The Joys of Reading Aloud

Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is not a particularly long book. A mere 70 pages, perhaps a few more in a version with illustrations, it is often published between the same covers as its thematic opposite, White Fang, often along with some of the better known short stories to round out the page count.

It has been turned into an audio book in a number of different editions. Checking out the running times on eight different offerings from Audible, the readings all run from just under three hours to around three and a half hours, depending on the reader, or the use of sound effects and music.

During the Jack London Festival in Dawson City June 3 to 5, 15 of us spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon reading the book aloud to each other, and to about two dozen other people who stopped by to listen to what we were up to.

We took turns with measured portions of the seven chapters. What with changing readers every two-and-a-half to three pages, adjusting the microphone that was set up near the doorway of the Jack London Cabin, and people reading at different speeds, we managed the task (for it was not a chore at all) in around four hours.

We readers sat in a rocking chair in front of the cabin and read from a series of binders prepared by the staffers of the Klondike Visitors Association, each of whom also took a couple of turns.

Our first reader was Tarnel Abbott, the great-granddaughter of Jack London, herself a retired librarian, who had joined us from her home in California for the weekend. She read other segments as well, and had the privilege of finishing the final pages.

Others included myself (pleased to read four sections), my wife Betty, all of the regular interpreters at the Jack London Museum and half a dozen other locals, fans of the book and the author.

It was a lovely afternoon, with lots of sunshine and a light breeze blowing cottonwood seeds about Jack London Square as if they were some kind of lazy snowstorm.

Oddly enough the bugs weren’t too bad, except when it came to our youngest reader, who had to keep swatting them away when the breeze would die down.

There is something about listening to a book being read aloud that is very pleasing and, for me at least, reading aloud, working with the language, is one of those things that I really enjoy doing.

I missed it when my children grew too old for us to do that together – and then they had to put up with me doing the same thing as part of my teaching strategy in English classes from Grades 8 through 12.

While the afternoon was basically fine, there were clouds overhead and I found an occasional light spatter of raindrops on the photocopied pages in front of me. As the sky darkened a bit, and we came to sad, and somewhat controversial ending of a domestic dog’s return to the wild of his ancestral breed, we moved inside for the last segment, read by Abbott, in which Buck takes his revenge on those who killed his beloved master. The little shiver we all felt had more to do with the power of the story than the light rain.

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