Bedtime Stories: April 2016

  • April 22, 2016

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.


Dave Singleton:

If someone tried to get a sense of my inner life by looking at my outer bedside stack of books, would they ferret out a theme? I don’t think so, since I love toggling between diverse topics. I split my time between fiction and nonfiction, heavy and light, old and new. When I check the pile and see Pema Chodron (When Things Fall Apart), Roz Chast (Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?), Paul Monette (Becoming a Man), Marianne Williamson (The Gift of Change), and David Rakoff (Don’t Get Too Comfortable), I feel comfort in the disparity. My disconnected inner worlds come together in a way they never manage to in real life.

In addition to the books listed above, here are a few other titles with pages turned down on my bedside stack right now:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. There’s something so familiar yet foreign in this novel that starts with four young male graduates of the same prestigious New England university as they start their post-college lives in New York City. I was once a young man in graduate school at NYU, experiencing many of the things the protagonists do — chasing intense work dreams while my personal life was a cauldron of steamy passion, longing for the essential connections of my complicated friendships. I can’t think of another book that reflects the core of male friendships so well, straight or gay. While I don’t relate to every generational nuance of these characters’ world, I know their emotional undertow, and this big (720 pages!) book has pulled me in like no other this year. In addition to immersing myself in Hanya’s prose and — no spoilers — the devastating plot twists, I could look at the cover for hours. I don’t know whether the man in the cover photo is experiencing intense pain or intense pleasure. I only know I feel like a voyeur, unsure if I should be sharing such intimate human emotion. What a perfect marriage of cover and writing.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jay, Daisy, Nick, Tom, Jordan — they’ve never been far from reach since I first read The Great Gatsby as a senior in high school. Gatsby’s quixotic passion, mystery, and obsession fuel my imagination now like they did then. Rereading this book transports me back to the Roaring 20’s, where I can’t wait to throw back some gin and dive into the decadence, social upheaval, and risk these characters took in the name of love, ambition, and the shadowy American dream. One of the great joys of knowing a book so well is that you can dip into a chapter, page, or quote, and sometimes a quick fix will suffice. Passages such as, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” are on the short list for carving into marble if ever we decide as a country to memorialize the best quotes from American literature.

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. Of all the classes I teach at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, memoir writing is my favorite. Reading Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir reminds me why. It’s equal parts advice and stories to inspire, which it often does in bite-size nuggets perfect for a late-night writing snack when I’m hungry to reflect. “Memory is a pinball in a machine — it messily ricochets around between image, idea, fragments of scenes, stories you’ve heard,” she writes. “Then the machine goes tilt and snaps off. But most of the time, we keep memories packed away. I sometimes liken that moment of sudden unpacking to circus clowns pouring out of a miniature car trunk — how did so much fit into such a small space?” I like her ballsy approach to honoring the truth of a story. I also like thinking about how much I can extract from my “small space” before I sail off to dreamland.

What I have queued up to read next:

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes. This is Caroline’s just-released follow-up to her brilliant debut, You. Entertainment Weekly writes of Hidden Bodies, “There’s something deeply insidious about the storytelling of Caroline Kepnes. As satire of a self-absorbed society, Kepnes hits the mark, cuts deep, and twists the knife.” Deeply insidious only begins to give you a flavor! I love thrillers, and along with the thrilling plot, what makes her books memorable are her style and storytelling. I also love the fact that she’s a contributor to my new book, CRUSH, sharing a funny, poignant account of her first celebrity crush, on Brian Austin Green.

Dave Singleton is co-author, with Cathy Alter, of CRUSH: Writers Reflect on Love, Longing and the Lasting Power of Their First Crush.

Carly Watters:

The pile of books on my nightstand ranges between five and 20 books at any given time. I feel a mix of guilt and delight when I reach for it; as a literary agent, I have client manuscripts I need to read first, but it’s also part of my job to keep up with published books, too. Needless to say, I’m never without something to read.

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of the Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister. If there is a most-anticipated book of the past few months, this is it. You’ve probably heard this one mentioned across many news sources and podcasts. It’s a rich history and social commentary about single women and the current political power that they have. They represent almost 25 percent of the vote in America right now and are shaping policy, business, and much more. I’m getting married this year, so despite the title, this book is for everyone, but it’s especially poignant for me as I think about my role as a feminist in the next stage of my life.

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand. Hilderbrand is always such an enjoyable and satisfying read. I look forward to her books every year. They are deeply plotted with many character POVs and always richly set on Nantucket. I won’t call this a guilty pleasure because it doesn’t do it justice, but she’s a dependable author who always exceeds my expectations for women’s fiction and complex family stories.

Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter. This is the best book I’ve read on the work/life balance that parents face. A former policy advisor to Hillary Clinton, Slaughter doesn’t pose this as a women’s issue but a parents’ issue that revolves around seeing value placed on caretaking. It’s the smartest book I’ve read in ages and it will be a resource on my shelf for years to come.

The Widow by Fiona Barton. The Widow is this year’s The Girl on the Train. A deeply unsettling psychological thriller that will have you turning pages long into the night and asking questions about who the people really are that you live your life beside — including your spouse! An agent friend of mine represents this book, and it’s on the bestseller list in many countries. Pick it up.

Girl at War by Sara Novic. I haven’t read this yet, but it’s next on my list. The number of “best books” lists this has been on is staggering, and I love it when books live up to the hype. I’m hoping it does. I love coming-of-age stories, and in worn-torn countries with a love story, no less? I’m there.

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage. I first heard about this due to a glowing Publishers Weekly review. Family secrets are one of my favorite things to read about. Hailed as a page-turner and literary thriller with a murder mystery, ghost tale, family drama, and love story, this one also ticks all the boxes.

Carly Watters is a VP and senior literary agent at P.S. Literary Agency representing debuts and bestsellers across many categories. Clients include Andrea Dunlop, Karen Katchur, Jay Onrait, Allison Day, Jennifer Carlson, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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