The Austin Chronicle

Bedside Manner: Let Freedom Ring

By Anne Harris, November 15, 2010, 1:16am, Under the Covers

My bedside table is a repository for a weird variety of things. Send me your forgotten guides, your talismans, your unread, your read and read-agains; it is a postage-stamp democracy, especially since the head of state here often doesn't get to decide what to read, hence the backlog you see here.


From upper left: The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage, by National Geographic's Adventure Classics Series editor Anthony Brandt (Knopf). Published attempts to chronicle the harrowing holy grail of nineteenth-century British exploration outnumber the attempts themselves: Though explorers were considered the rock stars, or astronauts, of their day, this is the first compelling account by a storyteller. New(ish) editions of old favorites, Karen Elizabeth Gordon's The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed (Houghton Mifflin) and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed (Pantheon). I used the first editions on my desk at Houghton Mifflin for years, and still love the engravings and random finger-wagging, i.e. "Your writing does not clamor for semicolons ..." and "A comma is a delicate kink in time ... a curvaceous acrobat, it capers over the page." Advance galleys for The Lady Matador's Hotel by Cristina Garcia (Scribner). A National Book Award finalist for her 1992 novel, Dreaming in Cuban, Garcia evokes another favorite, Isabel Allende. Devoid of front matter clutter, former Chronicle art director Taylor Holland includes no introduction in his self-published book of photographs, LIGNES. That makes room for more of these simply presented studies that celebrate the everyday discoveries of the human perspective. Turning the pages at the end of a mind-numbing work session seems to reframe suddenly alien surroundings. A tube of Elizabeth Arden Eight-Hour Creme, more like an orange gel, this stuff has been around since the earth cooled, for good reason. From the bottom: Signed copy of Just Kids by Patti Smith (HarperCollins), the story of her artistic journey alongside Robert Mapplethorpe and their encampment in late sixties' New York's Chelsea Hotel. Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin (Vintage), the biography of the celebrated seventeenth-century British diarist is well-told, but isn't as fun as the entries themselves, found in this Modern Library edition. A borrowed paperback edition of Cloud Atlas by the young David Mitchell (Random House), this collection makes other writers trudge out and get cubicle jobs. A dark valentine for the wee hours, Edna St. Vincent Millay in Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Pulitzer finalist Nancy Milford (Random House) and The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Modern Library Classics). Foreground, from left: December issue of W Magazine for the larger-than-life jewelry porn; found at my grandmother's house, a 1968 copy of 1,001 Decorating Ideas (Book No. 27) that asks the question, in a feature on occasional chairs, "What is Modern, and Is it Temporary or Contemporary?"; iPod with download of Cee Lo Green's sophomore solo effort, "The Lady Killer". This record evokes a more explicit Rev. Al Green; sepia-colored body marker for drawing tetragrammatons on my arm and pretending I have cool tattoos like my friends and a Sharpie; a copy of the 2009 East Austin Studio Tour guide for grins because I don't have a copy of the 2010 edition yet; a souvenir eight-point buck lighter from this weekend's camping trip.

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