Monday, February 10, 2014


Maternity leave is a wonderful time for reading (also for baking)--after the first month or two of "What do I do all day with a baby at home and will I ever regain use of my hands or eat breakfast or drink a warm beverage while it's warm or wash my hair again?" To be fair, M is NOT a baby who requires constant holding--she's very into her freedom of movement and exploring the world. And now that she will sleep in the daytime without being worn (alas, for only 40 minutes at a clip), things have evened out a bit.

I started with nighttime reading to keep me awake while nursing her: All of a Kind Family, the whole Little House series, Madeleine L'Engle. Children's books promised large enough print for the dim light and engaging stories. Also, the ones I chose were all lightweight enough to do little damage if dropped on a dozing babe.

Reading during daytime nursing (while holding a babe rather than lying next to her!) developed a bit later, and stronger light let me branch out into smaller print. I've been making good use of the library. I also read while bouncing on the exercise ball (no rocking chair soothing for this baby) and, when I'm kind to myself, during those micro naps. Here are a few of the books I've gulped down:

Lovely prose. Lovely meditation on the sweet shape of an otherwise unremarkable life, the redemption at work in otherwise unremarkable interactions.

I didn't love it. I wanted to love it. It was irreverently funny and (I think) honest and made me feel (appropriately) uncomfortable about lapping up another novel about poor African kids. But it just didn't hang together for me. This is probably partly because I read it after Someone, which is so quietly warm, and Bulawayo's debut novel is like its cover: harsh and a bit discordant. I know this is on purpose. I should probably try reading it again in a year or two.

Disappointing, honestly--it felt like Bauer wrote her memoir too soon after the events transpired, so the narrative lacked a narrative arc, a coherent sense of motivation and movement. The book is supposed to be about a young woman's struggles with faith (and sexuality) in NYC, but it didn't manage to convey her motivations for any of the dithering she did in either category.

This was a hard book, but beautiful. Walker is a poet, and her prose sings accordingly. I expected the book to be a bit more about Alzheimer's (a concern in my local community), but it was really more properly the author's own pilgrimage through her own memories of childhood and her relationship with her family members--a worthy topic of its own. I especially resonated with Walker's recollections of her childhood fundamentalism and her drift away from it.

I do love memoirs by poets. Mary Karr's Lit is a phenomenal account of her descent into alcoholism and her climb into daily sobriety, laced with a quiet admission of the role her conversion to the Roman Catholic Church played in that ascent. This book was beautiful and painful and gripping.

Not for the faint of heart! Gordon's "Utopian Divertimento" is irreverent and full of scenes that I'd definitely blush to teach. But while a lot of its reviewers took it as a fun diversion, I think it's as serious as Gordon's other work in exploring gender and work, familial relationships, religion and art, form and content. I put it down once before I decided to finish it, but I'm glad I did.

Bauer's memoir disappointed me, but her novel did not. A fictionalized imagining of a relationship between characters patterned after Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell, this epistolary novel is stunning in its dealings with faith, love, mental health, and writing.

I haven't read one of these Christian Bookstore Novels in a long time, though I gobbled them up as an adolescent. I read this one because it was on the list of reads by writers who will be participating in Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing in April (I was hoping to attend this year, but it looks like I'll have to wait until 2016). It is exactly what you'd expect it to be. 

I'm only 60 pages into this one. Solnit's prose is haunting. I will keep reading. 

There have been others, too, but my memory fails me at present. It's funny how many books I've been reading about treacherous mother-daughter relationships, especially since I'm now the mother in one such dyad and find my own mother so absolutely wonderful. I'm loving the memoirs by poets. I'm loving novels that keep me looking forward to night wakings.

Of course, I've also been reading more parenting books than I care to admit (mostly on sleep! oh, sleep!). I tried to read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, but the library hardcover edition was just too heavy to hold (the physicality of books is more real to me than ever these days). I've not yet read The Goldfinch, The Flamethrowers, The Luminaries, The Interestings--all the hot books of 2013 beginning with "The." Should I? 

What are you reading, friends? What are you hoping to read? 


  1. This is a great list. I appreciate your micro-reviews, and this gives me the idea to pick up a few of the books. To answer your very last question: I have The Luminaries from the library, but it is so huge and daunting I just can't find the energy to pick it up. I was disappointed to receive two massive books (700pg+) I'd had on request for months at the exact same time (and just as I received in the mail Jesus Feminist, a great read so far, and Glennon Doyle Melton's book Carry on Warrior). The cumulative effect has been that The Lumninaries is probably not going to get read, unfortunately. Oh well. Perhaps another time.

  2. i've read and loved the first three and my library has the interestings so i will get to it at some point. enjoyed your reviews.