In a journal that makes the rounds of library staff, I especially enjoy reading the biographical paragraph that accompanies each article. The journal writers include in their short personal description the titles of books that are sitting on their bedside tables.
This got me thinking about my own bedside table's year in review.
My 2011 began with Alan Weisman's mind-expanding, beautifully written The World Without Us, an exploration of our world after the last human disappears. Weisman un-builds our homes before our eyes. He corrodes our bridges, topples our cities, follows seeds and weeds and flora and fauna that flourish unrestricted as nature disassembles what humans have built. Gloomy? Yes and no. Weisman's natural history lessons force us to accept our impact on the planet but the same lessons instil optimistic wonder at the ability of nature to heal.
I then dove straight into Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff, a book that grew from the author's internet film of the same name. Leonard holds a spotlight on our voracious consumer appetites, tracking the life cycle of our everyday stuff. She slaps our wrists, yes, and just when you want to shout, "So what can I do?" she points the reader to signs of progress and viable alternatives. Your t-shirt will never look the same.
As spring rolled around, I looked for some literary colour to complement the season. Alexander McCall Smith's Corduroy Mansions hit the mark. Fans of McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series will feel right at home in their new digs, a comfortable, if somewhat shabby, London residence populated with the quirky characters only McCall Smith can summon. Dog lovers who found a friend in Cyril of Scotland Street won't be disappointed by Corduroy Mansions' resident canine, Freddy de la Hay, a Pimlico terrier who loyally provides his doggy perspective on the strange world of humans.
At the beginning of summer, Stuart McLean's The Vinyl Café Notebooks caught my eye as a pleasant read for the holidays - dozens of short anecdotes casually grouped under broad headings such as Notes from Home, Notes from the Road and Notes to Self. This collection meanders gently from the reflections of a palm tree owner to the poignancy of a Pink Pearl eraser to a miracle at Niagara Falls. For doubting McLean fans who insist that his stories must be listened to, rest assured that McLean's voice comes through loud and clear in his writing.
As the days shortened in autumn, I picked up The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton, a bittersweet yet still uncompromisingly hopeful novel set against the racial inequalities of the American South in the 1960s: 16-year-old Larry Lime, longing to play jazz like his idol Thelonious Monk, seeks out a mentor in a jazz pianist called The Bleeder. Larry's friend Dwayne likewise has musical aspirations - to memorize James Brown's LP "Live at the Apollo" word for word, note for note. Despite their shared passion for music and unspoken bond, Larry and Dwayne must search separately for their musical expression.
Next up on the bedside table? Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success. I'm only in the first chapter and already it's a good read.
Check at your local library for books to accompany you through the seasons.
A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Pat Dawson is library manager at Terry Fox Library in Port Coquitlam.