I used to read 50+ books each year. In a bound suede journal which my grandmother gave me, I proudly kept track of the titles I had finished, a running tally of total books read in a year, and a list of books to be devoured still. My New Year’s health resolution was how many books I would strive to read that calendar year.
I was careful to select a variety of books, though the majority definitely reflected my affinity for fiction, specifically involving fantasy, mystery, or contemporary fiction that reveals elements of the human condition, relationships, and life.
Of course, this was before I had kids. Not to say that the absence of reading in my life occurred abruptly once I became a mother. It has been gradual, unlike the onset of my current affliction, my renewed love for reading. That is, reading on my own, for my own pleasure, not just with my sweet book-loving monkeys.
For a while every night after my eldest was born, I would hide in the closet with three of my most cherished friends: my Kindle, my breast pump, and a glass of water. Twenty minutes of just “me time”. If I struggled to sleep at any point after, I could sneak back into bed with my phone’s Kindle app and continue reading without disturbing Hubby thanks to the black background setting and dimming options.
During that first year of parenthood, Hubby had to be away from us a few times for work, for weeks at a time. Without the familiar warmth of his body or sound of his breathing next to me, I would struggle to fall asleep. But reading a few pages or a chapter, would always help me drift off.
So in my first year as a mother, I read fairly regularly, but not with the same voracious appetite as before, perhaps only a few pages at a time. I didn’t keep a list or running count, but I probably only read 10 titles, including some of the Stephanie Plum series (a sure laugh and fun ride), Doyin Richards’ Daddy Doin’ Work (great!), some Dan Brown I was behind on, and Grisham’s Sycamore Row (a solid sequel to A Time to Kill).
When I became pregnant with twins not long after, I suffered what Hubby and I jokingly referred to as “twinsomnia” (though it was definitely no joke and also lasted much longer than my twin pregnancy…like even last night!). I read a book about twin pregnancies and some of Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan novels. (A nice escape. I liked the mystery and touch of science but not the female lead’s occasional major stupidity and angst. By the third book, I was done with her.)
After the twins were born (No pump! Ain’t no twin mom got time for that!), I had sweet oxytocin from tandem nursing the babies to help me sleep at night. I definitely went through a reading dry spell with no complaints since I was so happy to sleep. Then, they started nursing less in the night, but still waking. I found myself spending chunks of the night wide awake after successfully getting the babies back into their beds (ninja-style). More of that beloved “twinsomnia”. To help me drift off and motivate me to get those sweet babies back in bed rather than letting them co-sleep with us, I picked up reading on my Kindle again.
After reading a few brainless fictional books that pissed me off for their protagonists’ overwhelming lack of world view and overall too “white and privileged” lenses, I finally read the Kite Runner and a Jumpa Lahiri book I had missed. Then, missing fantasy fiction in my life, I discovered the wonder of Nnedi Okorafor and Octavia Butler. Simply put, black girl magic. How had I not read Octavia Butler before?! After reading Kindred, I started a book that I just couldn’t get into after having been so moved and engulfed with my previous few reads. And we got busy packing and moving. Another dry spell.
In October, I picked up a Neil Gaiman book at a coffee shop with a lending library. I read the first few pages and knew I’d love it (just like all the Gaiman books I’d read before). But I never really got going with it, until randomly, a few weeks ago. After a few nights, I was hooked, and a few pages turned into a whole chapter.
Then our lives turned upside down with some terrible and unexpected news. A beloved man was ripped out of our lives. My heart was ripped in two. Everything was just ripped.
In those first few moments of grappling with such devastating news, as I stood frozen in our home office, my fingers tingled to grab James Agee’s A Death in the Family from our shelf. I lamented not having my own copy of The Chronicles of Narnia to re-read the section in which Reepicheep embarks on his last adventure. My mind flashed to scenes in Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, specific scenes about death, love, and loss. My heart ached, and it longed for solace in some of my most cherished friends: books.
Perhaps that explains why when I packed us up to go grieve with family, for some stupid reason, I grabbed my book, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I was a bit embarrassed by the title, reluctant to leave it out in sight of visitors or family, afraid it would seem so macabre to be reading about death in the middle of the storm we were in. I turned it face down, so anyone who noticed it would actually realize it was about a living boy who happened to be raised in a cemetery.
When I finally had time for myself, it proved to be the perfect escape and remedy for my pain. It lit a fire and a desire to read more, reminding me how books so often offer us little wisdoms and glimpses into life’s most wonderful and hardest lessons and moments.
And so, in a time of great sadness, I have happily caught the Book Bug again. I am still sad, broken, so, so tired, and still ripped. My words fail me, so I leave you with those of Neil Gaiman:
Thank you Mr. Gaiman.
Thank you to all the authors and books who have given us the stories and words we need to find hope, wisdom, and comfort. And thanks to anyone reading for listening.
And if you can spare another minute, please leave me your book recommendations, especially anything that might help heal the pain and hole left in the world after the loss of a beloved man.