Favorite passages to read aloud?
September 3, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite passages to read aloud to someone?

I'm not thinking reading to your kids here. I'm thinking more like reading out loud to a group of friends, or to the person you love. Let's say you're on a date and your date says, "I love hearing your voice. Will you read to me? Something that's close to your heart."

The passages could be moving, exciting, dramatic, romantic, poignant. They could be from your favorite novel, essay, or book of poems. The kind of thing you keep on your bedside table and come back to over and over again. What would you choose?
posted by incandescentman to Writing & Language (64 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
Let's say you're on a date and your date says, "I love hearing your voice. Will you read to me? Something that's close to your heart."

I would hope he was kidding and enjoy a good laugh!

But seriously...

If I HAD to - since I'm a kid at heart, I would probably read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It's a very important book to me.
posted by KogeLiz at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2010

I am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti is my go-to for things like this, I also like a few short short stories like The Great Hug by Donald Barthelme and Complicated Banking Problems by Richard Brautigan.
posted by jessamyn at 12:02 PM on September 3, 2010

It's a bit long, but I did Victor Contoski's story "Von Goom's Gambit" for friends a couple of times. The hard part is the small, cutting voice filled with infinite sarcasm.

Von Goommm.
posted by adipocere at 12:03 PM on September 3, 2010

It is a light blue moonless summer evening, but late, perhaps ten o’clock, with Venus burning hard in daylight, so we are certainly somewhere far north, and standing on this balcony, when from beyond along the coast comes the gathering thunder of a long many-engineered freight train, thunder because though we are separated by this wide strip of water from it, the train is rolling eastward and the changing wind veers for a moment from an easterly quarter, and we face east, like Swedenborg’s angels, under a sky clear save where far to the northeast over distant mountains whose purple has faded lies a mass of almost pure white clouds, suddenly, as by a light in an alabaster lamp, illumined from within by gold lightening, yet you can hear no thunder, only the roar of the great train with its engines and its wide shunting echoes as it advances from the hills into the mountains: and then all at once a fishing boat with tall gear comes running round the point like a white giraffe, very swift and stately, leaving directly behind it a long silver scalloped rim of wake, not visibly moving inshore, but now stealing ponderously beachward toward us, this scrolled silver rim of wash striking the shore first in the distance, then spreading all along the curve of the beach, while the floats, for these are timber driving floats, are swayed together, everything jostled and beautifully ruffled and stirred and tormented in this rolling sleeked silver, then little by little calm again, and you see the reflection of the remote white thunderclouds in the water, and now the lightening within the white clouds in deep water, as the fishing boat itself with a golden scroll of travelling light in its silver wake beside it reflected from the cabin vanishes round the headland, silence, and then again, within the white white distant alabaster thunderclouds beyond the mountains, the thunderless gold lightening in the blue evening, unearthly.
-Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano,
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:07 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I make my SO read Shakespeare aloud to me all the time, but that's because she's very studied and good at it, and it's just so much better out loud than on the page.

I like to read DFW out loud to people sometimes - because his prose also works so well off the page. 'This is Water' is a really good one, considering it was a speech to begin with. You also can't beat the passage about the video phone or the toothbrushes in Infinite Jest. I also really like the passage in Infinite Jest that addresses all of the platitudes that are annoying but kind of true.

Phrases and philosophies for the use of the young
is good aloud.

In general, I think reading philosophy out loud is fantastic - because it's rarely done, and often the brilliance and/or absurdity of the thing really shines when you hear it read; Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations is always good, Heidegger is a hoot.

Pretty much anything ancient greco-roman. Homer out loud obvs, Cicero, The Apology of Socrates.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:09 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I forgot to mention funny. Your favorite passages may very well be the ones that make people laugh.
posted by incandescentman at 12:14 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: the disgusting english candy drill scene from gravity's rainbow. difficult to get through without laughing.
posted by supermedusa at 12:25 PM on September 3, 2010

A university student asked Gasan, "have you ever read the Christian Bible?"

"No, read it to me," said Gasan.

The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: "And why take ye thought for rainment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these... Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man."

The student continued reading: "Ask and it shall be given to you, see and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened for you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened."

