Thursday, June 30, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

by Amy Chua (not only does she have a fantastic first name, but there are a lot of Amys referenced in this book, also)

okayihavetorefrenencethisbooksomewherebecauseit'sprettycoolsoyeah,thisisanotherbookreview,but deal,okay?

Alright, 230-ish pages, and it took me around 24 hours to read. I mean, this one reads fast. It's not like all I did was read for one whole day. Nope, just for a while at night and then during nap time. Quick quick quick.

What I most especially love about this one is that the author *completely* talks about what worked and failed, and frankly, focuses on failing quite a bit more than succeeding with "Chinese parenting." If you haven't heard of this one, it gained a lot of press when it was published a few months ago because the idea of Chinese parenting can be (in my opinion) misconstrued as barbaric by Western parenting models, which is the #1 focus of the text. Chua addresses differences between Chinese & Western parenting models, as well as admitting how she grossly stereotypes with this terminology, consistently throughout the text.

There's a part of me that is very much like "Rock on, you've got something working here!" with what she talks about. But really, the greatest part of me is more "C'mon, we need to compromise here between what you're generalizing." Truly, I see us as being (or wanting to be) somewhere smack in the middle of the two. I'm not big on sleepovers and accepting mediocrity (which she bashes), but I do see the validity of playdates and allowing your kid to have some say-so in what activities they'd like to participate in (which she also bashes). But then again, my kid(s) will learn how to play an instrument and have definite academic standards set for them (which she acknowledges as givens). It's an interesting ad refreshing perspective on parenting, and one that I frankly admire a lot because of what I understand as motivating factors. It's not that I admire the tactics necessarily employed, but I really admire the deep, intense desire to prepare your child to succeed and perform well.

Chua is funny, insightful and frank. And, she is really quite gifted at just telling a story. She's a Harvard educated lawyer who married another Harvard educated lawyer, both of whom now teach at Yale. In other words, she's a smart cookie. Okay, I'm also jealous of her but in some small, niggling way that means I would never seriously consider exchanging my life for hers, knowing what kind of life an academic (especially at that caliber) truly leads. It's intense. Really, really (really) intense.

And Chua, I like how you ended the book; the coda is truly a fitting way to end and honest to the rest of the book.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

what I learned from camping with the Cox clan

We had a be-u-ti-ful weekend of weather for camping in our 2nd annual Cox family camping trip. Here are some reflections from the time well spent with wonderful people. It's a good family to be accepted into. Abby is the only grandkid on this side, so there were 8 adults and 1 toddler. Things I (or any combination of we) learned:

*In the middle of the night when you're camping and it starts storming, it's nice to be able to think "I'm glad that I'm in a cabin and not a tent." (Yeah, I still consider this camping. It's like luxury camping.)
*Abby does just fine sleeping in a utility closet when faced with a dearth of options.
*A peanut butter cup makes a dandy substitute for the classic chocolate bar in a S'more.
*My in-laws generally pronounce certain words differently than I do, namely "cee-ment" (cement) and "sa-more" (S'more).
*It's entirely possible to eat 2 breakfasts.
*When camping, it can be difficult to fit in any activity other than eating. It has to be carefully scheduled in.
*Being able to eat dinner by 6 means starting to search for "one of the really big grills" and a shelter by 3:30 in hopes to find something by 4.
*Swans honk like geese would if they were old men who smoked a lot.
*A simply fantastic adult to toddler ratio is 8:1.
*When you take along 6 extra adults with you while on vacation, it means that you get a vacation from playing with your kid and actually get to just...sit.
*Drawing a chalk line on a sidewalk that says "STOP ABBY" is all you need for ooooodles of entertainment. This sets the stage for racing. All of the extra adults take turns and you don't have to for once.
*When you send three females into a grocery store for milk & butter, it will still take 2 phone calls and a long time before they'll come back out.
*If you take the interstate around Indy rather than a circuitous route full of twisty roads, small towns, double lines, and road construction, you'll arrive at your destination at least an hour sooner.
*Spencer, IN is almost exactly 97 miles from my house, which just so happened to be the range my car told me that I had left before I would run out of gas. The gas light comes on with 25 miles left. Some gas stations are closed on Sundays. "Just for fun," I had 4 miles left when we finally succeeded in filling up after passing by all of the Indy/Carmel/Westfield gas stations because Abby was mercifully asleep.

I didn't get as many good pictures this time around, but the weather made up for it. Basically, it was simply fantastic (especially in a cabin!). :-)

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Kitchen Daughter

This blog is turning into a veritable book club, isn't it? I do tend to blog in spurts of like topics frequently enough. You may not notice, but I do. And, since I try to bring you the highest quality blog-someness that can be found anywhere, I take this quite seriously. But you know what? Sometimes we have three pasta dishes all in the same week. And so it goes with my blog. Just think of this like fettucine alfredo--always impossible to resist, right?

