Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bedside Books

I was talking to a friend of mine recently about what makes the ideal bedtime book.

Many of you know about my small Jodi Picoult problem (she has a new book out now, it's about Aspergers and it has cops in it and it got good reviews - can't wait to read it). I can't read anything too gripping before bed, because I just stay up half the night. Equally, I don't want something so boring that my mind wanders and I lie there compiling laundry lists and obsessing about whether I have any right to try to be novelist when I can't reliably spell 'necessary.'

For these reasons, I have a few great books to read last thing at night, and I thought I'd share them. They all have the advantage of being really good. Books of short stories are good, poetry is good if that's your thing, but everyone needs extra book suggestions now and again.

Restoration London, by Liza Picard.

Liza Picard writes about the parts of history no one ever thinks to write about - did people wear makeup? Did they keep pets? How did they brush their teeth? It's thanks to her I know that women in 1600s Britain probably had better teeth than me. The book is organised in broad thematic sections, broken up into small, short chapters that are easy to read, interesting and over quickly so you can opt out anytime. She also has a book about Victorian London which I've promised myself as a treat when I finish my WIP.

Made In America, by Bill Bryson.

I love Bill. I love him so much that people have been known to ban me from mentioning him. Made In America seeks to explain where Americanisms come from - who was the real McCoy,what was the $64,000 question, what does OK actually mean, at what point did photographer become the term preferred over photographist.

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

I shouldn't even need to explain this one, but it isn't as engaging as the others on the list. Good for when you're really tired.

Live Alone and Like It, by Marjorie Hillis

This is a very girly choice. Marjorie Hillis wrote her book in the 1930s, when a growing number of women in America were taking entry-level jobs in cities rather than sitting around waiting to get married. This is how to cope with living alone. The idea is to do it fabulously. I've never lived alone, and the ethos is a little lost on me because I'm kind of a slob, but she is lovely and entertaining to read and has those nice short chapters I keep evangelising about. One of them is called 'A Lady and her Liquor.'

84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff.

One of my all-time comfort books. This series of letters between a book-loving New Yorker and the staff of a London second-hand bookshop is just adorable, and it's always easy to stop reading letters whenever you fancy. It's usually packaged in a volume with The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which is a nice light travelogue and a good bedtime book in its own right.


  1. Restoration London and Live Alone and Like It are both going on my wish list :-)

  2. I've read both of Picard's books and enjoyed them. One of my favorite "dipping" books is The Stanford Guide to Victorian Literature. Even if I haven't read the novels (many of them obscure and out of print) the descriptions and the details about the authors' lives are fascinating. People who went mad, blind and bankrupt and kept churning out novels the whole time... A lot of women in that era seem to have started writing because their husbands died and they thought it would be a good way to make money.

  3. I find Dickens and Austin are great bedtime authors because I know the stories so well, nothing taxes my brain.

  4. I have both The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and 84 Charing Cross Road. Now I will have to get the other three because you have piqued my interest. I can't spell necessary either.

  5. What a wonderful list. Now I have to add to my bedside book pile!!

  6. Laura, thanks for the recommendation, that sounds great :)

    Glad I gave people some ideas! Terry Pratchett is always a great bedtime read too - even when he's executing literary brilliance, he's so light and funny. The only downside is no chapters so it's hard to make yourself put it down.

  7. What an awesome list!!! I've recently been adding to my bedside but I think I'll be adding a few more to the list now!

  8. I'm open to recommendations too if you have any :)

  9. Speaking of Jodi Picoult... just finished reading House Rules this week. Addictive as ever.

    I've seen Liza Picard's books around and will have to purchase, now, as they sound very worthwhile (and short chapters are always very appealing). And as you may know already, Bill Bryson has a history of private life out in May, which I really want to read... there are some great multi-volume academic books on such things, but sometimes you need the interesting bits sans the cultural theory et al.


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