Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reading and Motherhood

I used to only ever read one book at a time. I would burn through it, usually in one or two sittings. I spent whole days reading, and well into the night. I read in public, on trains, in parks, in cafes, in (der) libraries and bookshops. I read in bed. I read on the couch. I read at the kitchen table and on sunny days in winter I'd read outside. I'd lie on the floor and read. I read demanding books - literature, poetry, short stories, non-fiction – challenged myself with my reading, chose books based on authors, cover designs, book reviews in the newspaper and friends' recommendations. I also read absolute crap, my favourite crap genre being the eighties style YA series romances like Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High. When I was pregnant with Fred, Martin and I took turns reading J.M.Barrie's poetically spooky Peter Pan aloud to our foetus friend as she swam around (and frankly she came out poetically spooky. Whoops.)

Motherhood changed me as a reader. I know this doesn't happen to everyone but I also know from talking to other women my experience is not unique.

After Fred was born I still read, but whole days would go by when the only thing I read was the same clutch of picture books over and over again and whatever people were saying on the Internet. I read for work. I read Harry Potter and other children's and YA novels, often rereading rather than starting something new. I read baby books and recipe books and a gorgeous memoir/biography called Madeleine's World (in which a father chronicles the first three years of his daughters life) about ten times. I read newspapers and book catalogues. But I avoided adult fiction, too intimidated to begin reading something that required my full intellectual engagement. I would often take novels out of the library and return them unread. I would acquire novels I knew I wanted to read and then save them up for some future me who would have time to read like the old days. Time I used to spend reading I'd fritter away on the Internet. I used to blame the Internet. I used to worry that I was lazy, or that I was secretly a bit stupid. But looking back I realised it was a) a kind of mourning and b) I simply no longer knew how to read. I didn't know how to put a book down and not come back to it for days - so often if I started a book I'd end up abandoning it a few chapters in because in the old days if I didn't get past the first 100 pages it usually meant despite my best efforts I simply wasn't going to engage with the book. I didn't know how to get by on a page or two before bed, where sleep would overwhelm me. I'd never been so tired, or so busy in my life. Fred was also opposed to me reading, she'd take books out of my hands and close them. (Now she says, "Do you know why I love you Mummy? Because you like reading as much as I do.")

Basically I had to learn to read all over again. I had to come up with new reading strategies.

Now I usually have more than one book on the go at a time. I dot them around the house so that if I find a moment, I can pick one up and start reading immediately rather than go looking for a book and realise the moment has passed. I read regular books, ebooks (on my new Kindle - I tried reading on my iPhone but found it frustrating)) and listen to audiobooks. I am active on Goodreads, seeking out recommendations (particularly through the busy audiobook group) and keeping a record of what I read (though I have to admit I am chary of user reviews). Sometimes all I manage is two pages at bedtime before I pass out, and that's okay. I listened to audiobooks when I was commuting, now I listen when I'm walking, cooking, in bed (great for night feeding and Avery seems to find the voices relaxing) or sometimes just sitting around the house doing nothing.

At the moment I am reading: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, Siri Hustevt's Summer Without Men which I bought for the Kindle five minutes after I read a tweet from Anna Ryan Punch suggesting I might like it, and listening to The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which is an absorbing story and also beautifully read - I can see why so many Goodreads peeps recommended it. I am dipping in and out of The Makings of a Sonnet, a book I have had my eye on for a couple of years and which I picked up on super special at Readings (note Readings RRP of $49 - it was $60 in Borders. No wonder they're going to the dawgs). I also have - oh joys! - Mary Ann in Autumn waiting for my attentions.

Anyway, over the next week or two I am going to expand on this post. I thought I'd do one about Audible and one about the Kindle. I am interested in the fact that while the Internet has proved a definite distraction from reading (though of course all one does on the Internet is read!), it has also given me new ways to read, and reignited my passion for literature.


  1. I read forensic crime fiction on the couch while "parenting" my child who is watching ABC kids or some other approved viewing on DVD beside me. I pepper my reading with absent-minded "wow!"s and "oh, really?"s.
    I also read supermarket catalogues avidly.

  2. I'm glad you are enjoying The Summer Without Men!

    A week before Luka was born I started reading A Suitable Boy. I am a one-book-at-a-time person. It took me the first 8 months of Luka's life to finish the 1474 pages. Which is a long time to commit to one book!

    I still only read one book at a time, I haven't been able to change that habit even if it means less reading overall.

  3. I also can only read one book at a time.

    But I find that I need to have a tottering pile of options beside the bed to fit my many, many moods, because my tolerance for a slow-starter is much lower than it used to be.

    Hey, before children I read the biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein! Longest six weeks of my life. These days I wouldn't get past page 10.

  4. I too have had to relearn how to read, and revisit my expectations about reading! This year in particular, audiobooks and plays have taken over my soul.

    My daughters see me reading and have responded to me modelling that, and yet... it FEELS like I am reading nothing at all, because I still compare myself to my pre-motherly self.

  5. OH yes!

    I used to read books in great big bursts - stricly one book at a time - I once stayed up most of the night the first time I read wuthering heights.

    Three children later and I mostly read cr@p mags or slim chick lit volumes that can be held in one hand while feeding baby.

    Reading in bed is making a come back tho, as baby 3 has just moved to her sister's room. But I just can't commit to long or complex books.

    Has anyone come out the other end of this? I can't see myself reading for 5 mins at a time in the kitchen. I need a bit longer to rmember what was going on in the story and who is who.

  6. timely advice for me, penni! though i was already doing the itty bitty reading during my pregnancy because i was so tired and didn't like the book i was reading all that much... also phds encourage multiple books on the go... but i really like your idea of a book left in every corner...

  7. How is Siri Husvedt's new book? I love her work but am waiting to get it from the library.

  8. What did you think of Year of Wonders? It was a significant read for me. maybe because I read it when I was pregnant with Ruby. It made a big impact and I think it's one of my all time faves. I'm not sure I want to read it again because I'm worried I won't be quite so engaged with it. It was a very emotional read for me. Having said that, I have enjoyed each of Geraldine's books since. About to start Caleb's Crossing. x