Around about 4th grade, I competed in a UIL competition on reading. I could read well and fast. Faster than almost anyone else. I didn’t stutter or lose my place. How well I read, I praised myself. On the day of every competitor was given a copy of Shel Silverstein’s poem Dreadful. While we all sat in the hall, reading the lines, and being told the rules a fellow classmate, Brittany, asked if we had to read exactly what was written or, for instance, could she maybe actually burp. The administrator, a little confused, said sure she supposed that would be allowed. I thought it was an absolutely improper homage to the spirit of proper reading. I lost. Brittany won. Though her reading wasn’t open to an audience I’m positive she “burped.”
In 7th grade The Outsiders was assigned as part of our reading list. I took my paperback copy home and started reading. At the end, I stopped. In class the teacher would hand out assignments and test our knowledge over the part of the book we were supposed to have read. I’d pull out my copy, already becoming worn, and re-read the assigned section. Then, sometimes, I’d keep reading. A part of class time would be dedicated to reading these same sections aloud. Every few paragraphs the next student on the row would take over. Sometimes, I’d tune out my classmates to silently read ahead. So, by the time it was my turn to read and the class had reached the part where Ponyboy tells Cherry Valance about Johnny getting beat up by the Socs I was kind of familiar with it.
In the same way that I would silently lose myself in the words I lost myself in speaking them. At the page break, when Ponyboy remembers that he’s talking to Cherry, I stopped, for a moment I looked down at my desk and the book. Slowly, I looked up and around. It wasn’t just another way to get through a book. It wasn’t a way for the teacher to gauge reading levels or to engage the class. When leaving for the day my teacher stopped me to ask “have you ever thought of taking theater?”
Apparently reading out loud used to be an event. Before movies and TV. Before books on tape and the radio. In this before time an individual would put on anticipated performances of readings. These individuals were admired for their craft as actors are today.
The words of the stories and poems had meaning. It was the speaker’s responsibility to ensure that their meaning was felt by everyone hearing them. Even if it was just for me.
On Saturdays and Sundays when offices were closed but retail establishments staffed by college students were open Wuthering Heights, Persuasion and countless works of British poets were sung out from atop a hillside during lunch breaks. Pickwick Papers was unwillingly heard by a former roommate who interrupted my efforts at Sam’s accent to ask, “do you always read out loud?” Myrah has kindly listened to every post because out loud I will hear words that shouldn’t belong, awkward sentences, or grammatical errors. Benny has heard the directions to so many recipes it’s no surprise he learned to turn on the stove.
The recipe to this Guinness Chocolate Cake was first read by me around about the time I was annoying roommates with the works of Dickens and long after reading about how the Curtis brothers would eat chocolate cake for breakfast. That sentence always made me curious — it seemed so out of place for these Greasers to whip up a chocolate cake. Just recently, while sitting at my former workplace (where I daily read paraphrased information to constituents) and looking up chocolate cake recipes I stumbled upon it again on site after site.
The Outsiders doesn’t specify, but the Curtis brothers probably eat a plain chocolate cake for breakfast. I agree with them that plain, unfrosted chocolate cake is the best type for breakfast. Let’s not, however, stereotype chocolate cake. If they had known about this kind I’m certain it would have soon become a favorite. And the best part — it’s perfect for dessert.