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How Having Kids Changed My Reading Life

Amanda Nelson

Staff Writer

Amanda Nelson is an Executive Director of Book Riot. She lives in Richmond, VA.

“They” say that having children changes you in ways that nothing else can. I think we can safely say that this is a silly, impossible-to-prove statement (have YOU experienced Everything Else In The World, therefore qualifying you to say such a thing?). I have, however, been a reader before and after babies, and the two situations are different for me. It’s possible that I’m alone here, but having children has changed my reading life in a few ways- some of which are totally ridiculous:

1. I care infinitely less about book lists. Don’t get me wrong- I’m still a list lover. I sing romantic songs about love under the Tuscan moon to lists. I buy lists chocolates on Valentine’s Day. I still make lists, just not as often, and I’m not as concerned about crossing things off them (mostly because I forget I made them, or where I put them). These days, a large part of my brain is focusing on teaching small humans how to not suck when they’re larger humans, so my limited mental powers just can’t. Remember. To update. The lists.

2. I can’t read books about modern child abuse (this is a ridiculous one). Reading Victorian classics that are full of child abuse? I’m still impervious in a “well, in olden times things were different” sort of way. But Room? I couldn’t even finish that book’s dust jacket. I’m not in denial- of course there are still horrible abuses done to kids in modern civilization- but I can’t bring myself to read about them right now. Three years ago it wasn’t a problem.

3. I don’t read books about selfish parents. This isn’t to say that I’m on some high horse thinking that I’m not a selfish parent- I’m pretty sure all human beings who have made other human beings are selfish in their own ways (just like people who haven’t made humans. Or, you know, everyone on the planet.). But when you’re trying hard not to screw up at x thing, it can be irritating to read about characters who are also doing x thing and don’t care about messing it up because they can’t be bothered. I couldn’t finish We The Animals because of the parents. I gave up on The Corrections because of how icky all the parental figures are in that book (blah blah maybe that was Franzen’s point blah blah whatever). I just get so FRUSTRATED and WHAT IF I AM LIKE THAT AND DON’T KNOW IT and I’M JUST GOING TO GO READ ANNE OF GREEN GABLES BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LOVE MATTHEW AND MARILLA.

4. Yeah, fine, I read less. We’ve all heard the creepy, self-righteous version of this: “I just don’t have TIME to read because I’m a MOMMY and that’s just so IMPORTANT and my SPESHUL WITTLE SNOWFWAKES need SO MUCH ATTENTION.” Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening because I was too busy trying not to throw up in my mouth just now. But take away the sanctimommy attitude (to borrow a phrase from STFU, Parents), and there’s some truth in it for some parents. Not the speshul wittle snowfwakes part, but the time part. I don’t spend hours reading every day anymore, and I don’t stay up late reading (when my kids are old enough to be gone at school during the day, you better believe I’ll be doing it again [she hopes]).

5. I read less, which means you have one sentence and then 20 pages. If your first sentence isn’t awesome, I won’t bring the book home at all. Once it’s home, if I’m not into your book in 20 pages, I will toss that thing into the giveaway pile faster than a…thing…you toss quickly…into a pile…? Before having children, I was a FINISHER. I NEVER gave up on a book. Now, I start more books than I finish. I know 20 pages is harsh- what if it gets better on page 21? I don’t care, not even a little. There are excellent books that are excellent from the first sentence- I’m committing my time and mental space to those right now.

6. I care less about Books As Objects…Well. Some of them. When my twins first started grabbing at the books on my shelves (and instantly eating them), I was horrified. I spent untold hours babyproofing the shelves and teaching them to touch books “gently,” and not with their teeth. And this has sort of worked, but sometimes, they can’t resist the taste of a good Hemingway. So the rare/signed books/first editions have been moved out of reach, and I’ve basically let go of the idea that each physical copy of my books is beyond sacred. After all, most of my books are classics and can be downloaded to my Nook for free (HORRORGASPSHOCK).

I’m not saying that parenthood changes readers in these ways universally- it can’t, seeing as how not everyone is the same kind of reader pre-kids. These are just personal tics of mine that have evolved into newer, FANCIER tics. I’m sure there are parents out there who are totally kick-ass and continued reading at the same pace and in the same ways after kids as they did before. I TIP MY HAT TO YOU, SIRS AND MADAMES.