Scheherazade, you are
October 13, 2008 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for good novels/short stories for my wonderful husband to read out loud to me.

I would have thought that this was not an unheard-of activity, but librarians and other folks I have spoken to about it look at me like I'm crazy for asking the question. And for those of you thinking that just any "good" book will do, I have to disabuse you. I thought that, too, but there is something special about hearing a book read, rather than reading a book silently. I have found that perfectly wonderful books don't really work out loud. For example, some authors' quirks--repetition or over-description, for example--really seem to stand out when read aloud.

Huh, maybe suggestions of books that have been very successfully made into audiobooks would work?

A little about us:
He is not afraid to read "in voices." He did this to great effect with our favorite book so far, Little Big Man.

The Pooh stories worked well. Watership Down did not.

We both like science fiction, but I am not that fond of hard science fiction. Straight fantasy is generally a turn-off.

Well-written non-fiction will be considered.

Any ideas for us?
posted by thebrokedown to Grab Bag (51 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Your post title is a good start - I read the 1001 Arabian Nights to my fiancée, and because they were originally tales told to an audience the ... I guess rhythms? ... of the plot worked well.
posted by Paragon at 5:32 PM on October 13, 2008

Can he do a Scottish accent? Would you be interested in poetry? If yes to both, then I insist you find some Robert Burns poems. Burns wrote many of his poems to the tunes of songs, so they are melodious. Add that they are also brilliant, and listening to them is an amazing experience.
posted by Ms. Saint at 5:33 PM on October 13, 2008

It might just be because my husband does a spot-on Garrison Keillor voice, but I like his stories read aloud -- we have We Are Still Married.

I also liked the Librivox recordings of Wind in the Willows and The Reluctant Dragon, so those might work well.
posted by shirobara at 5:35 PM on October 13, 2008

Best answer: I think some of Bill Bryson's books, specifically A Walk in the Woods and In A Sunburned Country are good, though they tend towards the humorous and sometimes we'd laugh too much. Other good read-alouds that have worked for me include A Wind in the Willows, Little Big (may be too fantastical), Cosmicomics (though there are some unpronounceable parts, read ahead to check) as well as a lot of the writings of Donald Barthelme and Richard Brautigan if you are okay with slightly absurdist stuff. I also liked One Hundred Years of Solutide as a read-aloud though with all the names being the same, it could be somewhat confusing.
posted by jessamyn at 5:35 PM on October 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

P.G. Wodehouse short stories were good for this in my family. I can't do a British accent and never even tried, but it doesn't really matter.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:37 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love reading and hearing Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. Although kind of a "children's book", it has much wider appeal (I'm 33). He uses such interesting phrasing. Perhaps other Kipling stories (such as the Jungle Book) would also be fun?
posted by rocks009 at 5:39 PM on October 13, 2008

Best answer: Oh, you're not crazy. I love being read to, and I know a few other people who do this with their SOs too. It's great.

I used to work at a summer camp where we read aloud to the kids every night. The stories that worked well with the 13, 14, and 15-year olds tend to work well with adults too. You might really like Roald Dahl's short stories for adults - they are somewhat sinister and creepy (a couple were turned into plots for "The Twilight Zone"), and usually have a great twist or payoff at the end. Edgar Allen Poe's stories are great, too. (The Cask of Amontillado is a great listen). And O. Henry, who's famous for The Gift of the Magi, has dozens of other stories on that order (working-class strivers of the early 20th century featured in focused, plot-heavy quick tales). Mark Twain's short stories are hilarious and provide plenty of opportunities for "voices."
posted by Miko at 5:39 PM on October 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

David Sedaris's books are even more hilarious as audiobooks. I would imagine that they are great read aloud even not in his voice.
posted by radioamy at 5:39 PM on October 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've greatly enjoyed Paul Quarrington ("Homegame," to be specific), as well as Richard Scrimger ("Into the Ravine"). And, as a shameless plug, I'm going to suggest most novels by Daniel Pinkwater. (Not sure if it's okay to link to his site, but I'm sure you'll be able to find it yourself).
posted by greatgefilte at 5:40 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and my fiancee read several sections of some of Michael Palin's (ex-Monty Python) travel books to me, and they were great. To start with try Full Circle or Pole to Pole.
posted by rocks009 at 5:43 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

The best reading is done with a familiar accent and speech pattern.
I see from your profile you're in Mississippi. How about Southern literature? To Kill A Mockingbird might be obvious, but I'd love to hear it read with a Southern accent.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:44 PM on October 13, 2008

Response by poster: Fiasco--good thought, though neither of us have pronounced Southern accents :)
He can fake it, though.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:47 PM on October 13, 2008

I suggest Tobias Wolff's "Bullet in the Brain."
posted by Rangeboy at 5:47 PM on October 13, 2008

Best answer: Mr kestralwing and I have been reading out loud to each other for over 20 years, and it is indeed wonderful! And since you can't do it when one of you is being pissy, it encourages quick resolution to difficulties so you can get back to the book.

