Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's On YOUR Nightstand?

Books have been an essential part of my life for as long as I can remember. I loved hearing my mother's voice as she read to me. Although she fought cancer much of my childhood, she made our home one of joy and wonder, and even in the darkest of times, one of quiet and calm. I was blessed to have two parents raised in the depression, both of whom were college educated, very unusual in its day. Learning and discovery were elemental to them and reading became a quiet necessity of my life. Charlotte's Web, Madeline, A Little Princess, Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, A Child's Garden of Verse, Grimm's Fairy Tales.

As I got older, there were poetry books and a scarlet leather-bound edition of the complete works of Shakespeare which held more interest for me than any "Seventeen" magazine. When my classmates were reading The BoxCar Children and Pippi Longstocking I was reading the works of Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein and a whole world beyond my quiet, hushed one at home opened up to me. Reading is for me not just intellectual but embracive. I love the way the spine of a book feels in the crook of my fingers. The smooth, hard end boards snug on either side of the pages sewn together, their edges flush and perfect. The smell of ink, the texture of a page as my fingers gently turns it.

I try and read for an hour before sleep when I'm on the road. Sometimes the days don't allow time to unwind, only the documentation of grief and regret that ends in sleep that is often instant but seldom pleasant. But I know, even on the bad nights, that the books are there, waiting for me, like friends. They are all different. but have one theme in common. The characters, the relationships, and the plots resonate in a way that continues to form the person I am still becoming. But there seems to be a theme running through many of my choices, one best described in yet another favorite, The Little Prince: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

I can't always control when I will get home again. I can't always control the emotions of my heart. But wherever I am, I can breathe deep in the beauty that stirs with the wind, breathe deep and hold onto this moment, reminding myself that this moment, this breath, is really all we know we have for sure. For in this moment I am so alive, and that is something to savor, just as writers do, with deft brush of pen and soft stroke of longing. You can't convey that in a text message, in an email. Soft words, warm hands, light on the skin as scattering leaves, almost weightless, yet communicating to it that stored voltage, passionate and condemned forever of all composure. Words like touch, that go straight to the heart, bypassing the brain all together.

It is why in this age of the quick phone call, a coded text message, the hurried clip of an email, I read. It is why I too, write. I write to the wind, I write to myself, I write to one that will never hear and the one that takes in every word, giving them back to me, making them alive. In my writing you don't always see the better angels of my nature. You see someone who worries, who is impatient with injustice, someone who's grumpy when they're sick. You see the little kid in me. You see the drifter of the sky and plains, who harbors within her many emotions, areas of dark that reside in the currents, sometimes tickling the surface with their presence, then vanishing quietly into the deep, leaving only the sun dappling on the surface.

In words of others I find truth and in my words I'm finding myself. So for tonight I'll sit alone and quiet, after a day of seeking as well as finding. I'll simply sit, here in the drowsing air of my bedroom, cool and empty but for books and memories, the warmth of them tickling my neck like St. Elmo's fire.

On the nightstand

Ulysses - By James Joyce. Ulysses is an epic that loosely follows The Odyssey, but within it dwells the heart of modern people with all their foibles and misdemeanors. It's so intricate- that I had a little trouble delving into it at first —but something struck a chord in me when Joyce talked "ineluctable modality of the visible." You shut your eyes, open them again, and find the world continues without your witnessing it. We change, people leave, let the world continues on in it's beauty and wonder. It's a beautiful reflection on change and time and one's place in the scheme of things.

The Worst Journey in the World - By Apsley Cherry-Garrard. This is the most incredibly detailed documented account of exploration—specifically, polar exploration—that I have read. Cherry-Garrard was a young classics scholar who traveled to the Antarctic with Robert F. Scott's last expedition in 1910, and he conveys in such a vivid way what it was like to be on a wooden sailing ship at that time. Being a "boat" person as well as a "plane person" I found that fascinating, as my knowledge of such things to date is still limited.

The "worst journey" is a trip that he and two other explorers make to find the eggs of the emperor penguin, a trip on which the three men will walk hundreds of miles and survive, among other horrific circumstances, a cataclysmic storm and having their shelter blown completely away from them. The simplicity of Cherry-Garrard's language is deceptive, you will shiver at the physical challenges the men faced and the admiration for those he works for is unbounded; but he's so matter-of-fact, never suggesting that in his own case there was any great heroism involved though indeed it was. The later account of the failed attempt to rescue Scott, something that haunted him for the rest of his life, is beyond the tragic.

