Parental Leave Reading List

I (Crista) just had a dang baby! She’s a bonny wee thing who enjoys cawing like a crow and shunning all society (à la Emily Dickinson) until her first vaccinations.

The first weeks after you’ve had a baby are weird. It seems like you’ll have a ton of free time, but somehow every day narrows down to a handful of hours. With my first kiddo, like a fool, I had a whole maternity leave to-do list and I got less than zero percent accomplished. I think I may have actually undone some work. The only items on my to-do list this time are, in order, “survival” and “showers”.

But you will have a fair amount of that almost downtime, when you’re feeding the baby or when the tiny creature has fallen asleep on top of you and you’re trapped. As it’s a popular time of the year to spawn (apparently — there were six women in labor at the hospital the same time I was there, and I know at least half a dozen people who are either pregnant or who have a new baby at home), I thought some recommended parental leave reading wouldn’t go amiss.

Fiction Recommendations

Two rules:
  1. No dead kids.
  2. No one is cavorting around all childless and free from the tyranny of a baby.
I think it’s also nice if the book is a bit silly. Here’s what I read, enjoyed, and would highly recommend from last time around. I was really looking for something engaging, something I wanted to keep coming back to, so shorter pieces weren’t doing it for me. It was a time for novels:
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
A murder mystery investigated, and narrated, by sheep. If I need to say more, I’m not sure we’d get along very well.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
A young woman, finding herself suddenly without means, decides to go and professionally meddle in the lives of distant relations.
Witty, with very low stakes for conflict, and truly excellent lines like, “There’ll be no butter in hell!”. A lot of humor doesn’t age well, but this 1932 novel is timelessly hilarious.

On Books About Children

Reading about children can be helpful—feeling a parental solidarity with the author makes you feel less lonely and maybe gets you some potentially useful advice. Potentially. Someone gave me a copy of a particular garbage nonsense parenting book that is largely about strictly scheduling your baby’s day. This is supposed to help them sleep so you can sleep. The person who gave me this and I are no longer on speaking terms. This is not a coincidence.
Most parenting books fall into two categories: “babies are precious moonbeams—spend hours just quietly, creepily staring at them” and “let’s be honest, babies are the worst.” The latter is really much more affirming and useful (the baby is the enemy, after all), and there are TONS of great books in that vein that have been published recently, but what I really wanted the first time around was something that would make me feel like it might be nice to add another human into our family. Like, all this might be somehow worth it. I couldn’t find that in typical parenting books, but did in some memoirs.
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson
Shirley is honest about the difficulties, but still very obviously a parent who takes pleasure in having children about the house. It’s charming and funny, but still very much a book by Shirley Jackson. This and its squeal, Raising Demons, has stories of ghosts and witchcraft and cats.
Waiting for Birdy by Catherine Newman
This book, more than any other, made me feel like I might actually be capable of raising children and enjoying their company. It’s terribly sweet and is one of the few things I’ve read that depicts the nice qualities of a toddler. Also, that woman can recommend the hell out of a board game.
Kid Goves by Lucy Knisley
I’m afraid it’s not out yet, but I’m going to go ahead and recommend it. I’ve loved all her other books and after reading her parenting sketchbook on Patreon, I’m so excited for this graphic novel and only a little upset it’s coming out so long after this pregnancy. She’s also publishing her parenting sketchbook with the most perfect title: Go to Sleep (I Miss You). Support her on Patreon and get a sneak peak of both these books!

 

With this new kiddo, I have the opposite problem. I’m having a hard time finding something to hold my interest. I’ve quit two novels already and am turning to short story collections, essays, and graphic novels. On my nightstand: The Starlit Wood, The Prince and the Dressmaker, Words are My Matter, and 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write. I also have a nice little stack of independent magazines. They’re harder to flip through with only one free hand, but the skimmability (is that a word? yes, it’s a word) makes up for the logistical difficulty. Right now I’ve got Uppercase, Illustoria, Good Company, and Oh Comely.

 

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