The Millions Quiz: Nightstand Reader

June 5, 2008 | 15 books mentioned 13 5 min read

So that you may get to know us better, we introduce The Millions Quiz, yet another occasionally appearing series. Here, as conceived of by our contributor Emily, we answer questions about our reading habits and interests, the small details of life the like-minded folks may find illuminating, and we ask you to join us by providing your own answers in the comments.

Today’s Question: What’s on your nightstand right now?

Emily: Deciding where the nightstand stops in my dorm room is something of a quandary. And sadly, in this final dissertation push, pleasure reading is a thing of the past (Swift Studies 2006, Romanticism, Nationalism, and the Revolt Against Theory, The Chicago Manual of Style…). But among the piles that daily encroach on my bed are two recent purchases: Dover’s paperback editions of Goya’s print series Los Caprichos and The Disasters of War. If you haven’t seen them, take a look. I hesitate to call either a pleasure, but they are, in their ways.

coverEdan: I’m about to read The Great Man by Kate Christensen, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award this year. I enjoyed her previous novel, The Epicure’s Lament, and this one, about a recently deceased painter and the women in his life, sounds like something to dive into.

After that, I’m going to give Edith Wharton my attention, beginning with The Age of Innocence. I also have a galley of Joan Silber’s novel, The Size of the World, the follow-up to her terrific and pleasing story collection Ideas of Heaven (which was nominated for a National Book Award).

I just snagged the latest issue of Field, the poetry journal published by the Oberlin College Press, and a copy of Darcie Dennigan’s debut poetry collection, Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse. Aside from this poetry reading, I’ll be steamrolling through months of unread New Yorker and Gourmet magazine issues.

coverGarth: I seem to be having a big books problem this summer; my nightstand is about to collapse under the weight of three of them. The first is Roberto Bolano’s 2666, which I’m about 600 pages into (out of 900). The second is Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, which I’m about 300 pages into (also out of 900)… and let’s just say that, for all that she does well. Gertrude lacks the, shall we say, narrative velocity of Mr. Bolano. Finally, clocking in at over 1000 pages, I’ve got Joseph McElroy’s Women and Men, which seems insane and brilliant and possibly unfinishable. I keep thinking there are only a finite number of gigantic books, and that once I get them out of the way I can move on, and then I learn about writers like McElroy. I’m also hoping to get to Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker this summer. Seriously. In order not to get hopelessly depressed about my rate of reading, I try to read really, really short things in between the long things. My current favorite amuse-bouche or palate-cleansers are Lydia Davis’ Varieties of Disturbance and Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets. It occurs to me that I may be suffering from some variety of disturbance myself. Call it gigantobibliomania.

Ben: I have 18 books on my nightstand at the moment, three of which I think I’m supposed to be reviewing. Most interestingly, I have two autobiographical accounts by historians who retraced the steps of Mao’s Long March. When I learned would be going to China this summer, I briefly toyed with the idea of spending a few months traveling along the route taken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as they fled from the Kuomingtan. The three year journey was a harrowing race across thousands of miles of China’s most unforgiving wilderness, and it would eventually go on to become the founding myth of the CCP. Its story is replete with violence and political intrigue and following in its steps while observing how China has changed in the intervening years “would make one great book,” I thought. I was wrong. It has made two mediocre books. The Long March by Ed Jocelyn and The Long March by Sun Shuyun

Andrew: It would appear that thirty or so books have taken up occupancy on or near my nightstand. This is where the triage happens. Every few weeks, books seem to show up, sometimes all at once, sometimes individually. Compulsive second-hand book-buyer that I am, I’m afraid I can’t control the in-flow.

Like an ER, this may seem to be a chaotic place, but it’s functional and I give prompt attention to the book that demands to be read next. When completed, the book is transferred to the recovery area (aka the bookcases in my den), a much more orderly place. Calm. Perhaps too calm.

coverI began M.G. Vassanji’s The In-Between World of Vikram Lall a few weeks ago, then had to abruptly stop when my life took a chaotic turn, and now that calm reigns once again, I’ve restarted it. Up next will likely be A History of the Frankfurt Book Fair, by Peter Wiedhaas, unless some literary emergency comes in off the street.

Emre: My oft-cluttered, permanently dusty nightstand is home to months-old copies of Harper’s and New Yorker magazines, the occasional New York Times Magazine and four books. The books are all byproducts of articles I read in the aforementioned publications. Yet, despite the enticing reviews/mentions I find myself unable to read any of them. Top of the list is Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. After reading an article about the Bronx’s revival and realizing that as an adopted New Yorker with literary vices it is a sin not to have read a single Wolfe novel, I immediately picked up a used copy. Despite my best intentions to get going with it right after finishing Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, I am still only some 20 pages into the book. But it remains my top priority. Kind of.

