Even though you may be the bookworm in your relationship, you and your partner should really prioritize reading together. For starters, books are a great way to augment your relationship's language; think of them as ready-made inside references, code manuals, and jokes. Then, of course, there's the whole thing of how reading is basically as good for you as your a.m. Bikram session: boosted capacity for empathy and memory can only help you and your partner be better communicators, too.
Sharing books can take a number of forms — whatever works for you two is perfect. You can read out loud to one another, a practice ideal for long car rides or picnics; you can pass books you've just finished along; or, you can do what my husband and I did early in our relationship: buy two copies of the same title and read the same chapters over the same period of time (I'm not sure I ever would've finished Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace otherwise).
Of course, what's most exciting about reading books with your partner is what happens away from the pages. Books inspire casual conversation, deep discussions — and, in some cases, grand actions (see No. 2). But most importantly, books help you and your partner think about the world together.
Want to get reading? Here are nine types of books (and representative titles) to get you and your partner started.
1. Something Scintillating, i.e. A Sport And A Pastime by James Salter
James Salter (who just died last month) won praise and controversy for this 1967 book (which, according to his publisher, Harper, had "more than the normal amount of sex"). Set in France, the writing is erotic and stark, sometimes fragmented, so the novel is perfect for an afternoon snuggling on the sofa. I love what Alexander Chee says of the sex in this book:
On its own terms, sex is information. This I learned from reading Salter. In one scene, Dean asks her if she wants to read a magazine while she gets used to him inside her. Even the banality of it becomes erotic. Reading Salter’s sentences, I saw what I knew of sex, that sex is a moment in which you are known and knowable.
2. Something Purifying, i.e. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
If you and your partner live together, Marie Kondo's organizational guide is a must-read. I speak from experience: my husband and I "konmari'd" (i.e. practiced Kondo's method) over the holidays. The process of reading the book and assessing our clothes, books, appliances, photos, and mementos took three 18-hour days, but the results — a commitment to keeping only those objects that bring us joy — brought us closer together, beautified our home, and was well worth the effort.
3. Something Harrowing Yet Hopeful, i.e. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
From the first page, literary all-star Roxane Gay's debut novel grabs you by the throat. Seriously:
Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.
They held me captive for thirteen days.
They wanted to break me.
It was not personal.
I was not broken.
This is what I tell myself.
An Untamed State is much more than a thriller, though. It's also the story of a marriage — a totally real, sexy, and imperfect marriage, at that — and how both partners must fight to survive the most dire circumstances.
4. Something Nostalgic, i.e. Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Yup, even as an adult, it's still fun to search for Waldo. Scouring the pics in one of Martin Hanford's mind-boggling hardcovers will take you and your partner back to childhood, in a totally sweet and silly way.
5. Something Hilarious, i.e. Tenth Of December: Stories by George Saunders
George Saunders is the recipient of a MacArthur Genius grant for a reason: his stories marry hilarity and emotion, using some of the zing-iest prose around. The title story in this 2014 collection will have you both LOL-ing and tearing up.
6. Something Scrumptious, i.e. Ad Hoc At Home: Family-Style Recipes by Thomas Keller
Regardless of their facility in the kitchen, every couple should have a cookbook they collectively reference, a volume that holds your go-to roast chicken and Caesar salad. Ad Hoc at Home is Thomas Keller (famed chef at The French Laundry) for beginners. Of course, Thomas Keller for beginners is still a lot of work: these recipes (like the meatballs) can be all-day affairs. But T.K.'s prose is clear and straightforward; the photos are vivid and instructional. This is the sort of book you and your partner can page through together, so no one person is responsible for deciding what's for dinner.
7. Something Classic And Complex, i.e. The Waves by Virginia Woolf
Six narrators. Virginia Woolf's sumptuous sentences. A story that spans decades. This is a book that will floor and frustrate you and your partner, one you'll want to tackle together so you can ask each other: Wait, what just happened?
8. Something That's Been Made Into A Cheesy Movie, i.e. Endless Love by Scott Spencer
This novel captures the intensity of young love in a frighteningly vivid way. It's also sexy (OK, bordering on pornographic), but, really, Spencer's writing about passion and obsession will stop you in your tracks. (It may also rekindle some of those first feelings of infatuation you felt for your partner.) Read this with your literary cap on, and then check out the 1981 movie, which is so corny, it's laughable.
9. Something Trending, i.e. The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
Three words: Dinner party conversation. There's nothing like reading the latest buzzed-about title to keep you and your partner feeling in the know.
Images: Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr