Bedtime Stories: September 2014

  • September 12, 2014

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: September 2014

Michelle Brafman:


Thanks to the lovely invitation to contribute to “Bedtime Stories,” I had the chance to join my kids in compiling a reading list. Here goes.

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I swear that I started this novel well before I was asked to contribute to “Bedtime Stories,” and I only read it because I was shamed by one of those Facebook lists of books we “certainly must have read.” I’m so glad I did. I began reading Anna Karenina last spring and snuck in other books between chapters. Mid-summer, insomnia hit me hard, and I turned to Anna and Levin to keep me company in the wee hours of the morning, when the house was still enough for me to absorb what Nabokov and Dostoyevsky have called Tolstoy’s “flawless tale.”

  • Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. I’ve read all of Amy Bloom’s books because her voice sings to me, and her characters are drawn with such complexity and heart that I always find myself rooting for people who behave badly in myriad ways. Lucky Us is no different. I cheered for half-sisters Ava and Iris as they lied, cheated, and even stole a baby. And Bloom’s vivid rendering of Hollywood parties, Brooklyn beauty shops, and Long Island mansions provides a fascinating window into anonymous corners of 1940s America. The final chapter is brilliant, the gold standard for all endings.

  • Her Body Knows by David Grossman. I ordered Her Body Knows, a book of two novellas, after hearing David Grossman speak last spring. “I am an extreme person,” he told the audience without apology, and his writing reflects his willingness to plumb the depths of human emotion. I’ve only read the title story, a tale of a successful, embittered novelist who visits her mother’s deathbed to both forgive and punish her for her all-consuming affair with a much younger man. This brutal yet benevolent confessional moves between characters, back and forth through time, braiding mother and daughter with the unforgiving thread that binds them.

  • The Stager by Susan Coll. There is so much wisdom in these pages that, about a third of the way through, I started reading with a pen and a pad of post-it notes. The novel moves seamlessly between three narrators, each of whom has been damaged by the same woman. Coll captures the secrets and friendships that define us and reminds us that we can find our way out of the “wrong stories” we’ve created for ourselves and, in so doing, stage our own lives.

On my nightstand:

  • The Gifts of the Body by Rebecca Brown. I reread this gem periodically because it’s so damned beautiful. Set in the 1980s, the narrator details the care she provides to AIDS victims. The book is organized around the gifts of the ailing body: sweat, tears, sight, hope, etc., and Brown describes the insight and other intangible gifts the narrator receives from the people she encounters.

  • The Tumble Inn by William Loizeaux. Bill Loizeaux is the author of five books, including Wings, a children’s book about a little boy who nurses a mockingbird back to flight (I’ve given copies of this novel to young readers as well as friends sending their kids off to kindergarten or college). I suspect I will enjoy the The Tumble Inn, too. In this novel, the narrator and his wife leave their New Jersey life to run an inn in the Adirondacks. When his life takes a tragic turn, the narrator, like many of Loizeaux’s characters, is left to negotiate the intersection of love and loss.

  • Shebooks. I love this new publisher of short e-books for and by women. Last Mother’s Day, I devoured Jennifer Haupt’s Will You Be My Mother? a gorgeous memoir about her quest to love more deeply. I’m looking forward to reading the following titles: August in Paris by Marion Winik, Love and Death with the In Crowd by Jessica Anya Blau, and Boys Like That: Two Cautionary Tales of Love by Hope Edelman.

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Even if my insomnia vanishes, I would still like to recreate my Anna Karenina early-morning staycation.


Michelle Brafman is the author of We Named Them All: Stories and the novel Washing the Dead. She has received numerous awards for her fiction, including a Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate, Tablet, the Minnesota Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and numerous other publications. She teaches fiction writing at the Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program.



Tory Johnson:


I love books on the entrepreneurial journey of hugely successful women [and men] and am enjoying two right now:

And I still pinch myself that The Shift: How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life, my book about a topic I never thought I’d discuss, let alone write about, has been so well received.

Tory Johnson helps women make great things happen. She made the shift from employee to entrepreneur and built two multimillion-dollar, career-focused businesses — Women For Hire and Spark & Hustle — after a painful firing. Now, after a second major shift — losing more than 60 pounds in a year — Tory’s mission is to help others change their mind for a better life. She is a weekly contributor on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Shift, a contributing editor at Success magazine, and a popular speaker. Oh, and she’s a wife and mom, too. (The Shift just came out in paperback and includes new material requested by readers: recipes, success stories, and additional advice.)


Jason Tinney:


“Stack” and I have an agreement. I follow it throughout the house, room to room, like a somewhat obedient and faithful dog. In turn, Stack obeys when asked to cram into the book bag before we hit the road. It has been a mutually beneficial arrangement for many years.

Stack has always been a mutt. However, within this ever-changing collection, a number of selections have a southerly gravitational pull. As autumn digs in its heels, I know some are hanging onto the last steamy gasps of summer. I present a few offerings from below the Mason-Dixon.

  • The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly. Cinematic and lyrical, this nuanced thriller is set against the real-life events of the historic 1927 Mississippi Flood — one of the country’s worst natural disasters. On Good Friday 1927, a levee near Greenville, MS, collapsed and “a wall of water one hundred feet high and with twice the force of Niagara Falls scooped out the Delta…drowning twenty-seven thousand square miles.” Fennelly, an acclaimed poet, and her husband, Franklin, an equally acclaimed novelist, occupy the fictional town of Hobnob, MS, with an abandoned baby in the middle of a crime scene, moonshine, saboteurs, revenue agents, and a bootlegger named Dixie Clay Holliver — too many wonderful ingredients to resist.

  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. This is the deep, deep South — the Mexican state of Tabasco. Originally published in 1940, the Penguin Classics edition includes an introduction by John Updike. In 2005, Greene’s masterpiece, the story of the fugitive “Whisky Priest,” was hailed by Time magazine as one of the hundred best English-language novels since 1923. A writer reads this novel and says, “Man, I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

  • Goodbye to a River by John Graves. Back across the border and into the American Southwest and another river. In the 1950s, a series of dams was proposed along the Brazos River. For Graves, this meant not only the transformation of the river, but also the landscape and history held within this part of north-central Texas. Graves’ narrative is an account of his farewell canoe voyage along a stretch of the Brazos he’d known since childhood. Early on, Graves writes: “I wanted to wrap it up, the river, before what I and Hale and Satanta the White Bear and Mr. Charlie Goodnight had known ended up down yonder under all the Criss-Crafts and the tinkle of portable radios. Or was that, maybe, an excuse for a childishness? What I wanted was to float my piece of the river again. All of it.”

Jason Tinney is an award-winning author and performer. His latest collection of short fiction, Ripple Meets the Deep, will be released in October 2014 by CityLit Press.


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