Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups

Every night, I read 3 to 4 different books out loud to Sprout before I put him to bed. Of course, this is a cherished parental tradition. But recently, Chris and I were talking about reading the “A Song of Ice and Fire series” by George R.R. Martin and I jokingly said that I’d only read it if it was out loud to each other. I had been hesitant to read it for a number of reasons: the books are physically large to bring on the Metro (and I don’t like e-readers), I’m not a big fan of either courtly drama or high fantasy, there’s a fair bit of sexual violence, and most importantly, Martin is an achingly slow writer. The first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, was released in 1996. I don’t have the patience to wait for two more books; it makes Harry Potter seem absolutely speedy. But reading aloud solved, or at least minimized, many of these issues. Reading was time spent together, rather than alone. With such a slow reading speed, Martin might be done with the next book by the time we finished the series. Besides these anticipated benefits, I’ve found a number of other elements I enjoy.

This isn’t the very first time we’ve read aloud to each other. Once when Chris was horribly sick, I read Tolkein’s The Silmarillion to him until he fell asleep. While I didn’t get past the first story, I still remember the experience fondly today.

Like that first time, reading together now is a bonding experience. Of course, this is so obvious in hindsight, considering how much we (usually) love reading to Sprout.

If nothing else, it requires that we go to bed at the same time, a hallmark of a strong marriage. Reading before bedtime forces us to slow down and spend a few minutes together. There’s an easy intimacy to lying in bed and listening to each other, with no agenda, no issues, no reminders of the day before or the day ahead. Just a good, shared story.

Reading the same book simultaneously also gives us a topic of conversation apart from work or Sprout. Often, when we read the same book, it’s weeks, months or even years apart. Either way, it’s no longer on the top of the first person’s head, itching away with a vital urgency, by the time the second person finishes it. Being literally on the same page, we can share our enthusiasm.

While I don’t think marriage counselors ever suggest reading out loud to each other, instead talking about “date nights” that require childcare, perhaps they should. It’s a lot cheaper, if nothing else.

As we go, I also find that I’m enjoying the text more than if I was reading it on my own. Martin’s prose occasionally wanders into the silly, so I can snark on it a little instead of thinking of something clever and having no one to tell. (I do try to minimize the commentary, so I’m not totally obnoxious as a reading partner.) Even though we’re only 100 pages into the first book, he’s already shown a tendency to “Joss” his characters, named after Joss Whedon’s affinity for killing off his most beloved characters. Talking to Chris afterwards relieves my frustrations, instead of just stewing in my annoyance. We’ve already had a few, “Did he just do that?!” moments.

Listening instead of hearing also makes me slow down and truly pay attention to the words the first time. I’m a very fast reader, so I often have to go back and re-read sections because I half-skimmed them by mistake. I’m also a very verbal person, but listening gives me the space to visualize the scene much more than if I was reading. Saying the words and thoughts of the characters out loud further engages me in their world. For just a moment, I am embodying them, speaking their lines as if I’m in a play. It’s much more intense than reading alone would be. I can’t skip past or rush uncomfortable parts – everything must be given appropriate weight and time.

It’s just a small amount each night – four to eight pages, on average. And yet, this little bit of reading together makes all the difference.

5 thoughts on “Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups

  1. Thanks for a very thought-provoking and cogently-explained post, Shannon! That idea had honestly never occurred to me (I’ve always seen reading as an ‘individual-bubble’ activity) but now it seems such an obviously good idea, for the reasons you articulate very well. I’m not in a comparable situation to yours (I’m single….) but I’ll take away this little gem of an idea for the future! All the best from Chile, Seb

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