Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

And sometimes they do grow out of it

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Over at 11d, Laura wrote today about What To Do When Your Kid Doesn’t Talk. She begins:  “Five years ago, we noticed that Ian was not meeting his speech milestones, and we started down the disability path. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past five years:

  • If your child isn’t talking by two, is super picky about food, doesn’t like long sleeve shirts, can’t sit still in nursery school, doesn’t like bright lights or loud sounds, doesn’t respond when a stranger says hi, doesn’t like being touched except by you, walks in circles, spends a lot time doing one thing, doesn’t like getting his hair cut, doesn’t like taking a shower, suddenly starts crying a lot at age two, hums, or can’t run, then go get him/her checked out. If he/she is doing just one of those things, then get him/her checked out.”

D met at least 4 of these criteria as a toddler, and we did get it checked out.  We went through the local Child Find (early intervention) program, which was less of a pain in the neck than it was for Laura, but definitely a hassle.  And they agreed that he was indeed speech delayed, and qualified for services.  (At 2 years 8 months, he had less than 100 words, most of which were monosyllables that only T and I could understand.)  So once a week we took him to meet with the speech therapist at the elementary school down the block, and she played some games with him, and taught him to blow bubbles, and when they retested him at the end of the year, he no longer qualified for services.  We still don’t know if the therapy did any good, or if he just was on his own timetable, but he never looked back.

The sensory issues took longer to resolve.  I’ve installed a WordPress plug-in that identifies related posts from the archives, and when I wrote about snow days last week, it came up with a post from 4 years ago, called simply snow.  In it, I wrote:

“Playing with the boys was especially sweet because I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get to do it, at least with D.  He has mild sensory issues, and this is the first time that he’s been willing to play in the snow.  In the past, he’s totally refused to walk in the snow, even in boots.  He liked the idea of snowball fights — but only the throwing part, not the getting hit part.  He’s outgrown a lot of his issues — he used to be unwilling to walk on grass — and so I was hopeful that he’d eventually be willing to play in the snow, but I wasn’t sure it would happen.  But today, he had a great time, and was even willing to lay down and make snow angels.”

Four years later, those fears seem like a distant memory.  He’s been out in the snow this week, climbing in and out of the fort, and eagerly participating in snowball fights.  He still hates wearing shirts with collars, and prefers sleeping in his robe to pyjamas, but we can live with that.  He’s still a ridiculously picky eater, but doesn’t seem to be wasting away from malnutrition, so we’ve mostly stopped arguing with him about it.

So, what’s the take-away from this?  I don’t know.   Laura says to go to a pediatric neurologist, but others have commented that the specialists missed their kids’ issues.   My kid mostly outgrew his issues; Laura’s kid, who seems to have presented with pretty similar traits, hasn’t (although he’s made a lot of progress).  I think this is where I’m supposed to say “trust your gut” but I know that when I was dealing with all of this, I had no idea what my gut was saying.  The best I can say is that if you as a parent don’t know what’s right, the “experts” who see your kid for a couple of hours are highly unlikely to know any more.

(Side note: At some point while my blog was down, I read Schuyler’s Monster, which is Rob Rummel-Hudson’s account of his family’s struggles to find out why his daughter couldn’t speak, and then to get her the education and technology (she uses a computer that speaks her words) needed to communicate.  It’s a lovely book, scary and sad and loving and hopeful and honest.  He also gives some advice similar to Laura’s, especially about networking, the need to fight for services (particularly when they are expensive), and moving to more affluent school districts.)

TBR: The Children’s Book

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

In college, I read A.S. Byatt’s Possession, and loved it.  I remember only the vaguest outlines of the plot — two scholars writing about Victorian writers develop a relationship with each other and discover new truths about their subjects —  but I can vividly recall what it felt like to read the book, the feeling of falling into it, so that it was just as real as the world around me, only far more clever.  After that, I started a few of her other books, and never finished any of them.  Just couldn’t get into them at all.

The reviews of Byatt’s latest, The Children’s Book, all consistently said that it’s her most readable book since Possession, and a few people I generally trust about books recommended it, so I picked it up over the holidays.  It does share many characteristics with Possession — the elegant language, the meticulously researched historical setting, which left me wondering which characters were real and which fictional, the stories within stories within stories.  But it doesn’t really have a plot to drive it forward.

The children of the title (or rather, the children of one meaning of the title) grow older, go to school or not, study, or go into business, or make pots,  travel, fall in love, have children, fight in a war, die (from war or suicide).  But nothing any of them does really seems to affect any of the others. I’m reminded of the book on writing (can’t remember which one — google attributes the line to John LeCarre but I’m not convinced) that says “The cat sat on a mat” is just a sentence, but the “the cat sat on the dog’s mat” is the start of a story.  By that definition of a story, I don’t think  The Children’s Book qualifies.  But it’s so charming and elegant, and makes you feel so clever for reading it, that I’m not sure I minded.

kindle review

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

I’ve had my Kindle for about a month, so here are some initial reactions.

