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Bedside Manner: A Phone Is Not a Book

Turning a page on a bad habit

By Amy Smith, 10:41AM, Tue. May. 29, 2012

Bedside Manner: A Phone Is Not a Book

Smartphones are darling little things, but when they begin to dominate my nighttime-reading routine, I know it’s time to put the phone down and pick up a book.

Until a couple of months ago, I was jamming pretty steadily on an Erik Larson read, In the Garden of Beasts, but I stopped cold due to other distractions.

Now I’m revving up where I left off. Early on, the title would elude me when I tried to introduce the book into casual conversation, and I would come off sounding completely illiterate: “Hey, I’m reading this great book called, um, uh, well, anyway, Hitler’s in it! Bye, bye!”

But I’ve got the title now and I get it. The historical novel centers on William E. Dodd’s experiences as America’s first ambassador to Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. The process that helped facilitate his ascension is not an oft-told story. It’s embarrassing to think that the U.S. and the rest of the world stood in denial, until the persecution of Jews could no longer be ignored. It’s mortifying, too, that many foreign journalists were willing to look the other way while the ones who broke it down truthfully suddenly found themselves reassigned to other stories.

And Dodd’s daughter, Martha? My, my, my, what a tart she was among the men of the Third Reich. Based on actual correspondence and other historical documents, the book is truly one of the most exhilarating and insightful pieces of literature I’ve read in a long time.

Also:

Nature Watch Austin: If you love the beauty of our urban outdoors but can’t always identify the thing of beauty or the season in which it flourishes, this colorful guide is for you. It’s written by a couple of locals, Lynne Weber and Jim Weber. The book jacket describes them as dedicated naturalists who conduct bird surveys, write nature columns for neighborhood newsletters, and lead nature hikes.

A Partial History of Lost Causes is the debut novel of Iowa Writers Workshop grad Jennifer duBois. Love the title but haven’t yet cracked the book; one of the characters lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, and any story set in St. Petersburg works for me.

Selected Stories by Anton Chekhov: I’ve returned to these stories many, many times over the last 20 years and each time they inspire and invigorate.

Good Company: Business Success in the Worthiness Era (Laura Bassi, Ed Frauenheim, Dan McMurrer, and Larry Costello): Discovering how some companies succeed and others fail is one of my favorite pastimes. Not exactly riveting but this book contains useful anecdotal tales of how companies with cultures built on common-sense values like transparency, honesty, and fairness typically turn healthier profits in the long run than companies with CEOs who seek financial gratification in the short term. It all sounds so simple!

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