One Sunday afternoon in the long ago year of 2000 AD, Bill and I were sitting on the couch at my parents’ house. It was late August and we were at a loss for what to do with ourselves. We couldn’t make out or spoon or any other normal lazy day couple stuff because, while my dad wasn’t one to keep a rifle slung over his shoulder when I had boyfriends over (that was the DCFI, who was not there that day), he elicited a quiet intimidation. The kind where, although the smile was on his face when he greeted my male friends, it never quite reached his eyes as if to say “See my frowny eyes? They will get even more frowny if you don’t keep a respectable distance from my daughter while you are under my roof.” and also, “Harumph.”
So this is what made us start a tradition that has lasted our entire relationship. Because instead of turning on the TV and spending the afternoon sitting a respectable distance from one another watching the meerkats on Animal Planet argue over acorns or somesuch, we picked up a book. I plucked it from my mom’s bookshelf in the family room- stealthily- as I didn’t want her to know I was planning to crack its cover. You see, I had been making fun of her for months for getting wrapped up in this series of books. In fact my left eyeball went lazy for a time because of the serious and epic rolling it did every time I walked into a room when she was reading these books (true story! (minus the true!)). A book about a boy who goes to a special school that teaches him useful life lessons like how to spot a true friend and how to lull a three headed dog to sleep. A little book called Harry MOTHERFUCKING Potter. (Uh, maybe minus the MOTHERFUCKING). We sat (a cushion apart) in the family room and read the first few chapters aloud to one another. We weren’t instantly hooked- we didn’t even finish it for another two months due to our busy school, work and drinking schedules, but once we made it through The Sorcerer’s Stone, there was no turning back. Not only on Harry Potter, to which we’ve become geektacular uber fans, but to reading out loud to one another.
After getting through the first HP we quickly moved on to Chamber of Secrets and a curious thing happened…I fell asleep. If you know me this is a big deal because I don’t ever just fall asleep. Though my insomnia attacks me both ways- I have trouble falling asleep AND trouble staying asleep- the falling asleep aspect has always been the biggest struggle. I can lay in bed for HOURS without drifting off. My brain is missing that shut off switch that most people have- it just keeps on thinking about everything- from what I should have said in a conversation that day to which hair color looks better on which Olsen twin and why, to what I would say if I accidentally stepped on Dave Matthews’ toe if I ever ran into him in an airport, the probability of which is low since I don’t ever fly and he rides on a giant bus and even if he did fly he certainly wouldn’t be in coach on freakin’ Sun Country airlines because that is all I can afford and God I’m so broke but I really want to save up to travel to England and then I could visit the castle where they filmed parts of Harry Potter and wasn’t I writing a post abut Harry Potter somewhere way up there or was it about reading aloud and- YOU SEE INTERNET? You see how my brain is broken?
So, yeah. I fell asleep and it was a pretty big fucking deal for me. Imagine Bill’s surprise when he looked down and his crazy girlfriend’s Crazy just- POOF! -shut off. Without him having to punch me or anything. He was so used to me getting routinely mad at him for falling asleep when I was saying REALLY important things (like things about the Olsen twins and airports etc etc- only out loud. To him. Poor fella.) He, I’m sure, did that little dance all parents do when dealing with a child who has fallen asleep- a very quiet, very desperate attempt to keep that child asleep while you make your escape. And it worked. Let’s all just take a minute to imagine Bill’s happiness at that moment.
So after we finished reading HP 1-4 twice, which was all that was out in that long ago time, we moved on. I let him choose what he wanted to read next which was the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I tell you, people I have never fallen asleep faster in my life- it would have made the likes of Snoreface jealous! While I love the story LotR weaves and loved the movies enough to watch all the extended versions plus all 5,924 hours of bonus features on each disc multiple times, the books are…well…they’re crap. I don’t like them. Please don’t send Hobbits after me on some quest to throw me in a fiery pit of magma. I appreciate Tolkein’s genius but his writing makes me want to punch myself in the head. Or…fall asleep. Which is exactly what I did. So YEA Tolkien! You accomplished what 4 Tylenol PM a night couldn’t (also: RIP Chisty’s liver). Somewhere near the end of the second book Bill got pissed because I was falling asleep two sentences in and while this really was the goal for reading to me, he also happened to enjoy the books and wanted to finish them this side of never. So we made a deal. I would cheat and look up who lived and who died which was all I cared about and Bill could read the remainder to himself.
Meanwhile, my job was to find some new books or series for us to read out loud to one another. I worked at Barnes and Noble at the time so I asked around for some recommendations. We liked to keep it simple and found that kids’ or Young Adult books worked the best- If I had to think too hard my brain would spin out and that was not our goal, but we also wanted good books, not just fluff. Over the years we have read some amazing books, some not so amazing- here are our recommendations if you ever want to get really lame like us:
1) Harry Potter 1-7, J.K.Rowling. These books were made to be read out loud. We’ve read 1-5 together so many times we’ve lost count and just finished our second go round of 6 and 7 and I’m already ready to start over again. I can’t wait to read them to my kids. They will love them or they are disowned. DIS. OWNED.
2) Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Tolkien. Only in an emergency and only if all other heavy sedatives have been tried and failed.
3) The Hobbit, Tolkien. This one is a much better choice than LotR. Less poems and odes to trees and such and you don’t get 500 pages of obscure character history per every one page of legitimate storyline.
4) A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket. These were all the rage back when I was shopping for a new series. I think we made it through 4 of them before we tired of the same story being told over and over again. But definitely a good no-brainer book.
5) The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis. Some of the books were good, others were kind of a bust. I really wasn’t a big fan of A Horse and his Boy and Bill didn’t really care for The Magician’s Nephew. I sort of felt like I was suffering through them at certain points but the end of the series is so sad and so beautiful. By happenstance, this is the series we read through both of my pregnancies’ early days so I was pretty miserable. I have not so fond memories of getting up to puke mid-sentence. FYI-We read them chronologically- not in the order in which they were published. I’m a chronological type of gal.
6. His Dark Materials, Phillip Pullman. Although I had a hard time staying awake for these they are really pretty amazing books. We actually have never finished them out loud because Keaton, that selfish little bugger, showed up 11 days early and we couldn’t read to each other over the screaming. I do have a very vivid, sweet memory of Bill reading the third book to me by book-light, as I snuggled our newborn son in my hospital bed on his first night in the world.
This is where we took a 16 month break due to the afore-mentioned screaminess of Captain Screamy Pants. Also because we shared a room with him and we preferred to read aloud all snuggled in bed which you can’t do when a certain little goblin baby is sleeping a few feet away. Since claiming a room of our own again we have gotten our Potter fix by re-reading 6 and 7 in preparation for July’s release of Half Blood Prince and moved on to read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. Light read, good-ish, and now we just started Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I just watched the movie with my niece and am excited to get into the book. I also plan on adding more Gaiman titles to this list as he is awesome.
This practice of reading out loud has helped work me through some really really craptastic bouts of insomnia and given us something to do together as a couple that didn’t require the TV. It also gives me an excuse to catch up on all that awesome kid-lit I missed out on because it interfered with my reading of Babysitter’s Club Super Specials. We’re at a point in our life where we don’t have much energy left by the time 9 pm hits and wrapping up together under the covers and drifting off to your partner’s voice tell a story is more than a good end to an exhausting day.