Friday, August 31, 2012

Books Read: August

August 4th: Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, Christine Carter. By a sociologist and happiness expert, this book promised how to educate me on how to make my children happier: sounds great! Sadly the book was not very good, being a mix of research better presented elsewhere and really cheesy advice. The proposed scripts (how you are supposed to talk to your kids to create a 'happiness habit') were especially awful, and I can't imagine any real person being able to use them with a straight face. I appreciated the author's frequent self-depreciation (she uses her parenting errors as a learning tool) though: she seems like a nice person even if her book isn't good. Grade: C.

August 9th: The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy, Edward Hallowell. I hated this book, for its utterly unoriginal content (why write a book if you have nothing new or creative to say? for the money, I guess), the horrible smugness of the author, and its generally dishonest view of parenting and the world in general (in favor of giving everything a sugar coating, an odd choice given the author's professional occupation in mental health, one of the more depressing fields). Grade: D+.

August 13th: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery. I read this for book club. It's a French novel which came out to huge critical acclaim, but I didn't like it. The writing is nice, the philosophical interludes are at times interesting (the author is a philosophy professor), but the characters are thin, unconvincing and repellent and it's shockingly racist, classist and elitist. It also made me wonder about France (where it was a huge bestseller): is it as backwards a country as the book made it seem, or is that just the author's problem? Grade: C-.

August 18th: Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry), Lenore Skenazy. I really wanted to like this book, because I agree with the author's premise (give children as much freedom as possible; the world is not that dangerous). Unfortunately it's not very good. The writing style is conversational and easy to read (Skenazy is a journalist), but the content is just not there. The book could have been condensed into a magazine article: instead, it's repetitive and feels padded. The arguments are sloppy and so is the information she uses to back them up (in particular, almost everything she says about other cultures/countries is either wrong or misleading). Grade: C-.

August 20th: Hell, Yasutaka Tsutsui. Japanese surrealism about the afterlife. Very Japanese, meaning everything is implied rather than stated outright, morality is not clear-cut (for instance, no one knows why certain people end up in Hell, and it doesn't seem to be well correlated with their actual behavior), and the overall mood is melancholy and wistful. A little slight, but I liked it a lot. Grade: B+.

August 21st: Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans: A Childhood in Singapore and Malaya, Derek Tait. A (self-published?) memoir about the author's childhood in 1960s Singapore, which was entirely ordinary and unexciting. Of interest only to those with a personal interest (ie, his relatives) and those who are absolutely fascinated by historical narratives. I enjoyed it but think pretty much everyone else would be bored. Grade: C.

August 30th: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think, Bryan Caplan. Another book I really wanted to like, and was very excited to read. I'm all about lazy parenting. However, the book isn't really about parenting at all: it's about the fact that parenting doesn't matter (so you might as well have a few more kids, and neglect all of them more). Since I am completely convinced that 50-80% of a person's behavior/traits/character are genetic (meaning parenting matters less than you might imagine), you would think I would find his argument convincing. Sadly, the book is completely marred by his really inexcusable intellectual sloppiness, selective presentation of the evidence, and outright lies. This makes it worthless, and if I were Caplan's mother, I would tell him he should be ashamed of himself for writing it. Grade: F.

August 31st: Through the Bamboo Window: Chinese Life and Culture in 1950s Malaya and Singapore, Leon Comber. Contains a lot of interesting and unusual information about Chinese religion, festivals, folk beliefs, and superstition, presented in a clear and organized fashion. The subject is really complicated and confusing however, so those reading without any prior knowledge will probably feel bewildered and overwhelmed. The writing style is also clunky and rather awkward, making for a fairly boring read. Grade: B-.

Not a very good reading month (probably because it was rather heavy on the parenting books, and the standard of quality on those tends to be low). I hope next month is better!

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