Bedtime Stories: Dec. 2017

  • December 13, 2017

What do book lovers have queued up on their nightstands and ready to read before lights-out? We asked one of them, and here’s what he said.

Bedtime Stories: Dec. 2017

Gregg Jones:

My writing life has swung between fulfillment and frustration in 2017, and those extremes have nourished eclectic reading habits. Every day, I engage in an internal debate over how I apportion my reading hours: current events, or books that offer sanctuary and inspiration in these dispiriting times?

What ends up in my hands as the hour grows late is usually an outgrowth of my mood. If my head is still deep in the day’s work, I may read another chapter relevant to an ongoing book project. Other times, I’m focused on the bedside stack (parts of which tends to follow me around during the day). 

A box of worn paperbacks occupies a permanent place of honor on my nightstand. Most cherished is my well-traveled copy of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, which I still carry with me most everywhere. Other personal guide stars: John Le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy; C.J. Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously; Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park; Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels; Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s All the President’s Men; and Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China.

These are old, dear friends that have informed different periods in my life. I never know when the spirit is going to move me to revisit some memorable passage, so I keep them close at hand.

I always have at least one literary biography or a book on the writing process beside my bed. One of my favorites is John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. I just finished John McPhee’s Draft No. 4, a tasty mix of creative insight and New Yorker gossip.

Two other delightful reads in this realm are battling for my bedtime attention at this moment: Mary V. Dearborn’s new biography of Ernest Hemingway, and A. Scott Berg’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, near the top of my literary bucket list for years.

Having devoted more than three decades of my writing life to journalism, I skew toward nonfiction. I cut my teeth on Bruce Catton’s Civil War narratives. But I also devoured every book in the Grosset & Dunlap “We Were There” historical fiction series.

Reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See inspired me to make more time for historical fiction. Two recent and worthy bedtime companions: Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea, both based on World War II sagas that speak to an arduous project, rooted in my own family history, that consumes me.

My current fiction fix is being met by George Saunders and his Lincoln in the Bardo, a must-read for DC residents; it took me 50 pages or so to shed my straitlaced, nonfiction bias and embrace the adventurous Saunders mind at work. Now, I look forward to my late-evening forays to Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery. When I finish, my next fiction objective will be Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, a requirement I set for myself before moving on to her Manhattan Beach.

The rest of my current nonfiction bedside stack is a mix of books by journalist-writers whose work I admire: S.C. Gwynne’s Rebel Yell; Jonathan Eig’s Ali: A Life; Christopher Dickey’s Our Man in Charleston; and Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem and Blue Nights (priorities after watching "The Center Will Not Hold").

When sleep finally overtakes me, I check out of this world for a few hours with sublime voices and images in my head.

Gregg Jones is a Pulitzer Prize-finalist investigative journalist, foreign correspondent, and author of three nonfiction books. His Honor in the Dust was an Editors’ Choice selection of the New York Times Book Review in 2012. Last Stand at Khe Sanh was the recipient of the 2015 Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s Gen. Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award for distinguished nonfiction. He lives in Texas while plotting a move to Washington, DC.

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