Bedside Biographer with Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

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Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that “Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake one must stay awake all day.” It’s been a narrative-packed few years for Sarah Shun-lien Bynum with the publication of 2004’s National Book Award finalist Madeleine is Sleeping and this year’s critically acclaimed Ms. Hempel Chronicles. Between writing observant tales of childhood and observing her own child, she doesn’t have much time for shut-eye, but Flavorwire got this exclusive look what’s floating around in the author’s head, right before it hits the pillow.

After the jump, she gives us an itemized tour of her bedside table, including her current reads.

1) sleek German alarm clock on which the alarm no longer works (but it doesn’t matter because my three-year-old daughter wakes everyone up at 6:30 in the morning, without fail)

2) free sample of Kiehl’s eye cream that seems to never run out (I’ve been using it for over two weeks, to my amazement)

3) pair of pearl earrings (which I’m very attached to because they used to belong to my grandmother, who didn’t have pierced ears but wore them with screw-on backings. I converted them.)

4) pile of books that I’m reading right now:

a) Oriental Girls Desire Romance by Catherine Liu: I learned about this novel from Yumi Pak, a graduate student whom I’m working with on her qualifying exam reading lists. This book is on her list, and I’ve really fallen for it. The narrator is a graduate student living in New York City in 1986, and she spends much of the book walking aimlessly around the city and trying to recover from a short affair with an awful Italian. At times the prose sort of feels like it’s been translated from the French by Lydia Davis. It’s wonderful and nearly hypnotic. I was reluctant to return my copy to the library because the book is now out of print, but I just bought a used copy off the Internet.

b) The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga: I’m reading this for both of my book clubs (which never happens because the two groups have quite different tastes) and on top of feeling efficient, I’m completely enjoying it: the narrative voice is exuberant and cheeky and sly, and possibly mad. At this point, maybe one hundred pages in, I have no idea where the story is going but I trust that it’s taking me somewhere good, and I love that feeling of flying blindly along the tracks.

c) The Waves by Virginia Woolf and The End by Salvatore Scibona: listening to Salvatore Scibona talk about the importance of The Waves to the writing of his beautiful first novel, The End, made me want to reread Woolf’s book, and now, reading The Waves, I am already thinking about how much I want to reread Salvatore’s novel. I could happily shuttle back and forth between the two for months.