Bedside Table: Britt Bowker

—Brittany Bowker

This isn’t actually a bedside table; it’s one of those cubed stacked storage units every kid seems to acquire before moving to college. They’re something like $20 at Target, easy to throw in your car, and somehow last for years. I don’t have many things here on Martha’s Vineyard — I switch homes too often — but I have this unit, and it’s where I keep my books.

It’s a strange stack, and I feel like I have some explaining to do. There are essentially two and a half books, three journals, a diver’s log book, and a Bonsai tree growing kit. I mentioned I don’t bring much on-Island, and that goes for books as well.

I went into January with a goal to read more. It wasn’t a resolution because I don’t like resolutions, so we’ll call it a goal and I’m proud to say it’s going well. The green binding third to the left of the Bonsai represents book number seven of 2018.

I’m about 100 pages into Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.” It’s a nonfiction book that makes me want to both hike and not hike the Appalachian Trail. It’s the author’s account of his 2,200-mile trek from Georgia to Maine in 1998. I realize I’m late to the party that is Bill Bryson’s writing. He somehow weaves facts, history, humor, adventure, and dialogue all together in sometimes one long and beautifully winded sentence. He seems to say what society is thinking — or at the very least what I’m thinking. Read this book if you want to feel what it might be like to carry your life on your back, taste fresh air from the deepest point in your lungs, and to learn a great deal about bears, salamanders, wildflowers, and the very great outdoors.

Next to Bryson is Gideon Rachman’s “Easternisation.” I picked this book up at a bookstore in Indonesia. I like to read books pertinent to my location, especially while traveling. Rachman is a journalist, and the 2016 winner of the Orwell Journalism Prize. He challenges the longevity of Westernisation, and believes its dominance over politics, economics, and social norms is shifting. He believes the East will begin defining our age, and countries like China, Japan, North Korea, and India will hold greater global influence. So maybe not a beach read — but I often find myself on that side of the world, and I wish I understood more about where our lives intertwine on a global scale. I envision this book being a big-picture resource. Either that, or immensely confusing me.

The half-book I mentioned is “The Dalai Lama’s Book of Love and Compassion.” It’s a half-book because it is literally half the size of a normal book. I sort of stole it.

In Indonesia, there was an unwritten take-a-book, leave-a-book policy. Meaning, if you go to a cafe or a hostel and see a shelf of books, you’re more than welcome to take one, as long as you leave one in its place. This is a fun way to read on the road, because it so closely mirrors the nomadic experience itself. You stumble into people and places like it’s fate. You get to know them, enjoy them, and experience beautiful moments with them. And then after a few days, sometimes weeks, your time is up, you leave them, and they’re someone else’s to enjoy. That’s how the take-a-book leave-a-book policy sometimes felt. These books spend more time on the road than any of us.

Back to stealing the Dalai Lama book —  the irony of which is occuring to me now. It was hidden in a dusty bookcase at a scuba dive shop in Northern Bali. My dive instructor was running late, so I browsed the books and sat down with the Dalai Lama’s. It’s a small, simple book where pages take about 15 seconds to read. It’s about living life with more love and compassion. It’s about being patient, understanding, and inclusive. He simplifies humanity in all its complexity, and that’s the real beauty. By the time my dive instructor arrived I was about a third of the way through and feeling sort of inspired and weightless and I wanted to finish. I didn’t have a book on me to put in its place, so I slipped it in my bag, and kept it. I pulled it out during moments of stress or doubt — there are no shortage of these of out there in backpackerland. I like to think the Dalai Lama would be okay that I have his book.

As for the rest of the contents of my cubic storage unit, there’s a teal journal that chronicles my headspace, another journal with several different made-up yoga sequences, and a tie-dye journal I started writing in the other day, because you can never have too many journals going at once. There’s a diver’s log book that holds official record of the 16 dives I completed on five different Indonesian islands, and one island in Southern Thailand. And last but not least, there’s a Bonsai tree growing kit, which I scored at an MV Times yankee swap last December.  

Want to share what you’re reading? Send a snap of your bedside table and a few sentences about what’s on it, what you’re reading, and why you like or don’t like it. While we hope you will show us your bed table as is without straightening them up, please note this is a family publication so before snapping your photo, we encourage you to remove anything . . . erotic . . . other than, perhaps, those lines found in the books you may be reading. Email photo and descriptions to