Our Reading Lives

A Mother Reads Cloud Atlas

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

cloud atlas paperbackThe joke among mothers my age with young kids is to ask, “Read any novels lately?” and then laugh like a hysteric. Who has the time? Between work, dinner, school, and soccer practice the best a literary mama is going to get is The New Yorker sticking unread out of the gym bag, into which it was stuffed aspirationally.

Why have a New Yorker subscription if not to show it off a little? Even an unread one signals that you are witty and abreast of current topics. Or rather, you would be if you weren’t so damn bedraggled.

Non-fiction is my genre now. Books from which I can learn something I can apply to the smoking ruin of my so-called “life.” So I find myself in a small paddock of the Dewey Decimal system at my local library. Self-Help. How-To. How To Parent An 8 Year Old Who Wants To Be A Cheetah. How To Get American Kids To Eat Like French Kids. How To Disguise A Hot Flash. You femmes d’un certain age know what I’m talking about. How To Unplug A Drain Stuffed With Twinkie-Winkies, the My L’il Pony miniatures my daughter, 6, collects. The section of desperation. A far cry from the well-lit downstairs section of Fiction, New. All glossy. The How-To and Self-Help books are always dog-eared and clawed-through.

The last book of fiction I read was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The Sonmi sections only because, see above: Who has the time? Upstrata wombtank? Indeed. Amnesiads in my drink? Don’t mind if I do. The sentient fabricant Sonmi was a knife through butter of my modern American parent-consumer mind. I had to put it down and have a panic attack.

I shoved the book mightily through the Book Return. That’s what Fiction does, sometimes. It burns through your illusions. It knocks your socks off and the Soapsac right out of your hand.