I know you didn’t ask, but I have some advice: If you wanna have fun and get some lovin’, then read to your lady (or your man). Trust me, this totally works. I don’t have a lot of money and I ain’t good-looking, but because I read books out loud to my beautiful girlfriend (usually at night; she generally falls asleep) that lady loves me up like crazy-time. One important note—do different voices for the characters whenever possible. I find that my Richard Nixon voice works wonders in a lot of situations.
Here are some of the best titles to read out loud at night to your lady (or man). Stories like these are to be savored and read aloud to your closest loved one. And if you’re solo, read to your cat.
Arp, David & others. 10 Great Dates Before You Say “I Do.” Zondervan. 2003. 218p. ISBN 9780310247326. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780310316121. SELF-HELP
Pitchin’ some woo? This fun little guide will help you objectively confirm your commitment over the course of ten meaningful “dates” (or, for our purposes today, bedtimes). While this might seem unromantic, take it from those of us who know: marriage isn’t about romance, it’s about compatibility and hard work. Good intentions aren’t nearly enough—a practical primer is just what most folks need. Arp and his wife, Claudia, and Curt and Natelle Brown encourage readers to “relax and enjoy focusing on the present while preparing for the future.” Each “date” emphasizes a general issue (e.g., money management and problem solving) for the two of you to calmly discuss. Each also corresponds to a fill-in-the-blank exercise that focuses on bonding and mutual learning. Amiable and interactive, this constructive guide is lightly sprinkled with biblio-Christian references (it’s a Zondervan, after all). Above all it stresses that harmony is key.
Bradbury, Ray. Dandelion Wine. Morrow. 1999. 288p. ISBN 9780380977260. $18.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062242273. FANTASY
Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. Morrow. 1997. 288p. ISBN 9780380973835. $18.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062242266. SF
While it’s only an opinion, Bradbury’s best works were short stories: small, beautiful gems. While he wrote many excellent stand-alones including “Uncle Einar” and “Interval in Sunlight,” for my money Bradbury is best experienced through his carefully arranged story cycles. The Martian Chronicles, first published in 1950, relates the colonization of Mars. While at first the Martians succeed in repelling the invaders, Earth’s fourth expedition succeeds, helped along by a plague that has decimated the natives. The trickle of early settlers turns into a river, and soon Mars is very much a copy of the Earth everyone was so intent to leave: rotten. While “The Off Season” sees most of the population returning to Earth only to die in a nuclear war, Bradbury’s eternal hopefulness shines through in the few who have stayed behind become the new Martians. It’s lyrical and compelling with a strong anti-capitalist streak. Another collection, Dandelion Wine (first published in 1957), centers on the boyhood adventures of preteen Douglas in 1920s Illinois. It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about these celebrations—and dirges—about youth, growth, and innocence wherein Bradbury’s seemingly limitless imagination turns the humdrum (soda fountains, lawnmowers) into explorations of subjects like human time machines and witchcraft.
Foreman, Tom. My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, a Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan. Blue Rider. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780399175473. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698198371. MEMOIR
For endurance geeks and runners we have this especially enjoyable account of how Foreman regained his running mojo decades after letting it go. Energetic, funny-ass writing (e.g., runners suffer terrible discomforts like sweating) alongside devotions to his role as ‘family man’ make this both heartfelt and charming. Breezy bits of running history, such as the origin of the marathon, and biographical snippets of yesteryear champions will embiggen your brain a little, and there’s both wisdom (e.g., life is “the difference between what you hope for when you are young and what you settle for when you are older”) and humor: “Pain is temporary. Times posted on the Internet are forever.” This tenacious stuff will inspire you to lace up your shoes because he nails the fun, energizing, life-affirming feeling of releasing a shitload of endorphins through exercise.
Ingalls, Rachel. Mrs. Caliban. Gambit. 1983. 125p. ISBN 9780876451120. Out of print. F
Dorothy, a California housewife, is lonely and deeply grief-damaged. Her husband is completely uninterested and her one friend keeps her at arm’s length. Dorothy starts hearing messages directed to her over the radio; newscasts warn of a mad, escaped killer sea monster named Aquarius. And yes, one day the “gigantic 6′-7″ froglike creature” enters her kitchen. He’s hungry, so she hands him stalks of celery: “He held on to her hand and touched it all over with both of his before he took the celery from her. The touch of his hands was warm and dry, but somehow more muscular than that of a human hand. Dorothy found it pleasant.” The kind and gentle Dorothy takes him in and hides him from his human pursuers. She discovers that he prefers to be called Larry, and the two quickly become peas in a house-shaped pod. Larry’s questions, his innocence, and his quiet reliance on Dorothy are charming, but all good things end, and Larry has attacked and killed seven people to gain and keep his freedom. Ingalls’s poignant and affecting novella/fairy tale touches on everything important: love, grief, sadness, happiness, curiosity, contentment, and more. So Dorothy loves a possibly imaginary monster: Who hasn’t? Who’s the monster?
