Friday, August 13, 2010


My wife believes, with some justification, that I am endangering my health with every moment that I spend lying on my side of the bed. The problem is structural in nature -- not with the bed, of course -- but with the instability of the rising stacks of books on my bedside table.  I have a troublesome habit of adding to the stacks night after night until the entire structure collapses in a riotous event that sends my dog scurrying off the bed and into the hallway for refuge.  My usual response is one of feigned surprise ("How did that happen?"), which is typically followed by a reminder from my wife that this is probably how I will die -- in a book-slide -- which she believes will be difficult to explain to the local authorities.

As I looked at the books on my bedside table this morning (header photo), I noticed that we are on the verge of yet another collapse.  I am an adventurous spirit, however, and I decided to simply tighten the stacks up a bit and to monitor the situation in the days ahead.  When I stepped back and looked at my newly organized stacks, it suddenly occurred to me that the titles provided a reliable report of where I am at this point on my little journey through life.  What about you? Are there any among you that have yet to master feng shui, and who have more than one book on your bedside table?  Do your books tell you anything about the essence of who you are at this present moment? Are there any books that stay on your table or nearby, books that you are always returning to, depending on your mood or needs on a given day?

Your comments would be most interesting, I think, and during the meantime, I will start the process by disclosing the titles of the books I found on my beside table this morning.  

Essays:  The Spiritual Emerson: Essential Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Tarcher Cornerstone Editions, 2008); The Books of My Life, by Henry Miller; The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley; and Life is a Miracle, by Wendell Berry.

Poetry:  The Pushcart Book of Poetry: The Best Poems From Thirty Years of the Pushcart Prize; Endpoint, poems of John Updike; Ballistics, poems of Billy Collins; The Insistence of Beauty, poems by Stephen Dunn; and Narrow Road to the Interior, poems by Matsuo Basho (translated by Sam Hamil). 

The Writing Life:  Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words, by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge; Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg; The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard; and Letters to a Young Poet, by Rilke.

Memoir:  Now and Then, by Frederick Buechner.

Philosophy:  This is It, by Alan Watts; Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell); Zen Keys, by Thich Nhat Hanh; Wabi Sabi, by Taro Gold; Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Living, by Diane Durston; Zen and the Art of Everything, by Hal French; and  Peace in Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Novels:  Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis, and Evidence of Things Unseen, by Marriane Wiggins.

Theology:  The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, by Karen Armstrong, and Meister Eckhart (translated by Raymond B. Blakney).

Miscellaneous:  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard; Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, by David Shields; The Wild Places, by Robert MacFarlane; and A Year of Mornings: A Photographic Collaboration, by Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Coughan Barnes.

My wife and I will be on a road trip for the next four or five days.  If you do not receive my response to your comments immediately, rest assured that I will respond as soon as I return (or have access to wireless for my laptop while on the road).



  1. Are you sure that is your bedside table??? looks like mine... it does get a bit unwieldy at times doesn't it..

  2. To Gwen,

    Thanks for the note. It's reassuring to know that I am not the only person in the universe who is constantly darting among books, and who, therefore, needs to keep a great variety nearby.

  3. Are you sure that is your bedside table??? looks like mine . . . hehehe, I wonder how many of us will say that. Actually it's my chair-side table, which I just cleared of the dangerous tipping piles, but now that you mention it, I see that they are stacking up nicely again:

    Everyday Osho
    A Room of Her Own, Chris Casson Madden
    Photography, Susan Sontag
    Reasons for Moving, poems by Mark Strand
    New and Selected Poems, Mary Oliver
    Neruda & Vallejo, Selected Poems
    Old Souls, Gogol
    Undiscovered Country, Kathryn Hume - her story of life with GI Gurdjieff

    I just carry the stacks when they get too tall to my dresser, where they lean up against the mirror. I've run out of bookshelves.

    I was laughing OUT LOUD at your text.

