Any Books Worth My Time?

Reading has become a lot harder since I had my daughter. When I was pregnant, I read all these scare essays by writers who’d said that they lost all energy and desire to read once their kids were born. They lamented the loss as if these missing books and characters were dear friends who’d disappeared. It was as if their world had crumbled because they couldn’t pick up a book and read it front to back in one sitting.

I’ve never liked reading books that much.

I read, but if I were trapped on a desert island with no books, I’d probably just take off my clothes and go swimming. Or lay around in the sun. Or figure out how to bowl with coconuts (at first I wrote “make a bra out of coconuts” but who needs a bra on a desert island so bowling it is). I’d write a lot in my head (don’t need a desert island to do that) and probably get delirious from the sun. Without books my life would be different, but surely I would not go batshit from not reading, at least not in the way these essay writers were implying they had done.

Still, I took full advantage of my six weeks of pre-natal maternity leave to crack Denis Johnson’s tome “Tree of Smoke,” a ridiculously masculine counter to my raging female hormones, and when the kid arrived two weeks early (damn the loss of that government-paid vacation!), I decided to finish off the 600+ page book because it was nicely written, even if it was about soldiers in Vietnam and gave me weird nightmares in my sleep-deprived state.

Once that book was put down though, getting myself to crack the next one was no mean feat. Every book I picked up felt like such a waste of my precious time. And it always had a dead kid in it, which was a guaranteed way to make me cry until I couldn’t breathe. Finally, I just stopped attempting to read. Who needed Vendela Vida’s world in Turkey when I had the most awesome baby to waste my time with (come to think of it, who needs Vida’s book, period)?

When my daughter learned how to sleep through the night and I started working again, with a longish commute by train, I realized, however, that books do play an important role in my life. Good ones, anyway. They alleviate my boredom and prevent me from wearing down the battery on my iPhone before I even get to work.

More importantly, they teach me things I am too lazy to study. Like the Bosnian genocide, the geography of Northern California, how to have awkward sex. All things that will likely not do me any good on a desert island, but which do make me a well-rounded individual capable of holding conversations with complete strangers at dinner parties (when said dinner parties do not include sippy cups, bibs or plasticware).

So I made a contract with myself. I would keep reading, but only if the book was worth my time. It has to be well-written and educational (even – or especially – if fiction). If I want light entertainment, then I have to read the book in German so at least my German improves. This means that I have put down a load of books after reading to page 3 in the last few months. It also means my teenager German has improved enough that I can understand rom-coms, not altogether a bad thing.

All that said, then, it’s time to turn to you all. Crowd-sourcing the next read worth my time. Any suggestions, German or English?


6 thoughts on “Any Books Worth My Time?

  1. Niamh O'Leary August 3, 2012 / 3:36 pm

    Hey Courtney–I would recommend Nicole Krauss’s *The History of Love* and Arthur Philips *The Tragedy of Arthur*. Hopefully those two will capture your imagination and your interest! Currently, I’m reading Amy Chua’s *Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother*, but it’s only making me angry. Don’t read it.

    • Niamh O'Leary August 4, 2012 / 10:46 pm

      Hmm, ok…I’ve just started reading Zadie Smith’s *White Teeth*, thinking I’d use it for a class. It’s a definite no on the class, but a really fun read. Also, if you’re feeling like something COMPLETELY different, I’m on a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle kick right now. Oh, and I read Wilkie Collins *Woman in White* for the first time ever while on the job market and loved it. (The last two recs are partly due to the fact that I can get public domain stuff for free on my kindle…)

  2. zmagic August 3, 2012 / 5:27 pm

    If you haven’t read Middlesex, go read it now. Now!

    • zmagic August 4, 2012 / 8:59 pm

      Oh. I don’t think I’ve read anything from the last 3 years — wasn’t on my comps list. Right now I’m reading Deborah Eisenberg’s stories. They’re very good.

  3. Mandi August 14, 2012 / 9:39 pm

    If you’re looking for entertaining non-fiction, I loved Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains” about Paul Farmer and *especially* “Strength in What Remains”. I read Julie Orringer’s “The Invisible Bridge” while I was laid up with my broken kneecap — epic and amazing. “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, fiction about Nigeria’s civil war in the 1960’s, is also fantastic. I’m always adding to my “must read” list, so if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them too!

    • Milly August 14, 2012 / 11:22 pm

      I loved Chimamanda’s book and have had the others on your list on mine for a long time, so it looks like I’ll have to add them to the nightstand soon. Trying to remember books I used to rec — Wild by Cheryl Strayed’s pretty good, though I’m biased from knowing Cheryl so don’t know if I would’ve found it otherwise. Will have to rack my brain and get back to you on this in Berlin 🙂

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