Nichole Bernier is author of the novel THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. (Crown/Random House), a finalist for the 2012 New England Independent Booksellers Association fiction award, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. A Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveler for 14 years, she was previously on staff as the magazine’s golf and ski editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She received her MS from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and is a founder of the literary blog Beyond the Margins, and lives outside of Boston with her husband and five children. She can be found online at her website and on Twitter @nicholebernier.
My nightstand pile is a towering and precarious place, and if it falls it will harm my children and pets. It includes both the can’t-waits and really-should-reads (though I won’t admit which are which). The nightstand is the place where I protect my very best intentions so they don’t get lost in the weigh station that is my stack against the bedroom wall, or God forbid, the bookshelves downstairs.
These days (eyeing the stack like a dangerous animal) the bedside represents a mix of research, pleasure, and sanity:
People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks — I’ve been a fan since I first read A Year of Wonders, and learned that she’s a graduate of the same journalism school I attended, had worked for the AP in the Mideast and then turned to fiction. She now writes from Martha’s Vineyard, where she lives with her family, and her work has the mark of a journalist’s intense research, whether her subject matter is the plague in 1600s England, or in this case, the history of a 1400s Haggadah, and its travels through the centuries to be found in wartime Sarajevo. I learn from her constantly.
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner — I’ve read this three times before—in my 20s, 30s, and early 40s—and am brushing up on it to lead a book club discussion at my local bookstore. It’s the story of two couples, their lifelong marriages and friendship, and takes a clear-eyed look at how our strengths and foibles become more forgiving and more brittle over the decades. It is one of my all-time favorite novels, and in part inspired my novel about the faces of ourselves we show and the facades we keep, even with those closest to us. Stegner won the Pulitzer for Angle of Repose, but this is the one that’s dear to me.
The Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian — I love books that take me to another time, place, culture or strife; I love books that make me learn and think while being entertained, so much so that I can picture the place in my mind (as I’ve envisioned it) for a long time afterward. This book is doing that for me with 1915 Turkey and Syria, and the Armenian genocide. I have the opportunity to meet Chris next month, and wanted to read this first.
The Age of Terror, by David Plante — Published in 1999, this novel about the Russian sex-slave trade came highly recommended as part of my research for my second novel. I’m a bit obsessed with the precarious world of the USSR on the verge of its disintegration, and Americans who trip into it and get stuck. I’ve bought le Carre’s The Russia House for the same reason, but it’s still in the weigh station.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach — Three of my five children play baseball, and the sole reason the other two don’t is that they are barely old enough to carry the bat. Baseball is my husband’s family’s game, and is as certain in my world as death and taxes. And though I’m fine with it—I’m not terribly sporty, but I like the ambience and history—I need to find literary ways to bring it closer to my heart. Even non-fans have told me this is a must-read.
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, by Jack Kornfield — When my heart rate gets too spiky over the to-do list—never mind the things I’ve forgotten to put there—this is the book that calls me in off the ledge. It’s part of my marching orders to myself to take whatever happiness and wisdom is gleaned from the calm moments, and apply them to the chaos and the tedium. In the same vein, Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness, in the weigh station.
What are your go-to books?