I’ll always fondly remember my grandmother reading out loud to me as a young child before my naptime. I think she looked forward to the time as much as I did, as it was her excuse to rest as well. Each of my children had special books from which they liked me to read. It was precious time together, and now my only regret is remembering that sometimes I rushed through the stories to "get some things done" while the children rested.

Recently, my husband and I traveled to New York City for a few days and saw 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz. The setting was a 1929 cigar factory where cigars were still rolled by hand and lectors were employed to educate and entertain the workers. The small, family-owned Cuban cigar factory was one of the last to employ a lector, as machines in more modern factories were replacing the traditional hand rolling. A new lector was intriguing and cause for celebration as the workers anticipated who the new lector would be, when he would arrive, how he would read-and what he would choose to read.

In this play, the lector read from Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina. We watched as each worker became inspired, their lives changed by the reading of the romantic novel as much as by the handsome gentleman reader himself. It was a reminder of simpler days gone by, where the mind was allowed to visualize, to dream, and to create. Anticipation and excitement brought the workers to the factory each day as they escaped into the lives of the characters from the book. The play was choreographed to show the actors’ change in attitude as the novel was read-their change in clothes from all white linen to brilliant colors and bold designs.

We were abruptly brought back to life in 2004 as we stepped out of the theater and into the brightly lit, crowded streets of Times Square, with larger-than-life neon signs, crowds of people, and honking horns.

The art of reading out loud-and listening-is as educational and entertaining as ever today. The play reminded me that reading is a gift to be shared. The spoken word can be an artistic expression as powerful as the written word, dance, or music. Reading to one’s children or grandchildren is often their introduction to art, culture, and history. It shouldn’t be hurried; they’re special moments to be shared.

Each month, Arts Alive! promotes some of the many book discussion groups, poetry readings, and library programs offered in the Peoria area. For those whose passion is to read out loud, contact the Peoria Prairie Tellers’ organization. Listen to WCBU and radio reader, listen to audio books while traveling, or spend some leisurely time at your favorite bookstore. What better way to escape from cold winter days than with a good book? Enjoy! AA!