Best of Books by the Bed #1: Excerpt

book cover: Best of Books by the Bed #1


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Here are selections from Best of Books by the Bed #1.

From Harvey Freedenberg, introducing the professional bibliophile’s all-time faves:

The more interesting collection is the one I’ve assembled in what used to be my daughter’s bedroom, converted to a branch library/guestroom a few years after she left for college. I’ve gathered this group of books with some care and like to picture it as a pile of stones marking a path through the woods or a signal fire in the desert. The books that have made it there are ideal to pick up for a few minutes of pleasurable reading before dropping off to sleep or for companionship in the middle of a restless night.

From Lynne Perednia, a book reviewer at CompuServe Books & Writers Community, and writer of a weekly column for Contemporary Fiction Views:

Short stories are perfect for bed reading. You can get to the end of one story and put the book down to let the story sink in; short stories deserve this and more people deserve to read short stories. Aimie Bender’s The Color Master and Claire Vaye Watkins’s Battleborn have been particularly rewarding bedtime reads. Otherwise, a book like Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire will keep me going past curfew because I want to read just one more section. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray was a read like this and I ended up liking it far better than anticipated. Do not read Joe Hill’s remarkable NOS4A2 in bed. You’ll either get to a creepy part or want to keep reading; either way, it is not a restful-night-inducing book but one that I was glad to have read—even as someone who doesn’t read much horror.

The headboard is a bookcase, and is filled with mysteries (to review or just because) such as The Confession by Charles Todd (set in post-WWI Britain as part of a favorite series); The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin (one of the brooding Scandinavian crime authors I adore); Raylan by Elmore Leonard; and older novels I meant to read or finish earlier, such as Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta (which, with its theme of memory is proving a good follow-up to Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending); and Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (moved closer to the top because of the Pulitzer snub).

Also residing there are books by the wisest women I would wish to know, Flannery O’Connor’s collected works, Gilead and Home by Marilynne Robinson and George Eliot’s Middlemarch. These are the books I dip into the way other readers sample the Psalms and other poetry.

From Eric Olsen, co-editor of Best of Books by the Bed #1, and author/editor of We Wanted to Be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop:

Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. Who says subtitles don’t sell books? I bought this one precisely because of that “descent of the West.” I’m a big fan of what is sometimes called “disaster porn,” a sucker for anything declaring the end of this or the end of that, whether that end is brought on by environmental catastrophe, economic catastrophe, an asteroid the size of Kansas, a virulent new virus, zombies, giant lizards from outer space, even more Republicans in Congress, or, in the case of Ferguson’s book, a sort of inevitable Malthusian catastrophe punctuated with RPGs, roadside bombs, and backpacks filled with gunpowder and nails, all worsened by a failure on the part of a fat, complacent West to think much beyond the next quarterly financial statement. At 600-plus pages, it’s a bit of a slog, especially after a long day, but nonetheless a damned good read if you’re into warnings about the collapse of everything. My wife has suggested on more than one occasion that I seek professional help…

And since we’re on the topic, let me recommend a couple other works in the disaster porn genre, though neither is by my bed at the moment. One is Anthony Pagden’s Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West, and need I say that Pagden thinks the West is losing? The other is Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, and again, goodbye West.

From Jennie Fields, author most recently of The Age of Desire, a biographical novel based on Edith Wharton’s late-life love affair with a young journalist:

At the moment, the books by my bed include:

Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath by Kate Moses and A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano. I was on a panel with both at the Key West Literary Seminar and am looking forward to enjoying their writing. I also have:

Richard Russo, That Old Cape Magic. Still on the pile. About a professor, Jack Griffin, driving around Cape Cod with the ashes of his deceased parents in the trunk of his car. From a review in Publisher’s Weekly: “Crafting a dense, flashback-filled narrative that stutters across two summer outings to New England (and as many weddings), Russo (Empire Falls) convincingly depicts a life coming apart at the seams, but the effort falls short of the literary magic that earned him a Pulitzer.”

Sue Miller, The Good Mother. I have read it again after many years. I still think it a watershed book—one of the best books about women written in the last 30 years.

Ian McEwan, Amsterdam and Saturday. Oh how I loved Saturday. What tour de force: the entire book takes place in a single day! Amsterdam is dark and funny. It almost feels written by a different author. Worth reading, though.

Joyce Carol Oates, The Falls. This is my favorite Oates book so far, not that I’ve read every single one—but maybe ten. Who could read them all? She’s the most prolific writer in the universe!

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, and Home. Robinson is extraordinary, poetic, one of a kind.

And all of Edith Wharton—which isn’t exactly by the bed. Edith has her own two shelves in my bookcase. I read her again and again. I am also reading The Buccaneers. Sadly, she died before finishing it, and someone else (Marion Mainwaring) attempted an ending—probably not a good idea!

I also go back to Stegner, Carol Shields, Anne Tyler, and Colm Toibin, and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.

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