Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reggie's Bedside Reading

It's been almost five months since I last posted on what I'm reading.  In the meantime I've finished (most) of the books I showed in my last "Bedside Reading" essay, plus any number of others, and have also come up with a new crop that I plan on delving into over the coming weeks and months.  These are my "city" books--ones that I will read mostly on weeknights in our apartment, an image of which is shown in the photograph below.

Photo by Boy Fenwick

For, you see, Reggie doesn't only live in old-house splendor (or purgatory, as I sometimes think), sitting amongst antiques and reading history books, architectural monographs, and collections of essays on the material culture of times gone by.  During the week we live in a modern, black-glass-sheathed high-rise on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We've furnished and decorated the apartment with furniture, objects, and art dating mostly from the 1940s through 1960s.  I can't bring myself to call it "mid-century," a much over-used term today, but I suppose that is, in fact, what it is.  But that's a subject for a future posting, I believe. 

In any event, and getting back to the subject at hand, here are the books sitting on my bedside table:

Boy and I are spending ten days in Italy next month, where we will be bookending (pun intended) a weeklong houseparty in a villa in Tuscany with several days in Rome.  I have had great luck with the Eyewitness Travel series when visiting Europe in the past and look forward to studying these before and during our trip.

I first learned of Wendy Burden's Dead End Gene Pool on David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary blog, a site that I visit regularly.  I ordered a copy of the book when it also came highly recommended to me by Magnus, a sometime commenter on this and other blogs, and whom I recently met for the first time over a very pleasant lunch.  Not only does the book provide a window into the world of great inherited wealth and storied privilege, but it is apparently a rollicking good read and at times darkly amusing in describing a world that by the time the author arrived on the scene had gone seriously awry.

Several of my readers recommended that I read The Help by Katherine Stockett after I posted "How Reggie Got His Name" in January, in which I revealed that I was named after an African-American woman who worked for my family for many years and helped raise me and my siblings.  The Help tells the story of three such women employed as domestics in the south in the early 1960s, and it is considered a remarkable debut novel for its author.  I have been told that--once begun--it is very difficult to put it down (a dear friend told me only the other morning that she stayed up until two a.m. the previous night reading it).

I recently was given a copy of Paula Byrne's Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by my friend Barbara, an author in her own right.  Barbara gave me the book when she learned that we both share a love for Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.  The biography explores the period in Waugh's life when he knew, and then immortalized, members of the Lygon family, which he used as the basis for the Flytes in his opus novel of remembrance.

Coincidentally, Barbara's husband, Edward, had given me this copy of The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, only a week or two beforehand when we had them to Darlington House for supper.  In this book, the author of Liar's Poker profiles the ones who "got it right" and profited during the market meltdown of 2008, when trillions of dollars of market value vanished into thin air.

The final book on my bedside table is the only one that wasn't recently published.  Haywire created a sensation when it appeared in 1977, more than thirty years ago.  In it Brooke Hayward tells the tale of growing up as the daughter of producer Leland Hayward and his movie star wife, Margaret Sullavan, how it went wrong, and her search to understand it.  It's a book that I've been meaning to read for years.

Tell me, what's on your bedside reading table?


  1. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. On page 157. Now I understand why my friends have been suggesting this book to me for years.
    Parisians: an Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb. Recently well reviewed in the NYT, it sounded like a book I would enjoy.
    The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stiegg Larsson. The first book was right up my alley so I am continuing with the series.
    The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe, somehow never previously read and now lent to me by Davinia when I was in New York.
    Of the books on your night table - listening to The Help got me through several days of a very boring job. And The Big Short was excellent.

  2. I too, always get the eyewitness travel guides for any city i plan to visit. They're concise and the images really help me decide what I'd want to see.
    I also just recently read 'the help' at the insistence of a coworker and while admittedly it did take me a few chapters to get into it, I was hooked by chapter 5 and read the entire thing in 2 evenings! Enjoy; would love to hear what you think of it.

  3. I live amongst a clutter of books from which I continually graze, with probably about 400 in my bedroom alone. The three books on top of my nearest pile have some age on them and are:
    (1) In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, by Elizabeth George, because I enjoy mysteries
    (2) The Constance Spry Cookery Book, by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume, because I see it has a different viewpoint from which I can learn something, especially now that I have my own copy, and because it was recently discussed in "The Aesthete Cooks" and sounded interesting
    (3) Alice in Quantumland, by Robert Gilmore, because I like to read the occasional Physics text (my degree), whether a scientifically rigorous work or a more popularized treatment – After 30 years, I confess the more popularized Physics treatments predominate.
    Best -
    - Mike

  4. Grabbed 2 books on the way through
    Pittsfield on Mothers Day -
    One historical fiction "The White Garden a novel of Virginia Woolf" ,
    Stephanie Barron.
    " Ranger Confidential...",Andrea Lankford. National parks are irresistible.
    Of course there is " The Horse Boy..." Rupert Isaacson. Can't pass up healing and horses.
    Several poetry books, a Meditation book
    " Give Her This Day", Lois S. Edgerly.(sits on the dining table)and E.V. Lamberts "Tugging on a Heartstring"
    ( tugboats) is in the bath along with several
    others- Art & gardening...

