Ah, the blurry newborn days. For all the lack of showering, lack of sleep, lack of hair-brushing, drastic darkening of under eye circles (please see above!), stumbling out of the house for school drop off wearing a nursing bra partially unhitched and a shirt with spit up all down the front there is one marvellous benefit : the reading. It turns out the key to squeezing more reading into my life was simply doing it in a dimly lit room at 1 am! (And 3am. And 4.16am. And so on.) So here, in no particular order, are my favourite books from this round of baby-feeding:
Benediction by Kent Haruf
Years ago I accidentally found Haruf’s Plainsong, fell madly in love and forgot all about it. Fast forward a decade or so and there was Benediction sitting at the end of the library aisle, like it’d been waiting for me. How fortuitous. I’m besotted again. Haruf has set this novel in the same location as Plainsong – Holt, Colorado – which makes reading it feel like a kind of homecoming. The novel is about the interwoven lives of people in the community, centring on Dad Lewis, the manager of the local hardware store, who is dying. Haruf’s style is so spare and yet, somehow, so generous. He’s kind to his characters, none perfect, who have affairs, disown their children and wake up in empty lives. Nothing is saccharine with Haruf and yet, at the end, I was so filled up something akin to hope.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
I have been meaning to read a book by Nora Ephron for so long it’s not funny (Ephron is funny, me discovering her so late is just plain dumb). I love Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally – the settting (oh New York, swoon), the interviews with older couples throughout, the jazz music….Yes. It was the film we were watching when I went into labour with B2. This collection of easy-read essays and musings is laugh out loud good. Ephron complains about purses, aging and why JFK didn’t hit on her when she was an intern at the White House. Ephron says, with authority, that necks start to show their age, rather horribly, around 43 years old. Excellent. Something to look forward to.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
The Vacationers was the book that kept blipping on my radar whichever way I turned. I knew very little about it other than the fact it featured a family vacation in Spain and a bundle of tangled secrets that, of course, unravel during the course of the stay. I really enjoyed this book. I laughed when I peeked at one GoodReads review which featured the scathing comment: “I kept reading in the hopes that someone would drown.” Well, yes! The characters are all a bit despicable, but perhaps that was exactly why I liked it. Haven’t you ever been on a family vacation before? Haven’t you ever been part of a family?! Straub’s writing is slightly maudlin and unrelenting; her character descriptions are searingly honest, therefore unflattering, sometimes practically surgical. And yet there is humour. Plus fabulous descriptions of food, just quietly. Thumbs up from me, even though [spoiler alert] no-one drowns.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Recommended by Caroline from Cup of Jo, this might not have been the best book to pick up after having a baby and feeling a little shaky emotionally. The tears!! Similar, in content, to Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, Quindlen dials up the emotion and gets philosophical about women’s roles, motherhood and aging. As I mentioned in a previous post, this book gave me sudden, unwelcome realizations about the fleeting passage of time. Quindlen takes you right to the threshold of the next chapter of our lives and makes no bones about it either. Worth re-reading when I’m less sucked down into the baby vortex; this one is a very good perspective shifter. A reminder to enjoy this moment. And knees that function.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The reviews for this novel read like descriptions of Heaven – “Sublime”, “Magnificent”, “Dazzling”, “Stunning”. Part treasure hunt, part historical epic, part glittering beauty and devastating horror, it’s no wonder this book won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Doerr gives us two young narrators – Marie-Laure, a blind, french woman and Werner, a german orphan – and tells the stories of their lives during World War Two. The novel is set mostly in Saint-Malo, where the two lives finally intersect, as well as Nazi Germany and Paris. Doerr is a master of characterisation, pacing, intrigue and fine detail. So, you know, everything. The aspect of his writing I personally find the most compelling is his ability to make even horrible details – decay, violence, death – beautiful. Like this: “A corner of the night sky, beyond a wall of trees, blooms red. In the lurid, flickering light, he sees that the airplane was not alone, that the sky teems with them, a dozen swooping back and forth, racing in all directions, and in a moment of disorientation, he feels that he’s looking not up but down, as though a spotlight has been shined into a wedge of bloody water, and that the sky has become the sea, and the airplanes are hungry fish, harrying their prey in the dark.”
I vaguely recall that the sweet window of time for reading with a newborn is brief and closes abruptly somewhere around three months. I can’t remember why this is – perhaps a critical mass buildup of sleep deprivation or greater awareness (on the baby’s part, not the Mum’s, I don’t even know what day it is)? Is it that people start to expect things of you like conversation and engagement with the world and basic personal hygiene? I cannot quite remember, though it already feels like the window is closing. Like the fists that curl on contact, the sweet sleep-cooing and tiny doll-like eyelashes laid against flawless fat cheeks, I will sorely miss it when it goes.
What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?
Love, Hannah x