Tuesday, September 30, 2008


This is the latest Neil Gaiman book I've read, but I think it might've been the first one he wrote. It's still very good, but I would have to say not my favorite, because I LOVE LOVE LOVED the others I read, whereas I just really enjoyed this one. It's quite beautiful writing, and it's imaginative, but I think my big complaint (which, of course, is nothing like a complaint since I really liked the book) is that it reminded me of a certain movie I saw a couple of years ago...which I shan't reveal because that would give the ending away. It also is a little more like a movie than the other books of his I've read. This makes me wonder if that's related to this author's ability to write graphic novels and such. I'm not sure exactly how to explain what I mean by that movie comment, but the other books I read (American Gods, Anansi Boys, Stardust) were so fantastic and fantastical that I didn't once imagine what they would look like in a movie or relate the images in my head to something easily translatable to a movie screen....but this book, Neverwhere, sort of reminded me of the graphics that have been done in recent fantasy-type movies. And I'm interested to hear if some of the plot characteristics of this movie, and some of the scenes, seemed somewhat familiar to you, and if so, did anyone think of the same movie I did? I'll give you a clue...it starts with C. ;)

Anyway. I love Gaiman books and I can't wait to get to read the new one that's coming out soon. OOH OOH OOH, just checked his site and it came out TODAY. HOORAY! =)

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Happiest Toddler on the Block

The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp, is fast becoming a parenting classic, with its sensible talk about helping babies get used to this world by trying to mimic the one they came from--swaddling, babywearing, shhhh noises, etc. So I thought I'd see what the good Doctor had to say about toddlers.

It was...interesting. The main idea, the scientific idea of Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny, is an intriguing one. It says, basically, that an individual animal's growth will mimic the evolutionary changes that the species has passed through.

However. Harvey Karp uses this idea to suggest that the way to deal with your child is to consider your one-year-old as a Neanderthal, by which he means slow, clumsy, and stupid, and so on. And as an anthropologist and a parent I have so many issues with this.

That being said, he has a few good ideas, and the main one is "the McDonald's Drive-Through Request" or something like that. The idea is that you should approach communicating with your toddler the way a drive-through order-taker communicates: repeat their order back to them before you tell them how much they owe you. Hence, if your child wants one thing and you need them to do something else, you need to repeat what they want so they know you understand, and then you can move on. I've found this to be true, since my own child will repeat the same thing over and over and over no matter what you say until you repeat after him, and then he's satisfied because he KNOWS you understand him. =)

So, a few decent ideas, a few really weird and potentially offensive ones? Hm. The Happiest Baby is better, but this has the potential to help parents struggling with toddlers, so I'd recommend it, just ignore the weirdness.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How Weaning Happens

I would really have loved it if Diane Bengson's book had some answers that I hadn't thought of or heard of yet. It didn't, but I credit that to the fact that I have already searched out this kind of information far and wide, and I've been around nursing and weaning moms my whole life, and none of this is a mystery to me.

It's no surprise, either, that this book didn't contain a specific answer to my specific questions. But it's still a very reassuring book and is very calming about any questions and concerns moms may have. Definitely recommended not only for moms who are curious or need help with these issues, but also for any family and/or friends who don't understand why someone hasn't weaned yet, or who don't understand the process, or who are worried about any of it.

I did feel like they left out some clarifying details, and they REALLY need to include hormonal feelings about nursing in this book, but in general, it's a great book.


This is the third book in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, and I can't really do full review of it without giving away a lot of the plot. So, suffice it to say that I was happy with the author's abilities but not necessarily happy with the plot itself.

In the last book, I was worried that I would get to this one and really hate where the author went with everything, but I was happy to discover that's not the case. Even though my personal preferences mean that I wish the story had taken a different turn, the plot isn't aggravating and stupid like I feared.

And reading this book showed me a lot about myself through the characters, which sounds cheesy to say, but it's true anyway. I have values and standards about love and relationships that I am really glad I have and I am so blessed to have a partner who feels the same way.

Wow, that came out really un-like a book review, but that's the best I can do without using lots of names and giving away lots of plotlines. And I'm saving that for the finale!

On a related note...I do have to say that I feel a little bit let down by some of the plot structure. Things were revealed in this book that really made me feel like the end is going to be really predictable. I can see a lot of details coming, and I don't always like that. But we'll see.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Little Sugar Addicts

I picked up this book by Kathleen DesMaisons at the library because the title was interesting to me. I had no idea what it was really about or anything, but once I started reading it, I realized that the author has a series of books for adults as well (Potatoes Not Prozac, The Sugar Addict's Total Recovery Program, and Your Last Diet), one of which I think my friend Becky recommended to me. And I think this book has a lot of good things to say about how much an unhealthy diet can affect our children's behaviors and abilities and how little we sometimes notice this, or how little we think we can change it.

