On the Nightstand

When last we looked, I had finished Homage to Catalonia and was sorting my way through Lawrence and the Arabs. My bedside lamp was being propped up by The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Let’s see how they turned out. In the meantime, you have told me about some great reads that I need to find. Don’t be bashful — comment on mine, and tell me about yours. That is how we learn about great reads, isn’t it?

Refresher on Night Lights: I rate my reads by whether they keep me up at night — 100 watts — or put me to sleep — bulb burned out– or somewhere in between. So, herewith, some more:

Just finished:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. This is 100 watts of halogen. Jacob de Zoet is a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Trading Company who, for one brief moment, is promoted to chief of station, then within seconds, demoted to the lowest job in the loneliest outpost on earth, where he wonders whether his honesty was worthwhile and while he yearns for an utterly unapproachable Japanese woman. A great, great novel.

Lawrence Among the Arabs, by Robert Graves. As I hinted, this is a look at the middle east before it was the middle east, during WWI, written by one of that war’s greatest (surviving) authors. It follows TE Lawrence not only through the lonely outposts and desert-bound cities of what we know as Isral, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Syria, but also through the treacherous twists and turns of tribal jealousies, religious disagreements, medieval greed, and the struggle to get the people of those lands to agree on one thing. I give it 85 watts.

If I Die in a Combat Zone, Tim O’Brien. 90 watts, for sure. Tim O’Brien is Robert Graves, except that his unwanted meeting with the face of honor was in Viet Nam rather than Flanders. An excellent memoir-novel of his struggle to do his duty when Canada called, then his decision to serve as an infantry leg in a dirty war.

The Red Car, Don Stanford. Anyone, except me, who gives this book more than 40 or 50 watts is a hero. Alice helped me find a copy for my book tour of US Navy bases in Europe, where I was to speak to school students as well as my avid audience of literate sailors. So we talked about my first book, and this was it. Mucho sentimental, and no vampires, wizards, shape-shifters, or Ninja turtles. A good book for a boy who needed to know that there is a wider world out there.

Turning the pages now: I decided to swing a bat at heavy hitters, and here are the two of the moment:

Windshift, Joyce Faulkner. I have no idea when she wrote this; she spends 900 hours a week running the Military Writers Society of America, but her publisher has just released her novel of WASPS, those unsung women of the 1940’s who flew our military planes before the military did.

My Detachment, Tracy Kidder. A memoir of Kidder’s service in Viet Nam. He is a phenomenal author, so I am turning pages.

In the Queue:

Love and Summer, by William Trevor. He could make a vampire shiver with his nuanced gaze into the dark souls of people you think you know.

Only one book in my queue? Help me here — if you sent me some great ideas last time, and you did, you can help out. Post your nightstand, and rate the books on it. And, if you love literature, send me the books you were so crazy about. I’ll put them…
On the Nightstand.

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