In the Heat of the Night 

Reading your way through the wee hours

Insomnia is your friend. You used to read all the health advice columns and tried every cure -- warm milk, post-dinner exercise, soft lighting -- but when someone advised "no reading in bed," you gave it up. You embraced your inability to sleep and surrounded yourself with a pile of books, nighttime companions that didn't steal the covers and didn't care how late the reading light stayed on. Window open, fan blowing, a warm breeze lulling you into passive attentiveness, you crack the back of a new book and settle in for a long night.

Here are three recent nocturnal pleasures:

Verbena is Southern novelist Nanci Kincaid's fourth book, her third novel. Set on a county road in Alabama somewhere between Montgomery and Atlanta, it's the story of Bena, a sixth-grade school teacher with five kids whose husband Bobby dies one night in a car wreck, his pregnant, previously unknown girlfriend by his side. Following a prolonged period of grief, shame and self-deprecation, Bena takes up with Lucky, an old friend and the county's mailman. Their love story forms the center of this very touching book about forgiveness, blended families and the hazards of the middle years. Kincaid's a bold, funny stylist whose characters have the tendency to say exactly what you're thinking.

Pretend the title of Englewood novelist Ann Howard Creel's book isn't The Magic of Ordinary Days and read it anyway. This slim, elegantly written novel set in 1940s southeast Colorado spins the fascinating yarn of a Denver preacher's daughter who finds herself pregnant and married off to a stoic farmer in the netherlands of the La Junta/Rocky Ford region during the war years. Intellectually curious and independent of spirit, our heroine digs into the history of the homesteaders who settled the land she now calls home and salves her loneliness by befriending two Japanese-American girls who happen to be interned at nearby Camp Amache. Creel borrows from the little-known, real-life saga of three Amache inmates who were convicted of treason by the U.S. government for helping to arrange the escape of two German POWs from nearby Camp Trinidad -- also little known -- and turns it into the stuff of legend. Magic is as spare as the plains but rich with recent historic detail -- a must-read for anyone interested in the secret history of southeast Colorado.

Edward O. Wilson's The Future of Life is a must-read for anyone concerned with climate change, global warming and manmade threats to biodiversity. Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prizewinning author, has the uncanny ability to explain difficult science in down-to-earth, decipherable terms. Here he delves into the wealth of plant and animal species worldwide and soberly explains how mankind has managed to deplete their ranks at a rate previously incomprehensible, in just the past 100 years. Wilson manages to broaden our concept of wilderness while asking us to focus on unique, individual species -- precarious and precious, each serving its own special purpose in the biosphere. The going is rough but not grim -- we are treated in the end with a long chapter titled "The Solution" which puts forth a clear, rational explanation of what must happen if we are to reverse current trends in natural history.

-- Kathryn Eastburn


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