For as long as I can remember, being a reader has been a strong part of my identity. My love of reading is my standard response to questions about my hobbies and appears on lists about random facts about myself. One of my favorite things is to get lost in the pages of a good story. Once my daughter came along, my identity changed and the only thing I had time to get lost in was the web of parenthood. I wanted to find my way back to the pages of a good book. I needed to reclaim the reader part of my identity. I was not sure how I could do it when I constantly felt tired and overwhelmed.
The answer came as I was trying to read some of The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukerjee while my father-in-law held the baby and Partner was working on his laptop. I kept losing my place because I could not focus. I felt so discouraged. Then, I picked up a magazine and read an article. Even though I do not remember what the article was about, I do remember feeling recharged and hopeful. I realized then that since almost all my routines and patterns had been changed since having a baby, maybe my reading should too.
I started to carve out short bits of time to read, by short bits I mean five minutes or even less. I am part of a book club, so I had the chance to see what books lend themselves more easily to this format and which do not. As I look over the list, two patterns emerge. Books with small chapters and on topics that are of interest to me lend themselves to being read in small increments. Over the past sixteen months, here are some books that are really great to read in between diaper changes or in the midst of constant chaos:
- Operating Instructions by Anne Lammott: Seems cliche to begin with a memoir about the first year of parenthood, but the book was perfect for someone looking to get back on the reading bandwagon. Her entries are short and insightful, reflecting the chaos of new parenthood. You can read a little in one setting and dive back into the story easily.
- Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: Actually all three of the series are good for reading in short bits. However, the premise of the story is pretty disturbing. This is technically young adult, so many of the chapters are shorter by design. In spite of (or may be because of) the heightened intensity, the story goes quickly and can be digested in small bursts.
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: I did not know anything about this book before it was selected for book club; that turned out to be a good thing. The story was engaging enough to keep me reading, but also moved at a pace that lent itself to being picked up and put down quite frequently. Each chapter gives both background information and a clue about the mystery unfolding. You could stop after a few pages to digest or keep going.
- March by Geraldine Brooks: This book did require more "heavy lifting" than the others in that I had a hard time getting into it. However, I was so glad that I kept going after the first chapter because the story just took hold of me. Some books I love for the character development or for the ease with which I can enter the world, I liked this one for both those reasons and because of the way it illustrated an important social justice struggle.
In the coming year, my reading patterns and routine will change again. We are starting to let my daughter put herself to sleep which means that after I put her down, I do not engage with her for 30 minutes. The pain on my heart strings is intense as she cries, but a HUGE silver lining is the chance to get absorbed in a good story. I sense that I may have another post soon about books that are good to read when you are trying to tune out a crying child :)