For Night Owls Only, Books That Shine After Dark Pitch darkness moves the world with a different logic, and sleeping seems a dull alternative to imagination in these three books.
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For Night Owls Only, Books That Shine After Dark

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For Night Owls Only, Books That Shine After Dark

Review

For Night Owls Only, Books That Shine After Dark

For Night Owls Only, Books That Shine After Dark

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Will Layman is a writer, teacher and musician in the Washington, D.C., area. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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Daylight savings time has lapsed, and winter is creeping our way. Darkness comes sooner and lasts longer with every passing day.

I know I ought to go to bed earlier. But I'm still awake — hunkered in the midnight shadows with my nose in a book, letting my head run wild.

'After Dark'

'After Dark'
After Dark, by Haruki Murakami, paperback, 256 pages

The pitch darkness moves the world with a different logic in Haruki Murakami's After Dark. There are two sisters: Eri chooses not to wake for months, watched in her sleep by a mysterious camera, while Mari stays awake in a downtown Tokyo Denny's, drenched with Burt Bacharach and fluorescence.

After she meets a winsome jazz trombonist, Mari is led to translate for an abused Chinese prostitute. The characters move between a sketchy "love hotel," bars, parks and city streets in the "deep, inaccessible fissure" of the night.

Murakami's dreamscape is neon-lit, and it invites his characters to understand the interconnected drift of their lives. But the surrealism of night is a veil: "None of our principles have any effect there. No one can predict when or where such abysses will swallow people, or when or where they will spit them out."

'Nightmare Town'

'Nightmare Town'
Nightmare Town, by Dashiell Hammett, paperback, 388 pages

The title story from Dashiell Hammett's short story collection Nightmare Town is also drenched in mystery. The hero buzzes into the frontier town of Izzard, drunk and on a bet. Over two long nights, the town ensnares the reader in a web of coincidence, deceit and violence. The night is filled with "asthmatic clocks," "black streets" and a girl with "violet-black eyes." Hammett's prose sizzles with suspicion. Everything is a scam, a setup, and the rules are rigged against the main character as he tries to understand why everyone in the town is rife with deceit. It's an insomniac's tale if ever there was one: The characters barely sleep, and you won't be able to either.

'Midnight's Children'

'Midnight's Children'
Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie, paperback, 560 pages

Finally, my third late-night read is Salman Rushdie's antic history of modern India, Midnight's Children. This novel insists that the dead of night suspends normal rules of existence. The narrator, Saleem Sinai, is big-nosed and brilliant, whispering in your ear with a combination of mad humor and phantasmagoria. He was born in Bombay at the stroke of midnight on India's Independence Day, when the "clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting." As a result, Sinai is granted the miraculous power of telepathy. One thousand other "Midnight's Children" have powers more peculiar: "a boy who could eat metal and a girl whose fingers were so green that she could grow prize aubergines in the Thar desert."

The greater magic, however, is Rushdie's — a literary suspension of the rules that allows him to preach and prank using 1001 Arabian Nights and Superman at the same time. And he does it in a hybrid language that runs from the classical to the profane. It's not a nightmare as much as a fever dream. It will keep you up till dawn on its explosive mix of fantasy and bitter history.

These three books will make it hard for you to resist pulling up the covers for a good midnight read. Sure, morning brings exhaustion. But if you can't sleep, it's a joy to glimpse a world where sleeping seems a dull alternative to imagination.

Three Books ... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.

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