Books to Fall Asleep To
This was a bit of a challenging prompt: Am I meant to suggest books that are so banal they will bore you into slumber? Books that will give you pleasant dreams? Books that will momentarily alleviate your persistent existential dread and offer you one night where you don’t wake up at 4AM and spend a fitful hour pondering all the mistakes you’ve made so far in life? I don’t know.
Sheila Heti is kind of a big deal now, and probably stands alongside Miriam Toews atop the CanLit pantheon. She contributes to The New Yorker and writes very important and serious and philosophical books about motherhood and self-help and how to just be a good person, and also a monologue/novel that I’ll freely admit I straight up didn’t ‘get.’ That’s maybe not a good one to fall asleep to, but it’s great if you want to feel ashamed of your intelligence. But I’m pretty full up on shame.
Anyway, long before all of that, Sheila’s first book was an experimental and delicate little collection of short stories that I still think of all the time, more than fifteen years after first reading it. She didn’t do a traditional book tour, instead promoting it via a traveling edition of her Trampoline Hall series, which is like TED Talks but good. Most of The Middle Stories have hints of magical realism, but they are all magical. Some will resound so profoundly they break your heart (“What Changed”), some are beautifully bizarre (“Mermaid in the Jar”), but the one to fall asleep to is “The Favourite Monkey,” which is Pixy Stix sweet enough to convince you for just one second that true love really exists, even though none of us will probably ever find it because we’re all selfish and horrible.
Did the last season of Game of Thrones leave you unable to sleep because you can’t believe the chuck lucky enough to be married to Amanda Peet and Tom from MySpace totally butchered the conclusion to the greatest fantasy series of all-time, and George RR Martin won’t get to fix it because he writes a word a day and he’s almost definitely going to die before he finishes the damn books? I mean, real talk, this is not a super healthy-looking guy.
Well, fear not, because I’m pleased to fill you in on a little secret: The best fantasy series of all-time is not Game of Thrones, and - most importantly - it’s already finished. The Fionavar Tapestry is composed of three books that (gasp) came out just three years apart in the mid-80s. It’s not quite as nihilistic as GoT, but it certainly has its own share of deliciously dark moments, and a glorious, haunting climax that, I will admit, made me weep like a toddler. Endure past its somewhat cliched beginning (five friends get transported to magical world, albeit from the University of Toronto), and you’ll find an epic that gracefully references everything Tolkien to Arthurian legends to Norse mythology en route to becoming a fantasy masterpiece in its own right. More than enough to keep your Thrones nightmares at bay.
JUST KIDDING! Don’t read House of Leaves unless you never want to sleep again, it’s the scariest book ever written and it’s a shame Danielewski has gone kind of crazy since and now writes 27-volume serial novels or books that start at either end and meet in the middle, which is fine but just a lot, you know? Regardless, do not read House of Leaves.
Netherland is about a dude discovering cricket and friendship as his marriage falls apart post-9/11. That’s the entire plot, but also not really much of a spoiler because the story is really secondary here, in what I believe to be the best modern novel. Although I’m not really sure how I’d define ‘novel’ here. Let’s call it the best novel of this century. The point is: This is LITERARY FICTION, my dudes, and while the story won’t keep you awake, the lyrical perfection of the prose is so precise that every paragraph becomes a jewel deserving of admiration. This is a novel that you can read just a few pages at a time, a meal to be savoured, and you can read just a few pages and close your eyes smiling, thinking ‘Damn, that’s good,’ and isn’t falling asleep with a smile on all we can really ask for?