What's on Your Nightstand, Joanna Hitchcock?

Joanna Hitchcock is director of the University of Texas Press. She is a former president of the Association of American University Presses and a founding member of the Texas Book Festival Advisory Committee.

UT Press publishes more than 100 books a year in a variety of fields for scholars and students throughout the world, as well as books on the history, arts and culture of Texas.

“Because I am involved professionally with the publication of scholarship, most of the books I am recommending here are intended for lighter reading, suitable for air travel or literally for the nightstand,” Hitchcock said.

“Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood” by Alexandra Fuller (Random House, 2001)

I learned about Alexandra Fuller’s recollections of growing up in central Africa from the scintillating talk she gave at the Texas Book Festival. This sharp, gritty, funny memoir is suffused with the sights, sounds, and smells of the African bush, where the author and her sister, the only two survivors of five siblings, were raised by a tobacco-growing father and a hard-drinking mother, along with their pack of dogs, dairy cows, “expensive” bulls, and the snakes, leopards, apes and wild pigs that shared the land with them. “By turns mischievous and openhearted, earthy and soaring … hair-raising, horrific, and thrilling” (The New Yorker).

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (The Dial Press, 2008)

Without giving anything away—how the author came to visit a group of people in postwar Guernsey, who they were, how the Germans had treated them, how the literary society got its name, and how the plot develops through a series of letters—I can recommend this book for its poignancy, characterization and historical accuracy. It shows British wartime humo(u)r at its most whimsical. Reminiscent of 84, Charing Cross Road and even Jane Austen, it will appeal to book-lovers, letter-writers, World War II buffs and Anglophiles, as well as to the eavesdropper in us all. It is the perfect choice for your bookclub.

“Pariah” by Thomas Zigal (The Toby Press, 1999)

I came across this mystery novel after its author and I served as fellow judges of a literary competition–I wanted to see if his own fiction was as good as his criticism of others’ work. It is. Set in Aspen, this book grabs you immediately and keeps you twisting and turning through a series of fast-paced events as the hero-sheriff tries to discover how a sad but seductive heiress, accused of a murder 20 years earlier, meets her own death one evening minutes after he has left her mansion. The author uses words sparingly, but each character is fully rounded and sharpened, and the plot keeps the reader off balance. One keeps thinking one knows where the story is going, only to find one’s expectations foiled. But the unexpected ending is psychologically satisfying.

“Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (Penguin, 2006)

This book is an adventure story with a real-life hero. It had a personal resonance for me because one of my ancestors was a pioneer climber in the Himalayan range in which Greg Mortenson climbed and worked. On his descent from an almost successful attempt on K2, Mortenson came to a remote village where he saw children scratching sums in the cold soil. “Climbing K2 suddenly felt beside the point,” he writes—and he said to the headman, “I’m going to build you a school.” Despite enormous obstacles, he did—and then built 55 more. By providing children in Pakistan and Afghanistan with a balanced education rather than leaving them to be recruited by the madrassas, Mortenson demonstrates that education, not war, is the answer to 9/11.

“War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)

War and Peace is on many people’s life list, but short of retirement, a life of leisure, or a spell in jail, how can an ordinary person get through it? Taking advantage of the two-week holiday break, I plunged into “the most famous and …most daunting of Russian novels,” as one of the translators puts it in his introduction. Immersing oneself in nineteenth-century Russian society, following Tolstoy’s precise descriptions of elegant soirées and disorderly battles seen through the eyes of his immense cast of characters, induces a feeling of peace that transcends the gruesome material. I find that it is possible to read this book in the course of normal life, provided one savors it slowly over a period of time.

What’s on Your Nightstand, Juliet Walker?

History Professor Juliet E.K. Walker knows first-hand the power of a book to shape history.

Earlier this year, the site of New Philadelphia, Ill., a town founded in 1836 by her great-great grandfather Frank McWorter, was named a National Historic Landmark, based on research she published in “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier” (1983, 1995).

In the book, Walker documented the historic significance of McWorter’s life and New Philadelphia, which is the first known town platted and officially registered by an African American before the Civil War.

“The search for the reality of a usable African American historic past, as well as assessments that provide insight on the contemporary black experience often propel my book selection,” Walker says.

“As an historian, a continuous search for understanding the slave experience from the perspective of the slave drives my interest in biographies, which often provide a more incisive analysis and greater insight than general historic assessments.”

Here’s what the scholar had to say about the books currently on her nightstand:

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” (W.W. Norton, 2008) by Annette Gordon-Reed

The distinguished history professor Annette Gordon-Reed’s book, “The Hemingses of Monticello” traces the origins of the Hemings, a slave family from 17th-century Virginia, to their sale after the death of their owner, the nation’s third president Thomas Jefferson. Gordon-Reed also describes the 38-year liaison between Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemings, and her seven children. In part, DNA tests corroborate paternity, previously established by the historical record.

An exciting read and a comprehensive brilliantly researched book that moves the enslaved to the forefront of their lives and experiences, as opposed to being relegated as appendages of history.

The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom” (Atria, 2009) by John Baker

Baker’s expansive and informative “The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation,” reviews the lives of the author’s enslaved ancestors and some 274 other African Americans who were also enslaved over time on the nation’s largest tobacco plantation. Located near Nashville, Tenn., the plantation was established by a distant relative of the first American President.

Unlike Alex Haley’s path-breaking “Roots,” based on his family’s oral history, Baker’s 30 years of research in the reconstruction of this community of slaves was based not only on oral history interviews from descendants of both the enslaved and the enslaver, but also on documents including private papers and public records. in addition to assessments from DNA tests results.

The Militant South, 1800-1861” (University of Illinois Press, 2002) by John Hope Franklin

While both Gordon-Reed and Baker’s books move us away from the general amorphous reconstruction of slave life, we must be reminded of the historical reality of the institution in John Hope Franklin’s “The Militant South,” in which he describes the extent to which the enslaved were oppressed in a section of the United States which he described as a “virtual armed camp.”

With American army bases located in the South given constitutional sanction to put down slave rebellions, in addition to state militias, county patrols and municipal police, as well as armed white citizens who could suppress slave intransigence with impunity, “The Militant South” underscores the extent to which there were not too many people of African descent who did not offer challenges to their enslavement.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching” (Amistad, 2008) by Paula Giddings

The violence of African American oppression did not end with the Civil War as African American Professor Giddings reminds us in her highly acclaimed biography “Ida, a Sword Among Lions.”

Ida B. Wells is an iconic historic figure, whose life weaves in and out of black activism at the turn of the 20th century. One of America’s first woman investigative journalists, Giddings’ brilliant assessment provides another dimension of the diversity of historic responses of African American women in their search for African American freedom and equality.

The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” (Doubleday, 2009) by Gwen Ifill

By the turn of the 21st century, African American women in journalism had moved into the media mainstream where their assessments now include broad issues in American life, including the recently published “The Breakthrough” by Gwen Ifill, a nationally known newspaper and broadcast journalist. In the book, Ifill’s focus is on a new generation of black political leaders.

While only a 19-page chapter focuses on President Barack Obama, 179 of the book’s 266 pages include information on the new president, as he exemplified various aspects of the new generation of post-Civil Rights era African-American politicians. Based primarily on interviews, the book’s contribution is its synthesis of this new generation and the strategies developed as they skillfully negotiate the nation’s new political arena.

Still, waiting to be read are “A Mercy” (2008), by Toni Morrison, a novel set in the 17th century on the experience of women of various races and class on a Maryland plantation, as well as James Patterson’s novel “Cross County” (2008), where the protagonist is a black psychologist and detective.

Walker is the founder and director of the Center for Black Business History at the university. Her other books include “The History of Black Business in America” and “Encyclopedia of African American Business History.” She currently is writing a book about Oprah Winfrey, forthcoming from Harvard Business School Press.

What's on Your Nightstand, Juliet Walker?

History Professor Juliet E.K. Walker knows first-hand the power of a book to shape history.

Earlier this year, the site of New Philadelphia, Ill., a town founded in 1836 by her great-great grandfather Frank McWorter, was named a National Historic Landmark, based on research she published in “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier” (1983, 1995).

In the book, Walker documented the historic significance of McWorter’s life and New Philadelphia, which is the first known town platted and officially registered by an African American before the Civil War.

“The search for the reality of a usable African American historic past, as well as assessments that provide insight on the contemporary black experience often propel my book selection,” Walker says.

