The Stack of Books Next to My Bed


A lot of people I know have trouble finding books they’ll actually like, so I started this blog to help change that.

I keep a massive stack of books I’ve been meaning to read next to my bed—the stack never seems to get any smaller, and I try to read as wide a variety as possible to avoid book ruts. To save your time and mine, I review each book in 99 words or less.

Find something you like? Have something to add? Let me know in the Comments, or at

Four Major Plays, Volume II, by Henrik Ibsen (1881-1896)

Prior to this I’d only read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, and while these four plays are less significant, they built off of the other Ibsen I’d read while covering more thematic ground.  Ibsen was a progressive decades ahead of his time, and today these plays seem more relevant than ever, covering environmental protection, the place of women in society, the dangers of … Continue reading Four Major Plays, Volume II, by Henrik Ibsen (1881-1896) »

Fight Scenes, by Greg Bottoms (2008)

Fight Scenes is about growing up in the 1980s with your friend whose dad keeps naked pictures of women he’s slept with under his bed; it’s about dealing with bullies and looking at porn with girls you like and sitting in front of the 7-Eleven and smoking pot in the woods and fending off crazy racists at the local Popeye’s.  Bottoms shows us these moments … Continue reading Fight Scenes, by Greg Bottoms (2008) »

Atonement, by Ian McEwan (2001)

In 1935 Britain, a thirteen-year-old girl’s overactive imagination and accidental brush with the c-word lead her to send an innocent man to prison for a sex crime.  While the first half covers the misunderstanding, the second deals with the grim early days of World War II, both on the French front and in the hospitals.  Everything about this book feels like it shouldn’t work (historical … Continue reading Atonement, by Ian McEwan (2001) »

Lichtenstein, by Janis Hendrickson (1988, 2012)

This picture-filled guide to Roy Lichtenstein’s career covers both his paintings of starry-eyed comic-book heroines (an example of which graces the cover), his images of everyday objects like washing machines and golf balls, and his later, more abstract paintings.  There’s also a close technical and thematic look at the Benday dots used in so many of his works.  Though I was most interested in Lichtenstein’s … Continue reading Lichtenstein, by Janis Hendrickson (1988, 2012) »

Villa Incognito, by Tom Robbins (2003)

Like every Tom Robbins novel, this one starts out with a chaotic bang: a large-scrotumed talking tanuki parachutes into nineteenth century Japan to drink sake and sleep with girls; meanwhile a band of ex-GIs in southeast Asia panics when their drug-smuggling comrade gets caught in the act. Robbins takes a while to tie his scattered opening together, but when he does, the plot feels surprisingly … Continue reading Villa Incognito, by Tom Robbins (2003) »

The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad (1907)

A century before anyone would associate terrorism with Islam, Conrad both mocks and captures the gravity of the London anarchist movement and their fictitious plot to blow up Greenwich Observatory.  Mr. Verloc and his team of overweight, bumbling radicals spend a lot of time talking big about the evils of capitalism but prove disastrously incompetent when it comes time to plant the bomb.  Though the … Continue reading The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad (1907) »

Golgo 13: Supergun, by Takao Saito (1979 & 1997)

Golgo 13 is Japan’s longest-running manga series, chronicling the exploits of super-tough, laconic sniper Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13.  The two jobs in this collection involve an Iraqi ballistic superweapon (a story where both Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein feature prominently) and a mafia hit and run, plus a background dossier on Togo himself.  If you’re looking for an intro to pulp Japanese action manga, … Continue reading Golgo 13: Supergun, by Takao Saito (1979 & 1997) »

Updike, by Adam Begley (2014)

Begley’s biography of writer John Updike exhaustively covers its hero’s rural Pennsylvania childhood, his stint as a twentysomething New Yorker writer, his years in suburban Massachusetts, his elderly descent into isolation, and his many, many novels.  Though Updike’s serial adultery plays a key role, Begley keeps the details vague for privacy reasons—unfortunate, since it often feels like there’s more we’re not getting as Begley instead … Continue reading Updike, by Adam Begley (2014) »

The Medium is the Massage, by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore (1967)

Marshall McLuhan is the guy Woody Allen pulls from offscreen to prove his point to the pretentious academic in Annie Hall.  His work in the 1960s tackles the power of media and its ability to deliver information in different forms; this book is a short, coherent explanation of how media affects us, assembled by graphic designer Quentin Fiore with black and white photos to enhance … Continue reading The Medium is the Massage, by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore (1967) »

Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses, by David Lodge (1975)

Two English professors, one American and one British, join their universities’ annual exchange program to escape disconcerting ruts in their respective countries.  Lodge’s west-coast America is torn amidst the uproar of 1960s counterculture, while his small-town industrial Britain is chilly, polite, and exaggeratedly tame.  By showing each world from the other country’s POV, Lodge creates a witty and poignant commentary on academic and social life … Continue reading Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses, by David Lodge (1975) »

Rose of No Man’s Land by Michelle Tea (2005)

Fourteen-year-old Trisha has a hypochondriac mother, a sister who wants to be on The Real World, and not much else.  Her new job at a teenybopper mall store leads her to Rose, a rebel who smokes and otherwise does what she wants, and together they set out on a late-night adventure through the sprawl of northeastern Massachusetts.  Tea’s writing hums with crazy energy, sharp observations, … Continue reading Rose of No Man’s Land by Michelle Tea (2005) »

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (2011)

A man and a woman in different parts of Tokyo find themselves drawn into the bizarre world of 1Q84 (kyū is Japanese for nine) where everything looks the same but a sinister religious cult is wreaking havoc.  I enjoyed parts of this book immensely, but others dragged on through its 1,100 pages, and a lot of the slower portions could have been trimmed.  The novel … Continue reading 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (2011) »