Our Reading Lives

The Best Valentine’s Day Gift Ever: Reading With Your Partner

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I totally won the lottery when I met my husband. He’s brilliant, handsome, talented, and kind. Additionally, we have all the crucial life preferences in common—a love of the arts and 70s music, a complete disinterest in all sports (except Olympic figure skating, of course), and a shared view of faith and parenting. In the words of Jane Eyre, “We are precisely suited in character.”

But the big bonus? (Don’t hate me.) We read together.

My very own hot dude reading

In talking with several of my book loving friends, I find that many of them do not have the luxury of a reading partner. And while I know you can have a perfectly marvelous relationship without this particular experience, I find myself wanting everyone to know the joy I know. I can honestly say that our marriage is stronger, and our reading life richer, for the investment we have made in this area of our life.

So with the hope of encouraging other couples, I thought I’d share some tips to introduce or deepen a love of shared reading that I’ve learned while reading with my husband.

Read each other’s favorite books.

We read a book early in our marriage called A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. It tells about a young couple who, in their quest to know one another more intimately, each set out to read the other’s most cherished books. I was so intrigued with this idea, that I insisted we give it a try. I thrust Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera at my hubby, and he assigned me C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. It was a big stretch for both of us, and it began a habit of discussing books together. More importantly, we began to learn a lot more about each other’s reading tastes and why each of us likes the books we like.

Seek out a topic of shared interest.
Think of something in your shared life that you both value. Maybe you both have a passion for nature, or social justice, or motorcycles. Find books about those things to read together. Often, the events of your everyday life will guide you to areas you want to learn more about. For instance, my husband discovered a book by Andrew Solomon called Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. He was fascinated by insights on some particular issues we’ve discovered in raising our own kids. So now I’m reading it too, and discussion comes easily since the topic is important to us both.

Find common ground.

While my husband and I are both avid readers, we gravitate towards completely different genres. Fiction is my true passion, and my husband’s book choices are almost entirely non-fiction, with a heavy dose of tech (he’s a software developer) and theology books (mostly by dead men). Our individual interests, however, intersect beautifully at C.S. Lewis. We both loved discussing the theological themes in The Screwtape Letters, and have made our way through several of his non-fiction books as well.

Choose books for each other.
We readers have a tendency to find a book we adore and foist it upon others in the hope that they will love it too. But choosing books primarily with your partner’s tastes in mind is the key to building a reading life together. The more you discuss books together, the better you know each other, and the more successful you will be in choosing books that your partner will truly enjoy. As you build a good track record of recommendations, you’ll find you both become increasingly open to suggestions from the other and more willing to try a new genre or subject.

After almost thirty years together, our shared reading is a treasured habit. My husband keeps me posted on his non-fiction favorites, and when he comes across something he thinks I might like, I’ll join in. In return, I choose a few novels each year to try to lure him over to fiction. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa was a notable success. My hubby joyfully explained some of the math in the book and how it enhanced the themes in the story. (He was adorably geeky.)

Other Rioters have shared how they read with their spouse at bedtime, or read aloud, or while they drive. One even told me she and her husband listen to audiobooks together while coloring. How have you found ways to enjoy reading with your partner? Feel free to share your tips in the comments.