  4. Every time I see a stack of some one elses books I would like to read at least half of them, keeps me poor.

  5. To Ruth,

    Thanks for the contribution. It's great to see what others are reading, and I find several titles in your list, particularly the Gurdjieff book, that look interesting. At the end of this discussion, I will undoubtedly be placing a large order with Amazon, the end result being an escalation in my storage and organizational problems here at home. If there is to be confusion in one's life, however, let it be over how and where to keep one's books. Have a lovely day!

  6. To Penny,

    Nice to hear from you and thanks for stopping by. I understand your problem. As I just noted in the above response to Ruth, I'm quite sure the responses to the posting will create a new list of "must read" books. I've always believed that the wealth one receives from a good book usually exceeds its cost.

  7. Now, George, I don't want to emit any semblance of organisation about this but I could divide the books heaped at the side of my bed into 2 categories. There are the ones that I intend to read through more or less end to end and then there are those that I keep there to dip into.

    Often I am too tired to read anything new so I like to dip into something familiar; something I know so it is not such an effort to keep track of who is who and what is what, but well enough written to discover something new in it in every reading. This type of book I can pick and start wherever it opens.
    One of my favourite books for this is Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat", it teaches me not to take myself too seriously. Somewhere in the heap there are books of poetry for dipping into.
    A lot of the books I am trying to get through at the moment are history related.
    Have a good trip and don't forget to take something good to read.

  8. What an interesting pile of books! You've got me going upstairs to look through my similar collection.

  9. Did anybody ever say ' By their books ye shall know them'? If not somebody ought to have done.
    A pretty varied lot you have there George. I am afraid I am not a reader in bed but I have a similar pile on top of my kitchen bookcase - occasionally it all falls down and then I sort them out and put them back into their proper place in one of my other bookshelves. Books? I have hundreds and I love them all.

  10. I have read a number of those books! I only keep a few books next to the bed, but that use not be the case for my wife on the other side, but now, she's gone to the "Nook" an electronic reader and for the first time in nearly 2 decades, a clean bedroom is in sight!

  11. To Tramp,

    Thanks for the comments, Tramp. I, too, like to stay close to those books that can be easily dipped into when one is looking for comfort or entertainment. I'm not familiar with Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat," but I will check it out. Have a nice day.

  12. To Dominic,

    Looking at one's current reading material can be very interesting. It tell us a great deal about where we are, where we've been, and where we are likely to go.

  13. To Pat,

    Thanks for the comments. I like your observation and agree: By their books, indeed, ye shall know them. I think all of my blogging friends are great readers.

  14. To Sage,

    Thanks for the comments, Sage. From an organizational standpoint, I suppose that there is hope with the new e-readers; I have a Kindle. On the other hand, there is something reassuring about being able to see those colorful stacks, each with a title that beckons one to enter the author's mind. Happy reading to you and your wife!

  15. Hi George,

    I commented when you first published this post, but I guess in my haste, I clicked away before the word verification - or that is what I assume since I do not see my comment.

    We certainly like the same reading material. I, too, have books by Armstrong, Dillard, Updike, Eckhart, Emerson, Miller, Goldberg, Rilke, Hanh, etc. etc.

    I had the Taro Gold book on my bedside table but one of my children asked to read it - hope to dip into it soon.

    Some of the Eifel Tower-like stack on my bedside table at the moment are:

    *The Journal Keeper (Theroux)
    *A life of being, having and doing enough (Muller)
    *Buddha's Brain (Hanson)
    *Darwin's Worms (Phillips)
    *Being True to Life - Poetic Paths to Personal Growth (Richo)
    *Religion Explained (Boyer)
    *Crossing to Safety (Stegner)
    *A Shooting Star (Stegner)

    I will pop back to write down some of the tantalizing selections suggested by your readers!

  16. There is an amazing array of books next to my bed. Some on the bedside table and others creeping upward from the floor next to it like some kind of literate ivy. Histories, poetics, philosophies make up the stacks with an occasional 'Garfield' comics collection thrown in. They are fairly secure in place as there is nearly always a cat sleeping on top of them.

  17. To Bonnie,

    Glad to here from you, Bonnie. I did not get your first post. So glad that you caught it, because I was looking forward to seeing what you are reading.

    I'm very excited by your list. The only one I have read is Stegner's "Crossing to Safety." I will definitely check out the others.

