What's on Your Nightstand, Tom Staley?

Thomas F. Staley leads the renowned Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin, where he also is a professor of English and holds the Harry Huntt Ransom Chair in Liberal Arts.

A scholar of modern literature, Staley has authored or edited 13 books on James Joyce, Italo Svevo, and several other modern British novelists.

ShelfLife recently caught up with the avid bibliophile to pick his brain for winter reading recommendations. Staley reads fiction widely as director of the Ransom Center, and his other favored genres include history and biography.

So, what’s on his nightstand this December? Keep reading to find out.

“Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry” (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) by Donald Hall, U.S. poet laureate.

“Hall is a great poet and I wanted to learn more about him, what shaped and formed him, his reading and his thinking—and I haven’t been disappointed,” Staley says. “The other good thing is it’s fairly short. So many books coming out these days are tomes.”

“A Most Wanted Man” (Scribner, 2008), the latest thriller by John le Carré.

The novelist is perhaps most famous for “The Constant Gardner” (Scribner, 2001), which was made into a feature film starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. “I’ve read nearly all of his books, and there are some good ones,” Staley says. “I just love his writing.”

“The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine” (Bloomsbury USA, 2005) by Paul Collins, which Publishers Weekly proclaimed “quixotic, mischievous and often hilarious.”

“I’ve always wanted to learn more about Paine and the Federalist papers,” Staley says. Paine is best known for the pamphlet “Common Sense,” which helped ignite the American Revolution.

Current issues of The Week and The New Yorker.

“The Week is a magazine I read religiously and it’s the best in the country,” Staley asserts. “It’s a digest of the whole week—politics, culture, national and international news. They also pick an author and ask him or her ‘what are your five favorite books?’ and I love reading that. And of course The New Yorker is essential.”

Stay tuned for future “What’s On Your Nightstand?” entries, a new monthly feature at ShelfLife@Texas.