Great books can be the perfect conversation starter, a much needed escape and/or a rewarding educational adventure. If you’re not in the market for a new book club, why not turn to your partner and start the smallest, most intimate book club imaginable? When you and your significant other both read the same thing at the same time, it opens up a whole new shared world.
Bottom Line Personal talked to Susan Maguire, senior editor at the book-review magazine Booklist, about her favorite books that couples will love to experience together—some fiction…self-help…nonfiction…and more!
For Couples Who Need to Slow Down
Are your days filled with obligations, meetings and checklists? Need a reason to relax? The Art of the Wasted Day is filled with them. Author Patricia Hampl celebrates the art of leisure by mixing personal memories of her own favorite times—from childhood afternoons spent gazing up into a neighborhood beechnut tree to a languid Mississippi River cruise with her husband—with mini biographies of some of history’s most successful relaxation artists. Example: She tells about the 16th-century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who deserted society to live alone in a castle, where he spent his days writing and, in the process, invented the personal essay. For overscheduled couples who need permission to slow down, this book is a perfect illustration of how to do it. Hampl’s ultimate goal is to convince readers to trade their FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) for JOMO (Joy of Missing Out).
For Couples Who Want Livelier Bedtimes
With chapter titles such as “Re-Member Me: Transplants, Implants, and Other Penises of Last Resort” and “The Prescription-Strength Vibrator: Masturbating for Health,” Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is not for the faint of heart. But inimitable science writer Mary Roach does an impressive job of covering the science of sex with a hefty dose of humor that will have sex aficionados alternately nerding out and laughing out loud. Roach is known for diving headfirst into her topics. At one point in Bonk, she offers up her husband and herself as guinea pigs—they have sex in a hospital room as a doctor holds an ultrasound wand over her belly and the soundtrack from Les Misérables plays in the background. Roach’s TED Talk, “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm,” has amassed more than 27 million views. You might want to take time off from reading to watch that, too.
For Couples Who Like a Good Mystery
Inspired by the 1995 Tokyo subway terrorist sarin gas attack, Fuminori Nakamura’s Cult X is a noir novel about a man trying to track down his missing girlfriend. Along the way, he learns that she was a member of a nameless cult, called “X” by Japan’s Public Security Bureau. This book dips its toes in crime, religion, politics, science and more, with a few explicit sex scenes added in for good measure. Fans of the Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country, which similarly features a controversial guru, a juicy scandal and terrorism, will like this one.
For Couples Who Tend to Argue Over Finances
The early parts of Luke Kennard’s novel read like a reality show in book form. Karl and Genevieve are married British millennials living in the very near future who have racked up huge amounts of debt. Karl’s attempt at a credit card Ponzi scheme gets him convicted for fraud, but as an alternative to jail, he is offered a position on The Transition, a six-month program that will have him and Genevieve living under the guidance and supervision of an older, financially successful mentor couple who provide coaching in the six “key areas”—employment, nutrition, responsibility, relationship, finances and self-respect. Once their mentors deem the couple ready to rejoin society, they’ll do so with reduced debts, a down payment on their dream home and, allegedly, a happier, healthier life and better marriage. But not so fast. The Transition often is compared with the dark, dystopian series Black Mirror, and much like that TV show, nothing in The Transition is as it seems.
For Couples with Short Attention Spans
Try The Best American Short Stories 2018. The most recent edition of this stellar annual collection of fiction contains such a variety of style and substance that there is sure to be something for everyone—a grandfather with Alzheimer’s disease left in charge of watching his young grandson…a man who has isolated himself from society but must then contend with the disappearance of his father…a boy-crazy preteen spending an overnight field trip at a museum plotting ways to corner her crush in spite of the fact that her mom happens to be the chaperone.
Award-winning guest editor Roxane Gay of Bad Feminist fame chose 20 tales that will appeal to many with the power to transport readers “away from the cacophony of the news and social media and the opinions of others.” One nice quality of short stories is that they’re bite-size—you and your partner can each read the same story at the same time, maybe even while lying in bed together—then put the book down and have a great discussion. Or you can try reading the stories aloud to one another. You might find a new author to follow or discover that you fall in love with completely different stories.
For Couples Who Love Crime Dramas
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is a true-crime story about the serial murder, rapist and burglar who terrorized Sacramento and Los Angeles from 1976 to 1986. Author Michelle McNamara, creator of the popular cold-case website TrueCrimeDiary.com and the first person to dub the elusive psychopath the “Golden State Killer,” spent five years exhaustively researching the unsolved crime spree in an effort to uncover the killer’s identity. She was, by her own admission, obsessed with the case—an obsession many credit with eventually helping authorities solve the case.
Sadly, McNamara passed away unexpectedly in 2016 before completing her book. With the help of her husband, actor Patton Oswalt…her lead researcher, Paul Haynes…and investigative journalist Billy Jensen, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was finished and published posthumously in early 2018. Just a few months later, former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo was tracked down via DNA evidence and a genealogy website, arrested at age 72 and charged with 13 counts of murder and 13 rape-related counts—only a fraction of what he was believed to have committed.
For Foodie Couples
Chef Samin Nosrat is a rising star in the culinary world—she is The New York Times food section’s “Eat” columnist and has been called “America’s next great cooking teacher.” Unlike most cookbooks, which list precise recipes accompanied by glossy full-page photos of the finished product, Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking is based on her philosophy that all that’s needed to cook well is an understanding of how these four key elements affect food and enhance flavor.
There are no photos to be found in the thick (nearly 500 pages) New York Times best seller. Instead, you’ll find bright, whimsical illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton, intended to convey the fun and sensuality of cooking. Challenge your partner to pick a chapter, then pick a recipe celebrating the corresponding element and have a cook-off or host a dinner party where you can show off your newfound talents.
Nosrat also executive-produced a corresponding Netflix original documentary series, Salt Fat Acid Heat, which transports viewers to ltaly, Mexico, Japan and California, showing how each element breathes life into dishes such as soy-braised short ribs, homemade focaccia, citrus pavlovas and buttermilk-marinated roast chicken. You can get even more out of the book by tuning in to the show.