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MomTalk: What's on Your Reading List? Share Your Favorites with Other Parents

How have your reading habits changed since becoming a parent? Solicit suggestions for good books to read.

Laurie Hunt
The last book I read was “CatchingFire” by Suzanne Collins. I started this immediately after finishing “The Hunger Games” and I am already reading “Mockingjay”. They are great reads that are hard to put down. I read them at the insistence of my 11-year-old daughter and after I took her and two friends, to see the movie Hunger Games. I could not resist her excitement about the trilogy and it was wonderful to see how pleased she was when I finished the books quickly and asked to borrow the next.

Those who have pre-teens, I’m sure, especially appreciate my eagerness to share something with my daughter that she is so excited about.

Another book that is a great read is “Former Things” by Gail Lowe.  Her name may sound familiar to many of you as she is a Wakefield resident and local reporter. This book tells the story of a daughter who walks away from her relationship with her mother for 20 years and the circumstances that bring them face to face again.

My reading habits changed greatly once I became a parent. I have always been a reader. Before I had children I commuted into Boston for work for about ten years and always read on the train ride in and out of the city. I read many magazines, books and newspapers.  When I was pregnant and when my daughter was very young I made the time to read many parenting books, Dr. Sears was a favorite, as well as parenting magazines.  Once my daughter became mobile and we had a second child it seemed I never had the time to read “for me” as much.

At around the same time, I started turning to the Internet more and more for news and information I used to find in newspapers and magazines and just did not have the time for books like I used to other than my favorite kid stories -- which include just about anything written by Doreen Cronin including, but not limited to, “Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type”, “Giggle Giggle Quack” and, of course, “Duck for President”.  Another favorite of mine is “How Santa Got His Job” by Stephen Krensky.  The book is cleverly written as well as dedicated to my Great Aunt, my maternal Grandmothers sister.

I am hoping for some great suggestions from our readers as to some good books to check out. Please share in the comments below!

Tasha Schlake Festel
The other day I overheard a woman sheepishly apologizing to someone for reading The Hunger Games. Apparently she felt it was “beneath her” and “a little embarrassing” to be reading it in public since it was a New York Times Bestseller book. Her theory, based on my eavesdropping, is that if it’s on the best seller list, it’s probably not very good. Commercial success = crappy work, I suppose. I resisted the urge to slap her off of her elitist literary high horse.

In stark contrast, I’ve had to apologize for reading The Hunger Games too slowly (due to lack of time, not lack of interest) and keeping my husband from seeing the movie on a double date with fellow Patch Mama, Jillian, and her hubby. I recently finished it and you know what? I loved that book! In fact, I’m on to Book 2 and intend to finish off Book 3 as well. It’s an easy read. It’s escapist and fantastical. I don’t need “heavy and thought-provoking” in my pleasure reading. I get enough of that in my day-to-day life.

Fully embracing the “easy and cheesy” books that allow me to escape the drudgery of the every day, I devoured the Twilight series, adored the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, and have been working my way through the Harry Potter set, slowly but surely, even if I’m too late to see those movies in the theater. I have become a big fan of books that allow me to forget reality, and get to know characters through the course of several stories. And yes, they’re all “movie books” and have all spent time on the bestseller list. I am not out to impress anyone with my reading list. I read what makes me happy.

Every once in a while, I need something meaty to really get my mind going. That seems to happen when my personal life is in order. Needless to say, it doesn’t happen often. I had a fleeting week around New Year’s when I tried to take on The Happiness Project. While it was hardly what I would consider “meaty,” it was thought-provoking and caused a fair amount of introspection. I quickly realized I was not in the right mental space to handle a self-improvement book and have put it aside until some semblance of sanity returns to my mind. I also tried to read The Art of Racing in the Rain, a book about an aging dog reflecting on his and his owner’s lives. I read the first chapter and sobbed, thinking about my own elderly dog, and decided that this book would also have to wait.