I might have a commitment problem. The second book is Parag Khanna’s The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order. A book review in the NYT, as well as an excerpt from the book which appeared in the Times Magazine, sounded oh so interesting and timely that the politics wonk in me returned from the depths, turning me into the four-eyed nerd that I actually am to begin reading about how global powers – U.S., EU, China – are attempting to wrest control of the Second World – a term formerly ascribed to the communist bloc, which now may be morphing to describe emerging-market and resource-rich countries. Despite its accessible, Thomas Friedman-ish language, however, I am stuck at the end of Chapter 1. I blame my job for it. Part of my work description is to read news all day. After reading the Wall Street Journal, NYT, the FT and assorted other publications all day long, I have little appetite left for politics and business. On the other hand, I do feel an urgency – as in, lest I read this in the next six months, it may be obsolete.

coverSharing the third spot and making for a potential good duo-read are my girlfriend’s birthday presents to me: Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion and John Dewey’s The Public and Its Problems. The gifts were, of course, not coincidental. They were conceived in the aftermath of a New Yorker article about the dying news industry (damn you, Huffington Post, et al.!) and born of our conversations regarding, well, the dying news industry. As conceptually interesting as Lippmann and Dewey’s books are, they also fall into the realm of thought-provoking, attention-requiring books, a la The Second World, which these days is a far stretch from the TV-watching couch potato I am after work. I might have to add a new book to my nightstand. Something in the 200-300 page range that involves fiction and is a light read – as in Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!-light. Any suggestions?

Max: I’ve got just one book on my nightstand: Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End, which Mrs. Millions recently finished and which is waiting to be put back on the Reading Queue shelf. I’ve also got a teetering stack of magazines – issues of The New Yorker, The Week, and The Economist – that keep from reading my books. The book that I’m currently reading, meanwhile, is more often in the same room as me (or in my laptop bag if I’m on the go). This does make for occasional overnight stops on the nightstand.

So, tell us, in the comments or on your own blog: What’s on your nightstand right now?

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  1. My nightstand never usually holds what I'm actively reading, but, instead, old Portables for pre-sleep comfort: Dorothy Parker, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman. If I were to add what I'm reading now, and what I'm about to read, they'd swamp the poor old things: Walser's The Assistant and Selected Stories, Tove Jansson's The Summer Book, Octavia Butler's Fledgling, and This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.

  2. Michael Chabon's 'Maps and Legends, Will Eisner's 'Contract With God', Kafka's 'Castle', Nicholson Baker's 'U and I', Lawrence Weschler's, 'Convergences'…

    a bit McSweeny-y, isn't it?

  3. Well, currently I am reading Ulysses. A promise made to myself before the impending nuptials in September was to read the above and Karamazov. Did the second bit first though. Also loitering are Murakami, Hosseini, Salinger, Winterson, God (haha wedding link), Auster, Julian Barnes and Bruno Bettelheim. What does this say about me?

  4. David Sedaris' new book When You Are Engulfed in Flames isn't literally on my nightstand, but it's figuratively there. And I'm currently reading Girl Factory, by Jim Krusoe, which I suppose will end up on my newsstand sometime tonight.

  5. Well I try and keep only three on my nightstand at a time to keep from being overwhelmed, and now there are; " So Brave, Young, and Handsome" – Leif Enger, " Eastern Sun, Winter Moon" – Gary Paulsen, and " Moby Dick" – H. M.

  6. "A Matter of Panache" by Debra Sanders, but it won't be on my nightstand long – can't put it down. It's a spellbinding and powerful memoir of the extraordinary deeds of a dedicated educational psychologist.

    Debra Sanders leads us on amazing odyssey from the Alaskan Yukon, to the canyon lands of Utah, through the delirium of a brain injury, and the exasperating back-channels of unethical bureaucracy within our public school system.

    Debra battles irrepressibly against unacceptable mediocrity, for the rights of children. She pulls back the curtain for us to witness heartrending cases of abuse, families struggling with Asperger's syndrome, attention deficits, behavioral challenges, learning disabilities, brain injuries, and other physical, cognitive and/or emotional problems.

    This is a rare and courageous expose about the limitations of special education today, plus is a window into the disturbing experience of traumatic brain injury.

    Jim, Austin, TX

  7. Vermeer's Hat – 17c and dawn of global power – Timothy Brook (started it and it's really good so far)
    A Mercy – Toni Morrison
    Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
    The Quiet Girl Peter Hoeg
    The Post-Office Girl – Stefan Zweig
    The Zookeeper's Wife – Diane Ackerman

    ruby, stanwood, wa

  8. Not on the nightstand, but on the floor…
    A Seahorse Year – D'Erasmo
    2666 – Bolano
    A Mercy – Morrison
    All about Lulu – Evison
    This Much I Know – Lamb
    The God of Small Things – Roy
    Everyone's Pretty – Millett
    The latest Bellevue Lit Review and P&W.

    Need to hit the library for more… peace, Linda

  9. On the floor next to my bed:
    Michael Palin's Diaries, 1969-1979…I'm up to 1976.
    A library copy of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes.
    Noel Coward's autobiography Future Indefinite.
    Thomas Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, which I swear I will finish one of these days…
    My book journal.

    Cindy, NYC

  10. What's a bookshelf???

    …Just kidding. Currently it's The Disovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru. As also is my library-issued copy of Essays English and American from the Harvard Classics series.

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