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August 14, 2005

Reading in bed at night


Sometimes the stars and planets are in alignment and you know it's a sign.

It happened yesterday.

First came the comment at 9:58 a.m. from the wonderfully named Joeseppe Bonaventura about my November 1, 2004 post entitled "Reading in bed — the search for the Holy Grail of reading lights continues...."

His comment is very entertaining and you can read it for yourself but in case you don't have the energy here's the first sentence: "How much progress since December 2004?"

Joeseppe — like me and many other readers — is still searching for that perfect bedtime reading light.

He tried a spelunker's headlamp but apparently "the love of his life" didn't find it very appealing and went nuts when she saw it.

Not in a good way, related Joeseppe.

Well, that was event #1.

Event #2 happened yesterday (Saturday) afternoon when I finally got around to Friday's Wall Street Journal.

Now, before you ream me a new one let me say I know this unacceptable behavior on my part.

I know very well that part of my deal here with you is that I am to have read all six of my morning newspapers before beginning that day's blog posts.

I failed.

Give me ten more.

Anyway, the Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Blackwell ordered a selection of five bedtime reading lights, then tested them all and ranked them.

Without further ado, her story and accompanying ordering information. (I will resume my narrative following her piece.)

    Lighting Up the Page

    There's nothing like settling into bed with a good book -- until you get the evil eye from a sleepy spouse.

    Can this marriage be saved?

    Maybe with a good book light.

    Like cellphones and TV screens, book lights have gotten slimmer and sleeker in recent years.

    The newest generation uses LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs, which last longer -- most manufacturers claim they last about 100,000 hours -- and remain cooler than standard iridescent bulbs.

    Zelco, the company that introduced the original Itty Bitty Booklight in 1982, started selling a LED model in 2002; it now makes up 20% of the company's book light sales.

    Levenger's LED LightWedge, also introduced in 2002, is now responsible for almost 70% of that company's book-light sales.

    But does the high-tech advance make it any more enjoyable to read in bed?

    We ordered five book lights from major retailers and tested them under real-life conditions -- late at night, in a dark room, with a variety of books and magazines -- to see whether the lights were easy to use and illuminated the pages well.

    We also put each book light through the "sleepy spouse" test.

    Bright light causes the brain to think that it's still daytime, delaying sleep, says Dr. Clete A. Kushida of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

    To make the grade, a book light had to keep the rest of the bed and the room dark.

    We were intrigued by Levenger's LightWedge ($24), a flat pane of illuminated plexiglass that rests on top of the page.

    While it provided just the right amount of reading light, we found it annoying to have to move the LightWedge (below)


    every time we turned the page; it also made the book slightly heavier.

    Size was also a problem: We tried the paperback version (the site sells a $34 model for hardcovers), which was too small when we switched to a hardback book.

    The $15 Brookstone Pop-Up Booklight (below)


    impressed us at first with its one-touch, automatic opening, and we liked how easily it clips onto the book. But then we found we couldn't adjust the arm -- a huge drawback.

    The LED bulb also protruded slightly at the bottom, sending light well beyond our reading area.

    Hammacher Schlemmer's $25 Over-Ear Book Light (below)


    operates much like those new phone headsets that slip over the ear.

    The plastic hook initially kept slipping back and forth along our ear, but after some adjusting it targeted light right where we needed it.

    However, the light shone in a circle with a distracting blue edge, rather than illuminating the whole page. It also had a tendency to slip off when we shifted position.

    Initially, we considered the Flexi Lite Bookmark from Magellan's (below)


    a dud -- the light, perched on top of a flat, rubber bookmark, glared right into our face when we tried to read.

    It was only after we went back to the Magellan's Web site that we realized the top was adjustable.

    Once we folded the light down toward the page, it was enough to make both pages of an open book readable without distracting a nearby sleeper.

    For overall convenience and ease of use and at just $10, it's our Best Value.

    Zelco's Itty Bitty Booklight (below)


    is already a design classic -- this year, it was added to the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.

    The gray-and-silver LED edition ($30) looks sleeker than the white original model, but it's still easy to use, with a sturdy clip that keeps it anchored to the top of the book and an arm that adjusts so that light is spread evenly across the pages.

    We especially liked the round canopy covering the LED bulb, which kept light focused down. The light quality and easy adjustments make it our Best Overall.

    * * *

    Itty Bitty Booklight LED Edition

    Quality: Best Overall. Sturdy clip keeps it anchored to top of book. Arm is easy to adjust so light can be centered in middle of the page. Sleek metallic design looks cool enough to leave out on a nightstand.

    Shipping Cost/Time: Paid $7.50 for FedEx ground shipping, and the light arrived in three days.

    Return Policy: No returns; replacements were offered for defective merchandise.

    Phone/Web Experience: We weren't informed of the no-return policy when we placed our order. It was hidden away in the "Customer Service" section of the Web site.

    Comments: Requires four AAA batteries (not included), for an estimated 12-14 hours of reading time. When we placed our order, the Web site suggested buying a $10 110V adapter as a "related item."

    * * *

    Flexi Lite Bookmark

    Quality: Best Value. The flexible rubber bottom of this booklight/bookmark slips between the pages of a book to hold it in place. Lamp at top bends easily but light is somewhat dim for nighttime reading.

    Shipping Cost/Time: We paid $14.95 for rush shipping (2-3 business days); the light arrived in 2 days.

    Return Policy: Returns accepted for refund or credit with no time limit. Return mailing label included.

    Phone/Web Experience: Web-site listing includes alternate photos that allowed us to zoom in for a close-up look. Shoppers can also click on icons for product manuals and technical specifications.