Gasan remarked: "That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood."
posted by Ironmouth at 12:26 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I love reading J.D Salinger's Franny and Zooey aloud to my friends.
posted by makethemost at 12:27 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: David Sedaris - a story from "Me Talk Pretty One Day." It had to do with David and Hugh in a fancy restaurant and the pretentious menu. I read it to my husband in the car while we were on a road trip and we just killed ourselves laughing.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:30 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Fly, you fools!

The Bridge of Khazad-dum, from The Fellowship of the Ring. Action-packed, yet surprisingly brief. The fight with the Balrog is just a few paragraphs.

His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings.
… suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall …

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:32 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are many great passages in Vladimir Nabokov's memoir/autobiography, Speak, Memory

My go-to begins, “And now comes that bicycle act – or at least my version of it” (page 162).

He vividly describes riding his bicycle around his parents' estate, and revels in recalling the details of where he placed his tire on the path, what scenery he rode by, et cetera.
posted by ism at 12:33 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I forgot to mention funny. Your favorite passages may very well be the ones that make people laugh.

I used to do a lot of road trips with a young woman. We discovered early on that our tastes in music had little overlap so I would read to her. 'Funny' was a good thing to look for. Bill Bryson went over big, as did some of the lighter David Foster Wallace*. Find something you both like, or you think your listener would like, and Bob's your uncle.

*The title essay of "A Supposedly Funny Thing I Will Never Do Again" probably puts most people in mind of the Caribbean; for me, it is permanently associated with driving across North Dakota and Minnesota.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:41 PM on September 3, 2010

My ex-girlfriend had a favourite book of children's stories that she used to like me to read to her as she was drifting off to sleep.

Looking back, that was ever-so-slightly weird.
posted by Ted Maul at 12:47 PM on September 3, 2010

Catch-22 is a book that changed how I view life in many ways, and this passage from it is particularly apt for illustrating how absurd human life is:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he would have to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.
Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. “That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

posted by elder18 at 12:51 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Spoken word from the musician Peter Mulvey.

The Voice by Peter Mulvey
I want a voice
I want a deep, resonant, effortless voice
A big voice - bigger than me
I want to speak and hear the floorboards take it up
so that people hear me first with their bodies,
and only then with their ears

a voice, strong like an axe to cut through the silence
strange like distant flutes, to still the senses
a voice to quicken the heart like drums in the night

I want to breathe a whisper that shivers like a star
over some strange bethlehem on some cold stone
circling some distant sun

I want a voice like the voice of many
the voice of a people
the voice of a nation
and with this voice I would cry freedom
and then I would speak peace
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding Philosophical Investigations.
posted by matkline at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: Shakespeares sonnets-without a doubt 116, it sound lovely read aloud.
posted by Mnky197 at 12:54 PM on September 3, 2010

The Screwtape Letters. Or any of my teenage journals. It's hard, though, because they make me laugh while I'm reading them.

(Since you asked for funny.)
posted by SMPA at 12:57 PM on September 3, 2010

A favorite of my kids and I:

Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sailless sea—this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth—is little graced with the picturesque. It is an unpretending expanse of grayish water, about a hundred miles in circumference, with two islands in its centre, mere upheavals of rent and scorched and blistered lava, snowed over with gray banks and drifts of pumice stone and ashes, the winding sheet of the dead volcano, whose vast crater the lake has seized upon and occupied.

The lake is two hundred feet deep, and its sluggish waters are so strong with alkali that if you only dip the most hopelessly soiled garment into them once or twice, and wring it out, it will be found as clean as if it had been through the ablest of washerwomen's hands. While we camped there our laundry work was easy. We tied the week's washing astern of our boat, and sailed a quarter of a mile, and the job was complete, all to the wringing out. If we threw the water on our heads and gave them a rub or so, the white lather would pile up three inches high. This water is not good for bruised places and abrasions of the skin. We had a valuable dog. He had raw places on him. He had more raw places on him than sound ones. He was the rawest dog I almost ever saw. He jumped overboard one day to get away from the flies. But it was bad judgment. In his condition, it would have been just as comfortable to jump into the fire. The alkali water nipped him in all the raw places simultaneously, and he struck out for the shore with considerable interest. He yelped and barked and howled as he went—and by the time he got to the shore there was no bark to him—for he had barked the bark all out of his inside, and the alkali water had cleaned the bark all off his outside, and he probably wished he had never embarked in any such enterprise. He ran round and round in a circle, and pawed the earth and clawed the air, and threw double summersets, sometimes backward and sometimes forward, in the most extraordinary manner. He was not a demonstrative dog, as a general thing, but rather of a grave and serious turn of mind, and I never saw him take so much interest in anything before. He finally struck out over the mountains, at a gait which we estimated at about two hundred and fifty miles an hour, and he is going yet. This was about nine years ago. We look for what is left of him along here every day.
posted by buggzzee23 at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chaucer's _Canterbury Tales_. Not all at once, though, and I'd focus on the usual parts that people like.

