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tennyson-reading-aloud-in-a-gladeAd Alta Voce.

If it were a ship, you could call me a plank-owner, because I helped create it, and was there since the first day. Or night. Or whatever.

It’s not a ship, of course, but it isn’t a book club either, and yet lots of people like to call it that – so I suppose I could call it a ship if I really wanted. Not that I do.

Ad Alta Voce means just “Aloud”, and we are not a book club, in that we don’t all read the same book and then discuss it. What we do is set a theme, find novels, excerpts, poetry, newspaper articles, song lyrics that relate to the theme or illustrate it – and then we meet and read aloud our findings. Typically, what emerges is a handful of wildly different takes on the same subject, some lively discussion, and a few new titles for one’s reading list…

reading aloudFor instance, we had a school-themed night, last May, and the reading choices ranged from Saint-Exupéry to the memoirs of Mascagni‘s daughter, from Guareschi to Judith Kerr, from Fred Uhlman to Frank McCourt, to Rudyard Kipling… While in June, “Vice, Sin & Transgression” brought us, among others, Dante, Anthony Burgess, William Somerset Maugham.

It is great fun, one discovers wonderful books, it can be done at virtually no cost – but what fascinates me is to see how very different readers will put their own spin on the theme. I love the unexpected associations, the questions they spark, the discussion, the thinking aloud…

readaloudAnd let us be clear: it wasn’t all smooth sailing from night one – we made mistakes, we made experiments, we found our format by trial and error, and we are most definitely still working on it. We grow as we go – a good thing in itself, I believe? The local Book Club Association doesn’t seem to think so. They’d like to absorb us, tame us, lead us back to more orthodox ways – but so far we have managed to smile, nod, and glibly persevere in our innocuous madness.

Will it work indefinitely? Who knows? We’ll start again in October, but meanwhile we are having a special, open-air summer session, with books, a huge telescope, and the equivalent of a night-picnic. We did it last year, with “Stars” as our theme, and it was magical. I remember reading Cyrano’s ur-space travel fantasies from Rostand‘s play, and seeing a breath-taking, golden, crescent moon…Frigate

It’s lovely, it’s not a book club – and I wonder if it isn’t more of a ship than I thought, after all… Why, if Emily Dickinson is to be trusted, it might even be a flotilla.