    Comments: Two button-cell batteries included (estimated to last about 20 hours). The book light arrived without instructions, so we were initially confused about how to use it.

    * * *

    Hammacher Schlemmer
    Effortless, Over-Ear Book Light

    Quality: Model slips over ear, targeting light more specifically than others we tested; it lit about a paragraph. Earpiece takes adjusting to fit snugly.

    Shipping Cost/Time: We paid $16.90 for premium shipping, which arrived the next day.

    Return Policy: Full refund or exchange with no time limit. Company provides return-mailing label.

    Phone/Web Experience: Web site indicated the item was available for immediate shipping even before we placed our order.

    Comments: Requires one AAA battery (estimated to last 25 hours). Confusingly, the product arrived in packaging labeled "I-Sight Book Light."

    * * *

    LightWedge Paperback

    Quality: Flat pane of illuminated plexiglass rests on top of the page. Lights up entire page of a paperback, but must be shifted from page to page while reading.

    Shipping Cost/Time: We paid $20 for rush delivery (2-4 business days); it arrived on the third day.

    Return Policy: Returns accepted for exchange, refund or credit with no time limit.

    Phone/Web Experience: Web site had best selection of reading lights. Larger, hardback LightWedge ($34) was on backorder, but company says it is now back in stock.

    Comments: Requires four AAA batteries for an estimated 40 hours. Batteries were a very tight fit to install and extremely difficult to remove.

    * * *

    Pop-Up Booklight

    Quality: Automatic pop-up feature of this clip-on light is fun to watch. But once open, the arm can't be adjusted. Light only covered top half of page.

    Shipping Cost/Time: We paid $14.53 for rush shipping (price varies by zip code). It arrived the next day.

    Return Policy: Return within 60 days for refund; thereafter, only exchange or credit is offered.

    Phone/Web Experience: Item took a little while to track down. ("Lighting" was the last of many categories in the "Home & Office" section.)

    Comments: Takes two button-cell batteries (included). Orders can be tracked automatically via the company's 800 number.


Blackwell's article is nicely written and sounds authoritative and you might well be inclined to spend $30 on the Zelco Itty Bitty Booklight LED Edition, which she ranked Best Overall.

Alas, Best Overall from the sad crowd she evaluated is like choosing the best lame horse: you're not gonna win the Kentucky Derby with it.

Let's run through her five candidates.

Two of them I've wasted my own money on and the other three I'd never buy based on their specs and design.

I tried and have in my closet, in the box reserved for failed reading lights (it contains around 15 devices I've purchased over the years, each and every one a flop) both the Hammacher Schlemmer Effortless Over–Ear Book Light and the Magellan Flexi Lite Bookmark.

Both are failures from the get–go because they're too dim: each has only one LED.

Let me cut to the chase: a satisfactory bedtime reading light is going to need a minimum of 4 LEDs.

Any less and you won't be able to read comfortably for long.

Now, back to the final three in Journal's survey.

The Levenger LightWedge was recommended to me by several joeheads after my November 2004 post.

I told them what seemed obvious to me: it was dead on arrival because it required the reader to move the thing from side to side after each page.

Not exactly what I call conducive to a relaxing bedtime read.

Blackwell agreed, and wrote, "We found it annoying to have to move the Lightwedge every time we turned the page."

She found the Brookstone Pop–Up Booklight unacceptable because of its inability to be adjusted and failure to light an entire page.

I could've told her that would happen: the feeble thing's only got 1 LED.

Finally, her choice of the Zelco as Best Overall: as I noted above, it's the best of a bad bunch.


It's only got a feeble two LEDs.


No, Joeseppe and everyone else who's hoping for an epiphany at bedtime, I'm sorry but I don't have it for you.

I will tell you this, though: the person who invents a good bedtime reading light will become richer than Croesus.

August 14, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Can any of these lights be bought from Johanesburg South Africa ?

Posted by: Yolanda | May 17, 2009 3:12:47 AM

I have been searching high and low for a good reading light and stumbled upon your blog.

I really don't want something battery–powered or something that sits on my book because I think that would be a pain to manage.

I ultimately ended up buying this light online:


I also came across this sweet bulb that would probably fit into any bedside clip-on light, and certainly minimize the light thrown across the bed:


Posted by: Dave | Oct 4, 2005 2:46:46 PM

Hmmmm. Last time I had to use anything other than bedside lamps was when I used to sneak torches under the blankets when I was 10 (then I went off to boarding school and subsequently spent hours reading in bathrooms after lights off).

Which also goes to show my sad lack of bedside companions. So very sad.

Posted by: IB | Aug 15, 2005 1:42:49 AM

Just two nights ago my wife and I both had urgent need of a decent book light. We were both in the middle of good books when there was a power cut!
- We tried a mini-Maglite with the lens off, it was okay, but the batteries went flat :(
- Then we used LED lights, my wife used my Black Diamond Ion (http://www.bdel.com/gear/ion.php) and I used some freebie keyring LED torch. I lost out on that one as my torch needed the button held down to stay on, after about 5 minutes my fingers were screaming! My wife said the head torch was excellent, it is definitely ideal for a single reader, but it shed no light on my book so was terrible for me :(
- So we could both read my wife lit several candles on the bedside table. This worked. Just. The books needed held in exact positions so we could both get light, and the turning of a page of her book invariably plunged me into darkness in the middle of a good bit.

In the end I gave up and went to sleep, only to be told the next morning that the power came back on as soon as I started snoring, which can't be right as I don't snore!

So I think our next purchase might be a second Black Diamond Ion (or similar LED head torch). Either that or a diesel generator.

Posted by: Graeme | Aug 14, 2005 11:53:48 PM

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