by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent =
St. Simons Island, Ga.
September 26, 2007
BOOKS ON MY NIGHTSTAND
WARWICK, N.Y. -- At home, there are no books on my nightstandm although I still have a reading lamp attached to my headboard.
But this week, I've been a guest at a private home and last week I was at a hotel in New York City. As I was looking for the Manhattan phone book in the hotel room, no small item to hide out of the way, I came across the Holy Bible, ever present in every hotel room in the country. I remembered the story of how and when that came to be.
In the late 1890's, two traveling salesmen shared a hotel room and discussed like interests. The conversation turned toward, "wouldn't it be nice, if...?" and during a chance meeting a decade later, they formed "the Gideons," an organization that started out putting the Bible at the front desk of every hotel. In 20 years, a million books were distributed to every hotel room, all free, and replaced when stolen or worn - also free of charge. About 27 percent of hotel guests say they read the Bible during their stay.
I've never seen other books placed but I read recently that guests at the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa have will find a book in the drawer of the nightstand, but it is not the Gideon Bible; rather, it's a copy of "An Inconvenient Truth," the book about global warming by former Vice President Al Gore. Perhaps a trend is beginning. If 27 percent of the traveling public reads Senator Gore's book, we may be on the way toward saving the planet after all.
The weather in New York City last week was glorious and, as always, there were places to go and people to see. No time to read there but this week is different. When I'm at home in Georgia, I usually fall asleep in front of the television set, watching yet another re-run of "Law & Order." It's the time of day I can allow my own cares to dissipate while detectives in the big city of murder and mayhem solve really big problems. Finally, my head falls forward onto my chest and I know it's time to give up the ghost. As a guest, however, I stick to a more reasonable routine and "turn in," as they say, with a bit of life still in me.
I look forward to reading but what will it be? Do I scan their bookshelves looking for the right something? Do I want to be carried away to distant lands in days of yore? No, not tonight. Do I want romance? No. Romance in today's market is a trek with a single girl from one one-night stand to another because it's easier than saying "No."
Does that really titillate the senses of the young women buying these books? The "bodice rippers" of yesteryear at least had the women saying "No" but breathing yes until the final pages. That was more suspense than romance. Do I want a book to make me laugh? No, I want to go to sleep. Something thrilling? Something chilling? Something nostalgic to actually take me back? Something to inspire me? Something spiritual? Some light poetry?
Here in Warwick, about 50 miles from New York City, I have Autumn in New York, but not in the city this time, so I don't have the need for places to go and people to see. I have crisp air and sunshine and Greenwood Lake, leaves turning red and gold. Here I am a guest and since my hosts' names are Daley and O'Brien, it is not surprising that I discover the nightstand has a number of books that fill the bill for bedtime reading, all with an Irish flair.
I reach over for "Irish Wit and Wisdom." I don't start on page one - I thumb through for a one-liner: "Get on your knees and thank God you're still on your feet." You really have to laugh. When that was first uttered, did he or she notice the twist of words? I don't think so. The Irish think fast with a witty retort, but that was too quick to be deliberately clever.
Another book on the nightstand is one of quotable quotes. Here I found one-liners that were worth pondering. I'd read a line, then let the book fall to my chest while I thought about it.
For instance, the poet Henry Makepeace Thackeray is quoted as saying: "To love and win is the best thing; to love and lose, the next best." A similar sentiment quoted through the ages to any young boy or girl coming to the end of a romance is "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Of course, they look at you as if you are absolutely crazy to think such a thing. They think their lives are over - they prefer to sing the old song, "I wish I had died in my cradle than ever grow up to love you."
Sometimes the pondering goes on just long enough to lull you to sleep, book and eyeglasses sliding down. While other times, a quote will bring on a laugh as I laughed reading Dorothy Parker, the witty American writer of the '20s, who wrote: "Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song, A medley of extemporanea; And love is a thing that can never go wrong; And I am Marie of Roumania."
The best book I ever found resting on a nightstand was not in a room I stayed in, but was mentioned by Dick Cavett as he spoke to a guest on his late-night talk show about 20 years ago. He was visiting a friend, and in the room he occupied was a copy of "84 Charing Cross Road," by Helene Hanff. I was so taken by his description of this short book (a collection of letters between Ms. Hanff and the proprietor of a bookstore (located at 84 Charing Cross Road) about Great Britain during World War II that I went out and bought it for myself and for my children as well.
As for me, I think short reads like quotations, verses, travelogues and snappy cartoon collections work best. The last thing I read last night that I recall is an Irish definition: "Diplomacy is the ability to tell a man to go to hell so that he will look forward to the trip." Not exactly a laugh-out-loud line, but I know I fell asleep with an amused smile on my lips.
Visit Constance Daley at her website, Skyline to Shoreline.