Bedtime Stories: January 2015

  • January 15, 2015

What do book lovers 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: January 2015

Robin Antalek:

I have a pile of old and new friends on my nightstand to get me through the winter.

I just finished We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas and was blown away. I couldn’t wait for bed each night, and I admit it was getting earlier and earlier as I crawled under the covers and picked up that book. Before that, I read Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing. In the same vein of multigenerational family sagas, both books had something to say about families and were structured so brilliantly that I took notes in the margins. These books are stunning achievements.

Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable tops my TBR pile. Her first essay collection, My Misspent Youth, is a book I have returned to again and again, and Unspeakable, already racking up the rave reviews, promises not to disappoint. I am nearly swooning with anticipation as I write this — seriously.

As a huge fan of the late Laurie Colwin, I recently picked up three of her books at a used-book sale. I’ve read them before, but I plan on reading them again: Goodbye Without Leaving and A Big Storm Knocked It Over (fiction), and More Home Cooking, the nonfiction follow-up collection to Home Cooking, in which Colwin writes about her lifelong passion for all things food. Laurie Colwin is probably the reason my own writing veers toward family and food, but mine pales in comparison. If you don’t know her work, you should.

I also am a fan of John Cheever, and recently, my older daughter gave me her duplicate copy of The Stories of John Cheever. While I’m familiar with most, I thought the winter would be a perfect time to reacquaint myself. In that vein, I also found (at the same used-book sale as my Colwin loot) a copy of The Journals of John Cheever edited by Robert Gottlieb. I’m looking forward to digging into both.

And lastly, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I might be the only person in the world who hasn’t read this book. But I plan on doing it before my 85-year-old father, an ex-Air Force fighter pilot, and I go on a movie date to see the film.  

Robin Antalek is author of The Summer We Fell Apart, chosen as a Target Breakout Book, and the forthcoming The Grown Ups. Her nonfiction has been published in the Weeklings, the Nervous Breakdown, and collected in The Beautiful Anthology; Writing off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema; and The Weeklings: Revolution #1 Selected Essays 2012-2013. Her short fiction has appeared in Salon, 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, the Southeast Review, and Literary Mama, among others. She has twice been a Family Matters finalist in Glimmer Train, as well as a finalist for the Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York. Find her on Facebook here.

Kim Butterweck:

Thumbelina by Hans Christian Andersen. While brainstorming themes for my niece’s baby shower, long-forgotten images of the tiny heroine — snoozing in a walnut shell with a rose petal blanket, taking flight on the back of a swallow, meeting her diminutive male counterpart — returned to my mind. I found on Etsy a 1953 Little Golden Book version of the fairytale with illustrations by Gustaf Tenggren. With this re-discovery of a childhood favorite, I was reminded of the moments when I first fell in love with books.  

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I first read this hilarious collection of essays while en route to Bonaire for my honeymoon. “Big Boy,” Sedaris’ encounter with “the absolute biggest turd I have ever seen in my life — no toilet paper or anything, just this long and coiled specimen, as thick as a burrito” had me laughing until I cried. I misplaced my copy of the book, so a co-worker let me borrow her signed copy. Sedaris even drew a little weeping snail on the title page.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Like most romantic comedies, you know how the story will end, but you sure have a fun time watching — or, in this case, reading — how it gets there.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It had been 29 years since I first read Mitchell’s 1937 Pulitzer Prize winner. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I only recently read Lee’s novel, which received the same accolade 24 years later.

I also have on my nightstand a small stack of play scripts, including Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Three Tall Women”; “Prelude to a Kiss” by Craig Lucas; “Snapshots” by Cynthia Mercati; Paula Vogel’s “The Oldest Profession”; “Circle Mirror Transformation” by Annie Baker; and an original work, “Bourbon Babes of the Bluegrass,” compiled by my friend Susan McNeese Lynch. In March, I’ll perform in this play about Kentucky women who brought the bourbon industry to life. (I get to portray the hatchet-wielding, Bluegrass State-born Carrie Nation!)

Kim Butterweck is executive editor of Kentucky Monthly, a magazine that celebrates the people, places, and culture of the Bluegrass State. She is also co-founder of Eve Theatre Company, a performing-arts organization based in Louisville.

Art Taylor:

After briefly toying with the New Year’s resolution of reading a chapter a day of War and Peace this coming year (the book has exactly 365 chapters, perhaps not coincidentally), I decided there were too many other novels calling more desperately from my TBR pile.

Top on that list was Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, and it’s at the top of my nightstand right now, the bookmark about halfway through. McEwan is one of my favorite contemporary novelists — a stunning prose stylist and a keen plotter, too — and his latest has some personal interest for me, centered as it is, in part, on a young Jehovah’s Witness who’s decided to decline a lifesaving blood transfusion. Many folks on my mother’s side of the family are Witnesses, and I admire how McEwan explores both the practical and the philosophical sides of such decisions in several contexts: social, historical, even linguistic (how do translations alter how we receive the Word of God?). First-rate, as always.

One resolution I did keep was to read more short stories — at least four a week, in fact. As a short-story writer myself, I already turn to them on a fairly regular basis, but I wanted to be more regimented and more focused. On my list are some stories that it’s almost embarrassing I’ve never read (Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” for example), as well as several recommended at various points by friends and acquaintances, like the very first thing I read in 2015: “The Convict” by James Lee Burke — a taut tale about race relations and moral choices in the segregated South.

Others on the already-growing list range pretty widely: Pauline Hopkins’ “Talma Gordon” (1900) and Ethel Lina White’s “An Unlocked Window” (1939), both recommended by mystery scholar Elizabeth Foxwell, managing editor of Clues: A Journal of Detection; the stories in Nelson Algren’s The Neon Wilderness (thanks to Independent columnist E.A. Aymar for those!); recent Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano’s Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas; and a trio of crime anthologies I’ve sampled but haven’t yet finished: Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays (in which I have a story); Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing; and Murder at the Beach, the 2014 Bouchercon anthology. More stories, more anthologies, more to come to keep meeting my quota.

Finally, for Christmas, my wife gave me the Folio Society’s boxed set of Patricia Highsmith’s first three Ripley novels. I’ve read The Talented Mr. Ripley, of course, but never the rest of the Ripliad. I can’t say the full set is on my nightstand (it must weigh 15 pounds), but I’ll be shuffling each title up there one after another in the coming weeks and months — and tracking down the last two in the series, The Boy Who Followed Ripley and Ripley Under Water, after that.

Art Taylor has won an Agatha, a Macavity, and three Derringer awards for his short fiction and was a finalist for last year’s Anthony Award. His stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and in the Chesapeake Crimes anthologies This Job Is Murder and Homicidal Holidays. His novel-in-stories, On the Road with Del and Louise, will be published in September by Henery Press. He teaches at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

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