It is my job to turn off the alarm clock every morning at 5:45 am.
Despite the fact that the bell tolls for Sigmund, and not for me, our Bose alarm "system" is on my side of the bed. Although it might seem nonsensical and arbitrary, since Sigmund wakes before me at least 98% of the time, nevertheless it is a fixed feature of our domestic arrangements. I get to turn off the alarm, and then lie awake -- repeatedly nudging my comatose husband until he finally arises. Like clearing off the kitchen table, that neverending challenge, it is a task that seems to belongs to me.
For some time now, I've been aware (as much as my sleepy semi-consciousness will allow) that I have to make a stretching, lunging, arching motion to actually reach the alarm clock. Despite having a modestly sized bedside table, which also holds a large blue Chinese lamp in addition to the aforementioned Bose system, my arm must get past several towers of books.
I have mentioned before that I have a predilection for creating book piles around my sleeping space. I'm aware of these piles in a vague sort of way, and yet I also don't really notice them . . . if you know what I mean. It does make it difficult to dust; but then, I've never been one to actually move objects if I can just dust around them. I'm definitely a yielding force when it comes to an unmovable object.
Yesterday, I had my biannual urge to tackle at least some of my most notorious areas of clutter. To my surprise and dismay, I discovered that my bedside table was harboring the following twenty books. There were also several cards that I meant to send, numerous bookmarks, some correspondence, my husband's new American ATM card, some matches, and three coasters. It occurred to me, as I was performing the book-cull, that these piles serve as a sort of record of my reading life. Although I've read many, many books in the last six months that haven't got mired in bedside table purgatory, my piles are still a telling -- if incomplete -- collection of artifacts.
So, in no particular order:
Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
I started reading this one about a week ago -- mostly because of enjoying the recent BBC production. I haven't read any Hardy in almost 20 years and it seemed time to visit him again. (stays on bedside table)
An Imaginative Experience, Mary Wesley
I'm not sure why this one is even here, but my best guess is that I wanted to look at Wesley's writing again after reading the Wesley biography, Wild Mary, last spring/winter? When I first moved to England, not long married and pregnant, I read the entire contents of my neighbor's bookshelves. I remember there being a lot of Mary Wesley and Joanna Trollope. It was my first introduction to the publishing concept of an "Aga saga." (remove to bookshelf)
Mr. Bridge, Evan Connell
This is so shaming. I've had this on my to-read bookshelf for years, and finally motivated to start it last spring. I only made it halfway through, sadly, before abandoning it. The first line is totally arresting, but it gets a big draggy in places. I just ordered the Merchant Ivory film made from this book (and its companion, Mrs. Bridge), because I'm really in the mood for a Paul Newman tribute. Hopefully, it will inspire me to -- finally! -- finish this book. (stays on bedside table)
West Coast, Kate Muir
This was on a good special at WH Smith's. I enjoyed her previous novel, Left Bank, but I haven't even cracked the cover on this one yet. (stays on bedside table)
So Many Books, So Little Time, Sara Nelson
A memoir of a reading year. Words like "fairly" and "moderately" are immediately coming to mind, which means that I will inevitably damn with faint praise. It's pleasant. I've read about half, and skimmed the rest. (remove to bookshelf)
Ghost at the Table, Suzanne Burns
My friend Jenni, always a source of good books, loaned me this one. It takes place at Thanksgiving, so November seems like the right time to read it. (stays on bedside table)
The German Bride, Joanna Hershon
My friend Michelle loaned/gave me this one after I cajoled her into it. It was written by a friend of hers. This one got lost in the gardening/Moonwalking haze that was May and June. Must resolve to read it soon. (stays on bedside table)
Jane Austen, A Life, Claire Tomalin
