What books do you keep on your nightstand? Here we ask several GALs to share what they keep close at hand during the night.
By Justine Goode
When I moved into my first apartment after graduating from college, my nightstand was the first piece of “furniture” I placed in the room. I use that word loosely because my nightstand comprised of two milk crates, one vintage and one from Wal-Mart, stacked on top of each other. As a recent graduate, I still had a scrappy, DIY student mentality — it didn’t even cross my mind to buy an actual, adult-looking nightstand that was perhaps a bit classier (and cleaner).
It’s telling to me that this nightstand was the first thing I placed in my bedroom when I moved in, and the last object I removed when I moved out last month. My nightstands have always held a kind of talismanic quality, bedside protectors that hold some of my most valuable possessions—my glasses, my phone, and my books—while I sleep. My childhood nightstand was decorated with curling vines, wispy butterflies, and bright flowers hand-painted by my grandmother, which made its presence in my room even more special and treasured.
The books on/in this nightstand frequently changed during the year, but there was a rough organization. On top sat larger, coffee table-type books, several of which were gifted to me by my boyfriend, like Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and West Side Story as Cinema: The Making and Impact of an American Masterpiece (he played Tony in a high school production and probably knows this still makes me swoon like nothing else). I also have the gorgeous Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart, which I bought at City Lights in San Francisco, one of my favorite bookstores in the world (along with Shakespeare and Co. itself). On the bottom were books in progress or soon-to-be-read. I have been slowly savoring books like The Lonely City by Olivia Laing and The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward for months, never quite ready to read the final chapters and wrest myself away from the words of these brilliant writers. Too Much and Not the Mood was another I lingered on for a unusually long period of time, but after finally finishing the first essay, which unfurls over 93 pages, I zipped through the rest. I did just finish The Argonauts and I Feel Bad About My Neck in the course of a few days, so some progress is being made.
At the time of writing this I have no home and no nightstand. I just moved from Ohio to Brooklyn. All of my worldly possessions are sitting in a CubeSmart in Gowanus, and I’m subletting someone else’s room for the next couple months. But who cares? I have a few books, and a place to sleep and to read. What else do you need, really?
The Magic of Books on Nightstands
By Genevieve Wheeler
Have you ever heard anyone say "a face without freckles is like a night without stars?" Well, I don't have any freckles... but I think the same sentiment applies to a nightstand without books: no bedroom is really complete without them.
At any given moment, I have no less than four books sitting on my nightstand (or tucked under the pillow to my left): usually one work of nonfiction, one novel, one collection of poems, and a journal filled with my own scribbled, disjointed thoughts. Personally, I prefer to sleep with stories floating around both next to and inside of my head.
At this exact moment, I have Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy (perhaps the most hilarious and relatable work I’ve ever read), The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and a little purple journal with JRR Tolkien’s over-used but wonderful words, "Not All Who Wander Are Lost," printed across its cover in gold script.
Each book is a means of escape. Of inspiration. Of expression. They are reminders that beauty and happy endings exist, even after the roughest, most anxiety-inducing days (or a particularly vivid nightmare). They are –- to quote the late, great and fictional Albus Dumbledore – an inexhaustible source of magic. And every girl needs a bit of magic in her life and by her bedside... right?
Genevieve is a woman who loves to read, write, and is still waiting on her acceptance letter from Hogwarts.
GATHER THE ROSE
By Maegan Donovan
“Mama, can you read She Walks in Beauty?” I look forward to this question from my two-year-old daughter each night before bedtime. Despite the stack of books on my nightstand – everything from When Breath Becomes Air and Rebel Girls to Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Seuss – she always manages to find my compendium of the world’s best poetry and demands a few verses from Byron, Herrick or Browning. And so our evening reading routine begins.
At any point in the day, my nightstand is a revolving bookshelf of first-time reading, everyday reading, couples reading and my daughter’s rotating favorites. I typically place whichever works in which I’m currently engrossed – at present, Mad Girl’s Love Song, Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted – next to my bedside, in addition to interesting narratives that my husband and I read together and a pile of children’s books for our daughter. As you might imagine, it gets chaotic and messy. But one book that has become a mainstay in our book haven is the Dover Thrift edition of 100 Best-Loved Poems.
