Last month, a friend and I engaged in a spirited intellectual debate surrounding the following question:
Would we pay full admission prices to watch Jeremy Renner and Edward Norton read the telephone book?
We said yes. Not sure how this is going to sound to the people who spent loads of money making the most recent of the Bourne movies, but you didn’t have to go through all that. Two barstools, two phone books, and you’ve got our money.
We went on to other, slightly more taxing topics. Benedict Cumberbatch? We would watch him all by himself with the phone book, even if it was just the restaurant section with all the menus in it. I said I would pay to see it in IMAX. Kiefer Sutherland? She was not as enthusiastic; I voted for IMAX again. Hugh Jackman? She voted for IMAX; I said I would need him to actually read a story.
Later (after sobering up – we had a great deal to discuss), I had cause to think more about this. What’s hot about having someone read to you? I think it’s the confluence of three things.
You’re in bed. Everything is sexier if you’re doing it in bed. You’re relaxed. You probably have more time to devote to whatever you’re up to. You can allow yourself to become distracted by sex. People use their most seductive reading voices in the bedroom. All this is pretty hot.
It’s nurturing. Your reader is going to be at his nurturing best when he reads you a story. Reading is a special kind of caregiving; it’s encouraging you to escape reality for a little while with your reader as your companion. One of my exes read to me once when I was sick – I think he knew it was the only way he could get me to slow down enough to begin recovering. Once he got me all NyQuilled up and tucked in, he read to me from a Batman comic (a wise choice, since I’m a comic geek), in which Batman was involved with Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter. He indulged my every sleepy question until the NyQuil started working, like this:
“Does Batman know that’s Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter?”
“Yeah, looks that way.”
“Does Ra’s al Ghul know this is happening?”
“Probably, but it’s tough to say which is worse – sleeping with Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter behind his back or with the knowledge that he knows but doesn’t approve.”
“Sounds like Batman must really like her.”
“I think he does. But you know, if you were Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, I would still go out with you.”
Now, that’s nurturing, isn’t it?
You’re having a shared experience. Sharing a story together is an experience that’s unique for every reader and every listener. It’s going to change a little with each person’s delivery, the setting you’re reading in, and of course, the nature of the material. You might find yourself indulging in an intellectual conversation – like my ex and I had over the Batman comic – or guessing about what happens next or just enjoying the ride. You can even take turns with each chapter and choose books together. A shared experience – especially a simple one like reading a book – is sexy all by itself.
The research shows that slowing down a bit before bed is good for you! Why not unwind with a couple of pages tonight? Voyeur that I am, I will be curious to know what you’re reading to each other.
Uncoupled? Fear not — the Internet is stuffed full of hot people who will read to you. For example, writer Philip Hoare and artist Angela Cockayne created a project called Dominion, which gave rise to the Moby Dick Big Read. All 135 chapters of Moby Dick are being read out loud – a chapter a day – by 135 separate readers, including several celebrities. Tilda Swinton kicked us off with that famous opening, “Call me Ishmael.” So far my favorite has been Chapter Three, in which Ishmael and Queequeg give the novel one of its identities – it is, among many things, a buddy movie. Tonight, as I write this, we are on Chapter Five, so there’s lots of time to catch up! You can download the chapters and make them your bedtime story or that afternoon staple from the classroom, StoryTime. (Damn, I loved some StoryTime.)
Moby Dick is an awesome novel. Check it out and join the fun! Then you can ask yourself if you would pay box office money to hear Jeremy Renner and Edward Norton read Moby Dick.
For the record, my answer’s still yes.