Had great success reading Pratchett's _Wee Free Men_ to an ex. Hysterical, but rough if you aren't a lot more familiar with UK dialects than I am.
posted by QIbHom at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2010

The 23rd Psalm is something that I love to hear read aloud, regardless of who the reader is.

Yes, it's always better if my daughter is reading it., Shut up. :)
posted by DWRoelands at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: "The Extasie" by John Donne.

I was lying in bed one Saturday morning twenty years ago when I heard a recording of Richard Burton reading this poem. It was amazing. I had read it through a couple times to really get it, but it's worth it.


Hmm, just checked, here it is:

posted by robabroad at 1:07 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is a slightly different context, but when I'm teaching Victorian poetry, I always have a grand time with the dramatic monologues, especially Tennyson's "St. Simeon Stylites" and Browning's "Porphyria's Lover." The poems both have terrific UM WHUT moments that work even better when read aloud. (That's especially true with "St. Simeon Stylites"--the students don't always pick up the extent of his delusions of grandeur until they hear them.) Swinburne's "The Leper" tends to be entertaining for a different reason: I so rarely get to gross out my students! In melodious verse! ("Um, Dr. TJW, isn't that a dead body?!")
posted by thomas j wise at 1:10 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It works well since it was written for radio to begin with and adapted to print. Also, short-ish chapters, and funny!
posted by flex at 1:20 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

From Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

"The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could percieve.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity.

Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And a length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast."


Most of the Proverbs of Hell are wonderful as well:

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

"He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence."

"If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise."
posted by Barmecide at 1:28 PM on September 3, 2010

Well. I should have read the More Inside first.
posted by Barmecide at 1:29 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: Howl.
posted by thejoshu at 1:30 PM on September 3, 2010

William Kotzwinkle's The Fan Man. Because you can't say "Horse Badorties" enough - and he doesn't think so either!
posted by nicwolff at 1:34 PM on September 3, 2010

I'll offer "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell.

It comes across as pretty corny, but if embraced, is just the right kind of romantic and funny to loosen the knickers, umm sorry ... resolve ... of that special someone -- which of course, was exactly the authors intent.
posted by elendil71 at 1:42 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gatsby, start to finish, but especially this paragraph:

"His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete."
posted by dersins at 1:48 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

i enjoy reading douglas coupland's novel life after god out loud. it has a very distinct tone.

or charlotte's web.
posted by janepanic at 2:00 PM on September 3, 2010

The Tao Te Ching could be fun.
posted by aniola at 2:14 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: Short stories by Haruki Murakami. Some favorites of mine are: On Meeting the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning, Superfrog Saves Tokyo, The Second Bakery Attack, and The Elephant Vanishes.
posted by number9dream at 2:18 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: e. e. cummings' anyone lived in a pretty how town.
posted by Robson at 2:18 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

My SO reads me stories from The King in Yellow sometimes! Those are a little flowery and quite creepy, and I think better for being read aloud.

I had a professor who read or recited Chaucer at my class a lot, and that was a joy to listen to.

