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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Le Guin on Reading Aloud

And Other Choice Quotes from essays collected in The Wave in the Mind (Shambhala, c2004):

"Prose rhythm is made up of many elements, repetitions of sounds, parallels in syntax and construction, patterns of imagery, recurrences of mood... It is my strong belief that all prose worth reading is worth reading aloud, and that the rhythms we catch clearly in reading aloud, we also catch unconsciously when reading in silence." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin from "Stress-Rhythm in Poetry and Prose"

"There are no rules for finding and feeling the rhythm of prose. It is a gift, but it is also a learnable skill-- learned by practice. Probably the best practice is reading out loud... The only rule... I know is: listen to what you are reading (or writing) as closely as you can, listen for its beat, and follow your own ear. There is no right way. The way that sounds right to you is the way." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin from "Stress-Rhythm in Poetry and Prose"

"Words, whether in poetry or in prose, are as physical as paint and stone, as much a matter of voice and ear as music, as bodily as dancing... To reduce the aesthetic value of a narrative to the ideas it expresses, to its "meaning," is a drastic impoverishment. The map is not the landscape." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin from "Collectors, Rhymesters, and Drummers"

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I've realized for many years, when I pick up a good book or I'm selecting a good book to read, from the first page, the author's rhythm either carries me, or it doesn't, and the author teaches me how to read her/his work. I love to settle into the rhythm of an author I can enjoy. Along with imagery, characterization, plot, and meaning, the sound of a work appeals to me, and I strive for that achievement in my own fiction writing. Le Guin is a champion of the sound and rhythm of a work, being as important an element as any; in fact, integral to the work, and I agree.


  1. Oh, I love that idea that "all prose worth reading is worth reading aloud" and I believe in it strongly too. So hard to achieve, though.

  2. Lovely post. I'm a huge fan of LeGuin in general and that particular book of essays. Yes, for me it is all about the rhythm in prose. I first discovered it in Woolf but it definitely is what I look for in all authors now.

  3. I love what Lori has quoted, too. I haven't read Le Guin. I should. Thanks for this post.

  4. Hi Lori and Joanne, and Welcome, Brigindo,

    I'm enjoying reading your blogs, which I'm still exploring. It's great to find writers with similar affinities.

  5. Reading my work aloud to myself has been an invaluable revision tool for me. Not only do I see where it flows, but I figure that if my tongue trips on it, so will the reader's eye. So far, I've learned nothing to contradict that.

    Thanks for this post. :)

  6. Hi Angel,

    Ursula Le Guin definitely knows what she's talking about, and one thing I like about reading her opinions is that her ideas are accessible and I can readily agree with them. Her life, along with her writing, and writing advice, is all fascinating.