Lawson, Jenny. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. Flatiron. 2015. 352p. 9781250077004. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250077011. MEMOIR
Kickass in the “funny” department, Lawson specializes in “when it’s hardest,” e.g., when things look decidedly unhappy. After one particularly bad patch she decides to become “furiously happy” “out of sheer spite” to unhappiness. Clinical depression? No problem, laugh at it and it gets a little better. Death of a loved one? That’s hard. Stockpile some joy and laughter to help get you through. Mental illness? Get ridiculous. Far from being glib or dismissive, Lawson is deadly serious about humor: she is fighting for her happiness. The irreverence she champions has roots in her wrenching personal struggles; her method—and the hard work that goes into it—works for her. Her warped, fantastic, profane, accessible humor—in the face of all that is by-God sad—will inspire the living crap out of you. Reading this aloud a little at a time and sharing a laugh at Lawson’s antics (e.g., attempting to hug kangaroos while wearing a kangaroo suit, her fear of white medical jackets, swan gangs) will help keep ya grounded and feeling lucky. And legions of fans can’t be wrong.
Pastis, Stephan (text & illus.). Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. Candlewick. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780763660505. $14.99; pap. ISBN 9780763669270. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780763663582. F
The eponymous, ten-year-old manchild Timmy Failure is the hero of this comic-style novel. A budding detective with roiling ambition and big plans, he is consumed with the desire to grow the detective business (named “Total Failure”) into a world-dominating force. Perhaps taking a note from Lord Byron’s playbook, he has a pet polar bear with whom he runs the firm; when these two get into misadventures, the regrettable result is usually property damage and/or police intervention. Amid his plans for a new HQ building, taking calls on the Timmyline, and doing global strategy planning during school lunch, Timmy backhandedly “solves” the mystery of who took his mom’s Segway. Though Timmy is a bit of a sociopath (show me a fourth grader who isn’t), this is a super-fun adventure rendered deadpan by Pastis’s simple line drawings—who’d have thunk that two round eyeballs could express such capitalistic inner fire, such investigatory grit? Timmy is so silly, so charming, that you’ll forget what a completely weird event it would be to meet him in real life. A read for the whole family.
Pratchett, Terry. The Wee Free Men. HarperCollins. 2003. 352p. ISBN 9780062435262. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061975264. FANTASY
This gem is placed on the sturdy, capable shoulders of nine-year-old Tiffany Aching. Tiffany has always felt the pull of the supernatural, especially when her beloved granny was around, but she is thrust into hurry-up-offense, witch-in-training mode when the wicked Queen of Fairies kidnaps her sticky little brother. Tiffany uses everything in her young brain to rescue him, and gets a little help from a magical toad and the Nac Mac Feegle—hundreds of six-inch-tall rowdy Scots-Irish bad-asses as good-looking as “a hat full of knuckles” and all-over blue from excessive tattooing. Pratchett was an exceptionally skillful writer who used his gifts for wisdom and humor providing happy, escapist fantasies. Many a reader finds Pratchett just the sort of recharging experience needed to snap your chinstrap and get back into the game. There are four more Aching books in the series, concluding with The Shepherd’s Crown (2015).
Rich, Simon. The Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories. Little, Brown. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780316219396. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316219402. F
Prerequisite: Ability to identify and enjoy humorous jokes, though you should be able to manage because you’re reading a ridiculous article about books-to-read-in-order-to-get-great-sex.
Rich’s 31 short stories about love and loss are energetic, funny, and creative. They are grouped into three sections (Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl, Boy Loses Girl) and range from the creatively believable “Unprotected” (a sweet, first-person narrative of a never-used condom that lives in a boy’s wallet) to the all-time male fantasy: visiting the “Girlfriend Repair Shop.” But Rich knows that the game of love doesn’t always end well. In particular, “The Present” is a poignant story of a sad-sack who discovers that the best thing he can give his long-suffering girlfriend is her freedom. Mostly, though, you’ll laugh: At hapless men who can’t stay away from the “Sirens of Gowanus” and even defend the choice: “I know the odds are against us. I know she’s a siren. I know she’s eaten people. I know she’s five thousand years older than me. But I really like her.” This is what reading aloud is all about.
Sumell, Matt. Making Nice. Holt. 2015. 240p. ISBN 9781627790932. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781627790949. F
Alby, 30, is the most likably unlikable character since [insert name of your favorite that fits the criteria here]. Unpredictable and perpetually on edge, he starts fights, seemingly has no plan, and is at a complete loss after his mother’s death. Full of chutzpah, misguided ideas, and skewed perceptions, Alby spends a lot of time acting out, like throwing the microwave around the room. At one point he adopts a baby chick which is “almost transparent. He looked like a dog’s heart with a bird’s head stuck on, a blob with a beak.” Does Alby recognize himself? Is it the son he doesn’t yet have? Either way he envisions the bird growing into “a goddamn falcon that flies around the neighborhood all day eating raccoons and dogs and toddlers before he flies back to my forearm and takes shits.” Sumell takes this guy and makes an excellent, readable, and engaging story cycle with dead-nuts comic timing and black humor. It takes a few pages, but soon you’ll see Alby as energetically troubled, tempestuous, and entirely genuine. You’ll laugh at what he does, and you’ll love him—even if you don’t want to meet him.
Last word—Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl are all also awesome titles for this. Who would think that weird old guys could get you such fantastic lovin’? It works.