Bedtime stories for adults?
December 8, 2010 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm in search of some good fiction or nonfiction books that would work well being read aloud right before bed. Nothing too grim, intricately-plotted, or with too many big words (both he and I are literate people but it's embarrassing to keep tripping over big words that are rarely used in day-to-day speech!) would be ideal. Something along the lines of A Walk in the Woods is what I'm aiming for.

My boyfriend and I have discovered that reading to each other is pretty much the best way ever to end the evening. We've absolutely loved Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I think what made these books work so well was:

*Really interesting subjects! We love hiking, backpacking, history, and food, so anything that speaks to those things would work. Then again, we weren't that interested in the Civil War or neoconfederates before we read Horwitz's book, so we're really open to anything if the author writes engagingly about the subject.

*They weren't so complicated in terms of plot or argument that you did a lot of damage to your enjoyment of the book by reading 10 pages a night and sometimes only making it through 30 or 40 pages per week--each is structured like a series of vignettes or witty observations.

*They write about their subjects with a lot of humor and humanity--they're not sad or GRAR books that would make me so upset that I'd get too worked up to fall asleep. This pretty much rules out anything by Jon Krakauer (spoiler: SOMEONE ALWAYS DIES AT THE END), whose books I'm otherwise interested in reading.

*They, uh, don't use too many big words or such complicated sentence structure that it's difficult to read aloud. I hate struggling with the tempo and pacing when I keep tripping up on words I don't know how to pronounce, or because the sentence is hard to track. (I'm a pretty educated person so it doesn't have to be dead-simple, but please no recommendations of something that is going to be like reading Foucault out loud.) This is my major reservation about picking one of DFW's book of essays as our next selection, so if you're going to recommend Consider the Lobster please reassure me that it's a good book for specifically reading aloud.

So, what books should be I be searching for?
posted by iminurmefi to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. It's funny, interesting, and each chapter is a self-contained unit about some anecdote/aspect of the biz that can be read in less than twenty minutes.
posted by HeKilledKennedy at 12:08 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey - a fiction writer's (mostly) non-fictional memoir about working as a park ranger in the american southwest for a season. more vignettes than plot-heavy. of course, being outdoorsy types you may already have read it.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 12:08 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I suggest the Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights--they work great as bedtime stories--actually they are bedtime stories, and are conveniently divided into sections of one night each, with a little suspenseful note at the end of each.
posted by Paquda at 12:09 PM on December 8, 2010

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat, On the Rez by Ian Frazier (first half is better than the second), anything by Sherman Alexie as long as you like short stories, and Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.
posted by colfax at 12:10 PM on December 8, 2010

I think Peter Sagal's Book of Vice would be good for this. It was very enjoyable reading it silently and reading it aloud to a SO might be fun and could lead to some great discussion and whatnot.

Plus, reading mild-mannered Peter Sagal (host of NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell me) talking about porn and swinger's parties was pretty funny. Don't let the subject matter turn you off though, it's written in a way that even my mom wouldn't be offended by it.

Also, any of Mary Roach's books might work for this.
posted by bondcliff at 12:15 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you ought to go with the Bill Bryson theme and try some of his other books. In a Sunburned Country is my favorite of his.
posted by something something at 12:18 PM on December 8, 2010

I'm currently reading Richard Holmes book Age Of Wonder and enjoying it. It covers British scientists of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, their investigations, experiments, and personalities.

Bill Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Everything covers pretty much what its title suggests. There are factual errors in there, but they are minor (as opposed to his books on the English language, which are supposed to be riddled with mistakes) and his humor and enthusiam are very evident.

How about Oliver Sachs? The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat was fascinating reading (although it might have some exciting medical jargon, now that I think of it. That might make reading aloud rather challenging).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:24 PM on December 8, 2010

Kipling's Just So Stories are meant to be read out loud. But so, actually, is everything by Dickens and everything by Jane Austen. And then there's Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels (The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely, etc.).
posted by musofire at 12:25 PM on December 8, 2010

Tim Cahill may have some things in the vein of Bill Bryson that you'd like. I'm currently reading a collection of short stories he edited--Not So Funny When it Happened--and it's hilarious. And if you find an author you like, you can go get their books. You might also like Riding Outside the Lines by Joe Kurmaskie (aka Metal Cowboy). Each chapter is a different story from his international bicycle touring and is also funny. He has a US based one, too, but I enjoyed the international one more.

If you want to expand your reading project a bit, though, some of the stuff I enjoy best is what I find cheaply in used bookstores, particularly in the travel section. If you think the two of you may enjoy hunting down books to read, that might a be fun daytime activity to add to the reading. Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow by Tim Brookes is one I found that way.