My favourite sappy thing to read aloud or have read to me is this passage from The Post Card:
and when I call you my love, my love, is it you I am calling or my love? You, my love, is it you I thereby name, is it to you that I address myself? I don't know if the question is well put, it frightens me. But I am sure that the answer, if it gets to me one day, will have come to me from you. You alone, my love, you alone will have known it.

we have asked each other the impossible, as the impossible, both of us.
"Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich," beloved.

when I call you my love, is it that I am calling you, yourself, or is it that I am telling my love? and when I tell you my love is it that I am declaring my love to you or indeed that I am telling you, yourself, my love, and that you are my love. I want so much to tell you.
posted by bewilderbeast at 2:34 PM on September 3, 2010

Oh, and Degrees of Gray In Phillipsburg, by Richard Hugo. Grim, but lovely. One of my favorite poems:
You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago
Here's Hugo reading it out loud, and here he is again talking about it and then reading it, from a documentary about him called "Kicking the Loose Gravel Home".
posted by dersins at 2:46 PM on September 3, 2010

Dirty poetry! I used to run a Dirty Latin Poetry night at our uni bar ... those naughty Romans provided us with plenty of material. Catullus 16 is the archetype.

Also, the Harold Norse poem "Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness" practically demands to be read aloud.
posted by Devika at 3:00 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: Jabberwocky. Either done in the impression of an impassioned scenery-chewing stage actor performing before a sold out audience of thousands (i.e. really, really big...) or, and this is my preferred way; attempted to do in one breath, as fast as possible.

Either way is good for a laugh.
posted by quin at 3:31 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The opening pages of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:43 PM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

From Tender Buttons:

Cutting shade, cool spades and little last beds, make violet, violet when.
The opening to Swann's Way.

When I first began dating my husband, he sent me this. We had bonded as friends early on about our mutual affection for people like Vonnegut and Nabokov. It's from a short story of Nabokov's.
Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal's black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.
Orangette Molly talks about reading passages like the following from Edna Lewis' The Taste of Country Cooking in bed ritually as the seasons changed. It is indeed pretty damn great.
One usually thinks of lamb as a spring dish but no one had the heart to kill a lamb. The lambs were sold at the proper time and the sheep would be culled - some sold and a few butchered. My mother would usually buy the head and the forequarter of the mutton, which she cooked by braising or boiling and served with the first asparagus that appeared in along the fence row, grown from seed the birds dropped. There were the unforgettable English peas, first-of-the-season garden crop cooked and served in heavy cream along with sauteed first-of-the-season chicken. As the new calves came, we would have an abundance of milk and butter, as well as buttermilk, rich with flecks of butter. Rich milk was used in the making of gravies, blanc mange, custards, creamed minced ham, buttermilk biscuits, and batter breads, as well as sour-milk pancakes. And we would gather wild honey from the hollow of oak trees to go with the hot biscuits and pick wild strawberries to go with the heavy cream. (Spring, p. 4-5)

Some more...
I reached in my pocket and took out a handkerchief and a candy bar. When people are troubled or worried, I always tell them it will be all right and give them a candy bar. It surprises them and it's good for them.
-Richard Brautigan

Some women marry houses.
It's another kind of skin; it has a heart,
a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.
The walls are permanent and pink.
See how she sits on her knees all day,
faithfully washing herself down.
Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah
into their fleshy mothers.
A woman is her mother.
That's the main thing.
-Anne Sexton

Love, by its very nature, is unworldly,
and it is for this reason rather than its rarity
that it is not only apolitical but antipolitical,
perhaps the most powerful of all antipolitical human forces.
-Hannah Arendt

We don't know how to say good-bye--
We keep wandering arm in arm.
Twilight has begun to fall,
You are pensive and I keep still.

Let's go into a church--we will watch
A funeral, christenings, a marriage service,
Without looking at each other, we will leave...
What's wrong with us?

Or let's sit on the trampled snow
Of the graveyard, sighing lightly,
And with your walking stick you'll outline palaces
Where we will be together always.

-Anna Akhmatova


Kisses can kiss us
A duck a hen and fishes, followed by wishes.
Happy little pair.
-Gertrude Stein

In those days I seemed to have had two muses: the essential, hysterical, genuine one, who tortured me with elusive snatches of imagery and wrung her hands over my inability to appropriate the magic and madness offered me; and her apprentice, her palette girl and stand-in, a little logician, who stuffed the torn gaps left by her mistress with explanatory or meter-mending fillers which became more and more numerous the further I moved away from the initial, evanescent, savage perfection.
-Vladimir Nabokov

I had wasted my boyhood, true:
but it was for you.
You had poets enough on the shelf,
I gave you myself.
-Oscar Wilde