Poetry has always been challenging and highly emotional for me. The sophisticated use of language, elevated vocabulary and, perhaps most importantly, the tumultuous, duplicitous and sometimes tortured lives of the poets that is the driving force behind their words all embolden me to devote more time to verse. For myself, it’s a way of connecting with the past. It makes me feel as though I’m forging relationships to those who have written or relied upon poetry throughout history to help them overcome times of great sorrow, political and social turmoil or turning points in their lives. It wasn’t until several months ago that I realized how much my young toddler was paying attention to the works I was reading aloud.
Out of the blue one fussy bedtime, she kept asking me to recite “Gather the rose.” I finally realized she was referring to Robert Herrick’s To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time, which I would recite to her whenever she was cranky or hurt. Once I started reciting the poem, she calmed down and began to chant along with me. This soon became a routine and quickly expanded to other poems. This particular book has added another layer of curiosity and joy to the world of reading that I share with my daughter. Aside from the more obvious benefits of reading poetry to a young child, it’s helped me get to know her and her tastes better. It’s opened the door to talking about themes and feelings. And snuggling together while reading a few verses has become the calming and relaxing end to our busy days.
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Robert Herrick, 1591 - 1674
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
Maegan Donovan is a historian and mother who spends most of her money feeding her book addiction.
FAMILIARITY & COMFORT
By Tricia Rudder
Books have long been an important part of my life. Growing up, my dad was never really keen on buying toys for me and my four siblings, but every other month he'd take us to the local bookshop and let us pick out a few books for ourselves. It was the best. You can imagine, then, reading well into the night was the norm for me. And for my lifestyle publication, Tread Lightly Journal, I'm always drawing inspiration from any and everything, especially books I've read as a youth; since I'm a very nostalgic person I like our articles to give our readers a sense of familiarity and comfort.
Currently on my nightstand...
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Known as a novel without a hero, this story follows the misadventures of Becky Sharp on her journey to enter the upper echelon of society. Some years ago after watching the movie starring Reese Witherspoon I became curious about the amoral nature of Becky Sharp, and I can tell you right now, she's much worse in the book than how she's portrayed in the movie. Needless to say, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
The Happy Reader
This quarterly literary journal is designed for the voracious reader. It contains interesting essays and interviews from the likes of Ethan Hawke and Aziz Ansari. I love the layout of this publication and it's great book reviews.
Growing up the Bible was always an integral part of my family's core value system, and so now as an adult, I make it a point to read at least one chapter each night. It keeps me grounded. I just finished reading the account of Samson and Delilah in the book of Judges, it's one of my favorite stories and teaches great lessons in cultivating humility.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The Jungle Book is probably my favorite Disney movie (I always preferred the animal movies over the princess ones...), and when I read the book it helped me to understand the characters on a deeper level. The written story also has so much more substance. It's also a story I love to listen to as an audiobook.
Not a Catstand
By Miriam Stimpfl
I bought this nightstand about one year ago, out of only one reason: I wanted my cat to sit on the glass-shelve, so I can look at his fluffy belly and paws from underneath. I know, it’s a pretty adult thing to do, right?
I was truly disappointed, when I found out, that he won’t do me that favor and so it became my nightstand.
Before that, I had one of these cliche cardboard boxes from Ikea beneath my bedside, like probably every student on this planet, only that I’m not a student, but it bended by the weigh of more than 4 books, a glass of water and 3 chocolate bars, so it wasn’t the best solution for me anyways. Not to mention, that there were so many water marks on it, it looked like the cat peed on it, more than once.
My actual nightstand is bamboo wooden and not only much easier to clean, it’s also way more perfect in the book storage game too, cause it has two shelves, which means double space and double space is literally always a good thing.
It looks very nice too, and the first few days I’ve got it, I thought it still smelled like fresh out of the wood, but I probably just imagined it, cause it sounds better than „fresh out of the IKEA storage unit“.
As I really dig the minimalistic lifestyle, there are not many things on the upper shelve of my nightstand, only my nightly essentials, like the book I read at the moment („Der Junge bekommt das Gute zuletzt“ from Dirk Stermann, a german late-night show host and writer), a glass of water, the case of my glasses and a plant, cause I like waking up to something green and fresh.