Much Ado About Nothing - By William Shakespeare. I really started to appreciate Shakespeare in high school when a teacher, unafraid of risk, shared this with us. Admittedly, the title "Much Ado About Nothing" pretty much sums up the plot, but this playful tale of a woman falsely accused of unfaithfulness is packed with wordplay, dirty jokes, hilarious insults and witty dialogue. It is a therapeutic reminder that the pitfalls of social interaction (jealousy, self-doubt, lust, love and longing) have remained unchanged for centuries.

Restoration - By Rose Tremain. As a young girl, I used to be indifferent to history, I had my plate full memorizing all the Bible verses for Lutheran confirmation, and now I have to remember battle dates and names of people I could care less about? As a young woman, history came to life for me in this book, the hero, Robert Merivel, such a irreverent, genuine, passionate character. One I could easily imagine having a drink with, laughing in a modern London pub. He becomes a favorite of King Charles II but makes the mistake of falling in love with the wrong girl and tumbling from grace, finds the life he was destined for.

Wind, Sand and Stars - by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Wind, Sand and Stars is a symphony, a meditation on life, spiced with true-to-life stories of aviation in a time when technology was primitive and heroes were rare. The sky is not simply a vast and empty space, it is a place where things happen to oneself and within oneself. The deserts and the fields aren't simply there below to view from the air, they are, many times for French pilot Saint-Ex, there to crash-land on, and there meet danger and beauty alone and know for the first time strange and wonderful people.Of his crash-landing in Spanish Africa he wrote: "But by the grace of the aeroplane I have known a more extraordinary experience than this, and have been made to ponder with even more bewilderment the fact that this earth that is our home is yet in truth a wandering star... I lingered there, startled by this silence that never had been broken. The first star began to shine, and I said to myself, that this pure surface had laid here thousands of years in sight only of the stars."
Next time you have the occasion to travel, or just have a few hours to yourself, put down the remote. Put away the blackberry. Pick up a book. Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Heinlein or a historian. Need some ideas? There's some of my library on the sidebar. Tam always has a great book suggestion weekly at View From the Porch. But put down your electronic pager and pick up a book. Take yourself back to the wild of your heart, where the city is replaced with the gravity of the outdoors, real mountains of rock and timber, ice and fluid need. Life is an adventure, a challenge, a giving of all for a purpose. Saint-Ex's written works were the fruits of his zeal and zest. We are all stardust, he seems to say. And he ends this incredible book with "Only the Spirit, if it breathes upon the clay, can create Man".

For sometimes, when we least expect it, with just a breath, we find life.


  1. Don't have a book-nightstand but am currently reading, "Memoirs of
    A Bengal Civilian" (1896) by John Beames who went off to India with The Company (right after the Mutiny) and stayed on with The Raj - mainly because he spent time in the town where we lived.

  2. Love it. I'm still enjoying a few chapters of H. Rider Haggard's tales of Africa a night.

  3. "The Gun", C.J. Chivers, The Heinlein and Vonnegut bios at the moment. Happy Reading!

  4. The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills.

    The latest Jack McDevitt book: Firebird.

    About a half dozen books I've lost track of.

  5. Thanks for the Kindle list! My books are more *ahem* pedestrian on the bookshelf's in the office.

  6. I'm with you - I love a good book. I'm usually reading too at once, and since authors don't write as fast as I read, I read and reread constantly. I also read everything! It's nice to know that I'm not the only one!



  7. Beautiful as always!

    I swear I was working on a post that titled the same thing, but mine was not so much focused on books.

    I love Much Ado About Nothing.

    My nightstand right now is consumed with one solitary theme...guns. I feel like I am so behind and catching up seems like an insurmountable task, that I have not allowed myself any other indulgence.


  8. Right now, "The Cannibal Queen" hy Stephen Coonts. It is my second time reading this, I am between books and wanted to read this again.

    There is something about a road trip, even if it is done in a Stearman. I always wanted to do the same kind of trip, only in a Cessna 195 or a Staggerwing Beech. I'm guessing that the book will have to do.

  9. You've presented us with the poetry of your prose ... and we can only enjoy, while rarely being able to offer anything half so profound or beautiful.

    I'd have written about why I read, and the joy of old books, but wouldn't have done it nearly so well.

  10. Of course I immediately assumed that this was a post about firearms and, for the record, I have a Ruger Security 6 357 Magnum with a four inch barrel sitting there.

