On the Nightstand

It’s Spring again.

My roses are growing up into the oak branches and the irises have blossomed for the season.  Our lawn is (temporarily) green and …

the sounds of hammers and saws and boomboxes pound in my ears, the smell of paint fumes fills my study, and there is chaos in every corner.  We have chosen to live through the renovation of our home.  Even reading is hard, with more books in my queue than on my nightstand.  Let’s review one or two of them.

If this is your first On the Nightstand, I rate the books I review on watts:  a 100 watt book keeps me awake all night, a 20 watt book puts me to sleep right away, and there are lots of watts in between.  So, here’s what has kept me up nights:

William Boyd, Sweet Caress, is the story of Amory Clay, a woman who was born while her father was away at the war.  Amory becomes fascinated with photography and documents the world that unfolded around her – Hitler’s Blackshirts, France during the war, American fashion, and Vietnam.  It is a solid 100 watt read.

Patrick O’Brian, The Yellow Admiral and The Hundred Days, are the stories of sailor Jack Aubrey and his friend, spy-surgeon Stephen Maturin, extraordinary men who can sail a worn out three-masted ship around the world and spy out Napoleon’s double agents but who also are utterly incapable of caring for their homes and families.  Aubrey wins his war but loses his deck in the first novel; Maturin foils Napoleon’s spies but loses his wife in the second.  Intimate, detailed, and brilliant 100 watt novels of the period.

But, David Mitchell, author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Cloud Atlas, let me down with Slade House.   It is the supposedly-scary story of people who disappear in a haunted house that disappears for years at a time until, every ninth October, its ghouls need to replenish themselves with fresh souls.  Sigh…. 60 watts, tops.

Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars, is a different history of World War I, of the people who opposed the war and tried to bring world leaders to a peace table before they destroyed civilization.  They were rewarded with isolation, imprisonment, and even the firing squad yet, in the end, the leaders they had tried to persuade came to accept that they were right.  90 watts.

In the Queue:

I’m excited that my friend Mark Bowlin now has the fourth book out in the Texas Gun Club series.  The Keys of Redemption should arrive any day, and I can’t wait to read it.  I’m also gearing up to read Blitzed, by Norman Ohler, the role that the German pharmaceutical industry played in WW2 medical experimentation and its ancestry to modern drug companies.

I’m returning to Oxford in July to resume work under Professor Miles; The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson will be my source for course work in creative writing, setting out the fine line novelists follow in separating facts from making things up.  And, in the meantime, I’m reading Birth of a Nation by Julian Rathbone, the story of an … unusually hairy… man who might be the Duke of Wellington’s bastard, or the child of a Spanish priest, or of a French camp follower, or…

And, neither last nor least is A Fable, by William Faulkner, winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

My nightstand is full, and what a great problem to have.

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