The most important sounds we can ever share with another person are our own voices.
The above quotation is from the chapter in our book where we discuss how we make our 3,000 mile, transatlantic, friendship work. We believe there are many kinds of distance that can separate people, and not all are measured in miles or time zones. What keeps our relationship fresh and alive is our willingness to keep the channels of communication open between us, no matter what.
Reading together is one way we honour that commitment, and amongst the most rewarding.
Young children—and parents of young children—know this instinctively. And yet as adults we rarely read to one another. When was the last time you read to your adult child, to your partner, or to a friend?
Geography need not be an obstacle. Fran and I live on opposite sides of the world, yet read together regularly on our video calls. We do this both for simple pleasure, and because Fran finds it helpful. She has difficulty maintaining focus, and finds lengthy works easier to digest if they are read to her.
Borrowing the phrase which introduced each story on Listen with Mother (a BBC children’s radio programme which ran between 1950 and 1982), I begin each reading with the words: “Are you sitting [or lying] comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” This simple formula marks the occasion as something special, and helps us focus on the words we are about to share.
Since we met online in 2011, we have enjoyed a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books, including thrillers by suspense novelist James Hayman. As Fran says:
There is nothing better than a well-written thriller.. and nothing better than it being set in your hometown.. and actually knowing the author.. but when you have an Englishman reading it to you.. that takes the cake...
In addition to James Hayman’s thrillers The Girl in the Glass, Darkness First, The Chill of Night, and The Cutting, we’ve read The Stone Trilogy (The Distant Shore, Under the Same Sun, Song of the Storm) by Mariam Kobras, and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.
Nonfiction titles include:
- Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, by Brené Brown
- Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung
- An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison
- Say Goodnight to Insomnia, by Gregg D. Jacobs
A full length novel or nonfiction book can take weeks to read, and represents a significant commitment in time and energy. Shorter works, collections, and poetry—including my own Collected Poems—can be dipped into at any time. Those we've enjoyed include some perennial favourites:
- The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams
- The Happy Prince and Other Tales, by Oscar Wilde
- The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran
- Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne
We keep a list of web pages, newspaper articles, and blog posts to read when we get chance. For the past three years we’ve subscribed to the Compassion Course Online offered by the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication. Each week we read the latest lesson together and discuss its relevance to our lives.
Although I do most of the reading, it’s not all one way. Fran reads me pieces she finds; she also reads back to me the letters I write her. We read aloud to each other a good deal throughout the process of writing our book, especially the editing and proofreading phases.
Reading together has given us confidence to read in public. I’ve read excerpts from High Tide, Low Tide at the Newcastle Literary Salon, and we’ve read at public events including a panel discussion on mental health and social media, and a fundraiser for nonprofit Family Hope.
Whether they are your words or another’s, whether the person you’re sharing them with is in the same room as you or on the other side of the world, reading to someone can be a powerful, beautiful, and empowering act. It is also an antidote to personal separation.
No matter the nature of distance in your friendship, keep in touch. Keep talking. Keep the channels open and the communication flowing. Share your time, your thoughts, and your worlds. Do that, and closeness will never be far away.