What do book lovers have queued up on their nightstands and ready to read before lights-out? We asked a couple of them, and here’s what they said.
I write mysteries, so it makes sense that there’s always a stack of crime fiction on my nightstand. Two of my favorite crime-fiction authors are Edgar Wallace and E. Phillips Oppenheim. Both were prolific British writers in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Their works range from light mystery to traditional detective to international thriller. Wallace also wrote the original screenplay for “King Kong.” I collect old copies of their books. A recommended title of Wallace’s is The Four Just Men. A recommended title for Oppenheim: The Colossus of Arcadia.
Here’s the rest of my current reading stack:
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850 by Brian Fagan. A fascinating look at how climate affected European history during a time period when just one especially wet or dry — or unusually cold or warm — season meant feast or famine for rich and poor alike.
The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry by Bryan Sykes. An interesting book by a geneticist on the decoding of mitochondrial DNA and using that knowledge to trace the path of human evolution. Unlike some scientific works, this one is easy to read and understandable to a layperson.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. This was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and explores the intellectual and cultural consequences of the Internet. I’ve just started the book, but I have the feeling that when I’ve finished it, I’ll be spending less time with my Internet-connected devices.
Uncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse. Classic Wodehouse. Witty and entertaining, especially at the end of a tough day. It’s got the Empress of Blandings, which, for those not familiar, is a beloved pig.
For years on my “The Book Maven” blogs (there were several iterations), I wrote posts called “What’s On Your Nightstand?” The question never fails to get a lot of responses because everyone’s TBR pile changes constantly. One year, I might have a lot of “work reading” (for author interviews and book reviews) stacked up next to my pillow; another, I might be trying to keep before-bed reads to the more relaxing sort. Occasionally I try to limit the number of books teetering so that I can actually view my clock — but this doesn’t last very long, which is why I’ve started keeping my smartphone propped up in my nightstand drawer. When all else fails, the phone saves the day — I always have several (okay, a few dozen) electronic galleys and a bunch of favorite classics (my go-to insomnia books are usually P.G. Wodehouse) on hand in a convenient app.
Sex with Shakespeare by Jillian Keenan. This is my first year on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, so I’m getting more and different books than I usually do, pitched from PRs new to me, too. When I skimmed the pitch letter for Keenan’s memoir, I thought, “Hmm, sex, the Bard. Okay, fine,” without realizing this book is specifically about spanking as a fetish. Guess what? It’s absolutely riveting, a sincere and serious self-examination by a young woman with solid writing and journalism credentials. Try it, you might like it…
The Miracle on Monhegan Island by Elizabeth Kelly. How’s this for a reason to pick up a book? I read Kelly’s Apologize, Apologize! in 2009 because hers is my grandmother’s name. Serendipitously, I adored Kelly’s evisceration of North American Irish/WASP culture, which she followed with The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, and now, this new novel, narrated by…a dog? Yes, Shih-Tzu Ned tells the story of a tiny coastal Maine community and how its wary pacts of trust are threatened by a teen’s vision — and it works.
High Dive by Jonathan Lee. Lee’s U.S. debut might arrest the attention of most critics, what with its blaring orange jacket and weird embossed elevator button, but this is that rare volume you really can judge by its “Read Me!” cover. It’s still on my nightstand because I do not want it to end. I do not want to stop reading Lee’s effortless, elegant prose. Nor do I want to let go of his quirky, incredibly real characters, all of whom will have a part in a devastating real-life event in Thatcher’s Britain of 1984.
The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund. True confession: I’m a complete sucker for “Scandicrime,” although, in my defense, my addiction started not with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series, but with Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s terrific procedurals (I highly recommend them). While I groaned upon receiving this weighty tome by a Swedish crime-writing duo, I quickly caved and found that it’s darker than dark and denser than dense — but also consistently suspenseful and entertaining. One to watch.
Food and the City: New York's Professional Chefs, Restaurateurs, Line Cooks, Street Vendors, and Purveyors Talk about What They Do and Why They Do It by Ina Yalof. I read cookbooks like they’re novels, although I usually do it while I’m eating, so they remain in the kitchen. What a treat to have a juicy new book about food in Manhattan — my home away from home — that I can devour in the bedroom. Yalof specializes in oral history, weaving together stories from top chefs, hardscrabble food-cart owners, and mongers (cheese, fish, fruit) past and present. Nibble or nosh at your own pace; this compilation is absolutely delicious (and calorie-free!).
Bethanne Patrick is author, most recently, of The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections from 100 Authors, Artists, Musicians, and Other Remarkable People (ReganArts). She is a contributing editor at the Literary Hub, where she writes booklists, author Q&A’s, and a column on women’s lit. She tweets at @TheBookMaven and reviews regularly for the Washington Post and NPR Books. Patrick lives with her family in McLean, Virginia, thankfully within driving distance of several excellent bookstores.