Bedtime Stories: January 2016

  • January 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: January 2016

Alyscia Cunningham:

The one most important book that always sits within arm’s reach is my journal. I keep it there because I often wake up with ideas, particularly in the wee hours of the morning. Through my journal, I bring my ideas to life. Along with it are a few books I read for inspiration, release, and simply good reading. It changes from time to time, but I'm going to tell you those accompanying my journal as I'm writing my Bedtime Story.

New Love: a Reprogramming Toolbox for Undoing the Knots by Trista Hendren and Arna Baartz. I love books that go beyond me simply reading and force me to exercise my thoughts. New Love does exactly that. You read the authors’ inspirations any suggestions and participate in a 30-day, journal-style program to help you take a gentle next step to a true and open heart. The journal is combined within the book itself for reflection. Did I tell you I love journaling? Hendren is a dear friend, and I'm definitely one of her biggest fans.

Where Journeys Meet: A Voice of Women's Poetry, edited by Catherine Ghosh & the Journey of the Heart Poets. I absolutely love poetry! This collection is so inspirational. Where Journeys Meet is the second book I purchased from Ghosh, also the founder/facilitator of Women's Spiritual Poetry. The voices of the women provide me with deep encouragement. I actually started writing poetry again after so many years of putting it on the back burner, which was all inspired by Ghosh's books and online poetry platform.

The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah. Set in the projects of Brooklyn, Souljah's book is the story of Winter Santiaga, the rebellious, pampered teenage daughter of a notorious drug dealer. Before reading Souljah's books, I pretty much stuck with nonfiction, which is my preference. But her writing style pulls you into the story literally with your senses. Although my childhood neighborhood was Corona, Queens, as I read, I could see, hear, touch, taste, and smell because of her descriptive writing. The neighbors, people, the music...everything brought me back to New York. I'm looking forward to the movie version of Souljah's book, which she and Jada Pinkett Smith are working on producing.

The Secret Life of Plants: a Fascinating Account of the Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Relations Between Plants and Man by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. Influenced by the work of George Washington Carver, this book documents controversial experiments that reveal unusual phenomena regarding plants — such as plant sentience — discovered through experimentation. In other words, plants have emotions. And science has proven that when you speak to a plant and establish an emotional connection with it, the plant grows much healthier than one you ignored. As a matter of fact, the plants that weren't nurtured died. How enlightening is that! Can you imagine the amount of healing that would take place if we cared for our beautiful Earth and the people that lived on her? I honestly haven't read the entire book (I have to keep my dictionary of scientific names beside me with this one) but I learn something new every time I read.

Of course, I have a copy of my book on the shelf. Feminine Transitions: A Photographic Celebration of Natural Beauty is a coffee-table book that promotes self-love and appreciation for who we are as women in our own show and form. Despite the lies we're fed through the media, both females and males alike, I wanted to shed light on the beauty of our imperfections.

Alyscia Cunningham is an author, photographer, speaker, and entrepreneur. Her main focus is to promote the natural beauty of girls and women through unaltered photography (meaning minimal Photoshop). Through her lens, Cunningham captures and celebrates raw beauty, as she believes the media not only does a good job of focusing on our insecurities but also profiting from them. Cunningham also creates social-change photography books and, most recently, the documentaries “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me” and “Masculine Transitions” (the male version of “Feminine Transitions”). Both projects promote the messages of self-love and acceptance. Follow her on Twitter at @AlysciaCphoto and Instagram at @AlysciaCunningham.

Kseniya Melnik:

One of the books I'm currently reading is The Metamorphosis, The Penal Colony, and Other Stories by Franz Kafka, in the translation by Willa and Edwin Muir. Since reading his three novels last year, I've been feeling a completest urge. So far I've only gotten through the 18 flash-fiction pieces collected under the heading "Meditation." Also known as "Contemplation," this compilation was written between 1904 and 1912 and became Kafka's first published book. With titles like "Unmasking a Confidence Trickster," "The Sudden Walk," "Absent-minded Window-gazing," and "Reflections for Gentlemen-Jockeys," it's near impossible to duly summarize them plot-wise and too reductive to nail down the themes. Each piece was a strong tonic of imagery, philosophy, and humor that shot through my blood and made me look at the world, if only for a moment, a little differently. And then, like with all miracles, I wondered: Did it really happen, or did I dream it?

I am also reading Narrative Design: a Writer's Guide to Structure by Madison Smartt Bell. I am constantly checking out new books on the craft of writing to incorporate into teaching and to keep learning myself. Structure is one of the hardest aspects to master. One must keep a balance between locking in the story too early — a story overdetermined in writing leads to a boring read — and stumbling around in directionless chaos. In this book, Bell masterfully dissects the structure and other elements of 12 stories by established writers and writers who were students in 1997 but have by now become acclaimed in their own right.

Just before I drop off to sleep, I read Stephen King's On Writing. The copy I have is a Russian translation, a gift my father gave me 15 years before I published my first book, and I have finally got around to it. It's an autobiography sprinkled with writing tips. I really crave a literary memoir from time to time just to confirm that writing is as hard for everyone else as it is for me, and that even the Stephen Kings of the world get rejected. Plus, it's fun to guess from the Russian translation what joke or wordplay King might have meant in the original English.

Queued up:  

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. I first read this novel about the relationship between a young boy and a curandera (a witch healer) set in 1940s rural New Mexico back in high school, and it blew my mind. I've been meaning to reread it for a few years now to see how I respond to it as an adult and a writer. Incidentally, I recently reread another book that meant a lot to me in high school — Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver — just to see whether I would cry after reading one particular scene, just like I did my sophomore year. And I certainly did.

Kseniya Melnik's debut book is the linked-story collection Snow in May, which was shortlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Born in Magadan, Russia, she moved to Alaska in 1998, at the age of 15. She is the 2015-2016 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington at the George Washington University.

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