O’Toole: And neither one of us had read it. That’s one of the things we look for; something neither one of us has read, like a classic we missed or a genre we’ve never read. It was such a wonderful experiment. Michael has a very mellifluous voice. I get up really early in the morning, so, I’m really tired by the end of the night, and his voice completely puts me to sleep, not because I’m bored, but because it’s so soothing. When we’re trying to remember who read last and he says it’s in the middle of the chapter, that means I must have read last, meaning I fell asleep.
Once you’ve started a book, have you ever abandoned it?
O’Toole: We got halfway through Gone with the Wind. I had read it when I was 14 but he had never read it, and I didn’t remember a lot of it. It became unbearable. Did we abandon End of the Affair by Graham Greene? It’s one of those very intimate stories you need to read on your own.
If I may ask, how do you handle sex scenes in a book?
McKean: There was this one Jack Reacher book by Lee Child that was a flashback to his Army days. He and his girlfriend liked to do it when the train came rumbling by. There were a couple of really purple chapters in there. It was fun.
Do you have a favorite among the books you’ve read to each other?
O’Toole: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It was so powerful and so beautifully written. I read the chapter about the Christmas tree. I was crying so hard, I could barely get the words out.
McKean: Quest of the Sacred Slipper by Sax Rohmer. So much fun to read. He never saw a paragraph he couldn’t turn into a sentence. The guy never punctuates—’Yes, keep rolling on this.’ And so politically incorrect. One of the toughest [to read] was There There town Tommy Orange. It’s about an Oakland pow wow that goes horribly wrong. The characters became so important to us. You get to know these people and we’d come to the end of the chapter, and we would fret about them.
Do you discuss the books either while reading them or afterwards?
O’Toole: The first birthday gift I ever gave Michael was a book. We were working together (on Final Justice). It was Cold Mountain town Charles Frazier. We still have it downstairs.
McKean: She said, ‘Tell me when you finished the book.’ By this time, we were emailing pretty regularly. I finished it. I thought it was really wonderful. And then she expressed here outrage at the book’s ending.
O’Toole: Well, we become so invested in our hero and heroine trying to get to one another and then once they do, he dies in her arms. I wanted them to be together — they earned it! And sure, he lives on in the daughter, but couldn’t Frazier have given them a YEAR or something? I always prefer a happy ending.
What tips can you offer couples who want to give this a try?
McKean: Know when to fold ’em. Get to an agreement point—If we’re 25 pages in and we’re, like, meh, then bail. It can’t be adversarial.
O’Toole: Start with something with short chapters in a genre you both know you like. You know what we can’t do? True crime. I read them on my own, but I can only take so much.
Do you always read at bedtime or do you read at different times of the day?
O’Toole: Reading is always correct. Like pearls.
McKean: Or M&Ms.