    Books? You betcha.

    The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

    The Selected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz

    The Coming Anarchy by Robert Kaplan

    Real Education and What it Means to be a Libertarian by Charles Murray

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

    Lord of the Rings frequently circulates on and off the table as I have read it at least forty times in the past 35 years, as well as a fairly rapid succession of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Mystery, for when the "serious" stuff is not what I'm in the mood for.

  11. I have Czeslaw Milosz' collected poems at my feet, and was reading Chivers' Gun on weekend until I got distracted by Vasiliy Krysov's Panzer Destroyer.

    I just finished Barth Anderson's Patron Saint of Plagues (very good), and am trying to finish up Sam Winston;s What Came After (kindle). I was also reading Ian Kershaw's The End, but would really like to get started on Noman Davies Vanished Kingfons or one of my Gregory Mishno books.

    I am a mess.

  12. @Agirl- You said this: "catching up seems like an insurmountable task".

    I can offer one piece of humble advise. I have been shooting over *cough* 40 years. As long as I do I will always be a student. Murphy's Law is a walking encyclopedia of Firearms. So are Tam and B. Lean on them, I do!

    I tell my new shooters this when opening class: "These are the things in your favor. If this was hard I would not be in front of you today. This is a well matured technology. Everything now is simply a variation of a theme that goes back centuries."

    As you pointed out in your Blog this community is special. I frequently get in over my head when confronted with a newer or older Firearm. Here I have a wealth of information given freely when I ask. Do the same! It makes life easier.

    I can almost guarantee you that from B.s review of the 870 shotgun to Tam's nailing a revolver and semi auto here I knew nothing about, don't be afraid to ask!

    I have more time to read fiction or history instead of the "Standard Catalog of Firearms", LOL!"

  13. Keads - I was lucky to have an instructor like you, picking up my first pistol in my late 30's when I changed careers. A Girl would do well to read your words (and if she's out our way I'll see of you and Murphy and clan can meet up).

    Practice is everything. If I shoot every week I can do a really tight group. If I slack off and don't go for 3 months I would have a hard time with target acquisition if attacked by a finback whale. I've learned a ton from going to the range with Tam and others, we are always learning. It's why I read history, learning from the past so the future is one of promise.

  14. James Joyce was always a sure fire ticket to dream land for me.

  15. During the riding season I try to have at least one paperback in the saddlebag or Tour-Pak for quiet evenings in camp.

    At rallies it's not unusual to find me reading amidst the noise of a modern-day Ren Faire.

    Books, beer and bikes - a great combo!

  16. Yes. This:
    " . .where the city is replaced with the gravity of the outdoors, real mountains of rock and timber, ice and fluid need . ."

    There are no novels nearby.

    Only poetry now.

    No time for rabbit holes . .

    . . . all above ground . . in the distilled light in which a few blogs and columns qualify as poetry.

    Ah! You might find this book of poetry interesting. Received it just a couple weeks ago. An RAF pilot.
    "Meeting The Jet Man" - David Knowles

  17. I'm a uncurable re-reader. When I read in bed, my brain is usually too tied to tackle something new, so it's usually something either by Robert Heinlein(To Sail Beyond the Sunset) or Alistair MacLean(currently re-reading Ice Station Zebra for the 850th time).

  18. Eagerly awaiting Soft Target signed by Stephen Hunter, but the bedside stack includes:

    Roadshow by Neil Peart,
    Improvising Jazz by Jerry Coker,
    Pistol Shooters Treasury by Gil Hebard,
    Inside the Music by Dave Stewart,
    Herzog by Saul Bellow,
    Competitive Shooting by A.A. Yur'Yev,
    The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen,
    The Ultimate Gibson Book, and Whitefeather signed by Norman Chandler.
    And catalogs from Brownells & Stewart-MacDonald.

    Recent gifts include:
    Good Eats 3 by Alton Brown, and
    Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

  19. B.- Practice IS everything! It is a perishable skill. It is also important to get pushed out of your comfort zone operating a Handgun however frustrating that can be. You know that first hand from me!

    I love your optimism for learning from the past to affect the future.

    If the "tactical pajama party" goes down I would love to shoot with y'all. I am a native southerner and can use that term. I have the card in my wallet next to my CCH instructor card!

  20. This will come as a shock I'm sure... currently reading "Gargantuan Gunsite Gossip Part III." :)

    Just finished "Soft Target" by Stephen Hunter.