I used to read a lot more than I do now. When my son was sleep training, I read a lot, so much, in fact, that I agreed to take over the Parents of Tots book club. I could easily commit to choosing and reading a book a month. Now, that idea seems preposterous to me. It’s not that I don’t love to read, it’s just that whenever I sit down long enough to do it, I pass out. It’s almost narcoleptic. Or just another symptom of being an over-committed perfectionist.

The subject of the books I read has changed slightly since becoming a mother. I used to read anything. Now I am more selective. I can’t read books about children being harmed. For instance, The Lovely Bones, which I read and enjoyed years ago, would never be on my list anymore. I also have a very hard time with any books dealing with animals, unless they’re really happy and wonderful and sunny. Water for Elephants was an excellent book, but pushed the boundaries of what I was comfortable with. The animals were a peripheral story, second to the compelling central love story, so I was able to deal.

One of my favorite books of all time used to be The Catcher in the Rye. Before having kids, I tried to read it once a year. I loved reading about all the phonies and other crumby stuff Holden talked about. I read it again after becoming a mom and it was an entirely different experience. In the past I could relate to him as a peer and even thought some of it was funny. This time, however, it made me incredibly sad. I saw the whole thing from a completely different perspective. This time, I read that book as Holden Caulfield’s mother and all I wanted to do was hug him and tell him everything was going to be OK. It broke my heart. I wanted to find that poor, lost child a therapist. I’m not sure I can read it again.

I have a pretty big stack of books waiting for me to read, thanks to Jillian and former Patch Mama, Peggy. They all look so good, appealing on different levels to different parts of me. I started one, Bel Canto, and can’t wait to get back to it. I’m just so easily distracted by the sparkly, new, being-made-in-to-a-movie-that-I-know-I’ll-want-to-see-so-I-won’t-feel-like-I-live-under-a-rock book. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that haven’t read or seen The Help yet. Don’t judge me.) Maybe one day I’ll be able to read more than 10 minutes a night before falling asleep and I’ll make a dent in that ever-growing list.

In the meantime, I’d love some suggestions for “easy and cheesy” as well as “meaty” reads. What’s on your bedside table? I’d love to add to my list!

Regina Martine
I was an English Major in college and I should probably be reading the classics of Western Literature or modern literary masterpieces, but what am I reading? The Hunger Games, of course. I seem to have a preference for the fast-paced, easy fiction that doesn’t make me think too much. When I was in school, I had a pretty heavy reading load for my classes, so the books I have read for pleasure have always been more pop fiction. I read tons of Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and everything Dan Brown wrote. I like suspenseful, I-just-have-to-read-one-more-chapter-and-THEN-I’ll go to bed books.

The only “literary” book I have read lately is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I read it years ago, but reading it as a mother is a very different experience than when I read it in my 20s. It tells the story of a Handmaid, one of the few women in a post-apocalyptic America after a revolution led by religious zealots. Only the handmaids are still capable of bearing children, and she has to figure out how to survive in a society where women are property and have no rights at all. The Handmaids must bear children for the wealthy “commanders” and if they don’t they are sent to work camps or worse. Scary, powerful stuff. It is a great story, and Atwood’s writing is amazing, but it is definitely a serious book.

The Hunger Games is not my first dip into young adult fiction. I tried (and failed) to read the Harry Potter books. Ok, I only tried to read the first one. It really wasn’t for me. I did read several books by Laurie Halse Anderson— a writer who grew up in my hometown and went to my high school. Two of her novels, Speak and Catalyst take place in the very school we both attended, so it was fun to read about classes and teachers that I knew — although their names have been changed, I knew who they were, and her descriptions are exactly how I remember the school and the teachers to be. Her writing makes me wish I had known her as well.

Melissa Schools
In college, I was a Liberal Arts major with a concentration in Philosophy. Then, I went on to study Canon Law (Church Law) in graduate school. I wasn’t exactly steeped in contemporary reading material, if you know what I mean. Ooooh, how I love my classics and ancients!

