I don’t know what it is these past several nights but I’ve been barely able to keep my eyes open while reading before bed. Maybe it’s the cold, grey days we’ve been having. Maybe it’s because work has been pretty busy. Hard to say but it is frustrating.

Do you read before going to sleep? I know sleep experts frown upon the practice but I thumb my nose at them. I love reading in bed at night and so does Bookman. It happens every night and on the few occasions when it doesn’t, it feels so wrong. Sometimes the time reading before lights out is only 10-15 minutes. Most often it’s around half an hour. When we are feeling wild and crazy and don’t have to work the next day it might stretch to 45 minutes, even an hour. Whoa! I know, right?

My eyes were drooping in a major way last night. I could barely read an entire sentence before they would go unfocused and I’d begin to nod. That’s when I start trying all kinds of ways to keep alert. Sit up straight, hold my book up off my lap, put a finger on the page to follow the words as I read. None of it was working. I wasn’t about to admit defeat though. I probably read the same two pages three or four times before we turned off the light.

It’s not the book’s fault. I’m reading When Books Went to War at the moment. Good pacing, not brainy but not fluff, long chapters but lots of breaks within the chapters, easy to put down and pick up where I left off.

Choosing a book to read before bed is an art. Don’t you think? You want something relaxing but not dull. You don’t want something that is so exciting and such a page-turner you stay up into the wee hours. It has to be something you can start and stop. It has to bear up under an attention that might drift from time to time or eyes that might droop. You don’t want a chunkster you’ll be stuck reading for the next eight months. But you don’t want something so short you can finish it in a night or two.

Essays tend to work fairly well for me but not all essays. If they are long I will want to read the whole essay which could be detrimental to my beauty sleep. But if they are too short I feel kind of cheated because I didn’t get to read long enough. I’ve thought before that short stories should make great bedtime reading but I find it difficult to manage varying lengths. Where I might be able to stop in the middle of a long essay if I have to, short stories should be read in story-chunks. So I rarely end up reading stories before sleep.

Certain kinds of novels work really well. Proust is not a good choice to read before sleep. Murakami will give you wacky dreams. Anything remotely tense or thriller-y will cause bad dreams or not allow you to sleep at all for fear of what that noise might be. Science fiction and fantasy tend to work pretty well as does lighter literary fiction. I find nonfiction works really well too, but not all nonfiction. Books on history like When Books Went to War, letters, diaries, memoir and literary biography are good choices. One must stay away from books on science and technology before sleeping because they require too much mental effort.

Sometimes poetry works. It has to be an “easy” poet though like Mary Oliver. T.S. Eliot is not good before bed reading.

How do you choose your before sleep reading? Do you have a preference for certain kinds of books or a particular genre?