Here's the low-down. I devoured The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry in 2 days. Yeah, I'm on summer vacation so I "have time" to read more, but it's not like I don't have other things to do yesterday and today. This one hooked me really quickly and it was hard to set it aside last night and was effortless to finish today. I mean, I loved it (as far as pop fiction goes)! Why???

1. The protagonist is autistic, specifically has (undiagnosed) Asperger's syndrome. This creates a unique narrative perspective that forces the reader to challenge her own expectations. In other words, you don't expect it, and because you figure it eventually because of subtle clues, it wonderfully emphasizes the primary theme--What is "normal"? And frankly, the autism spectrum is affecting more families and individuals in our society, and it's a fabulous reminder that we as a society are oh so quick to judge, label, and categorize anyone who doesn't act as we do (i.e. a supposed "normal").
2. On a personal note, my nephew has been categorized as having Asperger's, and I greatly appreciate an author, albeit a fiction writer, affording an often silenced voice a chance to "tell" her side, to demonstrate her emotions and thought processes, fears and strengths.
3. The protagonist is brilliant in the kitchen, and there's some beautifully descriptive food passages as told through her perspective.
4. It has something of a corny premise (there are ghosts in this novel), but it's really written in such a way that it's not cheesy at all. It works! Probably because we, the reader, have the same inner battle between incredulity and hopefulness about the protagonist, and we ultimately choose the same mindset as David, a key character. We believe because there's something about the girl, Ginny, that just begs us to be the one to listen and understand her if for no other reason than no one else does or will.
5. It has an unexpected ending. And I like that.
6. It's not a romance. If it were, the author would be selling out. But she doesn't. You think that she might, but the book stays true to it's deeper message.
7. The cover is kind of fun. Okay, pretty brilliant actually. You could write a paper on it--how the main character is represented by the mesh grocery bag, transparent but strong, full of holes and flaws, but also perfect for the purpose that she was created... Yep.
8. It's kind of a sad book. But really, it's more of a book about empathy than sympathy.

My only negative comment is that the author, like so many pop fiction writers today it seems (ahem, Ann Brashares and Sarah-Kate Lynch), relies on forced analogies. There's fairly terrible at times and are nothing short of clunky and absurd. BUT, after a while, I got what McHenry was doing and politely applaud her efforts here. All of her analogies are food analogies, which correlates to the mind of her protagonist, who uses food as a coping mechanism. So it makes sense, but it's still a bit yeesh.

Those are my thoughts on the book. I value the impact it had on me and my way of thinking. And, I challenge you to go through the experience as well. Will you?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My Name is Memory

by Ann Brashares

(Just to prevent my brain lapse about monthly book blogging for June, I'll just take care of this nice and early in the month.)

As you can see, I'm not totally a classic book snob or a Michael Pollen-esque book snob. I actually do read pop fiction once in a while. By here's the reason that I don't more often--I don't know these authors! Unless something has been recommended to me or unless I happen to stumble upon one, odds are that I haven't read it. This is kind of why I don't think that I would really use a Kindle, though I want one enough to consider it. I just don't buy books all that often unless I have to for a class, and I don't read much pop fiction.

And this book proved why I shy away from such reading. Here's my analogy. I used to like Hershey's chocolate. It was good stuff and the best of the Halloween candy when I was a kid. Chocolate was chocolate, and I enjoyed it all. But then I discovered Lindt. And Ghiradelli's. and Valhrona. And Scharffen Berg. Hershey's will never be "good" again. It's not even acceptable. It's in-a-desperate-situation-only kind of chocolate for me. It just doesn't taste that good to me anymore once I've experienced quality chocolate. This book is definitely Hershey's. But at least it is the dark chocolate Hershey's. If it was milk chocolate, I wouldn't have gotten very far in it.

The diaglogue was contrived and often saccharine sweet, cloying even. Give me books where the dialogue is seemless and plot is seemless rather than forced. GIve me one or two dominant themes upon which the protagonist's character is developed rather than a jumble of disjointedness. Furthermore, give me characters who mean something. It's like profanity and adult content--there's a time and a place. Make it purposeful about the message of the text, not gratuitous.

So if it sounds like I'm slamming this book...I am. I probably wouldn't have been so harsh about it except for one unforgivable flaw. I mean, seriously unforgivable. The books just stopped. It wasn't even a cliffhanger ending or an ambiguous, choose-your-own-adventure, The Giver style ending. No. It just stopped. It wasn't just one story line that ended, it was allll of the storylines. What??? Oh, and it's really similar to The Time Traveler's Wife, though I haven't taken the 2 seconds to see which was written first. (I think that TTTW was because Brashare's book references 2009, and the aforementioned book had the weird but decent movie that came out sometime around 2009.)

