A Year in Reading: Lydia Kiesling

December 6, 2014 | 10 books mentioned 6 4 min read

I don’t know when this entry will run, but I am writing it on a Friday, and I’m supposed to have a baby on Tuesday. I’ve been home since Wednesday, prowling around the house — if a very pregnant person can be said to prowl — feeling lumpy and alert and expectant. It’s safe to say I’m weirding out a little. For weeks I have been in the grip of so-called nesting hormones, which are real, and which remind me of being in college and taking other people’s adderall to finish a term paper, except the term paper is cleaning baseboards, or finally buying a decent set of towels after reading a lot of information about what makes a towel nice, or creating tasteful yet affordable shared adult/baby bedroom decor out of an old calendar and 12 discount frames from Amazon. I’ve been reading a lot of Amazon reviews, so many that it doesn’t feel like I’ve read much of anything else.

But that’s not true — I read a book of essays by Nora Ephron. And I read this article in Harper’s, about squadrons of elderly people living in campers and humping merchandise through an Amazon warehouse. Nora Ephron feels bad about her neck; I feel bad about my ankles, and my strenuous participation in late capitalism. I feel bad about the number of huge cardboard boxes filled with tiny things I’ve gotten from Amazon. I don’t want to buy any more things from Amazon, but I don’t know how I will get my cat litter, or new hooks for my shower curtain, or a tiny dehumidifier that fits in a closet, or a ceramic space heater with automatic shutoff and remote control so the baby doesn’t freeze in our cold little house. I don’t know where I will read 400 earnest assessments of which Pack and Play is the best Pack and Play. Did I mention I’m weirding out a little?

covercoverSpeaking of late capitalism, last week I read four children’s books by Beverly Cleary, because I have been thinking about what it means to have a family and to be middle class and the Ramona books feel like a portrait of a kind of family and life that is maybe on its way out in America. I read select passages from The Chronicles of Narnia to get in a more cheerful frame of mind, but not The Last Battle, because that’s the one where everyone dies. I read the first few pages of Renata Adler’s Speedboat because people are always talking about it on Twitter, but I didn’t understand what was happening and I took a break and then accidentally returned it to the library. I read some stories by Julie Hayden, and want to read more, but there aren’t very many to read. I read Rabbit, Run, which I had always assumed that I’d read and it turned out I hadn’t, and which I probably shouldn’t have read while nine months pregnant since it depressed and angered the hell out of me.

covercovercoverI read Invisible Man. I read Austerlitz. I read The Patrick Melrose Novels and was not as charmed as I had hoped to be. I read new things, The Good Lord Bird and Life After Life and The People in the Trees and Dept. of Speculation. I read Americanah over a blissful Easter Sunday, which I spent in bed eating popcorn in an empty house. I read Station Eleven over the course of a blissful regular Saturday, with my cats and my blanket. I read Thrown, which filled me with envy of people who are professional writers. I read Submergence. I re-read Dance to the Music of Time and The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Howards End and everything by Donald Antrim. I read small parts of a vast number of books about pregnancy and babies and felt overwhelmed with details regarding the cervix. I read all of Labor Day, because Edan is in it, and I found most of the entries frankly alarming, but less so than the comments on BabyCenter. I read a lot of studies about what the numbers on a nuchal translucency mean, and many opaque articles about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

As with every year, there were a lot of things I wanted to read and didn’t. I didn’t read anything by Norman Rush and I didn’t read anything by Ivan Turgenev or Katherine Mansfield or Karen Russell or Ben Lerner.

There were a lot of things I wanted to write and didn’t. I didn’t write an essay about my great-grandmother Vera. I didn’t write my Anita Brookner reader, or an essay about late capitalism, or a novel. Parenthood, as far as I know, is not a condition characterized by increased productivity, so I don’t know what will happen to these plans in the new year. I will say I have found pregnancy, for the most part, unexpectedly generative and wonderful. I mean, obviously, it’s generative, but I mean generative of things other than blastocysts and embryos, or of strong feelings regarding towels. I mean of thoughts about life and books and writing. The first real things I ever wrote I wrote after I met my husband and fell in love; maybe loving a new person will open other horizons. Maybe it won’t. It’s impossible to say. For now I’m just weirding, watchful.

More from A Year in Reading 2014

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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is a contributing editor at The Millions and the author of The Golden State. You can read more of her writing at www.lydiakiesling.com.


  1. I loved this and you are right to be depressed by John Updike. Yuk. For what it is work, after baby came and after I began to work again, I was writing right away, in every interstice in every awake moment even when I was sleepwalking through whole foods and I kept thinking of Tillie Olson writing while ironing and Eavon Boland writing on napkins and I wrote a short story about my baby getting a fly in his ear and about not throwing myself into the SF Bay and I sent it to my sister and she asked me are you okay and then one day as I was sleepwalking through whole foods I ran into the poet Diane Middlebrook and she did not recognize me though I once was a student and when she figured it out she invited me to a book party for a woman who had written a fictional biography of sylvia plath and I went to the party and met zadie smith and went home and read wintering and said to myself no book of poems and no drunken unfaithful man is worth my life and I said to myself I will not let anything extinguish this life of body and words and so I wrote a poem and sent it to my first love and I wrote a chapter of a book and I left an angry man and I took my baby with me to teach again and I left Oakland and started writing again and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote a memoir and a renaissance and now I am writing a big fat book about life and film and literature and life is good and you will always write because you must.

  2. @Christina, wow — I want to read that book — wait, maybe I just did. Most inspiring comment ever — it sings.

    Loved this piece! Probably too late for you but the book to read while pregnant is Full of Life by John Fante — and do avoid all the “terrible things happening to your uterus right now” books as they are relentlessly pessimistic. Stick with the towel musing and late Capitalist nesting. Resistance is futile. Whilst nursing, I suggest Beloved, not only my favorite book of the last quartile of the 20th century but the one that nails our tortured American history as nothing else seems to. I have seldom been more moved by any piece of art.

    O i loved this piece and I wish you all good things this week!

  3. Great, as always. If you wrote all the things you wanted to write I might expire from admiration. I just checked Twitter to see if you had the baby yet. As of 21 hours ago, no. Those recalcitrant first babies. They keep you waiting and then when they finally get born, they never sleep and neither does the mother. Hopefully yours will just pop out easily and sleep peacefully and often throughout infancy. So you can read and write!

  4. “I’ve been home since Wednesday, prowling around the house — if a very pregnant person can be said to prowl — feeling lumpy and alert and expectant.”

    Oh my, what imagery! I think your writing year is a success based on those lines alone.

    Thanks for a glimpse into your year, and best wishes to you and yours!

    Moe Murph

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