On the under shelve there are all my not-read-yet-but-soon-I-will books, which are:
Wenns schneit beim Krokodil by Monique Schwitter
Die Gierigen by Karine Tuil
Superposition by Kat Kaufmann
Worauf du dich verlassen kannst (The Bricks that Built the Houses) by Kate Tempest
bleiben by Judith W. Taschler
Dunkel, fast Nacht by Joanna Bator
At the moment I’m in one of my lack of concentration-phases, in which I’m not able to read more than a few pages of a book, without either falling asleep or thinking about completely different stuff, like the things on my to-do list or the fact that I want to visit Lisbon really soon, cause I love it’s pretty tiles. Yeah, I know.
These phases come and go and when they’re gone, I’m so happy about it, that I fall into 5 books one after another.
Miriam lives and works in Berlin.
For more books, cats, and Berlin find her here.
Not a nightstand
By Haydée Touitou
What I might call my nightstand is really not one. What I actually have are three shelves above my bed. There used to be four of them until one fell down under the weight of a collection of magazines. Those big and beautiful ones. The ones you can’t simply pick up at the library without some organization, taking the risk of ruining your evening and eventually straining your shoulder carrying them in your bag. I often wonder how badly it could have knocked me off had I been in bed at that moment. Imagine being killed off by magazines and books, essentially your favorite objects, objects that also contain your work. That would be ironic.
When I think about it, I don’t think I have ever owned an actual nightstand. I've never bought a piece of furniture that was under the name « nightstand » in a catalogue. It has always been chairs, piles of books, these sorts of things. That’s one of the reasons why I find hotels to be so exotic, the very idea of an actual nightstand with a bible in the drawer. The piece of furniture itself and its content couldn’t be more exotic to me since I seem to praise other gods.
One of the shelves holds what’s expected of a nightstand: A lamp, powerful enough to read by but not quite enough to discourage anything else. An alarm clock which actually goes tic-toc-tic-toc. And the books I want to read next, patiently waiting.
Edie by Jean Stein. dialogues égoïstes by Michel Piccoli. Le Dernier des métiers by Marguerite Duras. Il est avantageux d’avoir où aller by Emmanuel Carrère. Passés cités par JLG by Georges Didi-Huberman. A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck. L’Honorable partie de campagne by Thomas Raucat (in English here). La Couleur des mots by Marguerite Duras. Un Barbare en Asie by Henri Michaux. Mes plaisirs de cinéphile by Martin Scorsese (in English here). La Méditerranée by Fernand Braudel. Un Anneau d’argent à l’oreille by Tony Duvert. Les Yeux verts by Marguerite Duras. The Secret Conversations of Henry Kissinger by Matti Golan. Vie d’une amoureuse which is a transcription of a Chinese traditional story. Los detectives salvages by Roberto Bolano. Zone by Guillaume Apollinaire. Rien qu’une autre année by Mahmoud Darwich. The Group by Mary McCarthy. Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin. A lot of Marguerite Duras I guess… A few of those books have been waiting for a long time. Some I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of years but new additions arrive and they’re left there. Tic-toc-tic-toc. This is the case for the Michel Piccoli, which a used book dealer handed to me when I bought another book. Can’t remember which.
The upper shelf, the hardest to access, is decorated with three books. The subjects are: Z movies, Italian actresses from the 1950s and a Cahier de L’Herne on Marguerite Duras. Cahier de l’Herne is a collection gathering rare or unpublished texts by French writers. They are maybe the best gifts you can give to someone particularly infatuated with this or that author. I feel those women up there might be watching over me or something. Or would at least make a good team. Claudia Cardinale and Marguerite Duras. Her again.
The last shelf, the one closer to me when I slip into bed, is the one changing the most. Sometimes, like currently, I enjoy keeping it as simple as possible. An illustration of Don Juan and Haidée (Lord Byron, who wrote the poem Don Juan invented the name Haidée after which my own name Haydée is some sort of updated version by Alexandre Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo). And maybe one of my favorite objects: a reproduction of a pomegranate fruit in terra-cotta by the Italian pharmaceutical brand Santa Maria di Novella. Because reading is nicer when it smells good.
By Manjula Martin
At every desk I’ve ever had I display the same, slowly rotating, assortment of tiny objects: an image, a photo, a scrap of something or a charm that helps lend meaning to the lost gazes I frequently send their way while I’m working.
