As far back as I can remember, I’ve read myself to sleep.
As a kid, I churned through C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia, which I encountered at the age of five while stricken with chicken pox), Roald Dahl (Danny, Champion of the World, The BFG, etc.), F.W. Dixon’s accounts of Frank and Joe Hardy (but not Nancy Drew – couldn’t stand her), Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Secret Seven and the Adventure Series (The Ship of Adventure, The Island of Adventure, The Mountain of Adventure, The Circus of Adventure, The River of Adventure and, my two favourites, The Castle of Adventure and The Valley of Adventure). In and around there were Farley’s The Black Stallion novels (because all girls fall in love with horses at some point) and a myriad of other works by various authors.
While I tended to consume new literature voraciously before bed throughout junior high, high school and university, in recent years I’ve found myself settling more into the quiet company of familiars before drifting off. I blame Katherine.
While pregnant, I went through a period of having amazing and horrific dreams of all sorts. I couldn’t figure out why I was sleeping so badly until I realised that I had just finished reading Montague Rhodes James‘ Collected Ghost Stories was half-ways through The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Now Sherlock Holmes isn’t actually all that grim. It’s well-written and somewhat lurid in the way in which it stimulates the imagination, but it’s hardly Lawrence Sanders. M.R. James, on the other had, wrote some of the creepiest, malignant and psychologically twisted ghost fiction (and it really is ghost fiction, akin to the best of Poe, as opposed to disgusting and gory stuff) I’ve ever read. Throw in a goodly measure of hormones and you have the makings for several weeks of insomnia and nightmares.
That’s about when I realised that sleep was going to be more important to me than it had been in previous years. When you don’t have a child, you can miss a night’s sleep, stumble through the day and collapse at the end with the knowledge that you can go to bed early and catch up. Not so as a parent. You get home at the end of the day and there are still four hours of things to do plus you can never be truly sure (no matter how well your child sleeps) that you will get to slumber through the night. Sleep is no longer something that I can take for granted, so I’m very careful when I deliberately sacrifice it.
Books are a real trap for me in this regard. Whenever Diana Gabaldon writes something, I can count on missing two nights of sleep, as I stay awake until obscene hours in the morning wallowing in the lives of her characters. Most nights, I can’t afford to read anything that swallows me up so completely, nor can I afford to read anything that gets my brain whirling at high speed through imaginary lives, plots, places or conundra. I have to read something that will engage my mind enough to wash out the day, but won’t consume me utterly to the point of inability to put down the tome and drifting off.
I’ve developed something of a “bedtime collection” in recent years. I tend to jumpt through it randomly, reading some more than others. Interestingly enough, many of the works mentioned earlier from my childhood have survived the test of time. Here’s my general list, in no particular order:
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- The Lord of the Rings (I read this once or twice a year)
- The Hobbit
- Enid Blyton’s “Aventure” Series
- Ellis Peter’s “Cadfael” novels
- Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline & The Great Santini (note: I read these for the sheer enjoyment of how Conroy handles the English language and because John said that he’s never read anyone who better conveyed the nuances of men, fathers & sons and growing up as a man)
- Chaim Potok – The Chosen, The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, The Gift of Asher Lev, In the Beginning, Davita’s Harp (incredibly well-written fiction about life as an orthodox Jew, life as an artist and the role of one’s religion in both)
- James Herriot’s “Vet” series
- Peter Tremayne’s “Sister Fidelma” series (although I like these considerably less than I do the Cadfaels)
- To Kill a Mockingbird (I get something new out of this every time I read it)
- any of Gordon Korman’s earlier works (a guilty pleasure, but very quick reads)
- the occasional Morrell (The Brotherhood of the Rose, The Fraternity of the Stone) or Ludlum (i.e. The Matarese Circle)
I repeat this list probably two or three times a year, adding new books occasionally. To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance, is a novel that I somehow didn’t discover until this past year but has solidified its place quite nicely in the canon. Of course, I do read other books, just not necessarily right before bed. Maybe it’s cliché, but I guess at this stage in my life, I’d rather fall asleep with an old friend than wake up feeling slightly dizzy after a night of carousing with a new acquaintance. And yes, I’m still talking about books…..
Thanks to Oh Waily Waily, whose inventory of one of her bookselves got me thinking about the stack on my night-table! I haven’t time to categorise all of my books or even to itemise a shelf, but for those so inclined, check out LibraryThing!