One of the best things about our recent Romania travels is that we were able to unplug for two weekends in a row. Even though our hotels had wi-fi, we brought books to fill our spare time and left the computers at home.
When we were in Portland last winter, we visited a handful of used book stores and swapped three boxes of D’s old college books, which had been gathering dust in his parents’ home, for some new reading material. Despite our excited browsing, however, the books have languished largely untouched.
Much like she did in Nairobi, S had joined a book club when we moved to Chisinau. She read a few books last year, but since Munchkin’s arrival, all of her reading has been baby-centric. Not surprisingly, Eat, Sleep, Poop and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, which she still consults periodically, do not provide quite the same enjoyment that reading for pleasure does. S did start Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Telegraph Avenue, which was among our recent purchases. Although he is one of our favorite authors and the book seems promising, she has been unable to make much headway, mostly reading in 15-minute spurts while she pumps.
Even though our lives now revolve around the capricious whims and needs of an infant, it would not be entirely truthful to say that we have no time to read, especially since Munchkin is still small enough that multi-tasking is possible. Even so, his constant need for attention drains us so completely that by the time we put him down for the night and eat dinner we frequently lack the energy and motivation to read. It is much easier simply to let our eyes glaze over as we browse the internet before going to sleep ourselves.
Living abroad, far away from friends and family, we have a love/hate relationship with our laptops. On one hand, the internet makes it much easier to stay in touch with our loved ones. Also, we derive intrinsic enjoyment from blogging that goes beyond simply ensuring that our faraway friends and family feel engaged with our lives. On the other hand, becoming parents has given us a new appreciation for the meaning and value of free time, and we despise ourselves a little for frittering away so much of it in front of our computer screens.
After barely touching a book during the first four months of our Chisinau tour, D made a resolution to cut down on screen time and read at least one book per month this year. A close friend recently sent us a copy of the much lauded Gregory David Roberts’ novel Shantaram, but at close to 1,000 pages its thickness has thus far proved too intimidating for D to overcome. D has put it on his night-table, but instead has opted for volumes that are both slimmer and easier to digest:
— Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother, which was enjoyable but rather pedestrian and nowhere near as cleverly written as A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime;
— Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which was a bit banal at times, but ultimately proved to be an engaging, informative, and well-spun narrative;
— William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which needs no introduction. D had somehow missed out on reading it as a young adult, and was pleased to find that the book packs as much of a punch when read after one’s formative years;
— Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music — his first novel and a fittingly imaginative precursor to Motherless Brooklyn. If visceral staying power is a measure of a novel’s greatness, than the dystopian future Lethem envisions makes for one of the better books D has read in the last couple of years; and
— Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies — easily the best of the books D has picked up this year and fully deserving of its Pulitzer prize. The scenes in Lahiri’s short stories are so simple and told with such exquisite humanness that one can imagine the events unfolding exactly as she tells them, perhaps in one’s own life or in that of a close friend.
Unplugging two weekends in a row felt so good that we’re contemplating implementing internet-free weekends at home (we don’t own a TV, so internet is our main distraction). That leap, if we take it, will have to wait, however, as the World Cup starts tomorrow, and like most soccer fans around the world, D will be glued to his screen for the next three weeks.