Bedtime stories

I read to Jerry almost every night when we go to bed.  It makes him fall asleep easily and quickly.  However, I have to find the right sort of thing to read.  Some things put him to sleep too quickly, and then we don’t have the pleasure of sharing something that interests both of us.  Finding the right book often takes some experimenting.


I have tried many.  He often enjoys watching BBC dramas based on the Victorian novelists.  We both loved the BBC Bleak House, so I tried that for bedtime reading.  It didn’t work.  He would immediately get dozy from the music of the language and lose the thread of the story.  Besides there were too many characters.  Middlemarch had the same drawback.  For a while we read a book about early civilizations in the New World.  That worked, but we left it in Alaska, and I can’t remember either the title or the author. 


I happened to be reading a series by Alexander McCall Smith, the “44 Scotland Street” series.  I regard this as literary sugar candy, but I’m not too proud to indulge.  This series originally appeared as daily installments in a newspaper in Edinburgh, and the episodes are short and simple.  Jerry got interested in the characters, and the segments were just long enough to finish before he went to sleep.  Sometimes we could even read two an evening.  And there were 4 books in the series, so it took a long time to get through them.  Alas, now we have read all 4.  Another is published in England, but it is hardback and expensive to have sent over.


So now another round of experimenting begins.  I thought I’d try the Victorians one more time.  We had watched the BBC version of Mrs. Gaskell’s North and South so I rummaged through the hundreds of books around here and actually found 2 copies, one my mother’s and one my daughter’s.  Put him to sleep in a twink. 


I remembered as a child being unable to stop reading Jane Eyre, especially the first part where she was a child and her cruel aunt shut her up the fearful red room that her uncle had died in.  That turned out to be a real anesthetic for Jerry.


Next I tried a novel that I love by Peter Beagle called A Fine and Private Place.  I really had hopes for that one because last year I had read Jerry a novella by the same author called The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Neitzsche which he enjoyed quite a lot.  I’m sorry to say that he found a man who lived in a cemetery and talked to dead people less credible than a talking rhinoceros who discussed philosophy.


For the present we have settled on a long article form the New Yorker by John Colapinto found in an anthology of science articles.  It is about linguistics, and discusses a controversy over Noam Chomsky’s theory that there is a universal grammar embedded in the human genome.  Entwined with the scientific account is the fascinating life story of the linguist Dan Everett who has spent many years in the Amazon basin studying a tribe of hunter-gatherers called the Piraha.


The Piraha have a language that seems to be structured unlike any other language that has been studied and Everett believes it is a counter example to Chomsky’s theory because it doesn’t use phrases embedded in sentences.


The Piraha language is so tonal that it depends almost entirely on what linguists call prosody.  Information is conveyed by singing different tones, and syllables can disappear, leaving just tones, without consonants or vowels.


You can learn a lot at bedtime.  Now I want to read more about linguistics, but in the meantime I have to find something else to read to Jerry because last night we finished the article.  



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10 Responses to Bedtime stories

  1. dale says:

    Oh, A Fine and Private Place was a hugely important novel to me, when I was young! I wonder what I’d think of it now.

    I like McCall’s novels too. I especially like the one with the anthropologist who goes to live with the pirates 🙂

    A longtime favorite of ours, for bedtime read-aloud, is Wodehouse, but you have to have a high tolerance for silliness to enjoy him. If McCall’s your upper limit there, Wodehouse may be over the top. Brinkley Manor is my favorite.

    Oh, and there’s Donald Westlake. The Dortmunder series. They read aloud well.

  2. Jan says:

    Good grief, my reading tastes are positively plebeian.

    I’m going to have to do something about that.

  3. Alan G says:

    Speaking of “Bleak House”, PBS is featuring some of Charles Dickens’ work on their Masterpiece Theater broadcast on Sunday evenings. The past two weeks has been the BBC production of “David Copperfield” which was quite entertaining. I was quite surprised to see Daniel Radcliffe in the starring role as young David Copperfield. I am afraid I was only familiar with him through his role in the Harry Potter films. I was surprised to learn, in fact, that his role in David Copperfield was his first acting role in a film.

    Oh……and they will be featuring “Little Dorrit” this coming Sunday.

  4. Duchess says:

    Well, why don’t you read Everett’s book, Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes ? I’ve heard Everett talk (on the radio — you can also learn a lot by being addicted to the BBC); he’s very engaging. Went to the jungle first as a missionary and his brief was to translate the Bible. I gather he has rather lost his faith, but I bet the book is entertaining.

  5. rosie says:

    I let the BBC read me to sleep at night on my laptop with their internet radio renderings of everything from middlemarch to dorothy sayers!

  6. anne says:

    That sounds so cosy, reading your partner to sleep! And how interesting that a New Yorker article would be the perfect thing. I used to read the New Yorker quite a bit but after a while found that every article sounded the same, they all have a distinctive New Yorker style to them. It’s not bad, I enjoy it, but can take it in much smaller doses now.

  7. zuleme says:

    I still have my copy of a Fine and Private Place and his The Last Unicorn.
    I like crows.

  8. Old Woman says:

    Dale and Zuleme, I always thought that A Fine and Private Place was a rather obscure book. It’s nice to see that other people like it as well.

    Jan, I have been reading the Victorians since I was a kid, I guess because my mother used to read them to me. And the science is popular science, easy for Jerry and me because we both worked as scientists for a lot of our lives.

    Anne, I find an average of one article from The New Yorker each week that I enjoy. But the jokes are getting too hard to figure out.

    Alan, I read Dickens to myself, but it’s too complex for a sleepy man who is mostly a scientist.

    Rosie, I should try that.

    Duchess, I’m working on getting a copy. Thanks for the suggestion

  9. em says:

    I’m writing to thank you for the link to that New Yorker article. I loved it. I’m planning to read it to my kids too.

  10. Just catching up on my reading. This is such a lovely idea. I wish someone would read to me before bed. I read a paragraph or two and fall asleep. It takes about 3 months to complete a book.

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