Bedtime Stories: February 2016

  • February 26, 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.

Bedtime Stories: February 2016

Dr. Jen Golbeck:

My house has piles of books on every surface, but the nightstand books tend to have specific qualities. I'm usually very tired by the time I go to bed, so a lot of what moves through that stack are books that can be read in small pieces before I'm too exhausted to keep my eyes open.

William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems, edited by Robert Pinsky. I wrote my first fan letter ever when I was in college. It was to Robert Pinsky, U.S. poet laureate at the time, telling him how much I loved his translation of Dante's Inferno. And he wrote me back! I was thrilled! I have not forgotten that little kindness and, thus, I couldn't resist this beautiful volume that brought Pinsky together with my favorite poet, Williams. Poetry is not a big part of my reading life, but I find something new and exciting each time I read one of these. Physically, it's also a really nice book to hold, which is an added bonus.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. If my personal library were thematically organized, this would be on a shelf all alone in a far corner of the room. I never read anything like this, but I am drawn back to this book over and over again. Most of its messages are both soothing and insightful, and they make wonderful Big Thoughts to fall asleep pondering. This one's my favorite right now:

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. My first date with my husband was at the DC restaurant Café Saint-Ex, named after the aviator and author of the much-adored Le Petit Prince. I figured since I have such a fond connection to a place named in his honor, I should read some of his books. I'm moving slowly through this one, but so far, I like his lyrical writing about the treacherous adventures of flight in the early 20th century. I will admit, though, that it has more details about piloting than I ever planned on learning.

Over The Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon — Gripping Accounts of All Known Fatal Mishaps in the Most Famous of the World's Seven Natural Wonders by Michael Patrick Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers. Talk about commitment to an idea. This 400+ page tome delivers on its title promise — it is really a catalogue of every death in the canyon, chronicled by type (including "Suicide,” "Murder," "Falls," "Death from the Air," "Critters and Cacti,” and more). The chapter title on each page is accompanied by a little stick figure falling or drowning or baking to death under the sun. I hiked the canyon all the way down and back in one day last summer and envisioned many of these deaths for myself during that 11-hour trek. When I saw this in the gift shop that night, I couldn't resist. It's a truly odd book, but with two or three death stories per page, you get a lot of action per reading minute.

Dr. Jen Golbeck is a world leader in social-media research and science communication. Her research has influenced industry, government, and the military. She is a pioneer in the field of social data analytics, discovering people’s hidden attributes from their online behavior, and a leader in creating human-friendly security and privacy systems. The author of Analyzing the Social Web, Computing with Social Trust, and other books, Golbeck is also an associate professor at the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter at @jengolbeck.

David A. Taylor:

The current stack beside my bed has a fairly representative layering of attractions:

The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson. Since I read Johnson’s Fiskadoro, he’s been an author I go back to. Train Dreams and Tree of Smoke are two of my favorite books I’ve read in the past decade, and both are so different. This is his latest.

Motherland, with Wolves by Michelle Chan Brown. Brown’s reading from this book at Politics and Prose last fall was amazing, and this volume of poems delivers.

Blood of Victory by Alan Furst. A richly textured historical spy novel.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. I picked this up for a book club and found myself drawn in by Rogan’s characters in this novel about survivors of a shipwreck in 1914. The New York Times called it “harrowing.” Should I be reading it before sleep?

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner. An insightful look at how Lincoln’s seeing an old issue differently created change, and how that is still unfolding in America.

Hardly Knew Her by Laura Lippman. A wonderful short-fiction collection by Baltimore’s Lippman, perhaps better known as a novelist.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. (By way of Lin-Manuel Miranda.) Chernow remakes our view of the lost Founding Father.

Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. This Hamilton also has a big story, and this is her memoir of an amazing path from a Jersey childhood to her restaurant, Prune, a world away in Lower Manhattan.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. I’ve been curious about the Southern Reach Trilogy and Area X but haven’t cracked it yet.

David A. Taylor writes about the revealing connections between people and their worlds. His writing about people, food, health, and science has appeared in Smithsonian, the Washington Post, the Village Voice, Outside, the Christian Science Monitor, Science, and Oxford American. Follow him on Twitter at @dataylor1.

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