For many years, while I was a full-time freelancer, these objects resided on top of a desk made from an old door. I painted it pink and stuck it atop two file drawer stacks and it was my instant office, commandeering one half of the living room of my one-bedroom apartment. I’ve lived in this apartment for 12 years; the pink door desk was the same desk at which I’d finished my college degree, at the tender age of 32, and it was the same desk at which I started most good things I’ve written since.
My sweetheart moved in a couple years ago, and the desk stayed, but it felt outsized, like it was taking up too much only-me space. It became a place to stack things, and the little charms and doo-dads and mementos became buried. The desk’s time had come. We put it on the curb. I don’t miss having it – I usually work at the kitchen table or on the couch, anyhow – but I did miss having a place to put my lil’ things, a dedicated space for the small mementos of so many afternoons spent gazing. Enter nightstand.
My nightstand is an old cigar holder that used to belong my great-grandfather, Del, who for much of his adult life sold ladies wear in Iowa City. I never met him, to my recollection. On top of the nightstand, there’s the usual: ear plugs, hand lotion, lamp. Plus there’s always an inhaler for my chronic/bad lungs. Below, of course, are the books – only a few, to keep my focus on what I’m actually reading.
—Elena Ferrante’s Frantumaglia, already pockmarked with bathwater and marginalia
—Collected Poems by Marie Ponsot. Poems help me disconnect and get to sleep at night.
—BLACK WAVE by Michelle Tea, which I have yet to crack but will, soon.
—The Waves, by the master, Virginia Woolf.
—Rabih Alemmadine’s The Angel of History, which I finished last week but feel like I need to be near to, that’s how damn good it is.
—Two notebooks: my journal/letters notebook, and my novel.
But the inside of the nightstand is more unusual. It’s coated in copper, and it’s the perfect place to keep cigars moist and/or house the assorted mementos that used to look over my desk. A mini museum, sleeping next to me.
Selected charm inventory:
—Cigar box, containing: miscellaneous notes and Polaroids, a Taylor Swift guitar pick that was sort of a joke gift from someone, my pre-9/11-New-York snow globe (I lived there in the 90s), and a bank receipt from the day I launched Scratch magazine, which later closed and then became Scratch, the book. I was poor then, but not because of the magazine; I’m a bit less poor now, but not because of the book.
—Little ceramic sleeping cat, who reminds me of my #1 dream job: daydreamer/napper.
—A Holga photograph of my sweetheart, a self-portrait double-exposure he took about eight years ago during our days of young love.
—My old jade necklace, which I never took off between the ages of about 13 to about 33.
—Torn page from Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, transformed through collage by an old, dear friend, an artist who has never stopped making art or being dear, even though sometimes we go twelve months without managing to call each other.
—Rubber stamp, never used: MAYBE SOMEDAY. As a writer, as an editor, as a human, this phrase, this concept charms me. Its humble possibilities are soothing, and make an excellent suffix to the word “no.” No, not today, dears, but maybe someday. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Possibly even for the rest of our lives... insert in your own balm for raging ambition here. This object, all these objects I’ve imbued with meaning, say to me: Let’s keep hope alive, make it modest, and keep working—no matter where we are.
Manjula Martin is a writer based in San Francisco.
Point of Sail
By Eileen Field
I didn’t know that a nightstand could be both an anchor and a life raft until I found myself in a shifting landscape and realized that mine had become both.
I currently exist in a liminal state – one of those stages of life in which everything is changing swiftly and dramatically, as though you can feel waves shifting underneath your feet. I have recently moved, and am recently married. My new husband and I are living temporarily in a house that is not our own, and our belongings remain packed away in the boxes in which we carried them down the coastline from San Francisco.
Unable to transform this house in a significant way – into a home that reflects our personalities and our memories – we have chosen instead to create little pockets of homeliness. My nightstand is one of them. Situated next to my side of the bed, it is one of few physical spaces in our new life that is mine alone. While my nightstands in the past have been careless, even sloppy, I have assembled this nightstand thoughtfully. In the midst of creating a new life it has become a touchstone: the first thing I see in the morning and the last at night. It acts as a tether to the past and the future. It ties me both to the self that I was and the self that I am becoming.
