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under the covers

Bedside Manner

Books as call to action

By Jessi Cape, 11:48AM, Mon. Feb. 20, 2012

Bedside Manner

I wear entirely too many hats. A full plate of life’s dreams and aspirations coming to fruition by way of my perpetually increasing to-do list coupled with an occasional OCD flare-up creates a perfect storm for me as I try to navigate this wooly world.

In the midst of wrangling a tiny human I lovingly refer to as Rascal, I remembered that I needed to snap a picture of my bedside for this blog. Ten or so iPhone photos later (where is my camera charger!?), it occurred to me that the only way I could give an accurate portrait of my bedside table would be to employ time-lapse photography. It was already 11 a.m., so that was out.

The metamorphosis that my makeshift bedside table undergoes in a single day is pretty remarkable. It’s not that I spend an extraordinary amount of time there, next to my chaotic personal accumulation of random items. Quite the opposite. The proverbial hats all require their own set of accessories and gear, and those items may not have anything at all to do with bedtime, nighttime, or anything that occurs in the general vicinity of a bed. So when I find a spare block of personal time with a spectacular promise of remaining uninterrupted, I claim it. I have yet to master the art of reading a book while driving, cooking, walking, or sleeping. Instead, I steal opportunities to read for pleasure whenever I can, usually wedged between late-night homework and a small voice rousing me at dawn. I read in the wee hours of the morning, just as I have since childhood (hence my trusty book light). For years, I have tried to curb this surefire way to sleep deprivation, but I just cannot help myself; now my reading selections are as scattered as my brain.

An increased interest in international human rights and gender equity has stirred up a pot of reading material that I desperately want to devour. Adding to the years-long accumulation of must-read books is another integral part of my hare-brained scheme, of course. To facilitate the crazy, I downloaded the GoodReads app to my phone and created an account that I intend to use only for 2012 reading endeavors. So far so good, with a count of two finished, and about seven others bookmarked midway or so.

When I realized the Rascal was relocating many of my bedside items (Danger, Will Robinson!), I commandeered the top of my boyfriend’s chest of drawers for bedside table purposes. Currently I have about eight books perched up there, in addition to the main literary interest du jour. Our his-and-her bookshelves are daunting, you can imagine. A weekend purchase of the elusive yellow Curious George storybook (the blue and red versions each enthusiastically recited so many times that I sometimes find myself relaying stories of the little monkey’s adventures as if they were my own) must have been pop magic. And in a particularly idealistic moment, I picked up Henry Miller’s The Courage to Write. Fascinating to me for a slew of goal-driven reasons, and a brilliant account of the way his brain created such works as Tropic of Cancer, it’s joining the others in a dust-covered way. I’ll get to them all, I swear.

Book number three for the year thus far may have just changed the course of my life. Dramatic, yes, but true. Half the Sky, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning husband and wife team Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is a powerful book. With firsthand accounts of stories from across the globe, Kristof and WuDunn weave a compelling narrative of gender inequities in international terms and provide photos of faces that strike chords unfamiliar to most of us. Subtitled “Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” the collection of true stories and suggestions for change backed with simplified statistical data is far from boring. As each chapter describing horrors of war and injustice rolled into the next equal-parts-devastating-and-hopeful personal story, I was grateful I was reading in pajamas. By the end, I fought the urge to jump up and immediately answer their call to arms, instead settling on going to sleep and holding down my own fort. For now. The straightforward and generally balanced plea for global action on the part of women everywhere is truly inspirational and packs enough punch to captivate anyone.

Always intrigued by Kristof’s New York Times column and his unique social media presence, I jumped at the chance to listen to him speak on the atrocities of human trafficking (pop magic strikes again?). Part of the Liz Carpenter Lectureship held at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium at the LBJ Library on University of Texas Campus, Kristof spoke candidly last Monday night about the worldwide epidemic of slavery, from local instances (yes, it happens in Austin!) to faraway countries most people couldn't pinpoint on a map. A full house sat intently, listening to Kristof relay his reports on global gender issues. I was rapt, too, but the talk set spinning for me the gears and hamster wheels (sans rodents) that inevitably led to…more books on the to-do list. Next up: Katherine Boo’s widely acclaimed Behind the Beautiful Forevers, about the impoverished peoples of Mumbai.

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