  5. Like you, The Big Short is next after I finish 13 Bankers which is excellent. If I have the stamina will go on to Lowenstein's book, The End of Wall Street but this might be an overkill.

    I don't usually read fiction but Isabel Allende (The House of the Spirits)new book Island Beneath the Sea about a slave in the island of St. Domingue (Haiti) is on the nightstand for a respite from CDOs, synthetics and CDS. I often read two books at a time, particularly when one is on the heavy side.

    The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice by Michael Krondl is fascinating and highly recommended.

    ...and of course, a zillion cookbooks!

    Thanks for the tip on The Help and Dead End Gene Pool for good summer reads by the lake. Mad World was already on the list!

  6. What a great group of books. "Haywire" is excellent, I read it at least 20 years ago, and "The Big Short" is fantastic. The Wendy Burden book is on my future reading list.

  7. Ah, my bedside table, which is currently teetering and about to fall, sending an avalanche of papers and words across the room. I get nervous if there are not enough books to keep me company as I head off to sleep.

    Gardenias, Faith Sullivan. A sequel to The Cape Ann, which I read in the last century and loved. The author does not leave the reader questioning, but brings us along, weaving the past into the present as we follow 9 year old Lark, her mother and aunt, from MN to San Diego in 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor. They move into the "project" and start building a new life while Lark tends to her mother's sole gardenia.

    Green Mama, The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet, Tracey Bianchi. While the target audience is moms with young kids and what simple things they can do to be "green", there are many applications for the rest of us. It makes a lovely baby shower gift and, oh,yeah, though I'm now a granny, Tracey is a friend.

    Chocolate Cake with Hitler, Emma Craigie. I first discovered this book at, a great blog of book reviews from a gal across the pond. Based on a true story, it tells about 12 year old Helga Goebbles and the last days of her life in Hitler's bunker at the close of WWII. I'm saving this for I think I will need courage to read this small book.

    Silent Spring, Rachel Carson. . . because it is so important.

    The Help, Kathryn Stockett. You all know why and it is a future book discussion group read.

    The House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne, in which Tigger gets his bounce back. My copy is as old as I - and in much better shape.

    Caught an interview of Michael Lewis and will probably pick up The Big Short to add to my pile when I run out later for Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I am supposed to be reading for a discussion next week.

    Ahhhh, I so enjoy your blog and appreciate all the fine places you take us.

  8. On my bedside table are

    Billy Baldwin: An Autobiography. A reread after many years.

    The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages. Arm-achingly heavy for reading in bed but absolutely gripping.

    A pile of yet-to-be-read back issues of The New Yorker.

    I used to prefer the long narrow green Michelin guides and I agree that the Eyewitness guides are good, but the iPhone has taken the place of both

  9. Great choices! Read and loved The Help, Haywire (as a teenager) and will be ordering Dead End Gene Pool.

    A weeklong house party in Tuscany sounds like heaven.

  10. I can recommend The Help. It's wonderful.
    And I'm very intrigued by the Wendy Burden book, as well as the one on Evelyn Waugh... thanks for the suggestions.

    On the top of my stack at the moment...

    Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

    The Woman Who Walked Into Walls by Roddy Doyle

    Our Times: The Age of Elizabeth II by A.N. Wilson

  11. I loved Mad World. I shall be ordering Dead End Gene Pool and Haywire to add to my ever increasing 'to read' pile. Thank you for the recommendations xx

  12. Mad World is terrific!

    In my To Be Read pile:

    The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir
    The Surprising Life of Constance Spry by Sue Shephard
    Miss Buncle's Book, by D.E. Stevenson
    Howard's End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home, by Sue Hill
    No One Would Listen, by Harry Markopolos

  13. Dear Readers:
    I cannot thank you enough for your comments and wonderful reading suggestions. Thanks to you my order book with my local book dealer is, indeed, overflowing with marvelous opportunities for late nights of page turning and past-my-bedtime reading. I do so enjoy our dialogue, andd thank you for it!

  14. Late Entry from Your Brother Frecky: The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst and the Rush to Emore, 1898, by Evan Thomas (A period of interest generally and also given our great grandfather's service in the Army Medical Corps during the Spanish-American War and the Phillipines Insurrection); Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts (a bit of a leap of faith based on the strong recommendation of our local independent bookseller's staff); The True History of Chocolate, by Sophie & Michael Coe (Professor Coe taught a wonderful course on Meso-American archeology that I took during my Bright College Years); Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester (whose excellent tome on the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 I devoured with pleasure); The Double Comfort Safari Club, by Alexander McCall Smith (the latest installment in the delightful No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series); Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri (a recent collection of short stories by the 2000 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction); and The Fifth Woman, by Henning Mankell (my next visit with the morose Swedish police detective, Kurt Wallander, to whom I was introduced last year by Sister.

  15. Good news! Vintage is re-issuing Haywire next Spring. I am just working on the cover design now, with lots of heretofore unpublished family snaps.

  16. Dear Readers:
    Thank you for your comments, and all of the marvelous suggestions of what you are reading. This is a treasure trove, indeed!

  17. I have recently discovered Dominick Dunne. I wish I had paid more attention to him while he was alive!

    I love this blog and check it every day.


  18. Please do tell us more about your city apartment, it's furnishings, art, and decorative arts!


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

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