Welcome to My Reading Life, a series where I revisit the authors and novels that have shaped me into the reader I am today.
It’s hard to believe now, but there was period of time that stretched into several years when I didn’t read at all. Or at least, I didn’t read for pleasure, only for purpose. It began when I had my first baby. All of sudden, being dog tired and busy in a way that was entirely different from before, the only reading I managed to muster up an energy for was parenting guides and children’s stories. The one I read in order to be a better parent while the other I read as a demonstration of my better parenting. Better than what I’m not so sure about but this was by purpose and I was going to fulfil it. Inevitably, after seven years of voraciously reading parenting guides, they all began to sound very much the same, and I realised that my children were developing just fine and I was doing an okay job at this mum gig, and perhaps, I could quit studying motherhood and simply let myself enjoy it. And as much as I enjoyed reading the children’s stories, both new and old favourites revisited, I found myself one day pushing my pram, then containing my third baby who was already a toddler, into the book section at Big W with the intent of completely bypassing the children’s books and parenting guides. I was headed for the fiction section and I was going to buy myself a new book. Or, more correctly, a novel.
The novel I purchased that day was a new release by an author I had never read before. That author was Jodi Picoult and the novel was Handle with Care. I had never read a novel like it and I devoured it, reading it whenever I could, and in doing so, I rediscovered my love of reading fiction, particularly fiction that seeks to impart knowledge, still one of my favourite kinds. I also realised that motherhood had changed my response to fiction and with each new Jodi Picoult novel that I read, I became better at reading while crying, because every single one of her stories resonated in some way, and made me ponder about life and society long after I had read the final pages. I have kept on reading Jodi over the years, and out of all her titles there are only four on my shelf that I haven’t yet read: Sing You Home, Keeping Faith, The Storyteller, and Leaving Time. I’m kind of saving them, because Jodi doesn’t release as often these days as she used to and sometimes I just want to read a Jodi Picoult that I’ve never read before. Many of her novels have themes tied up with motherhood and the decisions about our children that we make along the way, so I think I came to Jodi’s work at the right time for me.
I couldn’t for the life of me pin down a favourite. There are certainly some titles that have stuck with me more than others, for various reasons, but in truth, I love them all. If I was pressed, to narrow it down to maybe five (this is going to be hard), I would say that these are my top five Jodi Picoult novels:
1. Tenth Circle (2006)
2. Second Glance (2003)
3. Small Great Things (2016)
4. Vanishing Acts (2005)
5. Plain Truth (1999)
And of course, Handle with Care, published in 2009, which was so good that it lured me back into fiction’s warm embrace, a place where I have always belonged. (See how I just snuck another one in – I knew I’d never be able to pick just five!) Now, onto my five second best picks…kidding!
So Jodi Picoult, with her thought provoking fiction, deserves a very special place within my reading life. I’m sure I would have returned to reading adult fiction anyway, but I feel as though her work drew me back faster and with more intent. I began to value my personal reading time again and my children quickly realised that reading was something their mother considered important. I think we teach our children a lot about the value of reading when we do it ourselves. It’s certainly important to read to them, to expose them to the magic of the written word, but it teaches them something more about the importance of literacy when they see the most important adults in their lives reading for pleasure, not only purpose. Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult was the first novel I read for pleasure instead of purpose, in more than seven years. It’s a very special novel to me indeed and will always have a place on my bookshelf.