Once I started having kids, I became an insatiable reader of parenting books. Just as I believe the next “deal of the century” is around the corner at “just one more” yard sale, I devoured parenting book after parenting book, patiently gathering helpful hints and pithy tidbits along the way, while I waited to score the Holy Grail of parenting advice that would spell out the secret to successful parenting once and for all. Yeah, naïve, I know. I prefer to call it optimism.

For you parenting book junkies out there, the books I loved the most were Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block (and it’s toddler version follow up), Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, by Tracy Hogg and The Baby Book, by William and Martha Sears. I also loved Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook  and The Secret of Childhood, both by Maria Montessori.

Once I had my third child, I was invited to join a book club at my husband’s work. How I loved those ladies for seeing that I could benefit from adult interaction and for challenging me to get my brain cells back into shape! I read a ton of contemporary fiction, but perhaps owing to my postpartum state at the time, I couldn’t recall titles now, even if paid handsomely to do so. What is noteworthy here is that it was the first time I’d read books that weren’t parenting books since my first child was born.

Later, I was invited to join my husband’s cousin’s book club after we relocated from Pennsylvania to Wakefield, Massachusetts in 2008. Much like my joining the book club mentioned above, I believe it was a kind of “mercy invitation” to keep me from despair. I had relocated very reluctantly and was spending a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. Here was a great group of women, with just the right combination of intelligence, sense of humor and appreciation for wine to make a new girl feel welcome! Some of my favorites were Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, Risk Pool, by Richard Russo and Gentlemen and Players, by Joanne Harris. I’m a sucker for good character development and some clever plot twists, and these titles deliver.

Alas, time and schedules have prevented this book club from meeting in quite some time, but I have read a couple books lately that I really enjoyed, neither of which is fiction. I finally read Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and laughed like a fool! No, it’s not a masterwork of literature, nor did I find it life-changing, but I really enjoyed reading about her path from Upper Darby, PA (near to our town in PA) to her success with 30 Rock (a show I like as much for its wit as I do for its featuring my secret crush, Alec Baldwin).

The second book I’m still reading is called, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. The book follows Miller after two movie producers approach him to make a movie out of his bestselling memoir, Blue Like Jazz. He comes to a disconcerting conclusion about his life as the producers are trying to make his story compelling for the big screen. Miller says, “The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.”

Cue the self-imposed guilt trip, right?? But the book is compelling and has spurred someintrospection that I think will reap positive benefits in the end.

For the moment, however, I’m regressing. Awaiting me on my nightstand are, Raising Responsible Kids, by Jay Kesler, and Maternal Fitness, by the amazing Julie Tupler. I’ll let you all know if I discover the definitive secret to successful parenting!

Jillian Sallee
I am struggling writing this week’s article.  Not because I have nothing to write about, in fact, I have been looking forward to this topic for weeks. It’s just that my Kindle is sitting next to me calling my name. I had the fortunate experience of getting sucked into a book yesterday and I have been stealing moments all day trying to get ahead!  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is what has captured my attention for the moment.  It’s in the magic/fantasy genre, not what I was expecting at all. The story is a little weird but I can’t put it down, and I love that about a book.  

I have always been an avid reader. I read for pleasure when I was little and when I was assigned a book in school, I often read ahead just because I couldn’t stop!  There was an unfortunate incident in high school when I refused to read 1984 by George Orwell but I don’t count that.  I’ll read just about anything that is recommended to me but my preferred taste in books runs from Historical Fiction to Fantasy, with the requisite young adult fiction novel thrown in from time to time (Team Edward!).  It’s taken me a long time to admit to liking the Fantasy books but I can’t deny I enjoy a good story based in a fantasy world. From the Lord of the Rings to my beloved Harry Potter, there really is nothing like it.  Confession time (it is Wednesday after all).  I am a bit obsessed with Harry Potter.  Just a little.  FINE!  A lot obsessed.  No matter what I am reading at the time, I usually have a Harry Potter book going as well.  I’ve read through the complete series about ten times and I am kind of a snob about the books versus the movies.  FINE!  I’m a snob. The books are just so incredible and the pureness of the story is unmatched in the movies (which are lovely by the way).  It was pure delight to me this past summer when we introduced the books to my son.