Memory Of France

Together with me recall: the sky of Paris, that giant autumn crocus...
We went shopping for hearts at the flower girl's booth:
they were blue and they opened up in the water.
It began to rain in our room,
and our neighbour came in, Monsieur Le Songe, a lean little man.
We played cards, I lost the irises of my eyes;
you lent me your hair, I lost it, he struck us down.
He left by the door, the rain followed him out.
We were dead and were able to breathe.
-Paul Celan

I never thought
to turn the buds
of spring to smoke,
to see it rising
as it rises now.
-Kobayashi Issa

The man pulling radishes
pointed my way
with a radish.
-Kobayashi Issa

There are the lover and the beloved but
these two come from different countries. So
there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world--a world intense and strange,
complete in himself.
-Carson McCullers

I don't care if the chair's there or not, I'm sitting in it
the only illusion is the economy of ourselves
-Jerome Sala

Never again shall a single story be told as though it were the only one.
-John Berger

Gacela Of The Dark Death

I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
I want to get far away from the busyness of the cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

I don't want them to tell me again how the corpse keeps all its blood,
how the decaying mouth goes on begging for water.
I'd rather not hear about the torture sessions the grass arranges for
nor about how the moon does all its work before dawn
with its snakelike nose.

I want to sleep for half a second,
a second, a minute, a century,
but I want everyone to know that I am still alive,
that I have a golden manger inside my lips,
that I am the little friend of the west wind,
that I am the elephantine shadow of my own tears.

When it's dawn just throw some sort of cloth over me
because I know dawn will toss fistfuls of ants at me,
and pour a little hard water over my shoes
so that the scorpion claws of the dawn will slip off.

Because I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
and learn a mournful song that will clean all earth away from me,
because I want to live with that shadowy child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.
-Federico Garcia Lorca

And I am not thinking of 'passion.' No, of that other thing that makes me feel that every inch of you is so precious to me--your soft shoulders--your creamy warm skin, your ears cold like shells are cold--your long legs and your feet that I love to clasp with my feet--the feeling of your belly--and your thin young back. Just below that bone that sticks out at the back of your neck you have a little mole.

It is partly because we are young that I feel this tenderness.
-Katherine Mansfield, in a letter to her partner

Something about air barreling through a coalshaft. That's a very beautiful poem. Let it go.
-Jerome Sala

I love something that I do not understand.
-Penelope Fitzgerald

WOMAN: And you had me and you told me you had fallen in love with me, and you said you would take care of me always, and you told me my voice and my eyes, my thighs, my breasts, were incomparable, and that you would adore me always.
MAN: Yes I did.
WOMAN: And you do adore me always.
MAN: Yes I do.
WOMAN: And then we had children and we sat and talked and you remembered women on bridges and towpaths and rubbish dumps.
MAN: And you remembered your bottom against railings and men holding your hands and men looking into your eyes.
WOMAN: And talking to me softly.
MAN: And your soft voice. Talking to them softly at night.
WOMAN: And they said I will adore you always.
MAN: Saying I will adore you always.
-Harold Pinter

All the opinions ever formed about Nature
Never made a flower bloom or a blade of grass grow.
All the knowledge there is of things
Was never something I could seize, like a thing.
If science aspires to be true,
What truer science than that of things without science?

I close my eyes, and the reality of the hard earth I'm lying on
Is so real that even the bones in my back feel it.
Where I have shoulder blades I don't need reason.
-Alberto Caeiro (Fernando Pessoa)

What is flirtatiousness but an argument that life must go on and on and on?
-Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

I want nothing from love, in short, but love.

I'm here--
the snow falling.
-Kobayashi Issa

Children imitating cormorants
are even more wonderful
than cormorants.
-Kobayashi Issa

In this world
we walk on the roof of hell,
gazing at flowers.
-Kobayashi Issa

Outburst from a Chemical Sleep

I want a watch
made from the bones
in God's hands,
a house with a chair
nailed to the roof,
and a dame
who cooks in the flesh,
with the shades up,
or the bet is off.
-John Rybicki

Hopkins, Hikmet, Stern, Whitman ("I sing the body electric," whoo boy), and Mayakovsky are all excellent poets to read aloud. James Tate's early book Absences and Yusef Komunyakaa's I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head are also excellent for this purpose.
posted by ifjuly at 4:50 PM on September 3, 2010 [15 favorites]

Auden too, now that I think of it.
posted by ifjuly at 4:57 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: If I HAD to - since I'm a kid at heart, I would probably read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It's a very important book to me.