Books are the soul and the structure of this nightstand. As book lovers know, there is no better way to make a home than to fill the space wall-to-wall with novels and memoir, poetry and philosophy, picture books and art texts. Collectively, they are my map; they reveal my point of sail. Some I keep with me always, like The Little White Horse and Ballet Shoes. Their well-worn covers hint at the lasting place that they’ve held in my heart, and as soon as I enter their pages I am transported to a world that is warm with familiarity. Others, saturated with memory, place me in this particular year, like Swimming Studies, which I read for the first time while lying still beside a pool in the muggy heat of the Palm Desert in August. Some of these books serve as a reminder of where I’ve come from, like The Thing The Book and Advice From My 80-Year-Old Self, which evoke the heart of the art scene in the Bay Area. Others show me where I want to go next. They hint at the possibilities that the future might hold.
And apart from the books there are the odds and ends: the barrette from my grandmother, a single air plant, a delicate ring dish from a friend, my sketchbook, a tiny alpaca, an ever-changing assortment of errant hair pins.
These are the ordinary, everyday things that keep me afloat without drifting. Together, they achieve a magical alchemy – peace in the midst of metamorphosis.
Currently on my nightstand:
In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney
Celtic Tales illustrated by Kate Forrester
Here by Richard McGuire
A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmon Rushdie
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton
Advice From My 80-Year-Old Self by Susan O’Malley and Christina Amini
The Thing The Book by John Herschend and Will Rogan
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Art / Work by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber
Got a Girl Crush Issue 03
Women Artists Vol. 2 and 3
Sad Girls Issue 3
A Flower Wedding by Walter Crane
Eileen is an artist and writer in Southern California.
The Topography of a Borrowed Nightstand
By Beth Ward
The only thing truly remarkable about this nightstand is that it’s not mine. Not technically anyway.By Beth Ward
It’s the nightstand in the tiny room I’ve rented at the Ragsdale Inn. I came here tonight to be alone, to write, to re-learn what my own voice sounds like when it’s not echoing off the walls of of the place I share with my boyfriend – bouncing off his thoughts, and the grocery list, and the dog needing to be taken out.
A nightstand is usually the first piece of real estate I claim in the borrowed rooms I travel in, and I quickly cover it with bits, and bobs, and pretty pieces of things that make it easier to sleep in foreign beds.
My country’s flags are currently as follows:
Books, naturally. I’m never without at least two or three. More specifically for this trip, The News: A User’s Manual, by Alain de Botton, for helping me to remember to look up and peer out at the world; Changing by Mind: Occasional Essays, by Zadie Smith, to remind me why I write at all; and Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon, for when I need to be reminded that words are magic, and sentences were meant to dance and leap and move and save.
Cheap wine and its ubiquitous partner, the small plastic hotel cup. I think it was Bukowski that said, “What I objected to was to be denied the right to sit in a small room and starve and drink cheap wine and go crazy in my own way and at my own leisure.”
Another Charles also said, “One should always be drunk. That’s what matters…but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.”
Either way, I’m covered.
A flower picked from the garden outside. For breathing life into dead, passed-through spaces.
Haphazardly strewn undies. Because I want this inventory to be honest, and I was honestly too lazy to put them away. Also, they remind me that all the parts of me are pretty, even if no one can see them but me.
And lastly – because, really, why not? – a candelabra fully adorned with plastic crystals. I can’t take credit for this, as it was here when I got the room. But it’s appreciated nonetheless.
Nightstands are the most intimate of catch-alls – more than the table that collects our keys and coins in the foyer, more than the junk drawer in the kitchen – and even when they’re strangers to us and our things. They too manage to bare the weight of all those tiny pieces of our days that we deem important enough to keep visible – a ticket stub, the last of a tube of lip balm, stolen pens, kept business cards.
Sitting in a room where I’m working to remember myself again, I’m certainly grateful for its company.
Beth Ward is a writer.
By Alexis Patterson
Cat Teaser Wand
My morning begins when Mr. Claude, my cat, hungrily pounces onto my bed to announce that he is ready for breakfast. This usually occurs at 5:45 am without fail, seven days a week. I try to ignore him until my real alarm clock goes off at 6:30 am. I have mastered the trick of moving his cat teaser wand while sleeping.
