The Books by My Bed

What I’m reading during the lockdown.

Posted May 13, 2020

WallpaperFlare, Public Domain
Source: WallpaperFlare, Public Domain

During the day, I read too much about corona. At bedtime, I want to read anything but.

One of my many bad habits is to clutter my bedroom, even the bed, with too many books, a number of which I’m reading at the same time. Perhaps one or more might tempt you, at least temporarily, away from COVID obsession.

The Art of the Personal Essay. I believe the essay is an underrated form—Its length forces the author into concision, into distilling best thoughts into a single-sitting read. This book contains a few exemplars on 27 themes. A few of particular relevance to the Psychology Today readership: Growing up (Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell), writing (How I Started to Write by Carlos Fuentes), food (Why I Fast by Wole Soyinka), marriage (On Marriage by Robert Louis Stevenson, city life (Late Victorians by Richard Rodriguez), death (Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin), and of particular relevance amid the stay-home edicts, an essay on walking (Street Haunting by Virginia Wolff).

American Sketches. This too appeals to my desire for concision and for actionability. Here, Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and former TIME managing editor, offers essays on a dozen luminaries from Kissinger to Hillary Clinton, Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates.

A Journey Through Illusions. This isn’t your typical Holocaust book. Yes, the author documents the resilience common among Holocaust survivors, but this is more a story of his lifetime of relationships with Christians: for example, a monk, a Japanese captain of industry, and, okay, an Israeli soldier.

Human Compatible. This book urges us to build in human controls to ensure that artificial intelligence fulfills its positive potentials while reducing the risk of AI controlling us. The author, Stuart Russell, is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was vice-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Council on AI and Robotics.

A Certain Justice. P.D. James is my favorite mystery writer. Her books are as focused on her characters’ psychology as on the story’s plot. A Certain Justice is about a brilliant, in-your-face lawyer trying to save an unfairly accused man, and she is killed. Inspector Dalgliesh has the opposite personality: equanimity I envy. He attempts to unravel the tangled web of causation.

Penguin Little Black Classics. I’m rarely persuaded to buy based on packaging but I found this too clever to resist. In a long, narrow case, 80 short stories, each in its own black booklet, are spine-out so you can see each title. The stories span the millennia, from Suetonius’s Caligula to Kate Chopin’s A Pair of Silk Stockings. A great gift for the reader in your life.

New York Times Greatest Hits of Crossword Puzzles. In my search for new things to do amid shelter-in-place edicts, I binge-bought the Monday (easiest), Tuesday, and Wednesday (medium) New York Times Greatest Hits of Crossword Puzzles books. I zipped through a dozen of the Mondays and pranced on to the Tuesdays, which I sort of enjoyed but started to get annoyed at the occasional need to tap my knowledge of pop culture, which is near nil. After doing a half dozen of those, I tiptoed into the Wednesdays, which were yet more arcana-laden, and, now as I think about it, I’m going to recycle all three.

Kindle provides a particularly seductive opportunity to overbuy books. I have 48 in my Kindle library and am reading Millard Salter’s Last Day, which is about a 75-year old doctor who decides to die in 24 hours. In the bullpen are Hillbilly Elegy, Shoe Dog (by Nike’s founder), The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, The Gift of Pets: Stories Only a Vet Could Tell, and Homo Deus: a Brief History of Tomorrow.

Whatever you’re reading, remember the health soundbite du jour: Sitting is the new smoking. So get up every hour, or as I’ve been known to do, read while walking.

I read this aloud on YouTube.