Almost all Dickens has proven to be wonderful, even ones like "Hard Times" and "Bleak House" that we were wary of. ("What larks!" from "Great Expectations" is what we're having put on our tombstone.) We did give up on "The Old Curiosity Shop," though. They're easy to read: Dickens himself toured reading large chunks of his books out loud, to great success.

ANY P.G. Wodehouse, although my favorite remains "Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin." We have a slight preference for Bertie Wooster over Blandings Castle, but we love them all.

All the Little House books; interesting and surprisingly touching. Be sure to read them in chronological order, of course.

Donald E. Westlake's Dortmunder series. We're careful to dole these out slowly, since they're so much fun to read. Haven't tried any of his others yet. Again, start with the earliest one, "The Hot Rock," first. The gang grows and changes, and although each one stands alone, it's more fun when you get to know them in order.

We also enjoy Jane Austin, but I would hesitate to recommend them to anyone who hadn't at least enjoyed the movies. I know they drive some people mad. And some of us just keep reading and rereading.

"Huckleberry Finn"!! Other Twain is good, too, but Huck read out loud is a revelation.

We very much enjoyed reading the whole Harry Potter series out loud, as they came out. If you haven't, given them a try.

Try "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card. If you like it, there are sequels and also volumes of the same story from other viewpoints.

Although we both read a lot of non-fiction, we haven't found much that is satisfactory for reading out loud. Peter Hessler's books about China, "River Town" and "Oracle Bones," are an exception.

Well, that ought to help for the next few months, eh? (And thanks for mentioning "Little Big Man" -- we're reading "Our Mutual Friend" right now, but I think we'll try your suggestion next.)

May you have as much fun as we have!
posted by kestralwing at 5:53 PM on October 13, 2008

Terry Bisson's "Bears Discover Fire" and the other stories in that book.
posted by nicwolff at 5:54 PM on October 13, 2008

If he's good at voices, he might have a lot of fun reading Treasure Island aloud. We recently read this to our 7 year old son, and while it proved to be a stretch for him to follow, an adult would have eaten it up. It's a pretty great story, cleanly told, with lots of plot, action, and dialog.

Kurt Vonnegut would be another author whose works could be enjoyed aloud. Slaughterhouse 5, maybe?
posted by mosk at 5:57 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

William Saroyan's "My Name is Aram" and Spider Robinson's "Callahan Chronicles." Both sound better when read out loud.
posted by RakDaddy at 6:26 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

For about three months I read Robert Fitzgerald's translation of the Odyssey to my wife at bedtime. Each night we'd pick up again at the last episode she remembered before drifting off. It was great fun, and we both gained a new appreciation for the poem.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:31 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Kestralwing and I have similar taste. I love it when my dear boy reads to me. Some of our favorites have been Jane Austen (if you're into that sort of thing. The humor really comes out when read aloud), Harry Potter, the Little House books, P.G. Wodehouse, and Roald Dahl. We also like humorous nonfiction essayists to writers like Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris do well for us.
posted by mostlymartha at 6:43 PM on October 13, 2008

Years ago my husband and I read The Princess Bride to each other. The campy, romantic nature of it was well-suited to laughing in bed together.
posted by saffry at 6:53 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm looking for good novels/short stories for my wonderful husband to read out loud to me.

Why not split the difference and go with a novella?
posted by timsteil at 7:03 PM on October 13, 2008

I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn out loud and it was glorious!
posted by mynameisluka at 7:03 PM on October 13, 2008

Librarians should be all about people reading to each other! Vocal language came first, after all...

A few suggestions that work well (I'm the reader):
Terry Pratchett (Night Watch, others)
Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman (Good Omens, a fantastic one to read aloud and it makes you sound really smart. Nice rhythms of words.)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (although we just finished listening to the excellent Stephen Fry narrated one on CD, I'm going to try my voice at the rest. Fry is a tough act to follow, though.)
I vaguely wonder if Lord of the Rings would be good or awful.

We're reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson next.