Periodically, I go through a Jane Austen phase. I was in one of these phases in late May, partly because of the movie Miss Austen Regrets, and partly because my daughter had Emma on a constant loop, and partly because Jenni and I went to The Jane Austen Centre in Bath. By the way, I'm not sure who the JAC caters for -- because if you are a fan, you already know everything they are going to tell/show you; and if you are not a fan, you certainly won't become one by visiting this very poor tribute to one of England's finest and most famous writers. We did get to see the costumes from Miss Austen Regrets -- and a documentary on the lace-making industry in Sri Lanka. For what it's worth. (remove to bookshelf)
Jane Austen, Carol Shields
I'm very fond of Carol Shields' work, and I'm still cross that she died too young. I had no idea she was a Jane Austen fanatic until I came across this book in The Jane Austen Centre in Bath. I've only skimmed this one, but I will return to it when I'm next in a Jane Austen phase. (remove to bookshelf)
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
This is my mother's childhood copy, and the cover is completely threadbare -- but the pages have a lovely dense feel. I've read it more times than I can possibly trace. My youngest daughter went through a Little Women movie phase at the beginning of the summer, and knowing me, I was probably rereading some of the scenes from the book. (remove to bookshelf)
Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs, Jeremy Mercer
A memoir from a Canadian journalist who takes refuge in the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Paris. I was moderately entertained by it, but I got distracted by something more enticing and abandoned it about halfway through. I bought this one at the Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill when my mom was visiting in September. (undecided; remove to bookshelf for now)
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
I bought this one days after seeing Vanessa Redgrave's tour de force show. I gobbled the book up, and found it thoughtful and not too depressing. But I have a high tolerance for the morbid. (mail to grieving friend)
Grace (Eventually), Anne Lamott
I don't share Lamott's religious faith, but I like reading her take on the world. She is a funny, irreverent, clever writer -- although some might call her self-absorbed. I bought this in Texas in April and I still haven't gotten around to reading it. (remove to bookshelf)
Without Reservations, Alice Steinbach
A memoir from a journalist who decides to go travelling for a year to see what she can find. Visits Paris, London, Oxford and Milan. There is some nice writing in it -- with some gentle humor and insights -- but I lost steam about 3/4 of the way through. Memorable for her interesting liason with a Japanese man while in Paris. I never made it to Milan, but I assume that she did. I have a feeling that this came from an independent bookstore, but I can't remember which one. (remove to bookshelf)
Texas Women, (anthology from Texas Monthly magazine)
I bought this at the LBJ Ranch gift shop when I was in Texas -- mostly because I was lonesome for some Molly Ivins. Haven't read it yet. (remove to bookshelf)
Mrs. Woolf and the Servants, Alison Light
I'm a huge Woolf fan, and I love the domestic detail of a writer's (or anyone's, actually) private life. A gift from Sigmund for Valentine's Day (maybe?). I haven't even started it. (remove to bookshelf)
The Gathering, Anne Enright
The 2007 Booker Prize winner. Irish, miserable. Dysfunctional family saga. Sigmund gave it to me for my birthday last winter. I struggled to like it, but ended up abandoning it halfway through. (remove to bookshelf)
I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron
Even though my neck is still holding up okay, Ephron's precision humor had me totally identifying with her plight. A book of essays -- all of them about being a woman; most of them about being a woman of a certain age. I've skipped around in it, but I think I've read most of it. This is the kind of book I will reread in 5 years -- and then again 5 years after that. (remove to bookshelf)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver
When I manage to become totally evolved I hope that I end up something like Barbara Kingsolver. I was fascinated with this book -- although informational, it was as entertaining and warm as her fiction. (remove to bookshelf)
Home, Marilynne Robinson
I just bought this one: the fact that it is a hardcover reveals just how much I want to read it!
(stays on bedside table)
I have a poor memory and have never bothered to keep any kind of journal for long -- despite frequent vows to do so and the purchase of attractively bound books for the purpose.
It occurs to me that these piles of books I keep are the strata of my life -- not as permanent as rocks, but horizontal layers of memory all the same.