Bedside Manner: Midnight Library

The more books there are, the less reading there is

Since my bed has built-in bookshelves along either side, I have a mini-library of nighttime reading options at my fingertips – most of which goes untouched, thanks to my smart phone.

My bedside cache includes a stack of magazines (Esquire, Self, Texas Observer, Texas Monthly, The New Yorker, Eating Well) and catalogs (Anthropologie, J. Crew, etc.), an assortment of self-help books that shall go unnamed, and – I just realized – no fiction. Among the works of nonfiction: Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, a collection of his New Yorker articles, including the one in which he explains why people will buy fancy flavors of mustard but will abide only one flavor of ketchup ("The Ketchup Conundrum"). I also have a signed copy of Are Men Necessary? by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, which I bought after my husband Tim and I saw her speak at the Texas Book Festival a few years ago. Tim is the real Dowd fan in the family, which perhaps she sensed when she wrote: “ To Nora: Tim is – he’s a doll!” Both books have lived in the bedroom for quite a while, only half-read, sadly.

A more recent addition is Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide To Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals, which I actually have no memory of acquiring. I found it on a bookshelf in my office at home a couple of months ago, not long after I’d learned that an old friend had died. Moore writes that in times of darkness and turmoil, “You perceive the ultraviolet extremes of your feelings and thoughts, and you learn things you wouldn’t notice in times of normalcy and brightness.” These actually were helpful words at the time.

My favorite book right now is Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today?, which – I’ll just come right out and say it – is a picture book. I bought it on the recommendation of Pat Falconer, who taught a drawing class I took last summer. The book is a three-year-spanning collection of illustrations by Kate Bingaman-Burt, who draws one thing she has purchased each day. (She also draws each of her credit card statements in its entirety, and writes, “I’ll continue drawing them until they are all paid off.”) Some favorite illustrations: 1) a bottle of Pepto Bismol bought on Feb. 16, 2006, for $5.49, accompanied by the caption: “Making the resolution to never eat fried foods again”; 2) a 49-cent thrift-store plate bought on May 18, 2006, for her wedding reception; 3) a $2.79 piece of “debate night pizza” bought on Oct. 15, 2008, with this caption underneath: “McCain vs. Obama @ Laurelhurst Theater.” In the introduction, Bingaman-Burt writes, “I make work about personal consumerism, market economies, guilt, joy, excess, more guilt, gifts, celebration, repetition, and the community of these shared experiences.” An oddly soothing read for anyone prone to credit-card abuse and late-night worrying.

I suppose if I’m counting a picture book as reading material, I might as well count my smart phone (HTC Hero) as well. Inspired by The Memory Book, which I bought last summer in a fit of frustration after not being able to remember something (I forget what), I’ve been obsessively memorizing Word of the Day vocabulary lists from – an activity I find way more effective at quieting the mind than counting sheep. It is probably weird on many levels, but it’s most strange because my phone tends to run out of battery power by the time I go to bed, which means I have to plug it in, which means that in order to reach it, I have to scoot way down toward the foot of my bed and lie on my side, at the very edge, holding my phone at a funny angle that is probably messing with my eyesight and is definitely messing with my neck muscles. Such are the travails of the vespertine reader.

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Bedside Manner, Malcolm Gladwell, Maureen Dowd, Thomas Moore, Kate Bingaman-Burt

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