Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Books Read: January-February 2014

January 11th: Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, Annie Murphy Paul. I actually wanted to read this a while ago, but thought it would make me feel too guilty for being insufficiently healthy when pregnant with R. In the end it didn't have that effect, though I didn't find it as enlightening or interesting as I had hoped either: most of the information was not new to me. Grade: B-.
January 11th: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John Le Carre. A spy thriller and very male in both tone and style, by which I mean not very emotional or personal, and with a tightly-focused point of view. Not really my cup of tea: but for this genre, it's quite good. Grade: A-.
January 12th: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Steven Johnson. Nonfiction about both a terrible cholera epidemic, and how the investigation of this epidemic led to the discovery that polluted water could directly cause disease (and thus to the implementation of modern sewer systems, water treatment plants, and concerns with environmental pollution). Would have been better if the author had restricted his focus more tightly on the Victorians: when he wanders from this period, the book suffers considerably. Grade: B-.
January 24th: Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. My all-time favorite book from ages 7 to around 9, I have read this book countless times. This was the first time as an adult though, and I was surprised by 1. the overt religiosity throughout (which I didn't understand before, and therefore just skimmed over) and 2. the extremely puritanical values (one teenager curls her hair and borrows a fancy dress from her girlfriend, and this is presented as a grave moral dilemma). The characters are still great though. Grade: A-. 
January 30th: Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, Laura Markham. This is really a very radical book in disguise, the premise being parents should not use punishment (or rewards, really) AT ALL. Children are naturally good, and want to please their parents; children who are naughty are actually expressing a need, and the parent's job is to find out what that need is and meet it, which will then eliminate any unwanted behavior. A defiant child is one who feels unloved (or unconnected, in the author's terminology), so the cure is to give them more attention. Sounds shocking, but I agree with almost everything she writes, and think it's a wise and effective method of parenting. I have found it to work wonderfully with R (so far, she is only 3.5). Grade: A+.

February 7th: A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, Ernest Hemingway. Memoir about Hemingway's impoverished young days in Paris. Interesting and evocative: will make you want to visit the city. Grade: A.
February 11th: The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro. Subtle and complex novel about a man whose whole existence has been dedicated to what turns out to have been a corrupt and false ideal. Excellent study of regret and self delusion. Grade: A.
February 13th: Bel-Ami, Guy de Maupassant. By modern standards, this is a rather strange novel about an impoverished but handsome man sleeping his way to the top (via strategic affairs with Parisian society women). His strategy works out perfectly and he has no regrets. Sharp social commentary and some interesting characters. Grade: A-.
February 16th: The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho. One of the most-read books of all time, I have been meaning to read it for a while and finally did for book club. I hated it. Sexist, derivative, and intellectually shallow, it is the opposite of profound or thought provoking. Some vivid scenes, though, even if they are not original. Grade: D+.
February 25th: Until It Hurts: America's Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids, Mark Hyman. The subtitle says it all: a journalist's exploration of the problems with youth sports, with a particular focus on the physical problems. He indicts himself as one of the obsessed parents, sending his teenage son to pitch with a potentially seriously injured arm: his honesty is refreshing and disarming. The whole thing is just OK, though: some more in-depth thought on the phenomenon is required. Grade: C.
February 25th: It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids, Heather Shumaker. Easy to read, clear and highly sensible parenting guide geared for toddlers and preschoolers. Maybe a bit facile for my taste, but overall excellent. Grade: A-.
February 27th: Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act the Way You Do, Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy. I find attachment theory absolutely fascinating, so I should have loved this. Instead, I hated it because 1. the authors are devout Christians and several chapters are all about God's love etc: as an atheist, this is of no interest; 2. they writes as if attachment styles in adult behavior was a proven fact, when actually attachment theory applies to young children, and only in particular situations and 3. they discuss "attachment types" in adults as if adults had only one kind, consistent across all relationships, when the best evidence suggests the opposite is the case. This is irresponsible and misleading. Grade: F.

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