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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2016/03/18 Permalink
    Tags: be the narrator, , bridget jones, , , , , reading aloud,   

    10 Books Even Adult Readers Will Love to Read Aloud 

    Growing up is a strange experience, mainly because we assume more or less arbitrarily that certain things we enjoyed as kids must be given up once we hit adulthood. Cookies for breakfast are awesome, yet at some point, we decide we must eat grapefruit and hate life. Reading out loud was also awesome when we were kids, right? But now that we’re all “grown up,” it’s something only crazy people on the subway do.

    No more! Whatever mood you’re in today, go home and read aloud from a favorite book. It will give you a whole new appreciation for the language and wordplay the greatest authors in history have created for you. Not sure what book matches your mood? Here are a few suggestions for the ideal books to read aloud.

    Mood: Reaching Out to Your Inner Child.
    Book: Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
    Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can’t still dream of being a pirate, and Stevenson’s classic adventure story remains a thrilling shout out to your greatest imaginary childhood adventures while also being a complex, entertaining read for adult-sized brains. Pro tip: combine Treasure Island with Talk Like a Pirate Day and you. Are. Golden.

    Mood: The Desire to Believe Magic is Real.
    Book: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
    One of the worst things about growing up is admitting you will never open your closet door and find a portal to a magical world where you’re somehow elected King or Queen without any sort of due process, unless the whims of an overlarge lion count as due process. Which they do not. Still, sometimes you come home from working at the bean counting factory and you’re sad, and reading Lewis’ charming, utterly sincere prose about Narnia is just what the doctor ordered. Well, that and a stiff cocktail, which makes the magic that much more believable.

    Mood: The Sheer Joy of Being Alive.
    Book: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
    Another book that somehow gets lost after childhood is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which is a shame, as it’s a clever one, packed with wordplay, hilarity, and, yes, adventure. It hasn’t aged well in some aspects, true, but if you’re looking to remind yourself life is worth living and you never know what’s going to happen next, reading Twain’s peerless prose out loud is a great way to transport yourself to a simpler time that wasn’t in any way simple.

    Mood: Hell is Other People, But I Am Safe at Home.
    Book: A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket
    Sometimes you feel like you’re the only sane person in the world, which you realize probably means you’re the insane one, and you go through the rest of your day with a shell-shocked expression on your face, mind blown. Settling down with the Baudelaire children and the series of literally unfortunate events that happen to them is soothing to the soul, because it takes the insanity of the world and makes it entertaining. Reading these books aloud will also make you feel much cleverer than you actually are.

    Mood: The Joy of Language-slash-Missing Harper Lee.
    Book: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Storytelling in the modern age sometimes seems like it’s all about twists and sudden revelations that change everything. Harper Lee’s recent passing reminds us that sometimes a good story is more about clear, beautiful language, a strong voice, and characters you come to care for—and To Kill a Mockingbird offers those simple pleasures and plenty more. Reading Scout’s words out loud really brings home the simple elegance of Lee’s writing.

    Mood: Appreciating a Challenging Partner.
    Book: As You Like It, by William Shakespeare
    Have a partner you want to share the read-aloud experience with? Aces. There’s simply nothing better than Shakespeare for couples to share reading duties (just ask Marianne Dashwood). As You Like It is hilarious fun and contains some of the Bard’s greatest lines and speeches—including “All the world’s a stage…” Assign each other various roles and dig into some of the richest language in the history of English.

    Mood: Testing Out Those Character Actor Skills.
    Book: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
    Part of the fun of reading out loud is making up voices and mannerisms for different characters—in other words, acting. Safely ensconced in your private domain, why not let your physical creativity fly? Tartt has been writing at an elevated level for years, but what gets lost in her Pulitzer Prize press clippings is the sharpness of her characters—there’s nothing more enjoyable than coming up with a voice for Boris.

