Bedtime Stories, April 2014

  • April 22, 2014

What do literary types have queued up on their nightstands and ready to read before lights-out? We asked a few of them, and here’s what they said.

Bedtime Stories, April 2014

Alisa Bowman:

I usually have three types of books going at once: a Dharma book (I’m Buddhist), a science-themed tome that teaches me about human nature or the world in general, and a good read, usually a memoir or a novel. I remain forever thankful for the person who invented the e-reader, which allows me to easily carry several books with me at any given time. If I’m waiting for a doctor to see me, I’m reading. If I’m getting my hair colored, I’m reading. If I’m on an airplane, I’m reading.

Probably the only place I don’t read: the bathroom. I’m a fan of single-tasking when it comes to digestion.

These are the books that make every wait feel way too short:

Meaningful to Behold by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. As part of a study program at a meditation center I attend, I’m reading this inspiring text based on a beautiful poem by Shantideva called “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.” This book helps me to remember that every moment offers an opportunity for me to grow into a better version of myself. I would like to become someone people describe as being “a friend to the world,” and this book offers lots of guidance on how to do just that.

Mindwise by Nicholas Epley. Epley provides a fascinating look into how we misread and misunderstand people. On nearly every page, there’s evidence that things are not as they appear. I’m looking forward to learning more so I can better understand and connect with others in my life, especially my husband.

The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson. Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would one day read a book about dirt and actually enjoy the experience. One of my favorite nuggets of wisdom from the book: Just one cup of soil contains more microorganisms than all the humans who have ever lived. That’s mind-bending, right? This book is important. Its message could save our planet. As all of our carbon footprints expand and the planet grows hotter and more turbulent, Ohlson offers a simple solution: allow the soil to soak up that carbon so our farmers can produce healthier crops.

I also just finished So Far by Cristina Negron, so I’m in the market for another novel or memoir. Perhaps it’s time to become the last person in the world to read The Goldfinch?

Alisa Bowman is a journalist, book collaborator, and blogger whose work has appeared in Family Circle, Prevention, and many other publications and large websites. She is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and the co-author or ghost writer of several other books, including, most recently, Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time. She is also the creator of, where she writes about marriage, happiness, and lessons she learns from walking past dumpsters, talking to old people, and getting stuck in long lines at the post office.

Nevin Martell:

Pearls Sells Out by Stephan Pastis. Pearls Before Swine is the funniest comic in papers today by a long shot. Pastis may not be the best artist, but he is the sharpest, snarkiest writer around. He crafts the kind of strips that make you snort your morning coffee out your nose and then immediately turn to the person next to you so you can share the joke. This collection comes with uproarious annotations from the artist, which oftentimes rival the hilarity of the strips themselves.

Lost on Planet China: One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation by J. Maarten Troost. I’m a longtime fan of Troost’s story of living in Vanuatu with his young family, Getting Stoned with the Savages, which served as an inspiration while writing my memoir-misadventure Freak Show Without a Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. I have been meaning to finish reading through his entire bibliography for a long time, and this is the last piece to that puzzle. I’m expecting hijinks galore, incisive insights into Chinese culture, and a few near-death experiences.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. This is practically required reading for food writers. I’ve been meaning to dive into it since I first began my career in food journalism four years ago. However, I’ve been spending too much time eating and writing, because I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I now make a solemn vow to finally give it the time it deserves — even if that means not typing for long stretches or missing dinner.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. A charming graphic-novel memoir that traces the artist’s culinary-minded upbringing and deep appreciation for food. The only downside is that Knisley’s stories are so sweet and her drawings so delicious looking that I’ve often found myself going to bed hungry after dipping into her book before I turn the lights out.

Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food, travel, and lifestyle writer whose work regularly appears in the Washington Post, Plate, Wine Enthusiast,, and NPR’s blog “The Salt.” He is the author of six books, including the forthcoming Freak Show Without a Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations; The Founding Farmers Cookbook: 100 Recipes for True Food & Drink (2013); and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip (2009). Find him online and on Twitter.


M.K. Tod:

A Discovery of Strangers by Rudy Wiebe. My Toronto book club has a preference for challenging books, and this is April’s selection. Set in Canada during the time of British rule, Wiebe tells the story of Lieutenant John Franklin’s disastrous exploration of the north and the inevitable clash of cultures that ensues. Lyrical and powerfully written, A Discovery of Strangers deserves the awards it has received. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion at book club, not only concerning the literary merits of A Discovery of Strangers, but also the moral dilemma still facing countries like Canada with indigenous populations.

The Divine Sarah by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale. I’ve had this book for years and have never read it, even though its jacket sports beautiful pictures, and the inside flap promises insights into Sarah Bernhardt’s “tigerish sexuality” and “a glorious portrait of this exquisitely beautiful, iron-willed, and tempestuous” woman. However, I’m searching for the next story to write, and having set three novels during WWI, I plan to find another era to explore. Roughly 30 pages in, the thought of researching a woman called the “first-ever international superstar” who experienced both the Franco-Prussian War and WWI, and whose life intersected with the likes of the Prince of Wales, Alexandre Dumas, and Sigmund Freud, is more than enticing.

Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman. This is the story of Richard I, son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Over the years, I’ve immersed myself in many of Penman’s novels, appreciating the richness of historical detail and the dramatic arc of the lives she explores. In the two historical-fiction reader surveys I’ve conducted, Penman has been ranked #1 and #2 on the list of favorite authors. Beyond sheer enjoyment, I’m reading Lionheart to understand more about her writing technique.

The Expected One by Kathleen McGowan. I’m a sucker for novels that explore the “what ifs” of Christianity, along with alternate theories of what some refer to as the “greatest story ever told.” The cover of McGowan’s novel promises “a thriller, a spiritual journey, a revolutionary discovery”; it hooked me in straight away. Intriguingly, the author’s note suggests that the story is based on her own experiences, including the suggestion that she is a descendant of Mary Magdalene and Jesus. So, you see what I mean? Gotta read this one!

M.K. Tod has enjoyed a passion for historical novels that began in her early teenage years immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy, and Georgette Heyer. During her twenties, armed with mathematics and computer science degrees, she embarked on a career in technology and consulting, continuing to read historical fiction in the tiny snippets of time available to working women with children to raise. In 2004, she moved to Hong Kong with her husband and no job. To keep busy, she decided to research her grandfather’s part in the Great War. What began as an effort to understand her grandparents’ lives blossomed into a full-time career as a writer. Beyond her debut novel, Unravelled, she have written two other novels with WWI settings. She has an active blog covering all aspects of historical fiction, including interviews with a variety of authors and others involved in this genre. Additionally, she is a book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society. Tod lives in Toronto and is happily married with two adult children. Follow her on Twitter, find her on Facebook, or email her at [email protected].


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