If you want poetic more than funny, you could try Old Glory by Jonathan Raban (though I can't remember how many big words he uses). And Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, though not particularly funny, may be an option. Very few scenes in that book are more than a few pages long, so it would be easy to work through over time.
posted by BlooPen at 12:33 PM on December 8, 2010

I've been listening to audiobooks a lot lately, and I think the same things that make an audiobook great would also make a book great for just regular reading aloud. Along with Bill Bryson, David Sedaris is a mainstay of my collection. Like Bryson, his writing is tremendously elegant without the sort of precious "look at me, I'm so clever!" convolutions of DFW and his ilk.

Sarah Vowell is also good -- she frequently delves into American history ("The Wordy Shipmates," for example, is a non-fiction book about the Puritans in early colonial America) and she's equal parts funny and serious.

I've listened to some Augusten Burroughs and he's funny but also kind of depressing; whereas Bryson and Sedaris are charmingly self-deprecating, Burroughs is basically filled with self-loathing. Maybe not a great choice for reading right before bed, but it depends on your preferences.
posted by pluckemin at 12:34 PM on December 8, 2010

To establish my "street cred," Confederates in the Attic is my favorite book.

I might second the recommendations of:

Anthony Bourdain - although since you're interested in travel and food, A Cook's Tour might be better for you than Kitchen Confidential; it's also in shorter chapters that are a bit more self-contained.

Mary Roach - Bonk might be fun for a couple; I think Stiff is her best but the death topic might turn you off, and I didn't like Spook nearly as much. I haven't read her new book, Packing for Mars, yet, but it sounds like fun).

Oliver Sacks - Uncle Tungsten is very charming; The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a classic.

I'm going to throw A. J. Jacobs into the mix--either The Know-It-All (he reads the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica in one year) or The Year of Living Biblically (he tries to adhere to all rules given by the Bible for a full year and struggles with the contradictions therein). They're episodic (especially the former) so can contribute to as long or short a nightly reading as you choose.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2010

Arctic Homestead (my favorite)

A Place In The Woods
posted by Sassyfras at 1:00 PM on December 8, 2010

Many great suggestions here. I really have enjoyed Bill Bryson books (as well as Sedaris) in audio format, too, by the way.

One more thought -- Richard Elliott Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible? is really a fascinating book and fits all your other critieria. (Hint: the answer is not "God.")
posted by bearwife at 1:02 PM on December 8, 2010

I would suggest the book Outposts by Simon Winchester. He spent time visiting the remaining nuggets of the British Empire and each chapter is about a different colony. So there's the Falkland Islands, Hong Kong (this book is from the mid-eighties), Gibraltar, Pitcairn, St. Helena, etc. Simon Winchester might be one of the more engaging writers you'll find and his knack for storytelling is unparalleled in my opinion.
posted by fso at 1:19 PM on December 8, 2010

Hoshruba: The Land and Tilism. This isn't non-fiction, or modern, or anything to do with hiking, or the woods. But, it is a daastaan, the purpose of which was always to tell a long story over the course of many, many, sittings.

Perfect for bedtime reading to each other.
posted by bardophile at 1:20 PM on December 8, 2010

Haven Kimmel's "A Girl Called Zippy" and "She Got Up off the Couch" are memoirs of a girl and her family and small-town neighbors, written in mostly short chapters, very funny, sweet and perceptive, and accessible. (They're not without death, but death is not morbidly presented or gratuitous, and serves to show tenderness of friends and family.) As I got to know the characters I could hear their voices in the dialogue, so I imagine that reading the books aloud could be mirthful.
posted by Sarah Jane at 1:28 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I came in here to suggest A Thousand and One Nights and Oliver Sacks, but I was beaten to it. So consider these seconded. However, no one suggested Calvino. He's got a reputation as a literary maestro, but he's very readable and his fictions are easily broken down into chunks. Invisible Cities are a great place to start.

Oh, and yeah, Bryson is great, just avoid his books on English language (which I've read and have had, subsequently, to unlearn with great effort). I'm especially fond of Notes on a Small Island and Neither Here nor There.

Also... Sedaris is surprisingly tricksy as a writer. Reading him aloud is harder than you'd think. I translated an essay of his once and it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to translate.
posted by Kattullus at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two widely different books I'm currently reading aloud to my girlfriend are Where the Red Fern Grows and Mailer's The Fight. Both are easy to read, nothing to trip yo up, Mailer's really funny out loud and Red Fern might make you cry every couple pages.
posted by vito90 at 1:48 PM on December 8, 2010

Ooh, ooh ooh! Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, by Gary Paulsen.

It's about dogsledding, and it's fascinating and hysterically funny, in much the same way that A Walk in the Woods is. I can't recommend this often enough!
posted by cider at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island is still a ripping good yarn and reads well out loud.

For man-in-nature stories, Colin Fletcher's The 1000 Mile Summer and The Man Who Walked Through Time are also very conversational and thus well suited for reading aloud.

Currently reading The Hobbit aloud to our almost-10 year old, and while some of the names are stumblers, it's (still and always) a pretty fun read.
posted by mosk at 2:08 PM on December 8, 2010

Winterdance is great! And reading books about cold will probably help you sleep.

