What I’m Reading in the Middle of the Night

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Photo by Fiona: Not exactly how I read at night, but it’ll give you an idea of how I’m writing this blog these days. Can you spot the baby in this picture?

My very favorite thing about nursing a newborn is that it gives me the chance to catch up on my reading.

That may seem counter-intuitive; you’d expect babies would put an end to maternal reading. But in my experience, the reading moratorium only happens once my children start sleeping through the night; when they’re up every two hours all night long, I tear through books faster than a bag of popcorn.

That’s right: I read in the middle of the night while I’m feeding the baby. While this might not be necessary for all mothers, it’s necessary for me. In fact, it’s necessary for me to get out of bed, sit up in a chair, and read while feeding the baby. Why? Because two babies ago, I fell asleep while nursing (and reading) in bed, and dropped the baby. Sitting in a chair with a text is my insurance policy against that ever happening again.

So, in preparation for Abigail’s birth, I went to the Vermont Book Shop and loaded up on books. Unfortunately, Abigail was 10 days late, so I read through most of those books during the agonizing wait before her birth. No matter: This time around, my nighttime reading has been revolutionized by a Kindle, a gift from my high-tech mother-in-law after she upgraded her own model. The Kindle is brilliant for reading-while-nursing because you don’t even need to hold it in order to read.

Books that will keep your attention at roughly 12:30, 2:30, 4:30, and 6:30 AM are worth sharing, so here’s a list of my favorites from the past couple of months:

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

This book reads like silk — it’s so beautifully written and compelling that I found myself looking forward to frequent feeding times! The subject matter is a little rough, about a girl who’s come out on the wrong side of the foster care system and has difficulty forming relationships. But it’s ultimately a redemptive story about families — mothers and daughters, in particular — that taught me something new: the Victorian concept that every flower expresses a certain emotion or idea, which is the method the heroine uses to communicate.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

NOT necessarily an easy read, but more of an, “Oh my gosh, how did he WRITE this?!?” kind of book. Mitchell weaves together stories spanning from the past into the future, and each story is written using a completely different style and dialect. Thematically, there’s so much going on that I’d need to take a 24-hour meditation retreat in order to get my brain around it all. But the over-arching themes of good vs. evil, interconnectedness, and reincarnation are breathtaking enough.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

I picked this up because I’d never read a book by Anna Quindlen before and wanted to check her out. It’s a series of essays about womanhood, written from Quindlen’s point of view as a 60-something wife, mother, daughter, and writer. (Right up my alley, in other words). I thoroughly enjoyed her humor, optimism, and balanced perspective as someone who fought to have a career as a female journalist during the 1970s, but also wanted to have a quality family life.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

This was my book club’s July selection, and it was almost impossible to put down. I believe it’s also the first book I’ve read by a Dutch author, which was interesting; I’m suddenly much more aware of The Netherlands. Most of the “action” takes place in the form of one character’s interior monologue during a dinner with his brother. It starts off innocuous enough, then evolves into a psychological thriller. A great summer read if you’re prepared to suspend some disbelief.

Crazy Salad by Nora Ephron

I’d read somewhere that this collection of Ephron’s women’s columns for Esquire from the 1970s was a “must-read” for all women. So I read it. It’s sort of like a prequel to Anna Quindlen’s book: the book Quindlen might have written back when she was fighting for a career as a female journalist in the 1970s. It’s a little angry (verging on nasty, at times) for my taste, but it made me appreciate how ferociously the early feminists fought for things that we take for granted today.

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout is one of my very favorite authors. I’ve read all of her previous novels — Abide With Me, Amy and Isabelle, and Olive Kitteridge (which won the Pulitzer Prize). Each of these books is set in small-town Maine, and Strout has a gift for capturing life in a small-town community, the intricacies of family relationships, and moments of small but soul-stirring grace. The Burgess Boys is her latest novel, and it’s my least favorite. It centers on the shockwaves that shake the lives of three grown siblings when one of their sons commits a hate crime against the new community of Somali immigrants in a small Maine town. Strout’s trying to do a little too much in this book — it feels Tom Wolfe-ish in its collection of numerous, thinly-drawn character types. But it’s still a compelling read, with some important things to say about the changes happening in contemporary New England.

There you have it: books that will keep you awake no matter what the time! As summer winds down, I hope that you’re all enjoying the last days of summer reading. Feel free to share some of your favorites; I still have a few months to go before I’m sleeping through the night!

One response »

  1. Faith, I feel the same way about middle-of-the-night nursing reading. Thanks for the list! Some recent nursing favorites of mine: The Glass of Time, by Michael Cox (a gift from Cyd); Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill; Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell; the Graceling trilogy, by Kristin Cashore. Congratulations on Abigail!

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