KogeLiz, I used the "fox" scene to seduce one of the big loves of my life. She was massively introverted. It made her cry. And fall in love with me.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:46 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Winnie ther Pooh.

And Roughing It, by Mark Twain (buggzzee23 beat me to it). Seriously, there is no funnier book in the English language. My high school English teacher literally reduced a class to tears with a deadpan reading of the tarantula incident.
posted by bricoleur at 6:07 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I LOVE this question! I thought I might just be weird having this reading aloud thing as my favorite love.

To Kill A Mockingbird - the ending on particular from when Scout meets Boo Radley: 'Hey, Boo.' I love Atticus' 'Thank you for my children Arthur' and the last moments when Scout imagines the events of the novel as seen by Boo. Just gorgeous.

Also, with great regularity, we read Pride n Prejudice. So many scenes leap out - the calamities of the Netherfield Ball; Elizabeth's transformation in chapters 35/36 'til this moment I never knew myself'; the trip to Pemberley; and the last chapters. Love all of it.

Various plays of Oscar Wilde are fabulous for reading aloud. My latest fad is An Ideal Husband: 'I'm going to give you some advice...' 'One should never give a woman anything she can't wear in the evening...'

David Sedaris anything but especially any stories in which Amy or his dad feature.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:28 PM on September 3, 2010

Best answer: The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.
But the Skin Horse only smiled.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
posted by tamitang at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2010 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I love reading Howl or Kaddish aloud. Also pretty much any Rilke but especially Letters To A Young Poet.
posted by mendel at 7:03 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex by Larry Niven
posted by dual_action at 7:04 PM on September 3, 2010

It's hardly great literature, but I had a lot of fun reading Sloane Crosby's "I Was Told There Would Be Cake" aloud to a friend on a roadtrip. Particularly great was the story told entirely in the 2nd person, "Smell This". Totally immature and hilarious. But it might be a girl thing?

Additionally I second HGttG (and Last Chance To See), To Kill A Mockingbird, and plays, plays, plays. I adore reading plays aloud with a group of friends. *sigh*
posted by maryr at 7:38 PM on September 3, 2010

Parts of WHITE NOISE by Don DeLillo.

Particularly any passage with Murray in it. For example:

Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides -- pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

"No one sees the barn," he said finally.

A long silence followed.

"Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."

He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.

We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies."

There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

"Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."

Another silence ensued.

"They are taking pictures of taking pictures," he said.

He did not speak for a while. We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.

"What was the barn like before it was photographed?" he said. "What did it look like, how was it different from the other barns, how was it similar to other barns?"

---------------------------- AND-------------------------------------------------

The three of us left together, trying to maneuver our shopping carts between the paperback books scattered across the entrance. Murray wheeled one of our carts into the parking lot and then helped us heave and push all our double-bagged merchandise into the back of the station wagon. Cars entered and exited. The policewoman in her zippered minicab scouted the area for red flags on the parking meters. We added Murray's single lightweight bag of white itmes to our load and headed across Elm in the direction of this rooming house. It seemed to me that Babette and I, in the mass and variety of our purchases, in the sheer plenitude those crowded bags suggested, the weight and size and number, the familiar package designs and vivid lettering, the giant sizes, the family bargain packs with Day-Glo sale stickers, in the sensee of replenishment we felt, the sense of well-being, the security and contentment these products brought to some snug home in our souls--it seemed we had achievd a fullness of being that is not known to people who need less, expect less, who plan their lives around lonely walks in the evening.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:45 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

My favorite thing to read aloud is a long passage from The Milagro Beanfield War. It begins (in the original paperback edition) on page 15 with "All his life Amarante had lived in the shadow of his own death. When he was two days old he caught pneumonia, they gave him up for dead, somehow he recovered." It winds up 9 pages and 92 years later with his children refusing to come for any more deathbed visits. In between it's a very funny history of the family patriarch and protagonist. I've been known to grab it off a bookstore shelf to read aloud to someone then and there.
posted by QuakerMel at 8:10 PM on September 3, 2010

Parts of sections III and IV of East Coker.
posted by Coventry at 8:38 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.
posted by mudlark at 9:19 PM on September 3, 2010

This excerpt from The Last Dancer by Daniel Keys Moran.

