Monday, January 07, 2013

Storytelling: how reading aloud is back in fashion

At a weekly book club, Elizabeth Day has found that even in an age of social networking, the direct, oral tradition can still reach out to a new audience

 - The Observer,
Elizabeth Day Reading at the Simon Garfield Gallery in Mayfair.
Elizabeth Day Reading at the Simon Oldfield gallery in London's Mayfair. Photograph: Antonio Zazueta Olmos for the Observer

The last time someone told Thomas Yeomans a story, he was a child. Last week he wandered into a storytelling session for adults without quite knowing what lay in store. "For me, reading has become more formal over the years; it's something I do on my own," explained Yeomans, a 26-year-old artist. "So I swept into this at the last minute, not knowing what to expect."

Yeomans happened to find himself in one of the weekly storytelling sessions that I have been running over the past month in an art gallery in central London. When I developed the idea with gallerist Simon Oldfield, the premise was simple: we both felt that the tradition of reading aloud and sharing stories with each other was something that had been lost in modern times. In an era of social networking and electronic gadgetry, when friendships are conducted via computer screen and culture is increasingly savoured in isolation through a pair of noise-reducing headphones, we have neglected the pleasures of direct experience.

Many of us used to be told stories as children. But as we grow older, we seem to lose the knack. Yet there is undoubtedly an appetite for it: revenue from downloaded audiobooks has risen by 32.7% since last year, while The Reader Organisation, a charity that aims to engage people through the shared reading of great literature, now has 350 weekly shared reading groups across the country.

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