Lolita , by Vladimir Nabokov
Nothing beats the luscious sonority of Nabokov’s prose. It practically begs to be read aloud, so we’ll let it speak for itself:
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.”
The Phantom Tollbooth , by Norton Juster
With a book this punny, you’ll want someone to read it out loud to get the full effect. Also, there are many golden opportunities for your intrepid reader to ‘do the voices,’ should they care to:
“”Have you ever heard a blindfolded octopus unwrap a cellophane-covered bathtub?” he inquired again as the air was filled with a loud, crinkling, snapping sound.
Sitting at the table, busily mixing and measuring, was the man who had invited them in. He was wearing a long white coat with a stethoscope around his neck and a small round mirror attached to his forehead, and the only really noticeable things about him were his tiny mustache and his enormous ears, each of which was fully as large as his head.
“Are you a doctor?” asked Milo, trying to feel as well as possible.
“I am KAKOFONOUS A. DISCHORD, DOCTOR OF DISSONANCE,” roared the man, and, as he spoke, several small explosions and a grinding crash were heard.”
Much Ado About Nothing , by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s dramatic works, of course, are all meant to be read aloud — they are plays, after all. But if we could only pick one, we’d choose Much Ado, one of the bard’s wittiest, most charming productions, which is certainly saying something. In truth, it would be preferable if you could get a few of your friends to read it out loud to you, but that may be pushing it a bit.
BEATRICE Just, if he send me no husband; for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening. Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen.
LEONATO You may light on a husband that hath no beard.
BEATRICE What should I do with him? dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man: and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him: therefore, I will even take sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his apes into hell.
LEONATO Well, then, go you into hell?
BEATRICE No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say ‘Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here’s no place for you maids:’ so deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.
Mrs. Dalloway , Virginia Woolf
Woolf blurs the distinctions between the interior and exterior, between direct and indirect discourse, and muddles with everyone’s minds so much in this novel that we’ve always thought it deserved to be read aloud in one glorious, semi-omniscient declamation, preferably over the course of a single day in June.
“Beauty, the world seemed to say. And as if to prove it (scientifically) wherever he looked at the houses, at the railings, at the antelopes stretching over the palings, beauty sprang instantly. To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air was an exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery, dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks—all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now; beauty, that was the truth now. Beauty was everywhere.”
Ulysses , by James Joyce
You may have to coerce even a truly devoted friend to read this one aloud to you, but we assure you, it’ll be worth it. Difficult as they may be, all those semi-nonsensical phrases, invented word forms and juicy adjectives will sound a hundred times as good ringing out in the open air as they do in your head.
“It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don’t spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the ethereal bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessnessness…”
The Shining , by Stephen King
Obviously, this book is for when you’re in the mood for a good scare. We think the experience might be heightened by having it read aloud — you won’t be alone, but you will be able to close your eyes and imagine everything that much more easily. REDRUM!
“A stupid man is more prone to cabin fever just as he’s more prone to shoot someone over a card game or commit a spur-of-the-moment robbery. He gets bored. When the snow comes and there’s nothing to do but watch TV or play solitaire and cheat when he can’t get all the aces out. Nothing to do but bitch at his wife and nag at the kids and drink. It gets hard to sleep because there’s nothing to hear. So he drinks himself to sleep and wakes up with a hangover. He gets edgy. And maybe the telephone goes out and the TV aerial blows down and there’s nothing to do but think and cheat at solitaire and get edgier and edgier. Finally… boom, boom, boom.”
David Copperfield , by Charles Dickens
Dickens wasn’t only a writer of his books, but a performer of them, often going on tour and giving extended readings, an extremely unusual activity at the time. He even made himself annotated “prompt copies” for easier performances. But besides a yearning for accuracy, we think the sheer number of ridiculous characters in David Copperfield begs a clever reader to embody them, to bring those weird and wacky personages to life as Dickens did.
“My other piece of advice, Copperfield,” said Mr. Micawber, “you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and — and in short you are for ever floored. As I am!”
Treasure Island , by Robert Louis Stevenson
A rollicking good tale that has the distinct feel of an around-the-campfire story, Stevenson composed the novel (which was originally serialized in a children’s magazine) in a matter of weeks, reading each new section to his family in the evening. Since the book’s conception was rolled up in the oral tradition, we think its only right that we continue it.
“My dear,” said my mother suddenly, “take the money and run on. I am going to faint.” This was certainly the end for us both, I thought. How I cursed the cowardice of the neigbors; how I blamed my poor mother for her honesty and her greed, for her past foolhardiness and present weakness! We were just at the little bridge, by good fortune, and I helped her, tottering as she was, to the edge of the bank, where, sure enough, she gave a sigh and fell on my shoulder. I do not know how I found the strength to do it all, and I am afraid it was roughly done, but I managed to drag her down to the bank and a little way under the arch. Farther I could not mover her, for the bridge was too low to let me do more than crawl below it. So there we had to stay — my mother almost entirely visible and both of us within earshot of the inn.”
Heart of Darkness , by Joseph Conrad
Like Lolita, Conrad’s most famous work should be read aloud for the desperately beautiful, enchantingly lyrical quality of its prose. Once you take the plunge, there’s no going back.
“This one was almost featureless, as if still in the making, with an aspect of monotonous grimness. The edge of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to be almost black, fringed with white surf, ran straight, like a ruled line, far, far away along a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a creeping mist. The sun was fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. Here and there greyish-whitish specks showed up clustered inside the white surf, with a flag flying above them perhaps. Settlements some centuries old, and still no bigger than pinheads on the untouched expanse of their background. We pounded along, stopped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost in it; landed more soldiers – to take care of the custom-house clerks, presumably. Some, I heard, got drowned in the surf; but whether they did or not, nobody seemed particularly to care. They were just flung out there, and on we went. Every day the coast looked the same, as though we had not moved; but we passed various places – trading places – with names like Gran’ Bassam, Little Popo; names that seemed to belong to some sordid farce acted in front of a sinister back-cloth.”
The Complete Stories , by Flannery O’Connor
We understand it might be a little bit too much to read a whole novel aloud — or sit through someone else reading one. In that case, take your pick from any of O’Connor’s evocative, sun-hardened stories, so potent that they’ll have you wringing your hands and licking the dust off your lips — in a good way, that is.
“I believe I have injured an organ,” said the grandmother, pressing her side, but no one answered her. Bailey’s teeth were clattering. He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright blue parrots designed in it and his face was as yellow as the shirt. The grandmother decided that she would not mention that the house was in Tennessee.
The road was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the other side of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if the occupants were watching them. The grandmother stood up and waved both arms dramatically to attract their attention. The car continued to come on slowly, disappeared around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on top of the hill they had gone over. It was a big black battered hearselike automobile. There were three men in it.
It came to a stop just over them and for some minutes, the driver looked down with a steady expressionless gaze to where they were sitting, and didn’t speak. Then he turned his head and muttered something to the other two and they got out. One was a fat boy in black trousers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed on the front of it. He moved around on the right side of them and stood staring, his mouth partly open in a kind of loose grin. The other had on khaki pants and a blue striped coat and a gray hat pulled down very low, hiding most of his face. He came around slowly on the left side. Neither spoke.”