Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The year I learned to read while breastfeeding, Part 2: It doesn't take Freud to see that even my "non-Mommy" reading is mostly about mothering.

Supposedly Non-Mommy Reading

Phineas Redux

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

Race to the Pole: Tragedy, Heroism, and Scott's Antarctic Quest

I, Robot

The Lord God Made Them All

Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition

The Poisonwood Bible

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The Unknown Shore

Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

The Lover

Cry, the Beloved Country

Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times


Where I Was From

Jesus Land: A Memoir

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood

Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City

The History of Love

The Road from Coorain

In Cold Blood

A Sacred Feast: Reflections on Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground

Inder's favorite books »

I sat down to write this post excited to share some of the "non-parenting" books I read in 2009. "Look everyone!" I hoped to say, "I have not been subsumed into motherhood! I still have wide-ranging interests!"

Then, while trying to get the book widget above to look like a box instead of diagonal lines ("widget-wrangling" as we call it in the blogging-biz; also, yes, I failed), I realized that most of these allegedly non-parenting books are actually about parenting. Especially, mothering (including some scary mothers). Well, what are you going to do? You can hardly blame me - I did just have a baby!

This list also reflects the fact that the first eight months of motherhood have been wonderful for my reading and home cooking, and detrimental to my crafting, sewing, concert-going, and sleeping. Proof that you should take warnings about how "You'll never have time for that [fill in the blank fun activity] after your baby is born!" with a grain of salt. It's true, but it depends on what type of activities you consider to be fun. Coming soon: Inder's go-to cookbooks of the decade!

Some highlights (if you are interested in reading full reviews, become my friend on Goodreads!):

Best Classic Novel I Am Embarrassed to Admit I Did Not Read Years Ago:
Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Patton. I could go on about how beautiful and powerful this novel is, but everyone (besides me, until a few months ago) has already read it! Really, I don't know what took me so long. I started this right after Joe was born, and read most of it in the middle of the night while I was nursing him; it only made me cry once or twice per page. Since you've already read it, probably years ago, you know that it is all about the joys and pains of parenthood (in addition to larger themes of suffering, redemption, and faith). Anyway, now I can call Joe, "Oh, Child of my Womb"!

A Slew of Excellent Memoirs Featuring More or Less Frightening Mothers:
I read several really excellent memoirs in 2009. They were all by women, and they all featured strong/crazy/smothering mother figures. Honestly, I do not remember seeking out memoirs with scary mothers, but I also don't think it's a coincidence that I gobbled these up so greedily in my third trimester. (Although, really, these should be cross-referenced under "Least Reassuring Books To Read While Pregnant.") If you want to know the best way to mother, I recommend you check out my favorite parenting how-to books. These memoirs are more a guide to how not to mother. Which, really, I find almost as helpful!

1) The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston. Do not kill your infant because she is a girl, or tell her you wish you had. If you decide to keep her, do not cut her tongue to silence her! Do not call her "slave." Rather, recite epic poetry about women warriors to empower her. However, if you do all of these things, don't be surprised if she grows up angry, poetic, and more than a little bit confused.

2) Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, by Alexander Fuller. Even if you are a lovable mom in many respects, try not to get maudlin drunk every night and spout racist propaganda.

3) The Road From Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway. Don't hurt your child's self-esteem and thwart her ambition in order to maintain your own superiority. Also, think twice before investing in a sheep farm in New South Wales.

4) Jesus Land: A Memoir, by Julia Scheeres. Don't send your children to an abusive religious reform school in the Dominican Republic. 'Nuff said.

Two So-So Novels About Scary Parental Figures:
Compared to the memoirs above, which rang with scary mom truth, these fictional portrayals seemed overwrought to me. But I couldn't help but notice a continuation of the scary-parent theme.

1) The Lover, by Marguerite Duras. Um, don't prostitute your daughter to a rich man from North China?

2) Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. Please, please, please don't ramble on bitterly, angrily, self-righteously, and pointlessly for almost 600 pages. Oh, wait, that's not really about the mother character in this novel. Still. This is cross-referenced under "Books That Are At Least 200 Pages Too Long."

Best Contemporary Novel About Fatherhood:
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. Rebecca recommended this to me, and she rarely steers me wrong. So lovely. This is on a short list of fiction (the list also includes Gilead, which is also all about fatherhood, and Middlesex, which is about family more generally) that I recommend whenever someone asks, "I need a really good book, what do you recommend?" This also made me cry. But see, only good books make me cry. (Well, sometimes, a really bad book will make me want to cry; but rarely does bad writing actually make me cry.)

Worst Midnight Reading and Best Book To Read While Stranded in San Diego And Unable to Get a Flight Out:
The Unknown Shore, by Patrick O'Brien. Based on a true story!
I read this while stranded in San Diego with Steve and Joe, trying to claw my way home. As far as middle-of-the-night-feeding books go, this was too exciting, and I often found myself unable to put it down, even at 4 a.m. (that's saying something, isn't it?). But it was the perfect book for being stranded in San Diego for two days trying to make my way back to Northern California. Because while I was stranded in San Diego, Toby and Jack were shipwrecked off the coast of Chile, starving to death amongst very unfriendly natives. This really helped me keep things in perspective. Also, it has nothing to do with parenting, or motherhood. Whew.

Most Overrated Swashbuckling Novel - The A&E Adaption is TOTALLY Better:
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, by C.S. Forester. Trashy novels are not supposed to be hard to slog through! Bor-ing. And absolutely forgettable. Horatio Hornblower is cold, neurotic, and impossible to relate to. Also, he has these inner monologues that just drove me crazy:

"He was dancing with rage, he observed with some curiosity." And the next sentence: "But with his fighting madness at the boil there was no chance of his yielding without a struggle, and his mental convulsions resulted in producing a scheme for action."

What? Who observes that they are "dancing with rage" with curiosity? Whose "mental convulsions" result in a scheme for action? Gimme a break. The A&E Adaptation is much better for two reasons: (1) Ioan Gruffudd (this is pronounced like "yummy"); and (2) no inner monologues!

Other Notable Books I read in 2009:
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. Also cross-referenced under "Too Scary To Read While Pregnant." This one involves a pretty scary mother figure too - read for instructions on how not to raise a son who turns into a serial killer.

I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov. Nanny robots instead of mothers!

Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Motherless children!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon. Motherless autistic boy!

You get the idea.


  1. Inder, thanks for the book suggestions. I think I am going to try to find a copy of History of Love now. Also, at the end when you list books with motherless characters --- rock on, orphans! (I have a thing for orphans.

  2. So many good books, especially children's books, feature orphans. Everything from David Copperfield to Silas Marner to The Secret Garden to Harry Potter. They are really disproportionately represented in literature.

  3. As if I didn't have enough to read! Thanks for the recommendations.

  4. Awesome, Inder. I so love your reviews.

  5. I actually read your blog :) thanks!

  6. Also, yes, everyone, read The History Of Love! And if you love good memoir, try Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight. Those are the only real "recommendations" this year (since you've already read Cry, the Beloved Country). Both are just excellent.

    (Dad, to be clear, they're not as good as War & Peace. But they're good.)

  7. Just chiming in to express hearty approval at the revival of your blog! And with book love, no less!


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