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The Well-Readheads: Reading is For Lovers

Liberty Hardy

Senior Contributing Editor

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

In honor of Valentine’s Day, a conversation about romance. Sort of.

LH: Is this going to be dirty? I don’t even know what we’re going to talk about, and already I’m worried it’s going to be dirty, because I know how we get. How about this: This is our Valentine’s Day edition, so let’s talk about – *shudder* – love. Favorite love story in a book? Or favorite book that happens to have a great love story?

RJS: Isn’t the accidental dirtiness part of our charm? I mean, it’s not like we set out to go blue. It just happens! Heat of the moment and whatnot. So, love stories. I don’t really dig ‘em. Most of the time when I encounter them in literary fiction, I feel like they’re thrown in just so the jacket copy can say, “Oh, and there’s a love story!” That said, I do prefer the love-story-as-side-plot over the Novel About a Relationship. I adored the backstory in The History of Love and the relationship that develops (spoiler alert!) between a priest and a fellow traveler in The Sparrow. Do you read love stories? For some reason, I have a hard time imagining that.

LH: Not on purpose – I’m a much bigger fan of the love-as-torment story. Like As She Climbed Across the Table – it’s your classic boy-meets-girl, boy-wins-girl, boy-loses-girl’s-affections-to-a-void-in-space story. Or Oly’s love for Arty in Geek Love – so, so sweet and so, so wrong. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is tormenty, zombie fun – the cover should say “Love means never having to say you’re sorry for trying to eat someone’s brains.” And the ultimate emo novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther – I heart that book with the heat of a thousand suns. Every copy should come with a complimentary razor blade.

RJS: I don’t even know what to say to that. What do you think about reading with lovers? Ever  read aloud to that special someone? Maybe I watched too many romantic comedies growing up, but I had this idea that when I fell in love someday, it would involve things like my partner reading me poetry while I reclined in a bubble bath or reciting his favorite passages of Shakespeare while we walked hand-in-hand through the park. The reality looks more like me elbowing him when I learn something cool from a nonfiction book and him reading bits about wenches from his Patrick O’Brien books to me, wondering why I can’t be more obedient and wench-like.

LH: I think reading aloud is wildly sexy (as long as it goes better than that scene in Bull Durham, where Tim Robbins is not impressed when he realizes Susan Sarandon has tied him to the bed because she plans to read to him). I think poetry is best for the job: Charles Bukowski, Pablo Neruda, Verlaine, Edna St. Vincent Millay. And, oh em gee, have you read Matthew Dickman??? You know that song, “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off?” Matthew Dickman makes my clothes fall off – I want to lick his frontal lobe. Seriously. Go. Read him now. I’ll wait here.

RJS: What’s that? I couldn’t read for a second…eyesight gets hazy when I get all hot and bothered. Speaking of, what about romance? I’m not much of a romantic in real life, though I have tried a few romance novels. Our mutual friend Sarah Wendell recommended my first one to me (It was Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie), and I liked it quite a bit, but it took 300 pages before there was any DOING. They should hand out promise rings if you have to wait that long. Of course, when I told Sarah, she just said, “Honey, what you really need is erotica.” Turns out she was right!

LH: I’m not really a fan of sex in novels (which is strange, considering Charles Bukowski is one of my favorite writers). I don’t think I’m alone – it seems like many people have issues with sex scenes in books. I think people complain about sex scenes in fiction because they don’t identify with them. People can read an account of vampires, or robots, or aliens, or even murder, and not have an issue with it, because most people have never experienced these things, but they seem to be less lenient with sex scenes. So often, the scenes seem perfect. Not many sex scenes in books have one person leaning on the other person’s hair, or someone accidentally getting elbowed in the head, or the cat jumping up on the bed in the middle of your filthy animal coupling to bring you a toy mouse…er, these are all things I’ve heard can happen.

RJS: That’s interesting, and I think you’re on to something–we’re down with insane things happening in books when we don’t have anything to compare them to. But sex, well, pretty much everyone has an idea of what they want it to be like. No wonder writers have a tough time hitting the mark (har!) with the naughty scenes. In fact, the last erotica I really liked was an anthology of stories about all sorts of things I’ve never done or thought I was interested in, and maybe that’s why it worked for me. I could enjoy being a reader instead of a critic. Also, the book was waterproof (for reals), and that was too badass not to love.

LH: Yes, fantasy works so much better – escapism is such a great part of books. So, for all the lovers out there, some recommendations for hot and heavy reading?

RJS: I like to kick it old school. Anais Nin, Delta of Venus. Or James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime, which I took on my honeymoon at the advice of a very wise friend and have loved ever since. You?

LH: Two words – Sarah. Waters. Delicious historical nookie. And for those who like a little supernatural in their chocolate, the recent anthology Bitten, edited by Susie Bright, is great fun.

Join us next week for a chat about author love and what it means to be a fangirl.

But first: any favorite steamy reads to recommend?