When the Harry Potter books first came out, there were a whole bunch of stories from parents about their kids being inspired to read.  Kids who refused to read before, were picking up the Harry Potter series and actually enjoying themselves in the reading world.  I heard these stories but I didn’t see it first hand.  This summer, with my husband’s amazing voices, the stories came alive for my five year old son and he was hooked.  Over the past year, my husband has read the first three books to him, just ending this past weekend.  The conversations, the creative play, and the straightforward reading that has come out of this has astounded me.  The lego sets that have been bought, the lego creations Ryan has made from his own mind, the journal writings he has chosen to write, the spells he has learned, the wand he carries, tucked into whichever book he is rereading, is absolutely thrilling to watch. This is a boy who we had to strap down to the couch during family reading time at 6pm, we had to bribe him with Wii minutes if he would read.  Now, he takes a book with him for even the shortest car rides and he never complains about family reading time.  Some might call it a Harry Potter miracle but I know better!

Our next challenge is to find a new set of books that will interest him. The fourth Harry Potter book gets a little dark and we want to hold off until we think he can handle it.  I suggested The Lightning Thief but Ryan is resisting so far. He just wants to reread the Potter books he has already read. I’m just waiting for us to catch him under the covers with the Goblet of Fire, sneaking it...Oh well, there are worse things I guess! Just yesterday, Tom started the first Harry Potter book again...with Lily, our four year old.  I hope she feels the magic of the story of the boy who lived.  

These days, to emulate my little reader (or maybe it’s Ryan copying me!), I always carry a book with me, or my Kindle in most cases. If I have to wait at school pickup I read for a few minutes, if the doctor is late for an appointment I read, if the kids are playing nicely by themselves, I read.  One of my many talents happens to be the ability to read quickly and so I tend to move through books pretty fast.  Some of my recent favorites, Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult, Story of a Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, 1,000 White Women by Jim Fergus, The Hunger Games series (for the second time), The Maze Runner series by James Dashner, Defending Jacob by William Landay and The Forgotton Garden by Kate Morton. My book club has made a game out of trying to come up with a book to recommend that I haven’t read yet! Hey wait a minute, maybe I should get out of the house more often...

Laurie Hunt April 11, 2012 at 08:31 PM
I think we need to get a copy of the Hunger Games to Melissa...
Tasha Schlake Festel April 11, 2012 at 11:57 PM
We could sell it as a parenting book since they discuss how the mother had issues after the father died... ;)
John Bengtson April 12, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Most of my reading is historical, in particular the Civil War or naval related. The last fiction book I read, I never completed even though it was kind of interesting. I did read most of the Anne Rice books in her Vampire Chronicles, but had no interest in the Twilight saga, If I don't get in on the ground floor of something, I rarely jump on the bandwagon latter.
Melissa Schools April 12, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Ooh! A new parenting book? Yes! I'll read it as soon as I get a copy in my hot little hands!
Ben Schools April 12, 2012 at 05:56 PM
What are you implying Tasha?
Rafdaddy April 15, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Here's an interesting take on this. My wife and I read with our sons. She does about twice as much reading with the kids than I. BTW - She is rivetted to Hunger Games at the moment. We won't see the movie until my wife and son are done with the book. I feel guilty that I ony read with my sons about half as much as my wife does. But I'm more focused on their creativity. For example, we just finished writing a children's book in video format, called puddle boy. <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNkfZ59DNWM">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNkfZ59DNWM</a> Is it bad that I focus more on creating stories than reading stories with our kids?

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