Part of my morning ritual begins with writing about the previous night’s dreams. The notebooks next to my bed are filled with dreams, thoughts, ideas, short stories and the beginning of letters to friends.
Teacup of Water
I love tea and I love coffee, but I do not like waking up in the middle of night thirsty to a cup of stale, cold tea or coffee, so I stick to drinking water out of a teacup when in bed. I still get the same satisfied feeling without the middle of the night startling flavor.
Lighting is very important. I alternate between two lamps depending on my mood. When I am feeling relaxed I turn on my lantern, which has a nice warm glow. When I need to wake up or need to be productive, I turn on the larger lamp.
I also alternate between the scents of two candles. When I am feeling cozy, reading or writing I burn Midnight Magic (Polynesian Gardenia) by DW Homes Candles. When I am feeling flirty or getting ready to go out I burn Santal 26 by Le Labo.
As an event planner, I tend to have a lot of stressful work related dreams and anxiously sleepless nights. Amethyst crystals are great for curing nightmares and insomnia.
I get my aura photographed once a month at a place in Chinatown called Magic Jewelry. My aura is usually pink which supposedly means you are “an artist and a loving person who appreciates the finer things in life”.
I love to read. On my nightstand are books I am currently reading and future reads. My favorite book is Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho.
I love plants, but this one is next to my bed exists more as a reminder to water it.
I fall asleep with socks on my feet, but always wake up sock less. It always amazes me to find these socks neatly balled together on my nightstand instead of hidden in my sheets. I have no recollection of doing this.
This clock is just for show. I have not replaced its batteries in years. I rely on my iPhone for everything.
Follow Alexis Patterson on Instagram @thebrooklynbookworm
ONE NIGHT STAND
By Hilary Cosell
“You should see my bedside table, such a clutter of objects, cigarettes, cosmetics, aspirins, glasses of water, The Golden Bough, a detective story, any object that happens to take my fancy.”
Helena Napier to Mildred Lathbury in Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women.
I’ve always loved this description from Pym’s novel, because Mrs. Napier is describing a perfect nightstand, and mine, too, minus my gun.
Yes, my gun. Not one that shoots bullets, but a deep, succulent pink weapon that shoots pepper spray. A woman should be prepared for anything, especially at night. So it’s one of the many essentials crammed into, and onto, the small and delicate nightstand by my bed that I inherited from my mother years ago. Burnished wood, one drawer, a small storage space under the drawer, brass fittings, delicately carved, curved legs, and a marble top. It’s lovely.
Or it would be if you could see it. A small lamp, Diet coke cans, a bottle of water, hand and skin creams, my current book, Advil, pairs of glasses, and a few pieces of recently worn jewelry are strewn across the tabletop, as if cast there by Miss Havisham’s decorator. The drawer’s pulled out just a little to stash my phone and the remote control, in case insomnia strikes, and I need Rachel Maddow in the middle of the night. The rest of the drawer is filled with cards and notes from my kids, mismatched buttons, a box of earrings, and dust.
Then there’s the small space under the drawer, where some comfort books, what GAL calls Sanity Shelf books, sleep peacefully until I need them. Franny and Zooey. Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. Jane and Michael Stern’s Square Meals, social history disguised as a cookbook. To Kill a Mockingbird. Truman Capote’s haunting A Christmas Memory. Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. The Accidental Tourist. The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel, and Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer.
Given my mother’s aesthetics, and the fact that all she usually kept on this bedside table was one book, her glasses and a lamp, the floor in front of the nightstand is merely an extension of it, a space to pile up books. Since I’m usually reading more than one new book at a time, the top of the pile are current books. (Sometimes I find current books in my bed, too, which can marginally be considered as a nightstand as well.) The Sympathizer and The Underground Railroad top the heap. And because all born readers are born re-readers, too, the stack reflects my ever-changing needs and moods for narratives, from an all time favorite, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter, to Louise Penny, P.D. James, and Stewart O’Nan. On the nightstand itself, right now, is A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz.
I think Helena Napier would appreciate my nightstand’s collection of whatever takes my fancy, as I like hers.
Perhaps not the pink gun, you think? Well, Helena was a career anthropologist, created by Pym in 1952, a woman way ahead of her time. She probably carried one.
