If you saw Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer this past weekend, you probably walked out of the movie theater with the sadness that a film about the building of the atomic bomb would leave you with. However, if you are anything like me, chances are you left the theater also thinking about that one scene in which sexual intercourse between Cillian Murphy’s J. Robert Oppenheimer and Florence Pugh’s Jean Tatlock turns into an impromptu book club meeting. In a moment of top-tier comedy, Tatlock stops midcoitus, goes over to Oppenheimer’s bookshelf, picks out a book in Sanskrit (which Oppenheimer has been “learning,” he says), and asks him to read aloud a random section of her choosing as they resume their activities. The book is the Hindu scripture Bhagavad-Gita, and the section that Tatlock just happens to choose contains the famous line “Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.” Nothing quite like a little light reading to arouse the senses.
The scene begs the question: Besides the obvious choice of the Bhagavad-Gita, what would be the best book to read aloud during sex, if you, for some reason, were to do that? I asked a handful of book lovers to weigh in on their sexual reading of choice, below.
Baby, I Don’t Care, by Chelsey Minnis
A book of dirty, flirty, cerebrally comic poems. Many read like inducements to abandon, to be followed by Champagne: “You’re a national disgrace. / Please act accordingly”; “First, we have to insult each other’s butlers. / Then the downhill hallway leads to my bedroom”; “Write me a good line or I’ll zip up my dress.” —Dwight Garner, book critic for The New York Times
Throne of the Fallen, by Kerri Maniscalco
Right now it feels like all anyone in the office can talk about is Kerri Maniscalco’s Throne of the Fallen. It’s the first adult novel from the author and IT IS SPICY. It’s a romantic fantasy set in the Underworld that features a “dark prince with an impossible curse.” The plot and pacing are fantastic and any of the hotter scenes would be very “bedroom appropriate.” The juiciest sex scene is also … 20 pages long. —Lauren Hesse, social media director at Little, Brown and Company
Love: Poems, by Danielle Steel
The idea of reading during sex is penis-shriveling to me (I thought the scene in Oppenheimer was funny because it was so ridiculous). If anything, I’d have to lean into the ridiculousness and choose something like Danielle Steel’s 1981 quite … flowery collection, Love: Poems. My fave is called “Zippety Click I Love You.” By the time the book made it to bed, we would no longer be having sex, but we would be laughing. —Rich Juzwiak, senior writer for Jezebel
“Ode to a Nightingale,” by John Keats, read aloud by Nicholas Shaw
I’d want this guy, whoever he is, reading “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats. —Laura Miller, book critic for Slate
Love Poems, by Pablo Neruda
If you’re looking to amp up the romance in the bedroom, you can’t go wrong with some Pablo Neruda. Love Poems is a classic for very good reason. “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, / In secret, between the shadow and the soul.” Come on, how do you not drop your pants for a line like that? —Kiri Palm, senior manager of the Plaza and Westport branches of the Kansas City Public Library
Pussypedia, by Zoe Mendelson
If you’re at a bit of a, well, loss, you’ve got a friend in Zoe Mendelson’s Pussypedia. It’s excellent for both owners and lovers of pussies (the author’s proposed gender-inclusive term). This volume features everything from questions you were afraid to ask to guides on maximum pleasure, all written with plenty of giggle-inducing prose and damn-helpful illustrations. —Kiri Palm
Perversity Think Tank, by Supervert
Supervert’s Perversity Think Tank—one of the most frank and provocative works on sexuality of the modern era. The texture is lovely as well. —Jessica Stoya, writer, performer, pornographer, and author of Philosophy, Pussycats, & Porn