    I'm current sitting with my wife and dog at a Starbucks in South Carolina. Wish you were here so we could have a long discussion over books. Thanks for the post.

  18. Who was it said that he hoped heaven would be a big library? The saddest, dullest home is one without books. My pile includes:
    Karen Armstrong's The Case For God
    Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns
    Wendell Berry's A Timbered Choir
    Wayne Teasdale's The Mystic Heart
    Barbara Taylor Brown's An Altar in the World Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma
    and one that just came in the mail and recommended by a camino pilgrim, Mallasz's Talking with Angels
    Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy is a good one to dip into, as is Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now.
    Oh, dear, I see quite a few very interesting ones in your pile. (sigh) I have Kindle on order, but I have a feeling it might be my undoing!

  19. My bedside table is stacked with books as well as the headboard of my bed which is actually a structure of two shelves.

    The shelves in my bedroom are my "old favorites" shelves, the books I do read over and over. I have another stack of books downstairs by the chair where I read. Plus a shelf for library books.

    It's a little silly, but I rejoice that I will never be bored with my life.

  20. I don't coincide with your habit of piling books at a bedside, George. I like reading a book from its beginning to its end and I don't start reading another (either a new or an old)one during that time. Some books I read quickly, other slowly but I don't switch among them...

  21. To Bev,

    A great selection of books, Bev. I have read several of these and see a few I have not read. I always like additions to my book list, just as I like additions to my bucket list.

    I have a Kindle, and I think you will really enjoy yours. I never thought I would use an e-reader, but I have been totally converted. I view the Kindle not as a substitute for traditional books, but as a supplement.

    Glad to have you back, and I hope that you will do an extensive post at some point on any new insights you gained from your camino. It must have been a truly moving experience.

  22. To Kristi,

    It sound like a comfortable place to live, Kristi. Books on the headboard, as well as on the bedside table. Your right -- you will never be bored! Thanks for the comments.

  23. Hi Petra,

    Nice to hear from you again, and thanks for the comments. How we read is as important as that we read, at least in my opinion. I tend to shift back and forth, as the mood suits me. In the final analysis, it's a matter of personal taste. Have a nice day -- and a great reading day!

  24. To Lord Wellbourne,

    Thanks for the interesting comments. I must say that your cat is a brave soul. If perched upon one of my pathetically structured stacks, he would be in mortal danger.

  25. I think she's trying to embody the gift of always landing on one's feet no matter the crisis.

  26. Hi George, I have each of the books you list under The Writing Life - they reside on my bookshelves, however, not next to my bed. I've also read most everything Annie Dillard has written, except her latest novel. I like the poetry of Mark Strand and Mary Oliver, so I have a collection of their works, too. I've been reading on a Kindle for a year now and am fully converted. My husband has started reading on his iPad. I tell people who say they cannot give up the actual books - it's not the paper, it's the words that matter. I even read my Sunday NYTimes on the Kindle. Happy Reading to you!

  27. To Barb,

    Thanks for the comments on your book list. I'm amazed at how much your reading preferences coincide with my own. It's also good to hear your comments on the Kindle. One of the things I like best about the Kindle is its value when I travel. One can travel lightly anywhere and still have access to thousands of books on demand. Happy reading to you as well!

  28. BTW, I wanted to thank you for photographing your book stack in such a way that we could all read the titles....So frustrating when people don't!

  29. To Kristi --

    You're welcome. Glad that the photo meant something to you. Have a nice day.

  30. Hi George

    I am bereft of Books

    I am awaiting a parcel from Amazon...having packed up my home once again I have an empty side table except for The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse which I sip from each night before sleep...

    Happy days

  31. To Delwyn,

    I'm sure the Japanese verse will satisfy your soul until your package from Amazon arrives. Good luck on your journey -- wherever this packing is taking you!

  32. Hey, that's one great booklist, George! I am drooling. (Love Annie Dillard.)

  33. To Robert,

    I seem to recall having recently seen a photo of your bookcase full of book on walking, which left me drooling as well. Annie Dillard? I think she is one our national treasures.