If this list seems a bit skewed towards the fantastic, it is. The funny thing is that Mrs. Burnfirewalls doesn't really read these sorts of books herself. And she's asked me to read to her enough that I know she's not humoring me! :)

One thing that I found is that contemporary novels (everyday people with everyday settings) are profoundly boring when read aloud, and a bit of epic-ness helps spoken word tremendously. That's just me opining, though. YMMV. Good luck, it's a lot of fun!
posted by burnfirewalls at 7:08 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

The audiobook recording of William Gibson's Virtual Light narrated by Frank Muller is absolutely brilliant. (Pretty much anything narrated by Muller is brilliant, really.) I haven't read this book, only listened to it, but when read aloud by a good "voice" actor this book really sings. A dark, dystopian song, but music nonetheless. If your husband wants a break, you could both listen to this together. (Or he could listen to it by himself to get some ideas for voicing, then read it to you.)

If your husband can read as well as Frank Muller, I will pay him to come to my house and read to me!
posted by Quietgal at 7:12 PM on October 13, 2008

Thirding Roald Dahl. He'd be almost perfect for this.
posted by futility closet at 7:16 PM on October 13, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, I forgot that we read The Princess Bride! Yes, very good. The asides were just as much fun as the "story."
posted by thebrokedown at 7:20 PM on October 13, 2008

Dickens and Austen both work well for this.
posted by trip and a half at 7:22 PM on October 13, 2008

The Little Prince! So sweet and wonderful to read aloud.
posted by pised at 7:29 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

George Saunders' fiction is quite imaginative, moving, absurd, and funny.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:43 PM on October 13, 2008

Books my husband and I took turns reading to each other:

Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe
Peter Pan
VALIS by Philip K. Dick
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
posted by cda at 7:53 PM on October 13, 2008

I really love doing this with John Updike's short stories.
posted by ihope at 7:59 PM on October 13, 2008

The Story of your life and others is an amazing set of very unique SF stories I imagine would benefit from a good reading. Stanislaw Lems quirky little machine fairy tales might work too.
posted by Artw at 8:00 PM on October 13, 2008

Nthing the Little House books, which my husband and I both really enjoyed. I would also suggest Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, To Kill a Mockingbird, and In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin.
posted by gudrun at 8:53 PM on October 13, 2008

I know two couples (they don't know each other) who have read all the Harry Potter books aloud to each other.
posted by gt2 at 8:55 PM on October 13, 2008

I could sit here and nth 'til the cows come home - so many terrific suggestions here.

Instead, I'll throw in a few I haven't seen yet:
Charles de Lint
Patricia Wrightson (she did a fab trilogy based on Aboriginal Australian mythology that reading aloud would really suit)
Mervyn Peake (mmmm, Gormenghast)
Connie Willis (start with To Say Nothing of the Dog)
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart (not sure about the rest of his work, but this seems like it would be excellent read aloud)
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
Gregory Maguire
posted by batmonkey at 9:22 PM on October 13, 2008

My top recommendation is Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It's categorized as a young adult or children's book. It's tremendous. To give some context to this recommendation, I'm also a fan of The Princess Bride. I'd describe The Sea of Stories as somewhat like The Phantom Tollbooth by a literary genius. It's funny on many levels, and more too. Inspiring is a little too heavy handed of a word, but it's something in that direction.
posted by manduca at 10:28 PM on October 13, 2008

I read to my girlfriend on any drive longer than about 5 minutes, and so far she has enjoyed:

Terry Pratchett (nth-ing Pratchett as an excellent read-aloud author)
Steven Brust (The Vlad Taltos series and the prequels)
Gerald Durrell (The Overloaded Ark; The Bafut Beagles; Birds, Beasts, and Relatives)
Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files)

Granted, 3/4 of those are modern fantasy authors, but they still seem to do well. My next attempt will be the "All Creatures Great and Small" series by James Herriot. I cut my teeth on his works and Durrell's growing up, and it's something I think she'll get a treat from as a break from fantastical adventure and hard-boiled detectives.
posted by Phineas Rhyne at 10:44 PM on October 13, 2008

Neil Gaiman has already been mentioned, but his short stories would probably be an excelent choice.
posted by Artw at 10:56 PM on October 13, 2008

I vaguely wonder if Lord of the Rings would be good or awful.

My father read it me, and then years later to my younger sisters. It was great.
posted by BinGregory at 11:53 PM on October 13, 2008

Gone With the Wind is great fun to read out loud, even though parts of it point to very disturbing racial ideas.
posted by jon1270 at 3:31 AM on October 14, 2008

Wodehouse, Dahl and Saki. How has nobody suggested Saki yet? His stories are just made for reading aloud. (Assuming your husband is willing to affect an upper class English drawl.) There are hundreds of them, they cover every genre from horror to political satire and best of all they're out of copyright, so you can download them all for free!
posted by the latin mouse at 4:52 AM on October 14, 2008

I read Ender's Game to a cabin of 14-year-old girls and they seemed to like it well enough. Also Beginner's Luck, a glorious and ridiculous teen book, but your husband may not be up for acting out a sarcastic teenager.

