Bedtime Stories: Dec. 2016
- December 16, 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.
My current nighttime reading stack is heavy on the hefty tomes. There's something about cold weather that just makes me want to curl up with a doorstopper. And when it comes to doorstoppers, you don't get much bigger than:
The Familiar by Mark Danielewski. I just started Volume 1, and am already in love with the extraordinary ambition of these books. You may know this series as “the one that's going to be HOW long?" Danielewski says that when it's done, it will run 27 volumes. And the first installation is nearly 900 pages long. It didn't take long for Danielewski to persuade me that this story will actually merit its ridiculous page count. He sketches out a story both wide-ranging and endlessly specific, both vast and deep. And he does it while testing the limits of language, with experimentation that's playful yet profoundly serious.
Also in my reading pile:
The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon. For a very long time, I had the vague sense that a lot of my friends had devoured the Outlander series, and that they seemed like just my kind of book (an epic time-travel Scottish romance novel…I mean, epic! Time-travel! Scottish! Romance! Novel!). But wasn't I late to the party, and wasn't it a lot of books, and aren't there newer things I should read? If you, too, are in that boat: Read the dang books. They really are that addictive.
Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 by W.E.B. du Bois. Du Bois' writing is fantastic, compelling and clear and sharp-edged. This piece of 1930s historiography isn't just influential and important: It's eminently readable. (And an extraordinary guide to an under-covered and crucially significant swath of American history.) It happens that Slate's Jamelle Bouie is reading the book right now, too, and blogging as he goes. So if you read it, it’s a rare treat — a chance to not only read an essential historical text, but to do it along with a brilliant observer of race and politics in America today.
Poetry magazine. Confession time: I'm an avid poetry reader, but not a quick one. Short though they are, volumes of Poetry somehow start to pile up. So I'm still on the July/August 2016 volume — but there's so much I love about it, I'm not eager to be through. It's got a glow-in-the-dark moon on the cover, for heaven's sake — then a stunning selection of translated poems (including a brilliantly reimagined Sappho, and Old English magic reframed) and extraordinary selections of new Pacific Islander poems. Eventually I'll swim my way to September and forward…maybe someday to the new December issue that's been eying me.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske was born with a name for public radio, and she works at NPR. She does not suggest a causal connection, but those are the facts.
Near my elbow at bedtime right now I’ve got “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas for a simple reason: I do a radio broadcast for blind listeners at the Radio Reading Network of Maryland and want to put together a holiday-themed show for my next episode.
“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is a short story (or a long prose poem) looking back on Thomas’ childhood in Swansea. Like much of his work, it’s drenched in a wonderful nostalgia that contains absolutely nothing saccharine or sentimental. Instead, it’s infused with the subtle, bittersweet knowledge that the end of innocence will inevitably come.
But it’s so fun. The story features a rollicking plot full of young rapscallion hijinks. I don’t want to give too much away, but it includes novel uses for snowballs, accountings of both Useful and Useless Christmas presents, the blowing up of balloons “to see how big they would blow up to,” encounters with ghosts while out caroling, much chasing after mischievous cats, and lots and lots of snow.
There are other possibilities for my holiday broadcast. I may work in that remarkable story by O. Henry, “The Gift of the Magi” — you remember it, the one where she buys him a watch chain and he buys her combs for her hair, but there’s a twist that serves as testimony to the depth and truth of love.
And I should have time for a few nice Christmas poems: “Advent” by Mary Jo Salter; “December 26” by Kenn Nesbitt; “Taking Down the Tree” by Jane Kenyon; “Christmas Mail” by Ted Kooser; and “Christmas Night” by Conrad Hilberry (“Let midnight gather up the wind… / Let midnight call the cold dogs home, / sleet in their fur…”). Also the marvelous “Sonnet in the Shape of a Potted Christmas Tree,” even though its shape is lost in an audio recording. It’s that good, even without the shape.
But Thomas’ little story is, to me, the greatest gem — warm, soothing, and genuine, taking us back to a childhood, real or imagined, that we all deserve. It’s a gift to the world; it belongs to all of us.
Sally Shivnan is author of the short-story collection Piranhas & Quicksand & Love. Her fiction and essays have appeared in the Georgia Review, Antioch Review, Glimmer Train, and other journals, and her travel writing has been featured in anthologies including Best American Travel Writing, as well as in the Washington Post, Miami Herald, Nature Conservancy Magazine, and many other publications and websites. She teaches at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC).