Books for bedtime.

In that bedtime span between climbing under the blankets and being fully asleep, the mind needs somehow to go from a state of being actively engaged with conscious thoughts, to being turned off to all of that, on its way to dreamland. I haven’t studied the science of this except as a participant in and observer of own experiments, which have led me to theories and conclusions.

Ivy and Fred

It appears that my own mind has been trained to need a certain routine in order to make that transition, which is the activity of reading. I guess it’s not surprising, since most of my life I have enjoyed a book or magazine before bed, or in bed before sleep. I used to keep at it for hours sometimes, but in recent years it may only take five minutes before I begin to drift off, or one paragraph.

Nights when I was dead tired and not anxious about anything, I thought surely I could bypass this mental step and just conk out. But I tried that more than once, and would lie there for an hour, praying, counting sheep, thinking of beautiful places — but never sleeping, until I would turn on the light again and read a few lines. Then, in two minutes the nodding off would begin.

The sort of book I want has narrowed to a genre of its own: Bedtime Books. Requirements: Not too demanding, but well written, not too dark or exciting, and not so long that it makes a book that is large and heavy. The print is the one aspect that can’t be small! It can’t be on Audible because I’m trying to keep my phone in the other room at night. Smallish paperbacks are ideal, so I visited the local paperback store last week for the first time in many years, to browse the shelves; I was looking for the smaller, “trade paperbacks,” and found quite a few possibilities. (I traded in $31 worth of books that I was glad to let go of.)

Afterward I stopped at the library to pick up two cookbooks on hold, and I remembered that the local branch has a used bookstore, so I found as many more small books there. Here is the stack of all that I came home with, which I hope might last me for years.

Because when I have a chance to listen to Audible books, or read philosophy or theology or Great Novels, at any other time of day, I won’t be making progress in these smaller reads. It’s good to be so tired when one drops into bed that only a few paragraphs get read.

I think I’ve only read one of these before, but I bet my readers know many of them well. I’ve read other books by Natsume Soseki, Walls, George, Lowry and Doig, so I knew those authors were worth another try, but several of these titles are brand new to me, and I hope I will find them worth finishing. I don’t want to fall asleep out of boredom!

By Max Liebermann

12 thoughts on “Books for bedtime.

  1. What an intriguing pile – you are definitely preparing yourself for a reading winter! Of these I have only read ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ before: loved the book and enjoyed the very beautiful film made of it, but the book was ever so much better.

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  2. I read under the covers with a flashlight as a child, but haven’t read in bed for decades. I suspect it’s partly because of my tendency to fall asleep as though someone turned a lightswitch; both family and traveling companions have noted my little quirk for decades.

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  3. Some of those books would keep me awake and turning pages way too late! My current bedtime read is “Uncle Silas” by Sheridan LeFanu, a Victorian-gothic thriller (so not very scary). I’m usually drifting off before I turn the page once.

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  4. I do know a few of these! What good selections you have found, Gretchen. It’s odd — at the lake I read in bed every night. At home, hardly ever! Maybe it’s the lighting. I don’t know. I don’t miss it at home (I often read all evening) but it’s odd that it’s a must in one spot and not the other!

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  5. Some of these are not really light weight reading matter and you might need a few more hours than just a couple of minutes at bed time. Meaty stuff, maybe I should take ‘a leaf out of your book’ (pun intended) and put aside my easy-read novels. I read two or three books at the same time, some of them no more than fluff and mysteries.

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  6. You’re telling my story about recent bedtime reading except I’m good for about 20 minutes of reading and I require a book that will also hold the weight of a clip on book light. But woe to me if I think I’m too sleepy to read and turn my light out and skip the reading. And I think my light bed reading is much lighter than yours, old D.E. Stevenson books or Alexander McCall Smith, Elizabeth Goudge, etc. I did read Girl with a Pearl Earring years ago and enjoyed it so much. You have some interesting books in that stack but I’d probably have to save them for afternoon rest reading. I sure miss our local paperback buy back store that closed! Oh, and when I can’t get back to sleep after middle of the night bathroom trips, I count backwards from 100 (silently) and usually am asleep by the time I reach 50!


  7. I also read Girl with a Pearl Earring years ago, and liked it at the time. I love Vermeer! And I know we read The Bridge of San Luis Rey in high school; I liked it very much, but can’t remember a doggone thing about it. That should be on my list of re-reads.

    I find your bedtime routine amusing, that you can lie there for ages, trying everything under the sun without success, but as soon as you read, you’re fine and ready for sleep. 😀 It’s comical, but at least you figured it out!

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  8. Oh my, Gretchen, I’m delighted with your book post and that lovely pile of books you found. Some titles are familiar; some are not. And I love your own genre called ‘Bedtime Books’ and your accompanying guidelines of what makes them suitable. I shall have to borrow that description of what makes them suitable. Thank you for a lovely read. I hope your new books give you many pleasant hours over the coming months.

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  9. I’m exactly where you are on Bedtime Books! Except, I’m not familiar with many of those titles or authors. You are broadly read! I have enjoyed Alexander McCall Smith’s mysteries from Botswana, and Miss Read also. I prefer VERY light fare these days. Honestly, I struggle to find things to read, partly because we have an uninspiring library in our county, and there’s not much available unless I buy books online, which I don’t have room for. Anyway — enjoy your few minutes of going-to-sleep reading! I’ll be doing the same 🙂

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