My favorite book of short stories just might be Stories for Children by Isaac Bashevis Singer. They are all very . . . Jewish, but as children's tales, they are at turns silly and inspiring. Philip K Dick might also be a good candidate, and he has lots of short stories to go for.
posted by that girl at 4:58 AM on October 14, 2008

I love the audio versions of all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories (especially when read by Patrick Horgan). They're also short, so you could knock through one a night fairly easily.

Someone's already recommended Stephenson; he has a way of spinning out exposition that makes for a great listen. (Snow Crash, as mentioned, is great for this, but Cryptonomicon has a few pages-long sections that are a blast to read to someone. The parts where he gets heavy into mathematics, not so much, unless you have a talent for articulating complicated equations and expressions.)

I'd also consider some of William Gibson's short stories, if you're a fan of that sort of thing, as he has a very specific writing voice, and comes up with some phrases that are beautiful to the ears, phrases like "Ice walls flick away like supersonic butterflies made of shade" (from Burning Chrome). Good stuff.

Jeremy Irons read the hell out of Brideshead Revisited, which is also a good suggestion.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 5:38 AM on October 14, 2008

My husband read several Raymond Chandler novels to me and it was terrific.
posted by villain extraordinaire at 7:14 AM on October 14, 2008

In a similar vein, though sf-ized, Gun With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem.
posted by villain extraordinaire at 7:17 AM on October 14, 2008

Twas a time when I used to read to my wife at night (maybe I should start again), and two of our all time favorite reads were Damon Runyon (the Guys and Dolls collection is pretty inclusive) and Giovanni Guareschi's Little World of Don Camillo (which seems to be out of print now).

The first are stories about a bunch of shady characters in the Roaring 40's (gamblers, drunks, thieves and all purpose ne'er do wells) who have the best nicknames and funny adventures (though I guess funny is in the eye of the beholder). The 2nd is about the relationship between a village priest and the socialist mayor in an Italian town set in post-fascist Italy. They respect each other but will stop at nothing to further their cause (funny as well, and made up of short chapters.)
posted by subajestad at 8:54 AM on October 14, 2008

Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)" would keep you awake laughing if you like your humor dry. The reader doesn't even need to do a good English accent.

Would "The Time Traveler's Wife" work well read aloud? I'm thinking that you'd end up crying in each others arms, but maybe that's a plus.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:14 AM on October 14, 2008

I have been read and have read to others Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories.
The language in these is phenomenal, and the Michael Hague version has wonderful illustrations. It might have been just because my Mom read them to me as a kid, but everyone I've read them to since has been floored by their Weird Old America vibe and passages like:

"Tell me about it," said Any Ice Today.

"It is simple. If a blind man plays an accordion on the street to make people cry it makes them sad and when they are sad the gold goes away off the accordion. And if a blind man goes to sleep because his music is full of sleepy songs like the long wind in a sleepy valley, then while the blind man is sleeping the diamonds in the diamond rabbit all go away. I play a sleepy song and go to sleep and I wake up and the diamond ear of the diamond rabbit is gone. I play another sleepy song and go to sleep and wake up and the diamond tail of the diamond rabbit is gone. After a while all the diamond rabbits are gone, even the diamond chin sitting on the diamond toenails of the rabbits next to the handles of the accordion, even those are gone."

Also, Cannery Row.
posted by andromache at 1:02 PM on October 14, 2008

Jean Shepherd's work lends itself to being read aloud.

I suggest "In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash)" to start, "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters", and "A Fist Full of Fig Newtons".
posted by plinth at 6:22 AM on October 16, 2008

Roald Dahl FTW! 'The Witches' is a great place to start... Also, if you can stomach it, pick-up some Hardy Boys. Nothing like vaguely masked innuendo to get your sweetie dispatched to dream-land with a laugh, a hiccup and a big fat kiss for her man of the hour...
posted by blindkoala at 12:37 PM on October 18, 2008

nthing Dahl, and Runyon and Bryson. I've been reading what we call "chapter" books to our four and a half year old daughter now for a few years, and have really loved reading the Tale of Desperaux and the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane recently. She also likes some of the poems and essays of E.B. White (as much as the books) - and I like reading them aloud.
posted by peagood at 8:19 PM on October 19, 2008

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