“As an historian, a continuous search for understanding the slave experience from the perspective of the slave drives my interest in biographies, which often provide a more incisive analysis and greater insight than general historic assessments.”

Here’s what the scholar had to say about the books currently on her nightstand:

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” (W.W. Norton, 2008) by Annette Gordon-Reed

The distinguished history professor Annette Gordon-Reed’s book, “The Hemingses of Monticello” traces the origins of the Hemings, a slave family from 17th-century Virginia, to their sale after the death of their owner, the nation’s third president Thomas Jefferson. Gordon-Reed also describes the 38-year liaison between Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemings, and her seven children. In part, DNA tests corroborate paternity, previously established by the historical record.

An exciting read and a comprehensive brilliantly researched book that moves the enslaved to the forefront of their lives and experiences, as opposed to being relegated as appendages of history.

The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom” (Atria, 2009) by John Baker

Baker’s expansive and informative “The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation,” reviews the lives of the author’s enslaved ancestors and some 274 other African Americans who were also enslaved over time on the nation’s largest tobacco plantation. Located near Nashville, Tenn., the plantation was established by a distant relative of the first American President.

Unlike Alex Haley’s path-breaking “Roots,” based on his family’s oral history, Baker’s 30 years of research in the reconstruction of this community of slaves was based not only on oral history interviews from descendants of both the enslaved and the enslaver, but also on documents including private papers and public records. in addition to assessments from DNA tests results.

The Militant South, 1800-1861” (University of Illinois Press, 2002) by John Hope Franklin

While both Gordon-Reed and Baker’s books move us away from the general amorphous reconstruction of slave life, we must be reminded of the historical reality of the institution in John Hope Franklin’s “The Militant South,” in which he describes the extent to which the enslaved were oppressed in a section of the United States which he described as a “virtual armed camp.”

With American army bases located in the South given constitutional sanction to put down slave rebellions, in addition to state militias, county patrols and municipal police, as well as armed white citizens who could suppress slave intransigence with impunity, “The Militant South” underscores the extent to which there were not too many people of African descent who did not offer challenges to their enslavement.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching” (Amistad, 2008) by Paula Giddings

The violence of African American oppression did not end with the Civil War as African American Professor Giddings reminds us in her highly acclaimed biography “Ida, a Sword Among Lions.”

Ida B. Wells is an iconic historic figure, whose life weaves in and out of black activism at the turn of the 20th century. One of America’s first woman investigative journalists, Giddings’ brilliant assessment provides another dimension of the diversity of historic responses of African American women in their search for African American freedom and equality.

The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” (Doubleday, 2009) by Gwen Ifill

By the turn of the 21st century, African American women in journalism had moved into the media mainstream where their assessments now include broad issues in American life, including the recently published “The Breakthrough” by Gwen Ifill, a nationally known newspaper and broadcast journalist. In the book, Ifill’s focus is on a new generation of black political leaders.

While only a 19-page chapter focuses on President Barack Obama, 179 of the book’s 266 pages include information on the new president, as he exemplified various aspects of the new generation of post-Civil Rights era African-American politicians. Based primarily on interviews, the book’s contribution is its synthesis of this new generation and the strategies developed as they skillfully negotiate the nation’s new political arena.

Still, waiting to be read are “A Mercy” (2008), by Toni Morrison, a novel set in the 17th century on the experience of women of various races and class on a Maryland plantation, as well as James Patterson’s novel “Cross County” (2008), where the protagonist is a black psychologist and detective.

Walker is the founder and director of the Center for Black Business History at the university. Her other books include “The History of Black Business in America” and “Encyclopedia of African American Business History.” She currently is writing a book about Oprah Winfrey, forthcoming from Harvard Business School Press.

What’s on Your Nightstand, Jim Magnuson?

Since 1993, James Magnuson has directed UT’s Michener Center for Writers, an interdisciplinary MFA program now ranked among the top five creative writing programs in the country.

A playwright and novelist (“Money Mountain,” “Ghost Dancing,” “Windfall,” “Hounds of Winter”), Magnuson also has written for ABC and NBC series television.

Reading could become an occupational hazard for someone faced with plowing through 700-plus manuscripts for MFA admissions each spring, not to mention staying current on dozens of authors who visit the center annually, and the work-in-progress of his own graduate students.