Hilary Cosell is a television producer, author, and writer.
ANATOMY OF MOLLY'S NIGHTSTAND
By Molly Young
Cup of sleep-inducing beverage
If I can’t sleep I heat coconut milk or almond milk on the stove and add a teaspoon of ground reishi and ashwagandha (sleep-inducing botanicals) and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Don’t think it works but it tastes good.
Books by Alison Lurie
If I find an author I like, I tend to read all of their work at once in chronological order. That way I can sense the progression of their writing—I can see how they change, what choices they make, how their themes evolve. I am currently in an Alison Lurie stage. Highly recommended!
When I got sick as a kid, my dad would bring green clippings from the garden and put them in a jar by my bed. Plants are soothing. I like to have a plant within sight at all times. This is a pothos aka devil’s ivy.
Silver bowl lightbulb (in lamp)
Bright enough to read by but dim enough to encourage drowsiness.
Another effective soporific. I keep puzzles by my bed and crack them slowly over the course of weeks, sometimes filling in just one or two answers before I fall asleep. I’ve conditioned myself to get sleepy when I pick up a puzzle. I keep hoping that I will have a dream about crosswords one night, but I haven’t so far.
MY ONE NIGHTSTAND
By Hannah Baxter
Deciding to sleep on a certain side of the bed is an arduous task. Many factors apply – relative distance to an outlet; direction of the a/c blast; who will be slain first by a potential serial killer. In a city like New York, this is a valid and constant consideration. Once you’ve laid claim to the left or right, there’s the additional pressure of composing a nightstand – again, one that won’t embarrass you should aforementioned serial killer murder you and any supplementary nighttime partners before you’ve gotten a chance to tidy up. Your bedside table and its contents can speak volumes about your character, or so I’ve heard from various discernible sources.
If you subscribe to the great furniture gods, aka IKEA, then you know that your physical night stand options are numerous. Three drawers and thirty-seven screws can make or break the best of us. Personally, I took the route less travelled and selected a curbside café chair with a jauntily tilted seat. After hauling it home and thoroughly investigating for bed bugs- meaning locking it in my bathroom with a bug bomb for 6 hours- the chair has now traversed two apartments, five roommates, one live-in boyfriend, and stacks upon stacks of books. It’s ragged and ill-suited for storing bedtime necessities, meaning my nightstand horoscope suggests a cluttered and unstable future. More than anything, however, it has character, and survives via the various hardback volumes propping up it’s sloping legs and stabilizing my – gasp – IKEA lamp.
The collection of books rotates, depending on my mood and The New York Times Book Review. When work is stressful and long, I have the perpetually funny and gracious Amy Schumer autobiography. Her predecessors are an impressive bunch of comedians, actresses and writers – Fey, Poehler, Kaling, Klein, Winstead, Dunham – namely women with books who make my fragile feminist heart go gooey. There are love-worn novels of varying obscurity and significance. Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth vie for space as I decide whether to fall asleep amongst 1970’s Italian motorcyclists or 1980’s London radicals. Mary Roach’s Grunt stands by for when I want to learn something new and gross, and William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days for when I want to surf vicariously.
They’re haphazardly stacked, with color coordination best left to the lifestyle bloggers of the universe. Some are dog-eared, pages stained from coffee and spaghetti, because in New York you eat and read, read and eat. If I’ve remembered to leave a pen on the night stand, next to my coconut body lotion and deep-conditioning lip cream, then there are lines and stars next to the phrases that remind me why I relish giving up an hour of sleep each night to this ritual. Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City supports my alarm clock, because while I am not a morning person, I do have a sense of irony.
They present a constant opportunity for mayhem, a favorite pastime of my rambunctious cat, and collect dust and discourage vacuuming, an all-too-rare event regardless. Although they lack the minimalist aesthetic I possess in my dreams, I cannot bring myself to limit the stack to just one or two. The chair heaves under the weight of Lorrie Moore and David Sedaris, and groans beneath Lauren Holmes and Rick Moody. Its days are certainly numbered. But until the seat collapses in a clatter of empty water glasses and loose hair ties, the books will remain, waiting for the hour between exhaustion and sleep when I turn to a fresh page and the mess, finally, falls away.