    Mood: Nobody Exists on Purpose, Nobody Belongs Anywhere, Everybody’s Gonna Die.
    Book: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
    Feeling small? Feeling like there’s no purpose to the endless drudgery? Been recently informed your house is going to be torn down to make way for a new highway on-ramp? Douglas Adams understood, and the magic of reading his humorous science fiction classic is how he makes that pointlessness and drudgery the point, yet simultaneously hilarious. Your life may be pointless, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a laugh about it, and moments like a new math based on the calculation of shared restaurant bills are a pure joy to read out loud.

    Mood: Single and Not Loving It.
    Book: Bridget Jones’ Diary, by Helen Fielding
    Being alone when you’d rather be part of a couple is painful, no matter your sex or your age, but people sometimes forget the reason the Bridget Jones novels do so well is because of the emotions behind then and the sharp writing. Fielding created a true character with a distinct voice, and be you male or female, her words are a joy to read aloud—and a comfort, even when you’re also eating cake and drinking wine and are pretty sure neither is helping.

    Mood: Drinking Alone.
    Book: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson
    Let’s stipulate: Hunter S. Thompson was a maniac. He was also a writer with a rare and muscular love of language, a writer who conveyed the sheer joy of storytelling even when that story was slightly disturbing. From the initial line, “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold,” to the demented ending, there’s a delirious joy to reading Thompson’s prose. Extra credit for doing so with a cigarette holder clutched between your teeth.

  • Jeff Somers 7:45 pm on 2016/01/05 Permalink
    Tags: , bridget jones, , , , marcia clark, , , resolving,   

    New Year’s Resolutions from Our Favorite Literary Characters 

    It’s a New Year, that fabled moment when the sins and failures from the previous year are wiped clean and we can all start fresh. You know what that means: it’s New Year’s resolution time. Sure, we’re a couple days in, but you’ve still got time. And like everything else in life, it’s an opportunity to turn to books for inspiration. While explicit resolutions are surprisingly rare in fiction, you can definitely find some pointers. Here are five of our favorite “resolution-adjacent” moments in literature to help you script your own life-changing vows.

    “Resolution number one: Obviously will lose twenty pounds. Number two: Always put last night’s panties in the laundry basket. Equally important, will find sensible boyfriend to go out with and not continue to form romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobic’s, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional ____wits or perverts.” –Bridget Jones (Bridget Jones’ Diary, by Helen Fielding)
    As always, the wisdom of Bridget Jones applies universally to all mankind. Perhaps you don’t personally need to lose 20 pounds, but placing used underwear in the appropriate place is always a good idea, and if you’re not in the market for a boyfriend specifically, it’s pretty universal that avoiding “alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional ____wits or perverts” is a good idea. Out of sympathy for everyone already panicking about this list, we won’t mention Bridget’s vows to smoke less, drink less, and eat more sensibly.

    “No one ever keeps ’em, so what’s the point?”Rachel Knight (Guilt by Association, by Marcia Clark)
    The quote actually comes from a short story Clark—the infamous former prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case—posted on her publisher’s website, but the sentiment is so universal, it demands inclusion. After all, nearly as universal as making a New Year’s resolution is the time-honored act of breaking one. Meanwhile, Clark’s mysteries continue to surprise with the quality of her writing, plotting, and character development; her brainy, stubborn assistant district attorney Knight is a delight in the mold of Kinsey Millhone or Stephanie Plum, with gravitas lent by the author’s real-world experience.

    “My New Year’s resolution is a far more selfish one than last year. It is to make my motto, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, you may be dead.”Pauline Parker (The Search for Anne Perry, by Joanne Drayton)
    This excellent advice from a potential sociopath isn’t fiction, actually—it’s from the diary of Pauline Parker, who murdered her own mother in 1954 with the help of her friend Juliet Hulme. Hulme and Parker were juveniles, and so despite being convicted of the crime were released five years later. Hulme took on a new name—Anne Perry—and went on to become an acclaimed crime fiction writer until her identity was revealed after Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures film revisited the case.