Check out a few selections from Magnuson’s crowded nightstand, and what he had to say about them, after the jump.

“On Chesil Beach” (Nan Talese, 2007) by Ian McEwan

This is a writer at the top of his game. The last four or five books have been magnificent. The fumblings and misunderstandings of a repressed young couple on their wedding night could have become material for farce. In “Chesil Beach,” McEwan turns it into something both tragic and resonant.

“True History of the Kelly Gang” (Vintage, 2001) by Peter Carey, two-time Booker Award winner

Not just one of the greatest novels written without a comma, but one of the greatest novels of our time. Someone has said of Ned Kelly that he was not so much Australia’s Jesse James as he was its Thomas Jefferson. The book purports to be Kelly’s autobiography and the voice that Carey creates for his illiterate narrator is a wonder. The book reads like the wind. Charles Dickens, say hello to Cormac McCarthy.

“How Fiction Works” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) by James Wood

A small gem of a book by a leading critic on the art of fiction. I read it in a night. A couple of things I walked away with that I will now use as my own opinions: first person isn’t as different from third as you think and metaphor is always mixed; that’s the point. Wood seems to have read everything and I loved the quotes he takes from other writers.

“The Savage Detectives” (Picador, 2008) by Roberto Bolano, translated by Natasha Wimmer

Who could have guessed that a slangy novel about young, pretentious avant-garde poets in Mexico City could be so moving? But Bolano captures the world of youthful artistic ambition beautifully. These teen-age poets tear into one another’s work, hit on girls, steal books, have grand thoughts, but the author makes us care for them. The book keeps opening up, turning eventually into the search for a lost surrealist poet in the Sonoran Desert. This book is able to wed the detective novel with post-modern fracturing of identities in a remarkable, mind-bending way.

What's on Your Nightstand, Jim Magnuson?

Since 1993, James Magnuson has directed UT’s Michener Center for Writers, an interdisciplinary MFA program now ranked among the top five creative writing programs in the country.

A playwright and novelist (“Money Mountain,” “Ghost Dancing,” “Windfall,” “Hounds of Winter”), Magnuson also has written for ABC and NBC series television.

Reading could become an occupational hazard for someone faced with plowing through 700-plus manuscripts for MFA admissions each spring, not to mention staying current on dozens of authors who visit the center annually, and the work-in-progress of his own graduate students.

Check out a few selections from Magnuson’s crowded nightstand, and what he had to say about them, after the jump.

“On Chesil Beach” (Nan Talese, 2007) by Ian McEwan

This is a writer at the top of his game. The last four or five books have been magnificent. The fumblings and misunderstandings of a repressed young couple on their wedding night could have become material for farce. In “Chesil Beach,” McEwan turns it into something both tragic and resonant.

“True History of the Kelly Gang” (Vintage, 2001) by Peter Carey, two-time Booker Award winner

Not just one of the greatest novels written without a comma, but one of the greatest novels of our time. Someone has said of Ned Kelly that he was not so much Australia’s Jesse James as he was its Thomas Jefferson. The book purports to be Kelly’s autobiography and the voice that Carey creates for his illiterate narrator is a wonder. The book reads like the wind. Charles Dickens, say hello to Cormac McCarthy.

“How Fiction Works” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) by James Wood

A small gem of a book by a leading critic on the art of fiction. I read it in a night. A couple of things I walked away with that I will now use as my own opinions: first person isn’t as different from third as you think and metaphor is always mixed; that’s the point. Wood seems to have read everything and I loved the quotes he takes from other writers.

“The Savage Detectives” (Picador, 2008) by Roberto Bolano, translated by Natasha Wimmer

Who could have guessed that a slangy novel about young, pretentious avant-garde poets in Mexico City could be so moving? But Bolano captures the world of youthful artistic ambition beautifully. These teen-age poets tear into one another’s work, hit on girls, steal books, have grand thoughts, but the author makes us care for them. The book keeps opening up, turning eventually into the search for a lost surrealist poet in the Sonoran Desert. This book is able to wed the detective novel with post-modern fracturing of identities in a remarkable, mind-bending way.

What's on Your Nightstand, Tom Gilligan?

For Thomas Gilligan, recently appointed dean of the McCombs School of Business, reading is like breathing.

