Reading fiction, raising kids

From the day Wally was born until early-October I didn’t read a single page of a book. Between the move to Ann Arbor and adjusting to life as a family of four I didn’t have much time, and even when I did have a chance to sit down and read I found I was too scatterbrained to concentrate on the page.

But then one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, came out with a new novel called 1Q84 and I asked my editor at The Christian Science Monitor if I could review it for her. My mammoth review copy arrived in the mail a week later, and each night for the next four weeks after the boys were asleep I settled down on the couch to read.

It was a little disorienting switching between life taking care of Jay and Wally and the richly atmospheric world of 1Q84.   As I read the book I became interested in how the emotions and ideas that the book prompted affected the way I thought about Caroline, Jay, Wally, and our lives together.  I wrote an essay about the exchange between my real life and the life of the novel which was published on The Millions today:

I started 1Q84 at 9pm at the end of a long day that had featured a 103 degree fever (my youngest son Wally, age 4 months) and several bathroom accidents (his older brother Jay, age 2 years). As I slumped on the couch with a cup of peppermint tea and my large yellow review copy of 1Q84, I found myself grasping to justify why, outside of the assignment I’d been given, it made sense to spend my only free time of the day reading fiction.

But I did read the book, that night and every night after for a month, and I found that as I read 1Q84and got deeper into Tengo’s and Aomame’s stories, I stopped questioning the purpose of fiction and instead began to see reading 1Q84 as one of the few necessary things I did all day. The reasons for the change of heart had to do with wonder, with love, and with the way literature provides for the best parts of who we are.

1Q84 is long (nearly 1,000 pages) and wildly imaginative, but at heart it’s a simple love story. Tengo and Aomame, both 30 years old, shared a singular, intense moment as children, disappeared from each other’s lives, and have been trying to recapture that kind of intimacy ever since. As 1Q84 opens they fall into an alternate world which is sinister and illogical, but which gives them the chance to find each other again.

You can read the rest of the essay here

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