Unfortunately, there were also a lot of things in this book that I did NOT like. First of all, I don't want to be recommended a bunch of sugar-free substitutes that are still sweet. I am not a fan of diet sodas or really any kind of artificial sweeteners. I think you should go whole hog for NATURAL sweets like fruits if you're going to be focusing on a healthy diet and cutting out things that may be adversely affecting your children.

Also, the author mentions over and over again how everything that's wrong with your child is not your fault, how diet is the answer. Well. I definitely think that cutting the vast majority of empty sugars out of your child's diet will have a positive impact on his or her behavior. But I got tired of her assuring me that there's no way my parenting skills might play into the problem, or that there's nothing else in my life I can improve to also help my children.

For me, the worst was reading about Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Do you know about this? It's a new psychological disorder diagnosis defined as "a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present: 1. often loses temper 2. often argues with adults 3. often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules 4. often deliberately annoys people 5. often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior 6. is often touchy or easily annoyed by others 7. is often angry and resentful 8. is often spiteful or vindictive."

This is highly disturbing to me. As an anthropologist, I feel that the diagnoses found in a psychology manual are often more reflective of a society's values and issues than of an empirical medical diagnosis, and it really really bothers me that people can't see that perhaps this type of behavior is a) normal for a child (hello, teenagers?), b) caused by inflexible or unsure parenting, c) caused by unrealistic expectations, d) caused by a complete lack of respect for children's autonomy and emotions, or e) all of the above, and potentially other causes too, like lack of education about and experience of how to eat healthily and get enough exercise.

Just think about it. How many people have a boss who exhibits those exact symptoms? How many times do you think a child might act out to be reassured that you love him or her? How many times are your requests or demands of your children unreasonable? How many times do YOU exhibit any of the symptoms IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN WHO ARE ALWAYS COPYING WHAT YOU DO?

Anyway. So that part was total and complete crap and really bothered me, obviously, but I'm going to try to get past that and explain what I thought was really GREAT about this book. The author isn't trying to get you to put your child on a diet. She knows that won't work, that for the rest of your child's life he or she will have to make many, many decisions without you and will have many sugary temptations (and others as well) and will have to learn to make smart decisions alone. And this book describes a way to teach your children how sugar affects their bodies, to show them why they might not want to eat that ice cream at Grandma's or their friend's extra candy bar. And that is a priceless lesson. That is what children need to know. That is, in fact, a good metaphor for what I think parenting should be: teaching your children, showing them, letting them experiment and find out for themselves how things work and how to live life when you're not around.

So, I recommend this book, but with reservations. And I will try some of her recipes, but not the ones that include tons of pork product. =)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Certain Girls

I read Little Earthquakes a couple of years ago and loved it, so when I saw that Jennifer Weiner (apparently pronounced "whiner" rather than "wee-ner," which doesn't seem like much of an improvement to me) had written a new book, I picked it up, only to find that it's actually a continuation of the story of Cannie Shapiro from her first book, Good in Bed, which I read ages ago. What I remember from that book is that it was about a girl who is agonized by weight issues, who has a lot of trouble grappling with her own self-esteem and who gets pregnant and has to learn to move past it. I remember I wasn't overly fond of the ending of that book, since my faulty memory supplies me with these details: She realized her weight didn't matter, and consequently figured out that she had lost a lot of weight, and met a nice guy. The End.

BUT...I did like this addition in part because it pointed out that she wasn't ever effortlessly thin again. I DIDN'T like having to read all the ways in which Cannie and her daughter have twisted ideas about fat and self-image. That was painful because it was so obvious they were hung up on unimportant things and letting these issues get in the way of living their lives--but I think that's the point, because I think a lot of women have the same kinds of issues. So I suppose therefore you could label this book, and all of Ms. Weiner's books, "relevant." And ultimately, that's what I like about them, that I think they reflect things that real women are dealing with or thinking about or feeling, although of course not all women constantly worry that they're not good enough because they think they're too fat, or whatever.

It's so complicated, because I think Ms. Weiner is a great writer. I think if you're going to call something "chick lit," then it should be this, because this is meaningful and not just full of fluff, but it's meaningful in that it relates to the particular issues women are likely to have in our culture today. But it's hard for me to read because I am NOT that woman. And I wish that women would stop feeling like we have to look a certain way before [fill in the blank]. Why don't we stop looking at ourselves as objects people look at, and start looking out in the world? BECOME THE GAZERS, AND FORGET ABOUT BEING GAZED AT, WOMEN!

Okay, off my pedestal now. Back to the book. It was decent. I was reading along, thinking that it was mediocrely good, but then I came to the end and it was a shock and it made me cry a little, so I'm not sure what to think now. I'm thinking my response says more about me and my life than about the author's technical abilities, but I do feel like warning you that it's not really a happy ending.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Carpe Demon

I read this book, by Julie Kenner, at least a week ago. And I have at least three other book reviews to do. I get so behind! Anyway.

