Ysenda Maxtone Graham on reading aloud

Three in a Bed

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‘Where are we, exactly?’

That is a question I’ve asked all too often. The scene: three in a bed (husband, 11-year-old son in the middle, me); dog asleep at the foot. The time: 9.30 p.m. The reason: husband is reading aloud to us, and last night, as usual, I fell asleep towards the end of the chapter. Surely the most delicious kind of falling asleep is the gentle, helpless drifting off you do to the sound of the reading voice.

The son is slightly exasperated at this question as he never falls asleep while being read to. On the contrary, he changes position, kicks out, laughs, comments and speculates about what’s going to happen next. The story activates rather than lulls him.

‘Mummy! Honestly! Don’t you remember? They’ve just arrived at Helm’s Deep.’

Of course. Helm’s Deep. But just hearing those words brings on this evening’s overwhelming sleepiness. Théoden. Denethor. What exactly is the difference between those two? Husband and son know; mother is not so sure.

‘Tell the Éored to assemble on the path, and make ready to ride the Entwade!’

Mmm? You’ve lost me again, but it all sounds lovely.

With one of our older sons, my husband walked the 155-mile London Loop round the wooded edges of the metropolis, which took half a year of Saturdays. Reading The Lord of the Rings aloud to the youngest is the stationary equivalent of such a journey: a time-consuming adventure in which the partakers share every knoll and tussock. The nightly habit of reading aloud has become something the family depends on for equilibrium. Whatever happens in the husband’s stressful job; whatever happens in the son’s school day; whatever worries we all have, we know that before bedtime we will walk together into the world of a story we don’t want to end.

Just as he prefers to drive rather than be driven, my husband would rather read aloud than be read to. Both preferences suit me fine as I hate getting back into the

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About the contributor

Ysenda Maxtone Graham is the author of Mr Tibbits’s Catholic School and The Real Mrs Miniver, both Slightly Foxed Editions.

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