to listening to books on your iPhone. But what I would suggest is that our idea of reading is incomplete, impoverished, unless we are also taking the time to read aloud.
Here, however, her focus on literature misleads here into drawing a false conclusion from a too limited database. Whether or not they read novels and poetry to each other, throughout history many people in many cultures have voiced aloud the words of their scriptures, laboring to pronounce unfamiliar names, archaic translations, even foreign and dead languages, and prizing the skills of those who do it well. They still do.