National Writing Project

When Was the Last Time Someone Read to You?

By: Grace Hoffman
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 3
Date: 2004

Summary: Grace Hoffman recounts her experiences of being read to as a child, reading to her own children, and listening to books on tape as she argues for the pleasures of listening to the written word.


When was the last time someone read to you? I don't mean sitting with your spouse and sharing the daily paper or passing time in a waiting room by sharing a Reader's Digest article with another impatient patient. What I mean is, when is the last time someone read a book to you?

For me, it was probably when I was seven years old, and I demanded a story before I would go to sleep. I have fond memories of crawling into bed with my older sister (we shared a bed) and hearing my mom ask me to "scooch up" so that we could all see the pictures. Remember Golden Books? Under the warmth of the covers and my mother's love, we took adventures to fantasylands and experienced happily-ever-afters—stories that I have carried with me for over half a century and shared with my own children.

As a working mother of two, I loved to read to my children before supper. While a casserole baked in the oven, I would balance one child on my lap while the other perched at the foot of the kitchen rocking chair. I also continued my mother's tradition of reading to my children at bedtime. Having both a boy and a girl meant separate bedrooms, which meant alternating stories between the two. Fortunately, for me, the "favorite stories" varied, too.

A friend, now widowed, once told me that her husband used to read to her every night. When they settled into bed, his voice soothed her into a peaceful slumber. I have to wonder if she misses the stories, too.

I like the availability of books on audiotape. There are some wonderful narrators, such as Peter Coyote reading The Horse Whisperer and Barbara Kingsolver reading her own Pigs in Heaven. I began listening to books on tape when I found that I was so busy balancing my home life with my career that I didn't have time for personal reading. So I bought a small cassette player that would hook onto my waistband, and then I'd listen to a book on tape while housecleaning. Before I knew it, the book had ended, and the house was clean. For once in my homemaking career, I found housecleaning a pleasure.

At first, especially when the earphone cords got caught around the vacuum cleaner hose, my children thought I was silly to be listening to a taped book. And, of course, every cool teenager knew that cassettes were made for music. But later on, particularly for those long drives back to college, my children asked my recommendation for books on tape.

I am wondering when we stopped being listeners and why. Is it because we became readers ourselves? And if so, is it logical that because we can read, we've lost the desire to be read to? I don't know when or why oral reading became passé. While our ancestors relied on books at the fireside for entertainment, books were later replaced by radio, and radio by television, and television by VHS movies and then DVDs. . . . All I know is that I would love to scooch up under the covers and hear my mom's voice read to me one more time. Short of that, I think I'll see what Peter Coyote has been reading.

About the Author Grace Hoffman is a teacher-consultant with the University of Maine Writing Project. She teaches language arts at SeDoMoCha Middle School in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine.

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