Mouthing the Words

The other day – by which I mean last December – I was on the tube, sitting opposite a woman of about twenty or so. My strongest memory of her is of an overriding sense of marshmallow pinkishness. Everything she was wearing seems, at the distance of a couple of months, to have been this colour. She got on the tube a few stops after me and settled down opposite with a book. I didn’t see the title, but the girl was completely absorbed. She put on an impressively square pair of glasses and mouthed the words to herself as she read.

At first I was entirely scornful of this apparent lack of reading prowess, but as I watched, I changed my mind. She was obviously taken up with the story, and the mouthing somehow seemed to absorb her all the more fully into it. Reading took a physical hold over her. The only other time I have seen this happen is when a youngish actor on the tube was going over a script, rather ostentatiously, and began to slip in the odd gesture as he read, but his actions were crying out to be sternly ignored. The marshmallow girl had no conception of an audience: she was, for all intents and purposes, alone with the book. The story was wrung out of the pages through her silent words, moving right through her. I tried it myself when I got home, but I was reading On Beauty by Umberto Eco at the time and it didn’t really work. I think a lot of readers have lost the thrill of the actual act of reading, either aloud, or whilst mouthing the words to yourself. It’s a shame, really.

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