As you like history and nature:

The Natural History of Selborne. Nature diaries of an 18th century country curate. Sometimes the sentence structure is a little complicated-- written in 1791 after all-- but deeply soothing, humane, and fascinating. If you're using an ereader you can get if for free!

A Little History of the World is ostensibly for young people but it's a wonderful, wonderful read.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:21 PM on December 8, 2010

Bill Bryson's observational humor reminds me a lot of Robert Fulgham, famous for the "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" essay (also the title of his first collection of essays). Some people think they're too saccharine, but I really like his humor. They're very light and most are quite short, so you always have a stopping place fairly close by. He was a Unitarian Universalist minister, so there are some religious themes, but certainly no bible-thumping.

It might be too light/non-informative for your taste, but I think they make great fodder for reading aloud - I did a couple of them as prose selections in speech class.
posted by clerestory at 2:23 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you like Bill Bryson, you should try his book I'm a Stranger Here Myself. It's a collection of columns he wrote for a newspaper, so you'd easily be able to get through one each night.
posted by phatkitten at 2:32 PM on December 8, 2010

my girlfriend's been reading me Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant before sleeptime and it's a perfect fit. beautifully and simply written, funnysad, pretty minimal in terms of plot but full of interesting and relatable characters.
posted by tealsocks at 2:54 PM on December 8, 2010

Population 485 by Michael Perry.

Candy Freak by Steve Almond.

Two books I adore, and I never ever get to talk about because we never get them in at the used bookshop where I work.

Any of Perry's books are great, though.
posted by bibliogrrl at 3:57 PM on December 8, 2010

I'm going to recommend Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome.

Excellent, easy to follow, and a perfect end to a day. It seems a little similar to A Walk in the Woods in that it's a few friends (and a dog) going on a pleasure trip together.
posted by pseudonick at 4:16 PM on December 8, 2010

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman is a hoot. Don't be afraid of it as a physicist's autobiography--it's highly accessible and massively entertaining.
posted by neuron at 4:36 PM on December 8, 2010

The works of Sarah Vowell.
posted by Artw at 5:12 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Up in the Hotel by Joseph Mitchell is a collection of character sketches of unusual people. Many of these stories were originally published in the New Yorker over the course of a fifty year career as a reporter.

A Heaven in the Eye by Clyde Rice is an unusual memoir of childhood and young adulthood in Oregon and the Bay area in the early decades of the twentieth century. Rice writes of his life as a forest service lookout, a deckhand, an artist, a husband and a father among other things.
posted by vicambulist at 5:21 PM on December 8, 2010

"The Unlikely Voyage of Jack De Crow" by AJ Mackinnon has been my bedtime book for a long while. On the subject of river travel you might also like "Three Men In A Boat" by Jerome K Jerome
posted by The otter lady at 6:00 PM on December 8, 2010

Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. It's a memoir centred around food--fond and not-so-fond recollections of meals the author has had, associations she has with certain types of dishes, loving, detailed descriptions of various places she's lived and cooked in. I have read this book, and its sequel, More Home Cooking, many many times and have always enjoyed its humour and warmth. I think it would be perfect read-aloud-before-bed book.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:45 PM on December 8, 2010

Northern Borders or any of the books by Frank Mosher. Northern Borders is a story told from a child's perspective of living with his elderly grandparents as the world changed. Set in "the Kingdom" of northern Vermont, this book shows a way of American life which has all but vanished. Very funny and very human.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:03 PM on December 8, 2010

Maybe some John McPhee?

I am a huge, huge fan of his work. He writes about a wide range of things (tennis, basketball, the environment, changes in Alaskan society, oranges, merchant mariners). I have no interest in sports, and I found his book about basketball (A Sense of Where You Are, really about Bill Bradley rather than basketball generally) fascinating and his book about tennis (Levels of the Game, with a focus on Clark Graebner and Arthur Ashe) to be just brilliant. There were moments that felt symphonic, a perfect resolution of ideas he'd been weaving together over the course of chapters.

You could try collections of some of his shorter pieces to get a taste of his style: A Roomful of Hovings is good (five profiles of interesting people), but Pieces of the Frame has the amazing "In Search of Marvin Gardens." (On the other hand, since you love hiking and backpacking, A Roomful of Hovings has a wonderful piece about Ewell Gibbons and spending several days eating foraged food. Indeed, your interest in hiking and backpacking makes me think McPhee's outdoorsy works - including Encounters with the Archdruid and The Survival of the Bark Canoe - would be to your liking.)

Great question!
posted by kristi at 10:35 AM on December 9, 2010

You're going to think I am crazy, but Ulysses is great fun to read aloud. I spent a summer doing this with a girlfriend. What is dense and unstructured comes alive reading it aloud and I was amazed at how accessible, and really, hysterically funny it was. Plus, you can read the dialogue with silly Irish accents.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:57 PM on December 9, 2010

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