Sleepless Reading

In the first few months after E’s birth I found it almost impossible to write. Life was full of profound (and funny, mundane, horrible, stressful, bewildering, ecstatic, beautiful) moments that seemed made for poetry, but I was too tired, hungry, busy, or frazzled to capture any of them. Although I was worried that I’d never feel like writing again, I was incredibly lucky to have some seasoned poet parents on hand to reassure me that things would calm down eventually. Happily, they were right.  But in the meantime, I just read as much as I could, using every feed, every little nap, and every sleepless night to make up for the ten months that I’d been starved of words.

Here are just a few of the books that I read and loved in those first few months. Some write beautifully about pregnancy, childbirth, and children, while others address climate change and environmental disaster, addiction and recovery, war, race and racism, class, gender and sexuality, loss and grief, love, and selfhood. Some are fiction, while others are poetry collections, essays, and prose. Some are new, while others are established classics. Some I’ve read before, and others are brand new discoveries. All are fantastic in their own way.


Karen McCarthy Woolf, Seasonal Disturbances

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

Amy Liptrot, The Outrun

Margo Jefferson, Negroland

Sinéad Morrissey, Through the Square Window

Holly McNish, Nobody Told Me

Jon Silkin, Out of Battle

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Kayo Chingonyi, Kumukanda

Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Julia Copus, The World’s Two Smallest Humans

Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe

Clare Pollard, Incarnation

Sarah Moss, Signs for Lost Children

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

Tiphanie Yannique, Wife

Karen McCarthy Woolf, An Aviary of Small Birds

Michael Hamburger, The Truth of Poetry

Ted Hughes, Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose

Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Denise Riley, Say Something Back

Kate Atkinson, A God in Ruins

Sarah Moss, Bodies of Light

This post should really be called ‘rest read when the baby rests’. When E was born every midwife, health visitor, family member, and seasoned parent gave this (very good) advice. I’m afraid I didn’t follow it. But I think reading also has fantastic restorative properties. For one thing it has the power to keep you sane, adult, and imaginative in those crazy first few months. It gives you something else to talk about in amongst the chat about nap routines and colic.

What other books should be on this list? Let me know the books that keep you company through sleepless nights – baby induced or otherwise.

Hannah x

2 thoughts on “Sleepless Reading

  1. Some really interesting choices, many of which I haven’t read, some of which I also love, one of which I don’t!

    I think Nobody Told Me should be required reading for all new parents. I seem to remember a quote on the back saying something very similar.

    My list includes Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays by George Orwell. His writing style is so clear that the essays are easy to follow, even when you’re in a sleep-deprived stupor. They’re on such diverse topics that they definitely helped keep me sane and adult when I was at risk of baby overload.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ‘Shooting an Elephant’ is an excellent choice! You’re right, so varied and clear. I think my favourites are the title essay and ‘The Spike’. So wonderfully, gruesomely evocative. And, as you said, so sane.

      ‘Nobody Told Me’ was given to me by a mother in the know. Maybe we all have a duty to pass on a copy to any unsuspecting mother-to-be that we come across!


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