By April 10, 2006 1 Comments Read More →

What Not to Read

We’re going to the hospital today-my wife Marya is delivering our second child-and we need something to read.

Two years ago, when our son Felix was born, I had put a lot of thought into our hospital reading material. The due date came and went, faded into memory, and still Felix showed no signs of making an appearance. An induction was scheduled. The doctor told us the process could take quite a while. A dutiful husband, I planned to help Marya pass the uncomfortable hours by reading to her. But what should I read?

It should be a work that sounded good when read aloud, I thought. It should also be something exciting and not too intellectual-the last thing she would want would be to parse oblique metaphors on the crisis of self while she waited for another contraction to hit. And, just in case the labor went 15 rounds, the work should be long enough to last until the baby was born.

(By the way, I don’t know what it means “to parse oblique metaphors on the crisis of self” either, but it sure sounds exhausting.)

Then I thought of the perfect read: The Iliad.

The first sign that something was going wrong was when Marya-who is not, never has been, and never will be a baseball fan-asked if we could watch the Cubs game instead.

It wasn’t the gore that got to her-we didn’t even get that far. It was, I think, both the incongruity of the surroundings (tubes and wires, beeping monitors, teenaged doctors popping round for a look) and the fact that, if you’re not familiar with the plot, the windup to The Iliad is a bit like following one of the extended “begat” sequences in the King James Bible.

It obviously wasn’t my reading of the material in question, so let’s move on.

Anyway, this trip will be a little different. Baby Number Two (we don’t know if it will be a boy or a girl and we’re still trying to nail down the name) also seems reluctant to leave the womb, so Marya will undergo a Planned Surgical Procedure this afternoon. We don’t need anything to read during labor, but the idea of going anywhere for three days without a book makes me a little nervous.

For one, it’s a Monday, and there’s no Cubs game on.

To reverse the Iliad curse, light comedy. I chose two novels: The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde and Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis.

Poetry couldn’t hurt, either. Poems are short, perfect for meaningful moments in our lives, and a single thin volume can suit many different moods. I selected four books of poetry: 100 Selected Poems, by E. E. Cummings; The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir, by Richard Hugo; The Back Country, by Gary Snyder; and Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems.

I also have the baby-name book.

And I just got back from the store, where I picked up some really light reading: Rolling Stone (so Marya can read about Kiefer Sutherland) and Vanity Fair (so I can read about George Clooney).

Don’t worry, I’m not panicking.

Gotta run. The taxi will be coming soon and I need to take another quick look at the bookshelf.

I’ll be back next week.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

1 Comment on "What Not to Read"

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  1.' The Cutbank Kid says:

    Strange, no mention of reading material for the newbie?

    It is never too early to dive into the Rainbow Fish, or slink along with the Very Hungry Caterpillar!

    Personally I would suggest the Dickey classic, Deliverance

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