24 February 2018

What I've Been Reading on my Parental Leave

Posted by John Clegg

In January I started six months' parental leave to look after a lively seven-month-old called Emily. Here's what I've been reading. I've divided it into several categories and left children's books off it altogether (Emily's favourites are Goodnight Moon, which you know about already; Texas Baby, which I'm sure you can't get in the UK; and something called Mes Amis Les Canards, about three of the creepiest ducklings you've ever seen who have a run-in with an equally sinister turtle).

Books I'm reading to Emily

It's wonderful having someone prepared to listen excitedly to literally anything being read out loud. So far we've read together:

  • Macbeth, chosen because it seemed the most promising Shakespeare play for funny voices, and indeed it is.
  • Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, an old edition we found on the market. The 'romaunts' and 'lays' and mock-medieval stuff might be tiring if you read it all in one stretch, but one poem a day is invigorating, and again there are a surprising number of opportunities for funny voices. Our favourite so far is 'Rhyme of the Duchess May'.
  • Collected Poems of Peter Robinson, just out from Shearsman, because I foolishly agreed to review it for Poetry London and need to get up to speed. Emily has been helping with the review, shaking her head at the silly ones and chirping enthusiastically for the good bits.
  • Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu, because I foolishly started it while she was asleep and was desperate to find out what happened. Masterful Victorian nonsense for fans of Wilkie Collins et al.
  • She's surely a bit young to understand the subtleties, but she seems as big a fan as I am of the Austrian poet Friederike Mayröcker (in Richard Dove's translations). I took my eyes off her for a brief moment to refill my coffee and found she'd rolled over to where I'd left our copy of Raving Language and was enthusiastically licking it.

Books I'm reading while Emily is asleep

It's also wonderful having someone who sleeps for 1/3 of the day. With me she sleeps best in her carry sling, so her nap times are when I go on a walk: I photograph some poems with my phone so I've got something to read which isn't Twitter. So far I've been reading:

  • Charles Tomlinson, and when we stopped in a cafe (Caffe Nero in East Finchley) so Emily could have some milk we saw an old man who looked exactly like him
  • The new collection from James Womack, On Trust: A Book of Lies, one of the best books of last year
  • Emily Hasler, whose debut collection The Built Environment is going to be super
  • Hannah Sullivan, whose Three Poems is the first in a series of really astonishing debut collections coming out from Faber this year
  • Spoils by James Brookes, which is even better than Sins of the Leopard and that's saying something

And while she's asleep in the crib, I've been reading The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim; which is so good it's made me pick up all the other Elizabeth von Arnim books.