    “Must scold, must nag, mustn’t be too pretty in the mornings.” Nora Charles (After the Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett)
    This quote doesn’t actually appear in Hammett’s classic novel The Thin Man; it’s spoken in the second Thin Man film, also written by Hammett. Nora is responding to her husband Nick’s question about New Year’s resolutions; she asks if he has any complaints and he tells her no: “You don’t scold, you don’t nag, and you look far too pretty in the mornings.” While her lovingly sarcastic response is evidence of Hammett’s talent for the rhythm of speech (and devastating zingers), it’s also a freeing resolution for anyone who’s married.

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”Paul Atreides (Dune, by Frank Herbert)
    Do they even have “New Year’s” in Herbert’s classic science fiction universe? Likely not, and yet this mantra, spoken by Paul Atreides and repeated elsewhere by other characters, is an excellent all-purpose resolution for anyone in any circumstance. Imagine yourself on a rooftop—or in a bathroom—quietly reciting it, and a year of infinite possibilities will open up before you, tempting and exhilarating.

  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2014/12/31 Permalink
    Tags: a long way down, amor towles, bridget jones, George Eliot, , , , middlemarch, , rules of civility, , white teeth,   

    Our Favorite Books Set on New Year’s Eve (and Day) 

    Amor Towles' The Rules of CivilityHumans are a funny lot; we invent a totally random way of keeping track of our existence, then assign special significance to certain days, and proceed to do things like go to war over disagreements on which days are especially significant. For most people, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are natural moments for contemplation and resolution—or nursing hangovers—which is why they are also great days to read books. When trying to decide what goals to set for yourself in the coming year, a good book can give you examples of what to do—or what not to do, depending on the book.

    Here then, are five books set on and around New Year’s eve that just might have something to teach you—but will definitely entertain you.

    Middlemarch, by George Eliot

    Only a small portion of this classic piece of literature takes place on New Year’s—but any excuse to pick up this amazing novel is a good excuse. The New Year’s Day portion is a great scene filled with Eliot’s typically sharp observations of her fellow human beings. The party thrown by the Vincys is superficially cheerful and jolly, but tensions roil just underneath the surface, as observed by the smart and good-hearted vicar Mr. Farebrother. This is a great scene to read in preparation for heading out to a New Year’s bash.

    White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

    Smith’s insanely creative book begins on New Year’s Day and explores, among many other finely woven themes, how chance affects our lives. When Archie Jones changes his mind about an attempted suicide and finds his way to the dregs of a New Year’s Eve party, where he meets his future wife, it’s just the first of many ways the book celebrates how our decisions conspire to surprise us—and the story circles around to a later New Year’s to underscore the point. Read this book before making your resolutions, to remind yourself that you never know what 2015 might throw at you.

    Rules of Civilty, by Amor Towles

    This under-appreciated first novel is a brilliant, energetic story set in a Manhattan that no longer exists. With a strong female character at its center, Rules of Civilty presents a mystery that starts at a New Year’s celebration between the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938, but it’s really a celebration of the energy of New York and the thrill of suddenly seeing someone or something you haven’t seen in decades, bringing back a flood of memories. It also contains the world-beating line, “That’s the problem with being born in New York…you’ve got no New York to run away to.” Read this book if you’re feeling a bit settled and wonder if you could use an adventure in the New Year.

    Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding

    Let’s not dismiss this book—it’s a modern classic of its genre, and it’s easy to forget what a phenomenon it was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It’s also a book that begins on New Year’s Day and dives enthusiastically into one of the great inner monologues of modern literature, as Bridget worries, records, and contemplates the proper method of making and keeping resolutions almost from the book’s very first moment. Read it if you’re worried about breaking your New Year’s resolutions—it will remind that ultimately it probably doesn’t matter, as long as you enjoy the debacle.

    A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby

    Any book that opens with its four main characters accidentally choosing the same roof to jump from on New Year’s Eve is a book that really ought to be read every New Year’s Eve, possibly out loud as a new kind of holiday tradition. And since it’s a book by Nick Hornby, it’s also hilarious and satisfyingly plotted, as these people decide to postpone their suicide and the story unfolds unexpectedly from there. Read this any time you think your New Year’s experience is subpar; you’ll feel better.

    What’s your favorite book to read at the end (or start) of the year?

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