Incredibly, Best of Books by the Bed #2 is even more spectacular than #1! As blurber (see more buzz here) William Souder says, “Can there really be a sequel to a book of the ‘best?’ Yes! Back again and better than ever, this delightful excursion into writers’ private territory—what they are reading between the sheets—is a kick. And the best part is that these authors tell you not only what books they’re into, but why. Just released, Best of Books by the Bed #2 includes the contributions of 28 writers, “snapshots” of what they were reading at the time they first posted on wewantedtobewriters.com, plus books that they intended to read next, and books they had read but hadn’t yet put away. These give us a look at a special sort of reading, or as contributor Lee Upton puts it:
I have to confess that my bedside reading is not like the other reading I do in other parts of the house. The reason is simple: I am a susceptible reader right before bed, when I feel most porous and undefended. And so the books by my bed have, for the most part, a peculiar quality—they tend to be more otherworldly and dreamlike than other books I enjoy, and less often marked by overt or unrelenting violence or violence that isn’t somehow mediated.”
This collection’s co-editor, Eric Olsen, was particularly struck by Upton’s aversion to books with violence, since he quite enjoys a nice murder mystery of an evening. True, most of these aren’t filled with overt or unrelenting violence, but there’s always the hint of violence past, or the promise of more to come…. (He’s presently re-reading, for the umpteenth time, Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, which of course famously opens with three “poor dead bastards.” Has anyone ever written a more engaging opening? Eric keeps hoping something of Gorky Park will rub off.)
Upton was not the only one to express preferences for certain types of reading late at night. “I try to fall asleep with good sentences in my ears,” writes Dani Shapiro.
“I’m just starting to write a new book,” says Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, “which means I have to be careful about the language and ideas coming in, because I’m easily swayable (it can throw me off course to digest something at the wrong moment of book gestation).”
Kathie Giorgio likes to read poetry before she falls asleep. “Poetry before bed feels right to me,” she writes. “It can adjust itself to my level of sleepiness. Poetry is like the reverse of a snooze alarm. I can slap a page and get just a bit more, and then roll over to go to sleep, happy, contented.”
And Tom Titus writes:
Sharing these intimate details of my nightlife is a roundabout explanation for why books by my bed are more akin to damp logs on a cold fire. They have staying power. They pile up…. from a distance I see that the volumes accumulating there do have some things in common. They are nearly all poetry, essay collections, and other nonfiction that can be read in the short space of consciousness preceding that dark inexorable wave that sweeps it all away.”
This edition of selected posts from the titular blog series contains discussions of more than 250 books, more fiction than nonfiction this time, compared with the first edition, and about the same amount of poetry. You’ll see in the appendix, which includes the more than 60 books by our contributors, that we’ve organized the books they discuss by genre. We’ve also included the page numbers where each book is discussed, for your convenience.
As we assembled this collection, we found ourselves writing down “must reads.” Cheryl’s list includes a bushel of fiction by women, and Eric’s? Close to 20 titles and counting so far, more than a few of which will no doubt end up by his side of the bed, including, most certainly, The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson, discussed by Kitty Sheehan (see page 66). Also now on his must-read list are several books discussed by David Corbett about the criminal mind, including Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams. “Jungian in bent,” says Corbett, “a much more interesting exploration of our propensity for damage than the Mark Larrimore volume, The Problem of Evil….” (See page 16.) And since the recent 6.1-magnitude Napa earthquake, the largest in Northern California since the “World Series” quake of 1989, and close enough to the Olsens’ place to jolt them from slumber and scare the daylights out of their two cats, Eric has now added John McPhee’s Assembling California to his list, discussed by Tom Molanphy, who writes: “McPhee keeps me connected to the faults I still sleep on. His grip on the California terrain is as smooth and certain as a copper pipe. When my bed shakes, now I know why.” (See page 47.)
As you read through this edition of Best of, we wish you your own list of must-reads. And of course we’d love to know what books are by your bed.