Reading aloud never gets old. It weathers time and generations. It makes a marked difference. Children who are read aloud to are typically one grade year ahead of their peers. They have ‘the right stuff’, because all those words they hear give them a sense of self, a moral compass. Stories have meaning, and following along gives them the heart and the mind to make choices, figure things out.
The same holds true for adults. When we are read to, we listen, think and feel. And, we have to stretch our brain. This is much the same as I tell the children in my class, “you make the pictures in your head”. That is a huge leap from TV or the computer. When we only hear the words it sharpens our mind, and our performance is much better.
The Cuban cigar industry understood this. That’s why they make the finest cigars.
They have la lectura, who reads aloud for up to four hours to the factory workers, from the daily news to Shakespeare to current books. This is both brilliant and common sense; the workers are entertained, happy and productive.
Jim Trelease writes about this in his million-copy bestseller book, The Read-Aloud Handbook. He is a master writer and has it nailed on reading aloud. Here is an excerpt from the chapter about the history of reading aloud and its proof:
Then there is the history of the reader-aloud in the labor force. When the cigar industry blossomed in the mid-1800’s, supposedly the best tobacco came from Cuba (although much of the industry later moved to Tampa, Florida area). These cigars were hand-rolled by workers who became artisans in the delicate craft, producing hundreds of perfectly rolled specimens daily. Artistic as it may have been, it was still repetitious labor done in stifling factories. To break the monotony, workers hit upon the idea of having someone read aloud to them while they worked, known in the trade as ‘la lectura’.
The reader usually sat on an elevated platform or podium in the middle of the room and read aloud for four hours, covering newspapers, classics, and even Shakespeare.
As labor became more organized in the United States, the readings kept workers informed of progressive ideas throughout the world as well as entertained. When factory owners realized the enlightening impact of the readings, they tried to stop them but met stiff resistance from the workers, each of whom was paying the readers as much as twenty-five cents per week out of pocket.
The daily readings added to the workers’ intellect and general awareness while civilizing the atmosphere of the workplace. By the 1930’s, however, with cigar sales slumping due to the Great Depression and unions growing restive with mechanization on the horizon, the owners declared that the reader-aloud had to go. Protest strikes followed but to no avail, and eventually readers were replaced by radio. But not in Cuba.
The Cuban novelist Miguel Barnet reports, “Today, all over Cuba, this tradition is alive and well. Readers are in all the factories, from Santiago to to Havana to Pinar del Rio. The readings have specific timetables and generally begin with the headlines of the day’s newspapers. After reading the newspaper, the readers take a break and then begin reading the unfinished book from the day before. Most are women.”
Used by permission of the author, Jim Trelease, 2013, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin)
No wonder Cuban cigars are among the finest. This story is one of my favorites and illustrates the effect reading aloud has on people. Thank goodness I get to do this multiple times every day with children.