Confession: I can probably count on one hand the number of books that I read between my college graduation and the birth of my first child. And if I was reading very little before becoming a mother, I basically stopped reading altogether after I started having kids. But I wasn’t always a non-reader. My childhood and teen years were marked first by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne of Green Gables, and then by The Lord of the Rings, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. I remember showing up to my high school job a few minutes late and with a tear-stained face because I just had to finish Great Expectations before my shift started.
The beginning of my non-reading started in college, oddly enough. As a music major a lot of my free time was spent in the practice rooms. I read what I had to for my classes, and that was about it. One of the greatest lessons I learned as a music major was that to get good at something you have to practice, everyday. When I stopped the practice of reading, I got really bad at it.
After college I got married and my husband and I bought a house, and with those life events came a whole new set of skills and hobbies to practice. I learned how to take care of a house, became a better cook, I was working outside the home, I started gardening, I taught myself how to knit. But I had fallen out of practice with reading. I had a lot of good things going on, reading just wasn’t one of them
I probably have Instagram to thank for my reentry into reading. It was 2016, my second child was just a few months old and I was doing the Insta-scroll during all my nursing sessions. It seemed like everyone was posting and raving about the book All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. So I ordered myself a copy, started reading, and I felt it- that magical feeling that comes when you’re totally immersed in a book. It had been so long since I had felt that feeling, I had forgotten how much I missed it. Additionally, for the last two and half years most of my brain power had gone into raising my babies, so it felt really good to dust off the intellectual side of my brain. I knew I needed to make reading a regular part of my life again.
Over the next year or so I managed to read Brideshead Revisited, Gilead (LOVED!! That book put into words to many things I feel about being a mother, even though it’s written from a father’s perspective), The Lamb’s Supper, Mansfield Park, The Awakening of Miss Prim, The Blue Castle (Also LOVED!! It’s by L.M. Montgomery. So think Anne of Green Gables, only more grown-up. Nothing inappropriate, just more mature, a little darker maybe. But still fun.) Those last two titles were thanks to the Fountains of Carrots podcast.
The more I read the more I wanted to read. But I am a slow reader, and I often lacked motivation to get through my to-read list. Like I mentioned earlier, I was pretty out of practice when it came to reading. Given the choice to read or spend time on one of my other hobbies, I’d usually pick something other than a book. Then a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to start a book club with her. We had been casually chatting about the books we were each reading when she brought her kids to my house for weekly piano lessons. Those chats were so enjoyable that taking them to the next level and forming a book club seemed like the sensible thing to do.
We assembled an interesting group of ladies, (married and single, working moms and stay at home moms), picked a standing monthly meeting time, and worked together to select a year long reading list. And friends, being part of a book club has been the single most effective thing I have done to improve my reading life. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that in order to get something done I need a deadline. Now that I have a date on the calendar and a group of people expecting me to show up, I make reading a priority. And it pays off big time. Because the people in my book club have a wide variety of interests I end up reading books I would never have chosen on my own. And once a month I get out of the house and have lively and meaningful discussion with women I enjoy being with. Win, win.
Another thing that has greatly improved my reading life has been swapping time spent looking at my phone with looking at a book. I used to scroll through Instagram while I nursed my baby, now I almost only read. I put a book in my purse before I leave the house so if I have a few extra minutes somewhere (like picking up my son from school) I pull out my book instead of my phone. And I figure since I can tune my kids out to look at Instagram or text my friends, I can also tune them out to read a couple pages in a book.
It’s been about a year and a half since I started making reading a priority, and this is what I have discovered: the more I read, the better I get at it. It’s just like with piano practice, or anything else for that matter. I am becoming a faster reader, so that in addition to my book club books, I am also getting through titles on my personal reading list. I can handle more difficult reads. Example: I tried reading The Brothers Karamozov seven or so years ago and it was like utter nonsense to me. I literally had no idea what anyone was talking about. Now we are reading The Brothers K in my book club and I am picking up on so many different things that went right over my head to first time around. I can just feel my brain getting smarter.
I compiled a list of everything I read in 2018, and while I know there are more well read people out there, considering what the last ten years have been like for my reading life, it was pretty impressed by how much I managed to read in a year! It’s amazing how much you can accomplish with a little bit of practice every day.
Here’s what I read last year! I linked the titles to Amazon. (and DISCLAIMER! those links are affiliate. That means if you click through and end up purchasing something I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you.)
Middlemarch by George Eliot. Full disclosure: I needed to supplement my reading of this one with an audiobook to finish in time, but I loved it so much. Such great characters and so much inspiration about what great impact a small life can have. I cried at the end.
March by Geraldine Brooks. This is basically a Little Women fan fiction of what Mr. March was doing while he was away fighting in the Civil War. It was good, but sometimes I had a hard time believing that Mr. March would really do some of the things he did. But I still cried at the end.
Quiet by Susan Cain. Confirmed my suspicion that I am an introvert and my husband is an extrovert. I didn’t actually finish reading this one though because, well, non-fiction.
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. This book changed me. Actually changed the way I think about things. I think it is my favorite book. READ IT!!!
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers. Fun mystery novel with a dash of screwball. This one was not actually on our book club list, but I elected to read it and a precursor to the next book.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers. A much more developed mystery novel with a good love story. It doesn’t take much to scare me and this book was almost too scary.
Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigred Undset. Unpopular opininon. I did not love this book. But I really really liked it. It’s very dark and intense, and I read it while dealing with some postpartum depression after Joey was born so the timing might not have been quite right. I thought the ending was so beautiful. It made for great book club discussion. I’d like to read it again some day.
The Grace of Enough by Haley Stewart. This was another one that was extra to my book club reading. And it’s so good!! Since reading it I have been very inspired to buy less stuff and own less stuff, and be intentional about the things we do end up buying.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. Sort of a history of everything that had to happen in order for a woman to become a writer (or creative of any kind). My book club selected it to read in comparison with the next one.
Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers. Also interesting. Sayers says that what makes a woman a good writer is not her female qualities, but her human qualities.
The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. I thought this books was kind of sad, but I really like the writing style.
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. More Wendell Berry and I loved it!! Basically I was born into the wrong time and place. Take me to Port William Please!