  21. I'm currently working my way through "Independent People" by Haldor Laxness.

    I should probably consult you on how some of the Icelandic terms would be prounounced. I think they'd be fairly close to Norwegian.

  22. A bowl of change, my Leatherman, a tin box full of momentos, and my Heritage .22 revolver.

  23. Brigid: "I write to the wind"

    Me: speechless, awed

  24. Always reading, have just finished my 57th book for 2011. My kindle is burning up most nights. Try to go outside my comfort zone, so I read a pretty eclectic mix.

  25. Having been an incurable devourer of books since before primary school, my nightstand always has books on it, indeed sometimes my bed has books in it, though I try to get them back on the shelf before traveling to dreamland...

    Currently inhabiting my nightstand, (besides the usual suspects, lamp and clock and such, and an assortment of boxes of ammunition) is Lois McMaster Bujold's fantasy "The Sharing Knife", Dorothy Hartley's "Medieval Costume and Life", And Laurie Colwin's "More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen".

    I have a small weakness for reading cookbooks, of the sort that have lots of interesting essays along with the recipes, before bed; the "chapters" are short enough that I am not tempted to just keep reading to see what happens and thereby put sleep off too long, and the content is unlikely to generate monsters in dreamland.

    While I am still very much a beginner at all this gun stuff, on the other nightstand are an assortment of more firearm-related books: the "Gun Digest Book of Firearms Assembly and Dissasembly", and the "12th Edition: Cartridges of the World", which my sweetheart has been known to read aloud from as bedtime stories! I have several books on concealed carry in that stack as well, including one by Massad Ayoob and one by The Cornered Cat; by keeping the books handy, I read through them several times, and hopefully the information will gradually sink in.

  26. On the nightstand...

    "Small Favor" 10 of the Dresden Files, which I find hugely entertaining. I like Jim Butchers writing style. Slowly working my way through all of them.

    Next up will probably be a re-read of The Hobbit, so as to prep for the movie release in December '12.

  27. Boston's Gun has an honorary spot. When I want some light reading, anything by Christopher Golden will do.

    Love your work.

  28. That's not a nightstand, THAT is a library! :-) All of mine are loaded on my Nook... :-)

  29. Couple of copies of QST.
    The War of the World by Niall Ferguson.
    I have several on my e-reader, working on The H Beam Piper Omnibus.

    On the "On Deck Shelf" are "Have You Seen My Country Lately", by Jerry "Garibaldi" Doyle; "How firm a foundation" by David Weber; and "Ratification : the people debate the Constitution, 1787-1788" by Pauline Maier. Mrs. Drang has started "How To Be Invisible", by JJ Luna, or I'd've returned it to the library; I need to stop by there tomorrow and pick up Correia's "Spellbound".

  30. 2 Vince Flynn novels - Transfer of Power and The Third option (fiction)

    Contact Charlie, by Chris Wattie - (Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, 2006 {Roto 2-0})

    Clearing the Way, (CF Engineers in Afghanistan, 2006 {Roto 3-06)})

    The Ghosts of Medak Pocket, by Carol Off (Canada in Croatia, 1995 - "Canada's Secret War")

    Kitchen Table Wisdom - Stories that Heal - Rachel Naomi Remen

    The Gift of Fear - Gavin de Becker (best self defense book ever - writing a review of it for someone)

  31. Waiting for "Soft Target" to cycle its way to me through the sharing ring...

    Just finished my last Lee Childs - Reacher novel. I need to get a copy of "The Affair".

    Got the Heinlein bio for Christmas along with Cheney's book. Need to start them soon.

  32. Currently 14 books on my nightstand. Ranging from "Colonel Roosevelt", a biography of Theodore by Morris, to "Three Musketeers" by Dumas. And some trashy novels in between. Currently reading "A Picture of Dorian Gray" by Wilde on my Kindle.

  33. I'm reading the Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg.

    I got an iPad for a Yule Present and am now addicted to reading books on it. I have always loved reading but found that I just had too many books for my small home. This is a great compromise. My local library also has an e-book lending program so I can still get library books and don't even have to go into the library to borrow them.I can do it on-line.

  34. Bridig, I'm currently reading hte Robin Hobb books (pt 3 of The Tawny Man series).

    (It's me, Vic303 one of your regulars, posting under my other google acct name).

  35. I lived for many years in Bloomington IL (Bloomington really is "below Normal").

  36. Look, will you just stop writing what I think (Oh, OK it's only because you do so, better than I could ever imagine being able to - jealous? Just a bit).