This I Believe by Robert Heinlein.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:22 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Short humor by Simon Rich - usually from the New Yorker but he has a book out too.
Like this: http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2007/03/26/070326sh_shouts_rich
posted by lukievan at 5:01 AM on September 4, 2010

Annie Dillard's essay "Total Eclipse"
posted by aka burlap at 7:22 AM on September 4, 2010

Anything by Robert W. Service, especially "The Cremation of Sam McGee", especially on a cold winter's night. More creepy than you would expect.
posted by eleslie at 8:21 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anything from The Lady's Not for Burning by Christopher Fry, but especially this passage:

THOMAS: For God's sake, shall we laugh?
JENNET: For what reason?
THOMAS: For the reason of laughter, since laughter is surely
The surest touch of genius in creation.
Would you ever have thought of it, I ask you,
If you had been making man, stuffing him full
Of such hopping greeds and passions that he has
To blow himself to pieces as often as he
Conveniently can manage it--would it also
Have occurred to you to make him burst himself
With such a phenomenon as cachinnation?
That same laughter, madam, is an irrelevancy
Which almost amounts to revelation.

I've been listening to John Gielgud read that on tape for years, and I love to read it to people, but I'm fairly sure anyone who thought to read it to me would win me over pretty much instantly.
posted by newrambler at 8:59 AM on September 4, 2010

You can thumb to any random page of a Thomas Wolfe novel and come to a deliciously over-wrought passage, but I particularly love this one, from Look Homeward, Angel:

. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven,a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. [Where? When?]

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

--Thomas Wolfe
posted by EL-O-ESS at 2:18 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Robert W. Service poems!



...And others more serious.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:38 AM on September 5, 2010

Best answer: I cast my vote for The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy. I particularly enjoyed reading the description of the Sandwich Maker out loud to my girlfriend recently.
posted by primer_dimer at 2:35 AM on September 6, 2010

Best answer: John Donne is good for this, especially his sadder, later poems. His lines and rhymes are wonderfully satisfying to hold in your mouth. This is from A Valediction of the Book:
    Thus vent thy thoughts; abroad I’ll study thee, As he removes far off, that great heights takes; How great love is, presence best trial makes, But absence tries how long this love will be; To take a latitude Sun, or stars, are fitliest viewed At their brightest, but to conclude, Of longitudes, what other way have we, But to mark when, and where the dark eclipses be?
Faulkner is good, too. The writing is so stripped, elemental, inherently musical - The Wild Palms/If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem is my favorite to read aloud. There's a lot of wildly lovely stuff in it, but even the opening sentences are delightful to read:
    "The knocking sounded again, at once discreet and peremptory, while the doctor was descending the stairs, the flashlight's beam lancing on before him down the brown-stained tongue-and-groove box of the lower hall. It was a beach cottage, even though of two stories, and lighted by oil lamps - or an oil lamp, which his wife had carried up stairs with them after supper. And the doctor wore a night shirt, too, not pajamas, for the same reason that he smoked the pipe which he had never learned and knew that he would never learn to like, between the occasional cigar which his clients gave him in the intervals of Sundays on which he smoked three cigars which he felt he could buy for himself even though he owned the beach cottage as well as the one next to it and the one, the residence with electricity and plastered walls, in the village four miles away. Because he was now forty-eight years old and he had been sixteen and eighteen and twenty at the time when his father could tell him (and he believe it) that cigarettes and pajamas were for dudes and women."
Dense, but wonderful. Finding line breaks to breathe is hard, especially when you feel like it will ruin the whole tumbling rush of the sentence. Worth it, though.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:19 AM on September 8, 2010

Best answer: oh, no! with line breaks, that poem is:

Thus vent thy thoughts; abroad I’ll study thee,
As he removes far off, that great heights takes;
How great love is, presence best trial makes,
But absence tries how long this love will be;
To take a latitude
Sun, or stars, are fitliest viewed
At their brightest, but to conclude,
Of longitudes, what other way have we,
But to mark when, and where the dark eclipses be?
posted by peachfuzz at 11:21 AM on September 8, 2010

The end of Little Gidding.

"And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
posted by the latin mouse at 1:38 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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