“I’m not sure I can think of myself as existing apart from reading—it’s an integral part of life,” Gilligan says. “Reading was a big salvation for me when I went into military service right out of high school. It’s the way I educated myself before I ever went to college.”

Prior to joining academia, Gilligan served as a Russian linguist in the United States Air Force and was a staff economist for President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Keep reading to find out what’s on his nightstand this winter. Continue reading

What’s on Your Nightstand, Tom Zigal?

To kick off the new year, ShelfLife asked Tom Zigal, mystery author and chief speechwriter for UT President William Powers, to share a few reading recommendations.

Zigal is the author of the critically acclaimed Kurt Muller detective series set in Aspen, Colorado. His latest book “The White League” (Toby Press, 2005), explores a coffee magnate’s descent into the political underworld of New Orleans.

Zigal earned a bachelor’s degree in English from The University of Texas at Austin, and a master’s degree in creative writing from Stanford University.

Keep reading to find out what books have recently spent some time on his nightstand.

“The Film Club” (Twelve Books, 2008) by David Gilmour

This is a delightful memoir by a father who allows his sweet but unhappy son to drop out of high school if he agrees to watch three movies a week (of his father’s choosing) and discuss them.

My son is in college now, but there were times when I wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to do something alternative to make his high school education more meaningful and rich. We watched movies, too, read books, and went on a trip to Cuba, just like Gilmour and his son.

As his son struggles with adolescence, the middle-aged Gilmour loses his job and also struggles with his own career in broadcasting and film criticism. Movies keep them talking to each other in hard times. This book is one of the nicest surprises of 2008. I liked it so much I’m going to write a fan letter to the author.

“Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” (Riverhead, 2003) by ZZ Packer

When ZZ Packer was teaching at the university last fall, I met her at Julio’s, her favorite café, right before the presidential election and found her to be incredibly charming, funny, and fluent in all things political. So I bought her debut collection of short stories, “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,” and was delighted by her vivid language and the illuminating sensibility she brings to the African American experience in post-civil rights America.

Packer is in her mid 30s and grew up in a vastly different world than her literary predecessors, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. She is concerned with racism and sexism, of course, but as they are manifested in a more evolved society in which black women attend Yale (the title story), teach in inner city schools, and struggle to live penniless in another country; and young men are sometimes not as “politically committed” as the older civil rights generation expects them to be. Everyone who voted for Barack Obama—and everyone who didn’t—should read these engaging stories.

“Out Stealing Horses” (Picador, 2007) by Per Petterson

This novel, translated from Norwegian and the winner of numerous accolades, came highly recommended by two of my writer friends who rarely steer me astray. I was not as dazzled as they were.

“Out Stealing Horses” is the story of a man in his late 60s who returns to live in an isolated cabin in the deep woods near the Swedish border in order to spend his final years pondering his boyhood there. He ponders a lot. And walks his dog in the snow. Makes breakfast, chops wood. Ponders more, usually with a dose of self-pity and longing to understand his father.

To be fair, Petterson’s technique of weaving three different time periods (1945, 1948, and the present) is quite effective. I just wished I cared more about this solitary man and his gloomy ruminations. By the end of the book I wished I knew exactly what had happened to his father and the married World War II resistance woman who loved him. In all the Nordic darkness and wintry claustrophobia, a ray of clear narrative light would have helped.

“City of Refuge” (HarperCollins, 2008) by Tom Piazza

There have been numerous excellent nonfiction books and survival memoirs about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, but few novels (James Lee Burke’s “The Tin Roof Blowdown” comes to mind), perhaps because the unbelievable incidents that actually took place do not require fanciful acts of the imagination to explain them.

In “City of Refuge,” Piazza does an excellent job of capturing the sights and sounds of the hurricane winds and massive flooding, especially as it destroyed the Lower 9th Ward. He follows two families through their travails and subsequent relocations to Houston and Chicago.

I found the Williams family (a black family who moved to Houston), far more compelling and sympathetic than the Donadlsons (a white couple who moved to Chicago), as they bicker about whether to return and raise their children in New Orleans. The Donaldsons’ struggle comes from a place of comfort and privilege, with fallback options, whereas the dispersed Williams family members struggle to find each other and stay together, make a living, and keep the faith in a difficult new environment. Kudos to Piazza for his thoughtful depiction of one of the greatest tragedies of our time.

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.

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.