So, Carpe Demon was exactly what you'd expect if you read the teaser from the front cover: "Carpools. Crabgrass. Creatures from the depths of hell. Suburbia has its problems too..." It's what one reviewer said is like a grown-up Buffy who never told any of her adult friends what her high school years were like. It's total and complete fluff, but generally decent enough for fluff. I have to say that I didn't really enjoy the ending, because I feel like she just yanked it abruptly out of the laundry pile of storylines she'd introduced, but that's probably because I don't like so many loose threads left hanging. I'm starting to get the feeling this might be a series. But I have no idea and I'm not particularly motivated to go find out. It was just a fun and incredibly quick read.

Oh, and one other small nitpicky detail I didn't like: on page 55 the main character is reminiscing about "Me, laid up with the flu, propped up in my dorm-room bed with a box of tissue..." and then on page 98 she says, "I didn't even finish high school." This confused me for a little while, but eventually I decided that when she said "dorm-room," she was referring to some arrangement where she'd grown up at the Vatican. However, not very clear, never explained anywhere in the whole book, and when you hear "dorm-room," it seems reasonable to assume that means college, especially without any kind of qualifier, doesn't it? Oh well. Just thought I'd point that out so you can avoid the confusion and have your mind free to grapple with the fact that plotlines involving demons almost NEVER make any sense. =)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

How Children Learn

I read this book, by John Holt, long before I ever got around to reviewing it. You see, it is SUCH a WONDERFUL book that I wanted to give a great, perfect review, not just say that I thought it was great. This is a book with the power to change the way Americans think about education for the better, times a million. It contains story after story after story illustrating how smart kids really are, how little we give them credit for, how condescending we are in our ideas of "teaching" when really the children's learning is often in spite of us, and rarely because of us, at least in a traditional "schooling" setting, as well as when we're worried about teaching our babies everything on a timetable.

Here are two examples I noticed while reading this book. They really bother me:

1. Between the Lions on PBS "Makes reading fun" because of course reading is SO NOT FUN! um...wait...

2. A commercial for a new board game series...."children don't naturally share" but our games can make them learn how!

And here are a few brilliant quotes from the book itself:

"When they learn in their own way and for their own reasons, children learn so much more rapidly and effectively than we could possibly teach them, that we can afford to throw away our curricula and our timetables, and set them free, at least most of the time, to learn on their own." p. 156

"We make too much of the difficulties of learning to read. Teachers may say, 'But reading must be difficult, or so many children wouldn't have trouble with it.' I say that it is because we assume that it is so difficult that so many children have trouble with it. Our anxieties, our fears, and the ridiculous things we do to 'simplify' what is simple enough already, cause most of the trouble." p.157

"Children know all too well when people respect and trust them and when they don't..." p. 168 Talking about testing being unmeaningful: " most of the fifth-graders I taught did not know more than a small part of the mathematics that their test scores supposedly showed they knew, and regardless of their reading scores, only a handful really liked to read or would read unless made to."

Sorry for not making the review as good as the book! And oops, sorry it got in here so late!

Friday, September 12, 2008

M is for Magic

I found this children's book by Neil Gaiman in the library recently, and I was really excited because I've been enjoying his books so much lately. This was enjoyable but not nearly as good for me as the others (American Gods, Anansi Boys, Stardust), I think because one of my favorite things about the adult books was how well and enjoyably they engaged my intellect. This, obviously, is directed at children, and is therefore somewhat "easier," and thus, for me, less enjoyable. But it's always fun to read short stories and it was an overall decent book.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Life's Work

It is really hard for me to describe how I felt and what I thought about this parenting memoir by Rachel Cusk. Part of me hated it because she can come off as incredibly self-absorbed and also seems completely naive as to what babies are like and what parents do. Part of me appreciated the lovely flow of the author's writing style. And another part of me recognized the more simple truths of parenting beneath the winding rants.

Wow. That wasn't quite as hard as I thought.

Anyway. Here's an example. On page 131, she says "night feeding is certainly kept well under wraps." Um...I think what she means is that NO ONE NOTICES that you have to feed your children at night for quite some time. It's definitely not hidden--you can find millions of desperate, sleep-deprived new parents online, for one thing. So I don't like what she's implying about parenting being kept from us, because I really believe the problem is Lack of Exposure.

She continues that leaving a newborn alone with its parents is "like a social experiment, something a scientist would do..." and continues with a description of what happened next in her little family--which is (obviously to me) NOT the same as it might be for another couple. The description also includes this sentence: "They are given no breaks and no assistance from the outside world is permitted." And guess what? This is the single biggest problem new parents in our society today have, because that's NOT NATURAL! Again, I can strongly relate to this problem, as quite frequently I curse the fact that I don't live in a huntero-gatherer group full of built-in babysitters so I can catch some sleep. But unfortunately, the author does not see things from my perspective, but rather, feels that at times she hates the baby and so on.