In a nutshell, not too original. Forced dialogue. Typical characters. Unrealistic emotions & situations. The worst ending that I think I've ever read. But, quick read and entertaining enough to keep going.

Ann Brashares: You did much better with your breakout novel, The Last Summer of Me (and You). You had moments in that one that kind of got overlooked because it was a pretty decent message. But your writing has some serious flaw-age. Fix it. And don't take another author's idea; that's not appreciated.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wuthering Heights

I'm slacking (unintentionally)! I missed my New Year's Resolution May post about a book I read for fun. A few days laaaate, but here it is.

I daresay that my general constituency, if I had one, will discard this post as a snooze. Can't help it. Sorry peeps. This is what I read last month. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (pretend that I knew how to include the two dots above the last "e" in "Bronte"). Despite being the only novel by this Bronte sister, it's a keeper!

It's a perfect example of a Victorian Gothic novel--supernatural elements; dark, foreboding atmosphere; large, ancestral homes; etc. Lots of raw emotion, intense passions even at the expense of common sense, and haunting presences. It's one of those that I read, and enjoyed, for an undergrad class--pretty sure it was spring of my first year, so I would have been 19. Ergo, it's been 9 years since I read it, and time well spent with it again. And, it has my favorite line in any book.

It reminded me of why I've spent 8 years as a student of English literature. It's the equivalent of a special kind of ice cream that had been discontinued for a few years now and all of a sudden you find it again in a little out of the way store, splurge, spend a night savoring it tiny spooonful by tiny spoonful, and then when you finish it, you think "I missed that." Ahhh, good times.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

my shy sheila

Abby has always been shy around people, even family, whom she doesn't see on a regular basis. Thankfully, our immediate family members are pretty understanding about it and don't take it seriously, but I know that some people do. What!?! You're really getting bent out of shape because a toddler doesn't like it when you get up in their face, make a stupid noise, and poke at their belly? By the way, I hate this and cringe for Abby every time. It's not her fault that you're acting like an idiot.

So this post goes out to the older gentleman at our church who persists in doing the aforementioned every week though I try to avoid him. He doesn't get the message. No, she's not tired. No, she's not grumpy. No, she's feeling just fine. You, however, are acting like a buffoon, and she thinks that you're scary.

This post is also dedicated to random people who you meet in public who likewise act stupidly whenever there is a kid in their presence. I know that you think that you're being funny and connecting with kids, but really, listen to yourself. You're not. Treat children like people, not lapdogs.

I wasn't intending to rant about this, but it's been on my mind a bit because Abby's level of shyness is reaching really bad proportions when around other people, even her BFF Jonathan, whom she played with, sang with, read books with, ate with, giggled, and chased for 3 days each week of the last school year. I feel bad for the little guy because all he wants is his friend Abby and she's acting all who-are-you? with him. She came with me to graduation open houses last weekend and clung tighter to me than she ever has post utero, seriously buried her face in my shoulder, and held a hand over the exposed part of her face the whole time (yet still managed to eat a cookie...talented, she is).

My sheila has always been shy, but this is problematic. It might be really tough on her (and us!) when school starts back up again in the fall. Oh my.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sigh...she's so big

after "helping" plant the garden

I was trying to take a good picture of Abby's first ponytail, and it turned into a full-fledged photo shoot. Mostly, she likes taking pictures so that she can see herself on the camera.

She's. SO. Big.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Signs that the End is coming?

The title is a tongue-in-cheek homage to May 21st. And the October 21st that is coming.

In all seriousness, there are some really weird things going on lately.

#1: I have found myself enjoying cucumbers. I not only ate pickled cucumbers and begrudgingly shared some with Ben, but I read through a recipe for an asian cucumber salad tonight and am already salivating in anticipation. Yum!

#2: I ate tomatoes TWO DAYS IN A ROW and (again) enjoyed them! This is especially not normal. I mean, I'm like those people who don't enjoy chocolate because up to this point in my life, I could honestly say that I thoroughly disliked tomatoes. I've started to eat them and not mind them in certain circumstances, but this past weekend, they were front and center in a salad and, frankly, delightful. Granted, these were cherry tomatoes, so they're supposed to be super sweet, but I heretofore hadn't been convinced of that. Yum again!

I guess that there's hope yet that the kid will grow out of her aversion for avocado. It might take 26 more years, but hopefully someday she'll learn to like them if her mum can smile about cucumbers and tomatoes. (It feels weird talking like this.)