Thursday, December 12, 2013


bedside table ne plus ultra

This week I somehow attained near-perfection, regarding the books-on-the-bedside-table pile.  It would have been perfection itself, I think, but for the absence of fiction.  One novel would have made the difference.  Elizabeth von Arnim's The Enchanted April did make a quick appearance but is no longer in residence, because I finished it so quickly. 

Everything else lingers - so here is what I am currently reading.  I'm in the middle of all of these books, except the very last one mentioned, and I will be happy to pick any one of them up this evening and commence reading where I left off.  Now, to start a good bedside table stack, one must begin with something substantial as a base.  An anchor.  Thus, at the bottom:

The National Trust Great English Homes:  Ancestral Homes of England and Wales and the People Who Lived in Them by Mark Bence-Jones (British Heritage Press 1984).  The first part of the title sounds so dry, does it not? but the second part of the title tells a different story.  Totally un-dry, and so browsable.

Next, the equally tall but oddly less-wide:

Long Walks in France by Adam Nicolson, with photographs by Charlie Waite (Harmony Books 1983).  Are there still walking paths all over rural France?  I don't know, but in this book there always will be.  Wittier than it should be, but what else are we to expect from Vita Sackville-West's grandson (rhetorical question)?

Then a few of your average-sized book-books:

The Life of Maynard Dixon by Donald J. Hagerty (Gibbs Smith 2010).  Gibbs Smith's motto, on the title page is:  to enrich and inspire humankind.  Love that.  The book is good, too, so far.  I knew nothing about this western painter, other than having seen a few of his illustrations and landscape paintings in reproduction.  I bought this and the recent monograph of his work at the same time (the monograph is TOO BIG for the bedside table - it would cause both the pile and the table to founder).  Holy crackers he was a good painter of clouds, and big open spaces.

Interaction of Color by Josef Albers, 50th Anniversary Edition (Yale University Press 2013).  I should have read this classic when I was an art student.  Never too late, I say.

And two that are average size yet absurdly thick:

Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press 2012).  593 pages!  I'm on page 205!  Soporific, luscious prose.  With recipes.  The companion to his equally beautiful book Tender.

Writings 1961-2007 by Gerhard Richter (D.A.P. 2009).  600 pages!  I'm on page 247!  One of the true giants of contemporary art is actually... a real painter.  This book bends my brain in many ways.  But so far so good.

And lastly, something diminutive to cap off the stack in a tidy mountain peak of sorts:

The Paper Garden: An Artist (Begins Her Life's Work) at 72 by Molly Peacock (Bloomsbury 2010).  Nearly 400 pages, but only about eight inches high, so it seems smaller.  I already own two other books about the indefatigable eighteenth-century collagist Mrs. Delany, now this makes a third, and I can't wait to read it.  The dedication page reads, in part, for "all those for whom it's never too late" (see Albers, above).

Except for an ever-present book of New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles (sometimes I can't face reading words in full sentences, and prefer them broken up a bit), that's it.  Late this fall I finally banished Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Johnson from the room, their letters had been loitering on the bedside table for some months, started but unfinished, and I needed a clean sweep.  This current stack touches upon many of my ongoing interests - armchair travel, long walks, unusual biographies, the English, art, painters, and food.  Pretty basic stuff.  (I did just finish the three volumes of Siegfried Sassoon's Diaries, but I had to keep those across the room on a dresser-top, to avoid a landslide.)  Here they are:

I know it won't be long until these books are supplanted by others.  But for now, my version of just right.  

Great tower- happy reading.
Thanks Dan, I am making headway with both Nigel Slater and Gerhard Richter. Remarkably calming to switch back and forth between the two, for some reason. Between bouts with the snow shovel.
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