Two Scenes of Reading

It’s an evening in August; I’m eleven years old. Even though I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for most of a summer now, I’m still arranging all of my belongings in my new bedroom. It’s the first time in the eight years since my brother was born that I haven’t had to share a room, and frankly, I just don’t know what to do with all the space. Everything feels smaller in this new place, including me. Especially me.

“Michael, come here!”

I hear my father calling to me from the living room. The sound travels differently in our new house, a ranch-style—there’s no way to pretend you didn’t hear, even when all you want is to be left alone to shelve and unshelve your action figures and bumper bowling trophies, which don’t seem to look cool no matter where you put them.

Upon entering the living room, I see Dad sitting in his chair; my brother and my five-year-old sister share the couch across from him, with as much space as humanly possible between them. It’s a typical scene, save one detail.

There’s a book in my father’s lap.

You see, among the Scotto children, there is one fact about their father that they commonly understand: the man hates to read.

Our mother—out at the store to fetch a forgotten dinner side dish—is the resident reader. It’s she who takes us on weekly library trips. It’s her books that fill the floor-to-ceiling bookcases in the den—bookcases my father built himself, but which he only uses to house one tome: his beloved Chilton’s Auto Repair Manual. It is quite literally the only book I can recall having seen him crack.

In his lap, though, is not the Chilton’s. This book has a red leather cover with gold embossed lettering, gilt pages, a ribbon bookmark sewn into the binding.

“I want you to read a story to them,” my father says, gesturing to my siblings. He offers me the book, and for the first time, I can read the cover: The Complete Works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Complete & Unabridged.

The Sherlock guy, I think, though I have never read any of the stories.

“I don’t think they’ll like it,” I say, really meaning, I hate this idea.

“C’mon,” he replies, really meaning, You will be reading from this book, no matter how much you argue, so save your voice.

I accept the thick book with gritted teeth, and then my father does another strange thing: he stands up from his chair and sits between my brother and sister. “Have a seat,” he tells me.

I settle in until my feet no longer reach the floor, like I’m in the world’s most cushy high chair. The book cover creaks open like an old door. “I don’t know what to read,” I say flatly.

After a moment: “How about something short?”

I spot a story in the table of contents and flip to it—”‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band,'” I snap—and I quickly begin reading.

I make it a paragraph before Dad cuts in. “Slow it down a little,” he says. “Let us enjoy the words.”

I sigh and start again, a bit more slowly. I make it a little way further, but before I can really get the story going: “Hey dude?” Dad says. “You’re reading a little flat. Try and let the commas do their job.”

I stare at him. For someone who never reads, I glower, you sure think you know a lot about it. But again, I back up and try to obey. I use the punctuation like street signs, telling me where to pause, where to emphasize, where to turn and shift my tone. Soon, I have to admit that the story sounds much better this way.

As I read, I find myself growing, straightening my back like my father always instructs, but I almost never do, willing myself taller as I build the story. I add flourishes—facial expressions, a gesture here and there with my free hand. Around the time I decide to give Holmes a plumy British accent so it’s easier to tell his dialog from the narration, I come to a realization. I’m telling an old story, but in reading it aloud, I’m making it brand-new. I’m not just reading—in a way, I’m writing my own version.

After a tense first meeting between Holmes and the exquisitely-named Dr. Grimsby Roylott, I glance up at my audience. My brother and sister are spellbound, enjoying my performance of the story at least as much as the words themselves.

My father, on the other hand, has leaned his head back and fallen asleep. Fallen asleep! I slump down into the chair, practically to the floor.

Then my father opens an eye. “Why’d you stop?” he asks. “You were doing so great!”

***

It’s an afternoon in November; I’m twenty-eight years old. Even though my book launch technically started at two, I’m still holding out at ten-past for stragglers to fill the final few seats. Surveying the room, I find myself feeling once again that I’m a small figure, in such a large space. But I know that will pass when I begin to read. It always does.

I’ve read aloud countless times since that first performance seventeen years back—for siblings, for classrooms, for radio audiences, for a lounge full of unsuspecting drinkers—and I’ve learned how a great story, read well, can fill even the most imposing of spaces. How a great read-aloud has the power to transport even the most reluctant of readers. Maybe especially them.

I remove my bookmark and begin. The whole audience leans in as I navigate my tale, the punctuation like street signs. They each lean in to listen—all save one. In a chair near the wall, my father leans back, eyes closed, lips smiling. And yet he’s right there at my shoulder, seeing everything.

Michael Scotto (@michaelascotto)

Michael Scotto has worked as a filmmaker, a saxophone player and an engineer’s assistant, but his true passion has always been writing. A graduate of the creative and dramatic writing programs at Carnegie Mellon University, Mr. Scotto is the author of the middle-grade novel, LATASHA AND THE LITTLE RED TORNADO, published by Midlandia Press in 2011. His second novel, POSTCARDS FROM PISMO, is forthcoming in May 2012. He currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife and their very naughty dog.

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We are giving away 5 signed copies of Michael Scotto’s first novel Latasha and the Little Red Tornado.

Rules for the Giveaway

* The contest runs from January 3 to 11:59 PM on January 7.

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* If you win, we will send you an email or a direct message.

* You must be at least 13 to participate.

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