    I find myself talking in quotes from authors, or even song lyrics, as so many times someone else has expressed my meaning better than I can (OK , I sound even weirder than I am now, which is hard to do). Suffice to say you are quoted at times.

    I've just finished Stephen Donaldsons - Mordant Series (again)

    Re-reading Snuff by Terry Pratchett (I feel a certain kinship with Samuel Vimes, but fear I appear more like Rincewind) whilst half way through Robert Jordans Wheel of Time series (again. please, please someone publish the last one I'm getting withdrawal).

    I read as an escape, as relaxation, as a way of using others impressions and opinions to interpret the world around me, and yes, for the pure pleasure.

    I follow all your, and Tams, recommendations and for the record loved Larry Correia entire output (will he hurry up and write some more, please.)

  37. Crivens! When i saw the pictures of the books in your library, i thought you'd snuck into my house and pinched half MY library! I love reading, currently on holiday and working my way through two-three books a day when not playing Skyrim.


  38. Nothin' too exciting at this moment... "The Litigators" by
    John Grisham... King James Bible... and re-reading "Last of the Breed" by Louis L'Amour...

    Dann in Ohio

  39. Ooooo....someone else who reads Peter F. Hamilton!!! Quite possibly one of the best sci-fi authors I've read in a loooong time, right up there with David Weber, Steve Perry, and Chris Bunch's "Sten" Series. I always get strange looks when folks take a gander at my book cases and note the shelves (plural) of WW1/WW2 history, and shelves (plural again) of SciFi/Fantasy (Larry Correia doesn't have a shelf of his own yet, but he's getting there!). I've tried reading e-books on my wife's Nook, but just can't get into them. I gotta have a solid book in my hands. Its just more.....personal.

  40. Hmmm. I have an FN Browning High-Power on my nightstand, along with a lamp and alarm clock.

    I can't read in bed. It always puts me to sleep.


  41. A stack of books 3 feet high (no kidding). I just keep stacking them as I finish them. I really need to do something about that...

    And a Surefire flashlight. Glock 19 with M6 Tactical is in a gunvault next to it. Have to keep it away from little hands.

  42. I just don't have any room for books on the nightstand. It is currently occupied by my Colt Government 1911, a spare mag, a flashlight and a lamp. Oh, and my cup of tea.

  43. You've all got so many great choices! The last photo was finds from the half priced books, the bargain shelves in the back. I don't think I paid nore than $2 for any one of those books.

    We've started something at work where we bring in books we've read and leave them on a table in the lunchroom, others do too. When you're done you put them back or if you want to keep one, that's OK too,as long as you bring in another to replace it, but every week there's about a dozen "new" well loved books out to share.

  44. A couple years ago I started mailing people new copies (usually paperbacks) of books that I liked. The idea was to read the book and mail it on to someone else. Perhaps with a book of your own.

    I mailed off a lot of Butcher's Dresden series books that way.

  45. U rite reel purty. Expecially for a gurl.

    I swear, every time I read one of your Wistful Vista pieces, memory dredges the hidden and forgotten places of my heart.

    It's a good thing a government permit is not required for mining the lost nuggets I find in myself when I visit HOTR.

    Many thanks.

  46. I think I just put a dozen new things on hold at the library, just from this post and the comments ...

  47. Kindle list (the "old fashioned" kind that is only useful for reading):

    "Steve Jobs" - Everyone seems to have this one. "Accidental Empires" is more insightful IMHO.

    "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" - What? Irene Adler *isn't* a dominatrix in the book like she is on BBC One? Darn you Steven Moffat.

    "Reamde" - finished it, but haven't sent the file off to the archives. In addition to finally using a word processor, Stephenson got fascinated with guns and other things that go boom this time around.

    "A Princess of Mars"

    "Cosmic Banditos"

  48. I will always have a large collection of "real" books, but got the Kindle Fire last year and I love being able to read 3 or 4 books at a time in different genres as the mood strikes and not lose my place and be able to switch between them easily. Won't do me much good when the Zombie Apocolypse destroys the interwebz but while society flourishes...or stumbles along, its a neat way to read and save money over "real" books.

  49. North - I give away copies of Spider Robinson's "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" to get people hooked.


  50. A lamp, alarm clock, and a 1911.
    Books are stacked downstairs next to the Big Brown Chair.
    Bed is for sleeping 'n stuff.


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