Paul Doiron here—
Recently I was asked to write a guest column for Suzanne Beecher’s DearReader.com. I know that her newsletter goes out far and wide, but in the event you missed it, here is what I wrote:
My wife Kristen and I have a nightly ritual. Before we go to sleep, I read aloud to her for fifteen to twenty minutes from a novel we have mutually chosen. Kristen has always had trouble falling asleep, but it turns out she finds the sound of my voice soothing. These days it’s not unusual for her to drift off before I’ve even warmed up my vocal cords.
Picking books was a problem for us at first. We started with Laura Ingalls Wilder because I’d never read the “Little House” books before, and they are generally comforting stories conducive to a good night’s sleep. From there the way was less clear, but we settled on the collected works of Jane Austen, which I had previously avoided but grew to adore. We tackled Tolstoy and Tolkien, Cold Mountain and Cold Comfort Farm. The Harry Potter series ate up an entire year of bedtimes. George R.R. Martin is occupying our nights at the moment.
Along the way, I learned an important cautionary lesson: if I choose a novel that bores Kristen, she will lose interest and her thoughts will begin to churn. If, on the other hand, I read a book she loves, she will stay wide awake out of pure enjoyment.
As a writer, the experience of reading great books aloud has proven instructive. Raymond Chandler offered a master class in diction. From Emily Bronte I learned how to use setting as a character, and her sister Charlotte taught me a thing or two about suspense. My night courses have been as valuable to me as graduate writing seminars.
One book I haven’t tried with Kristen is my own new novel, Bad Little Falls. I read the book out loud to myself during the editing process (as I always do), and my wife read it several times in manuscript. But I’ve found that it’s not wise for a writer to reexamine your own work at midnight, not unless you want to give yourself insomnia.
I hope you will consider adopting our little ritual. There’s nothing stopping you from trying out Bad Little Falls on your spouse tonight, after all. One word of warning: you might be up all night turning pages.