The Independent Sixth Reader

(Review. Elocution. We suck at this. Perhaps it’s time.)

I discovered this book in a dusty used bookstore off a major highway. The place was crammed with thousands and thousands of used books in every imaginable category, and deep in the back recesses of the store lay the gold mine: a whole case of books each over 100 years old.

I picked out The Independent Sixth Reader, an instructional book published in 1868. It’s the last book in a series of books on diction and public speaking, each one intended for a progressively older student. The first was aimed at young grade school children; this was aimed at adults.

While one might smirk at the author’s insistence on the absolute necessity of following its system exactly, the book does cover a wide variety of elements of speech, and does so in a logical order. The author leads the reader through exercises in reading aloud crisply and understanding how best to approach situations like words that begin and end with similar consonant sounds (such as “she began needling him”).

As I read, I was struck by a realization: we suck at this today. People around me slur their speech and mumble their words. I do, too.

Surely this is at least a little important. Imagine the frustration caused and time wasted by mis-heard speech.

Maybe it’s time we all learned better diction.

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