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.
Of the three piles, these are topmost amid the reading lights, device chargers, and the battered plastic case protecting that damnable orthodontic retainer (how long can those things live?):
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Alfred A. Knopf). I have never read this 2005 short novel. I’m vicariously fascinated by one of the world’s greatest writers reflecting on his life through his fiction. I look forward to seeing how Marquez, at this stage in his writing life, handles his unique talents. I also wonder how he will manage the minefield of the first sentence, in which the narrator, turning 90, decides to procure a night of love with “an adolescent virgin.” I read of the controversy, and the book has resided there, next to my bed, waiting.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (Harper Perennial). Sure, I’m re-reading it for class, meaning I’m once more forced to endure the offense of her arrogance, ignorance, and unprofessionalism toward her readers and the Pulitzer committee. Despite her aversion to discussion of the offending lines (The cat, etc.), this work continues to fascinate readers and often is among their favorites ever. The lyricism, found poetry, ruthless intellectualism, and fierce philosophy can never quite offset the offenses, because they were so easily remedied if she had only cared more about readers than herself at that age. But my emotions demonstrate the power of the work, so re-read it and teach it I must, for good lessons and bad. My copy is marked in various colors; the binding is coming apart. Damn her.
Michelangelo, Sculptures II by Jean Alazard (Tudor). This tiny book is part of my adult continuing self-education for trips to Italy, personal and professional. If there is a retirement dream, it’s that big-terraced, high-ceiling apartment I know in Florence, 40 steps from the Baptistry and Giotto’s Tower and a brief anticipatory stroll to the Bargello, where I marvel at the master’s Apollo.
David Everett is academic director of the Johns Hopkins University’s Master of Arts in Writing Program. An award-winning reporter and writer, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald, Preservation, and other publications.
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman (Ballantine).
Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter by Frank Deford (Grove Press).
Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (Random House).
Stephen Vest is editor and publisher of Kentucky Monthly magazine and the author of two collections of essays and a yet-to-be-published fractured memoir.
Night Thoughts by Sarah Arvio (Alfred A. Knopf). Dreams as memoir-sonnets, Arvio’s new poems are a séance with the specters of personal crisis. The second half of the book is dream interpretation gleaned from psychoanalysis and makes for a daring narrative construct. This is deep inner-terrain stuff, darkly magical, with exquisite word music.
These Were the Hours by Nancy Cunard (Southern Illinois University Press). Incredible story of the Cunard heiress who sacrificed her inheritance for a life of her own—her famous Hours Press in 1920s Paris, association with famous writers and artists, and her zealous activism for racial equality. The whole book is worth Cunard’s description of tea with Ezra Pound.
The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst (Random House). A master of historical fiction, Furst is a transporter supreme and his WayBack machine takes you to 1937 pre-war Warsaw and the subterranean machinations of Polish, German, and Russian spies. This is not a typical spy “thriller,” but a richly textured lesson in history laced with suspense and contagious with a kind of detailed “knowingness” about day-to-day life in Warsaw that leaves 2013 in the dust. His first line ignites the transport: “In the dying light of an autumn day in 1937, a certain Herr Edvard Uhl, a secret agent, descended from a first-class railway carriage in the city of Warsaw.” And away we go.
James Dissette is a publisher and printer of limited-edition books at Chester River Press in Chestertown, MD. His edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness received the 2010 Alfred Hertzog Award for Book Design.