Bedtime Stories: July 2015
- July 15, 2015
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.
Because I am a TV producer, small business owner, AND father of three boys and stepfather to two girls, I’m only capable of having two books at a time on my nightstand. Actually, I’m capable of having a lot more than that, as evidenced by the dust, but keeping two on the current summer reading list has maxed me out.
The first, Running on Empty by Peter Michael, is probably a surprise. Peter, a friend, has had some notoriety with his book about John Hanson, the Founding Father who Peter says was the real first president of the United States. (Take that, George Washington.) In Running on Empty, Peter channels his inner road warrior to provide readers with a sociological travelogue-cum-economics-treatise. Imagine the literary lovechild of Thomas Piketty and Jack Kerouac and you have an idea of what Peter is after: the gentle evisceration of the forces that have kept much of America behind the economic eight ball. It’s not in the author’s personality to be cutting, but the impact of his stories and observations still leaves readers with a pit in the stomach, and hopefully a pang in the conscience.
The second book actually addresses some of the same territory, although it was written eight decades ago. It’s the classic noir thriller turned classic noir movie, The Maltese Falcon. Dashiell Hammett’s tale of dastardly dames, a cheating spouse, and a one-percenter who always gets what he wants is a fun read, with tough-guy phrasing and foggy San Francisco locales that make you long for the good old non-farm-to-table days. And, paired with Running on Empty, it reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It really is the stuff that dreams are made of.
Russ Hodge is president of 3 Roads Communications, a Washington, DC-based documentary and TV production company that he runs with his wife, Cynthia Scott. He has produced hundreds of hours of political talk shows (“The McLaughlin Group,” “Politically Incorrect,” etc.) as well as financial shows (“The Truth about Money” with Ric Edelman). At 3 Roads, he and Cynthia produced “Rescue in the Philippines,” an Oscar-qualified film that was broadcast at the UN and Philippine Presidential Palace. A father of three sons and two daughters, his corporate motto (and personal mantra) is: "Anything for a buck."
I often assign myself “projects” in my summer reading — one summer was spent delightfully immersed in Moby-Dick, reading it for the first time after a life of studiously avoiding it; another summer, I appreciated The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, thanks to a more leisurely reading pace than the first go-around for English class. I’m taking a different tack with this summer’s “project” by catching up on some buzzed-about contemporary books that sound compelling and, perhaps, will prove as enduring as a “project” book should be.
I started with Redeployment by Phil Klay, a masterful collection of short stories about the war in Iraq. The first line is, “We shot dogs,” and things don’t let up a bit after that jolt of anguish. Each story has a first-person narrator, each presented as a different facet of the war experience, from the chaplain to grunts.
Right now, I’m two-thirds of the way through Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I’m not a big dystopian-fiction fan, so for me, the most compelling blurb on the book was offered by Deborah Harkness, who said, “Even if you don’t think dystopian fiction is your thing, I urge you to give this marvelous novel a try.” Right on, Deborah! The novel is hypnotic and absorbing, making me eager to finish to see how the puzzle pieces of past and present will mesh with the story’s disparate wanderers…and yet leaving me utterly bereft at the thought that, in 100 pages, it will all be over.
Next up is On Immunity by Eula Biss. I love reading collections of essays, especially when I’m traveling, so I’m looking to match up this book with an upcoming trip to the Midwest. I like the intellectual rigor of the essayist and the questioning nature of an essay. I wonder if I find essays so appealing because while they have the frisson of being intimately personal; they sidestep what I perceive as the pitfalls of poorly executed memoir, the “I was bad, and now I’m good” narrative arc, or “I had problems, and now they’re solved.” The contemporary essayists I’ve been admiring most recently — Meghan Daum (The Unspeakable) and Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist) — make me feel I’ve jumped into a deep conversation with someone significantly smarter than I am, and that’s what I’m hoping for with On Immunity.
Unrelated to buzzed-up books, but part of my summer “project” is to read more poetry, so recently I’ve been dipping into the works of Roger Reeves and Yona Harvey. Last spring, I heard Reeves speak as part of a panel at a writing conference, where he read his poem “The Mare of Money,” about the murder of Emmett Till. Immediately, I bought his collection, King Me. While poets probably hate me for reading out of order, I pick up the book and inhale poems at random when I want to fill my mind with a terrible beauty. Same with Harvey’s Hemming the Water. I was fortunate to be in the audience for her reading while I was teaching at the Converse low-residency MFA program, where at the end of a long, long day, she mesmerized and rejuvenated us with her stunning presentation. Her work is lyrical and musical, with words and repetitions designed to devastate. (Don’t miss “Hurricane”!)
Can I squeeze in two more books that I’m dying to get to “just because”? My friend Michelle Brafman recently published her first novel, Washing the Dead, a generational story of forgiveness that I know is going to be fantastic, given Michelle’s amazingly observant writer’s eye. And though I’m the least likely person ever to be found in any of these locales, I’m a sucker for tales of extreme environments, so the nature memoir The Ice Cave: A Woman’s Adventures from the Mojave to the Antarctic by Lucy Jane Bledsoe is calling to me like a wild wolf from the safety of the bookshelf.
Leslie Pietrzyk’s collection of unconventionally linked short stories, This Angel on My Chest, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October 2015. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in many publications, including Shenandoah, Gettysburg Review, Salon, Hobart, the Sun, Washingtonian, and River Styx. She lives in Alexandria, VA, and teaches fiction writing in the Converse low-residency MFA program in South Carolina and in the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins University. Follow her on Twitter at @lesliepwriter.