Bedtime Stories, June 2014

  • June 27, 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, June 2014

Frederica Boswell:

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. One of the first things I heard about this book was a tweet from my Dad. “Dust is stunning. A watershed. The writing will thrill, make you weep, and seriously alter the way you think about #Kenya.” He was in Kenya at the time and promptly Fed-Exed copies to my sister in London and me in Washington. By fluidly moving between eras, it captures the soul of a family and a country still going through the pains of independence, and tells the story of a home that I have been away from for too long.

Sammy Davis Jr.: A Personal Journey With My Father by Tracey Davis. I am lucky that reading new books is a big part of my job, and I feel even luckier that I was assigned this book. Written by Sammy Davis Jr.‘s daughter, it’s filled with photos and memories of his life, and the time they spent together as he was dying of throat cancer. Sammy is such a well-known figure, that I was amazed at how little I actually knew about him. For instance, I didn’t realize he started in Vaudeville at 3 years old, but was disguised in blackface and billed as an adult midget! The details his daughter tenderly shares are often difficult, sometimes funny, and make up a fascinating portrait of this great entertainer.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This might be an obvious choice because it seems to be everywhere at the moment. It hasn’t left my bedside table, though, because it was the first book in a while that I really didn’t want to end and look forward to reading again soon. Obinze and Ifemelu’s story is written across Nigeria, England, and the U.S., and for a bit of a nomad like myself, captures moments and characters that are so familiar to me. It’s a book that I think I had always hoped would be written.

Caine Prize Short Stories. It’s become a habit to read the shortlisted Caine Prize stories every spring. If I am being honest, I don’t love short stories, but as a fan of African literature, it is always interesting to read the offerings of both new and established writers. The prize is awarded in July, and you’ll often hear more from every writer shortlisted.

China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa by Howard W. French. This is another book I am reading to prepare for an interview. Traveling around Africa, it is hard not to notice the influx of Chinese builders, businessmen, and even bakers! This book tells their stories, explains what they are doing there, and what effect it is having. I can’t wait for the NPR interview!

Frederica Boswell’s interest in all things African first led her to the BBC World Service in London, where she was a producer on their flagship shows Focus on Africa and Network Africa. After a couple of years reporting from the beach in Zanzibar, she moved to Washington and found a home at NPR. She started as an editor at Morning Edition and is currently a producer at Tell Me More with Michel Martin. Follow her on Twitter at @freddieboswell.

Tracee Williams:

I have recently read:

(Note: After reading the entire Game of Thrones collection, I decided to go a bit lighter with the historical fiction. As an English/art history major, I loved The Goldfinch. It was a bit slow in parts, but the superb character development kept me going to the end.)

I’m reading with my son:

(Note: What a delightful collection of books! We started reading these as a “one book, two schools” program, and both my son and I loved the characters, their clever nicknames, and the story as told by the class pet, Humphrey the hamster.)

I’m currently reading:

(Note: The Book Thief is coming along slowly, as I have been also intermittently been reading the Divergent series. As with The Hunger Games, I enjoyed the first book of each series and have been disappointed with the each successive book.)

The growing pile on my nightstand includes:

(Note: I am definitely a “read the book before the movie” person, so I will probably not get to see the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars until it releases on DVD. Also, I read an article on Yahoo about Empty Mansions, and it piqued my interest, so I am excited to pick this one up!)

Tracee Williams is an acquisitions editor for Globe Pequot Press. She has a background in children’s books and gift trade and currently works on travel and regional cookbook titles. Editor by day and mom by night, Tracee keeps a busy schedule running after her new dachshund puppy and 8-year-old son. When not editing, she enjoys reading historical fiction, fantasy, young adult, and children’s books.

Mary Kay Zuravleff:


MKZ’s bedtime reading from the past, present, and future:

The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy. I bought my husband the Penguin “Great Loves” series for Valentine’s Day, though many of them seem to be about Great Hates. The flap copy for this novella is headlined “Love can be murderous” and says Tolstoy’s wife was appalled to recognize their relationship within his “scathing indictment of marriage.” Hmm, maybe not the best Valentine’s Day present I’ve ever given.

The Man Who Walked Away by Maud Casey. I am so looking forward to this book by a friend and one of Washington’s literary masters. The passage she read at Politics & Prose had the spirit of a villanelle, with rich language that circles back on itself to resonate and deepen her meaning.

Time of the Locust by Morowa Yejidé. How do you write about a kid outside the realm of language? Apparently, by pairing him with someone outside the reach of society, in the solitary confinement of prison. I love it when authors use language to transcend problems with language, and I’m eager to enjoy her work.

Mary Kay Zuravleff’s most recent novel, Man Alive!, was named a 2013 Notable Book by the Washington Post, which called it “a family novel for smart people.” She lives in Washington, DC, where she serves on the board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and is a co-founder of the D.C. Women Writers Group.


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