She also discusses her initial lack of mothering instinct unflinchingly, which I think is brave of her, but which leads to some scenes that are painful for me personally, where I wish I could've run in and grabbed that baby up! This is not a judgment against her at all: I know many women feel this way, likely because of the Lack of Exposure issue I mentioned already, but I was lucky enough to never have that problem and so I cannot inhabit it.

For example. On page 164 the author says, "Her development was...a slow and frustrating business...Her body was tormented by some invisible force that made her get up and fall over again and again...My head ache with the tension of her efforts." Seriously? I can't follow this. It's such a dark and depressing view of parenting, and also shows a very Type A pressure to succeed on the author's part, I think. Parenting has NEVER been like that for me, although of COURSE I've had my share of difficult moments. So, again, I feel sort of like it's good she put this out here, that she was so honest about everything she went through, but it's uncomfortable for me because I don't want others to get the idea that the parenting experiences presented in this book are what they can....look forward to?

That being said, I'll share one more passage, which I loved. It's true that sleeplessness is the greatest shock of parenting, as far as I'm concerned, and especially because I often had NO HELP. On page 178-9, the author discusses the strange things that happen to a person during this prolonged period of sleeplessness: "Gradually the distinction between day and night dissolved entirely, and I became prey to daydreams and hallucinations, remembering conversations that had not occurred...The resrevoir of sleep I had accumulated through my life had run dry. I was living off air and adrenalin. Mercury ran through my veins. I wondered if this parched and dogged wraithe long since severed from its human past was in fact that dark stranger who walks the world of childhood wreathed in mystery: a parent."

I loved this precisely because I could relate to it, because I am still more sleep-deprived than I ever thought possible, because I get mad at people who voluntarily skip sleeping opportunities, because a full night's sleep is a distant memory. Literally: I haven't had an entire, uninterrupted full night's sleep in over two years.

Thus, I cautiously recommend this book to SOME women. If you felt that you could set aside all those things in the text that don't match up with your experience and/or that scare you about your future, while at the same time enjoying the common ground you find and feeling glad that you're not alone, then read it. But be prepared for it to be painful.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Water for Elephants

I can't remember exactly where I got the recommendation for this book by Sara Gruen, but someone somewhere told me someday I should read it. (ha ha, Mom.)

So I did, and I have to say it was very....interesting. I thought the author, who I can only assume is NOT an old man, did a great job writing from the perspective of an old man. That part was pretty amazing to me, but then again...I'm not an old man either, so I can't truly say it was authentic. =)

The old man is in a nursing home, and he's looking back on his life as a young man in the 1920s and the time he jumped a train and joined the circus. Some of the experiences he has are downright bizarre, and there is definitely some terrible violence and such. It was shocking to me how easily some of the violence was just accepted, and how life just moved on with barely a blip after such shocking things happened, but then again, the story was told from over 60 years' remove, so I can understand why those were not dwelt upon.

Anyway. It was entertaining and unusual. Not what I expected, but not bad.

The Homeschooling Handbook

This book, by Mary Griffith, is eminently useful. I think it delivers on its name fairly well, because it contains a wealth of information on all types of homeschooling: not just a how-to, or a guide to a certain curriculum, but a comprehensive guide, especially helpful for parents who are seeking more general information. It had a chapter on different methods and philosophies of homeschooling, different laws concerning homeschooling, kinds of support groups and how to find and/or create support for yourself, LOTS of testimonials, typical questions, etc.

So. Highly recommended if you want to learn more about the widely varied world of homeschooling. And now I'm off to dream of the impossible--namely, how we're going to homeschool AND both have satisfying career-like interests AND money AND sanity AND a good night's sleep.

The End.

Monday, September 1, 2008

To the Tower Born

Another historical fiction by Robin Maxwell finished today. It was a quick and easy read focused on the lives of Edward and Richard, the two sons of King Edward IV of England, the famous Princes in the Tower. If you haven't heard it, the rumor is that their uncle Richard (aka Richard III), had them murdered around the time he usurped the throne from them.

But there is soooooo much confusion surrounding the details of this period that it makes for wonderful fiction--because almost anything could have happened to those two boys. I have to say, I am all in favor of this book's take on things because I like a happy ending, and while the ending isn't all sunshine and daisies, it's a lot less dark than the picture many would paint (for example, Shakespeare's account).

As was the case with the last Robin Maxwell book I read, I have to say my favorite part was the afterword, in which the author outlines what historians have said about the period and gives a persuasive argument for why she interpreted the story as she did. I find this fascinating and it makes me want to know this woman!

But as for the story, it was fun and I loved getting a little glimpse into England just before my beloved Tudors came into power. Good stuff!