  • The screen really is very comfortable to read, far more so than a computer screen for extended periods. It’s not great in dim light, such as some of the metro platforms — enough so that I bought a reading light that fits in the case with it.
  • It’s a great one-handed reading experience — far better than a book or newspaper for standing on the metro reading with one hand and holding onto the pole with the other.  I think Apple is just wrong is saying that buttons are bad.  (It doesn’t solve the problem of what to do when the train is so packed that there’s no room to read anything — podcasts are still the best solution for that.)
  • I still have a pile of unread books (the pulp and ink kind) next to my bed.
  • I’ve only bought a few books for it so far — but there are plenty of public domain books available through Feedbooks.  While the publishers think Amazon is selling books for way too little, most readers seem to think they’re charging too much for something with no physical production or distribution costs.
  • Traveling with it is terrific, as I read fast and get tired of hauling books around.  But it’s annoying to be told to turn it off for takeoff and landing.
  • I have been using it for a fair amount of work reading, rather than printing out stacks of paper to carry back and forth.  Almost always, this means sending a .pdf or .doc file to Amazon to convert.  They do a good job with text, and images come through fine, but tables are a mess.  While it can now read .pdf files directly, the text winds up very small, which I can’t tolerate for very long.    And there’s no zoom function.   When I know a document has tables that I’m going to need, I’ve been loading both the pdf and converted versions so I can flip between the two.  It’s pretty kludgy.
  • The most annoying part of using it for technical reading is that there’s no way to flip to the endnotes or references and back– I hadn’t been aware of how much I do that until I couldn’t do it.   It may be possible to do this with documents that have been “published” for the Kindle, as opposed to converted pdfs, but I don’t know of any research shop that is putting out ebook versions in addition to pdf.  (I’ll be interested in seeing tomorrow whether anyone quickly converts the budget documents into ebooks.)
  • I bought a case for it, although I’m not sure that one is really needed.

Update: The budget documents don’t appear to be posted as ebooks anywhere, but the Economic Report of the President is.  I approve.

Book review: The Glass Room

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

While the first posts on the new site have all been political, I actually think it was the book reviews that I missed most while I was offline.  I found myself writing them in my head as I considered the books that I was reading.  I also felt a bit guilty about not getting to post a review of The Glass Room, by Simon Mawer, because the publishers sent me a review copy.

The Glass Room, which was a finalist for the Booker Prize, is a fictionalized version of the lives of the owners and residents of the Villa Tugendhat, a very modernistic house built in Czechoslovakia on the verge of the Nazi invasion.  The first part of the story follows the original owners, a wealthy Jewish (part Jewish, actually) family from their honeymoon, where they get the idea of building this house, into exile in Switzerland, South America and finally the United States, and then loops back to see what’s happening in the house under Nazi and Communist domination over Czechoslovakia.

The first part of the story totally hooked me.  I stayed up way too late the first night I got it, reading.  I believed in the characters, the house, and was haunted by their naive belief that they were members of a truly modern, international, forward looking society, even as the known conclusion moved ever closer.  Mawer’s imagining of how Chamberlain’s appeasement speech (where he says “However much we may sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbor, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues than that.”) was highly effective.  The metaphor of the Glass Room of the title — the house that exposes all of its secrets — is perhaps pushed a bit too far — but Mawer knows it and plays with the edge.

I was less enthralled by the rest of the book.  The writing remained elegant, but the years sped by too fast, and I never cared about any of the characters who were not introduced in the first section.  And I found myself feeling somewhat manipulated by the references to the Holocaust and by the neat tying up of loose ends through implausible coincidences.

But I think I’d still recommend it, all in all.

tap… tap… is anyone there

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Well, moving over to a non-hosted blog turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than I had hoped, and we still haven’t gotten the permalinks sorted out, but at least Half Changed World is again pointing to something that I can more or less control.  Not sure if anyone is still reading, though.  So if you’re there, please say hi and let me know what you’re thinking about these days.  And if you know anything about self-hosted wordpress sites, I’d love to pick your brain.

I’m now in the middle of three different books, one as an audiobook, one on the Kindle I got for the holidays, and one on old fashioned paper.  So, I could post about the books, or about the different media, if there’s any interest.

Today’s Post Magazine had an article that tries to address the question of how is possible that time use studies suggest that working mothers have plenty of leisure, while none of us feel like we have any.  We’ve talked about that here before, but I can take another crack at it.

Book Review: The Magicians

Monday, October 26th, 2009

I just finished Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  Wow, this one was depressing.  The content was depressing, but I was also depressed because I kept on waiting for the payoff for slogging through this, and it never came.  I had heard a rave review of it on NPR, and at least one blogger I read loved it.  (Sorry, can’t find the link — feel free to speak up to defend it.)

Cory Doctorow liked it, and says that it’s a book of wonder without awe or sentimentality.  I guess that’s right.  It’s a scathing revisionist take on both Harry Potter and the Narnia books, (with some random references to The Once and Future King, and Dungeons and Dragons) imaging a magical school that is tedious and incomprehensible, and a journey through fantasy where people react realistically to being under attack for no obvious reason.   Oh, and the characters drink and curse and have sex.  The main character is miserable in his pre-magic life, miserable at school, and miserable when he gets to live out his fantasy.  The epigram to the book is Prospero breaking his wand, but it should have been Hamlet’s “there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so.”  I wanted to give him a kick in the pants for much of the book.

There were also major plot holes that irritated me.  Why have the two main characters randomly promoted a year at  school other than that the author had decided to make school last 5 years rather than 4, but were too lazy to come up with material to fill another year?  Why spend a huge chunk of time telling how the main character survived naked in Antartica, and then have the characters obsess about whether to bring their parkas to Narnia/Fillory?

back from vacation

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Hey, I'm back from vacation, so semi-regular posting may resume soon.  (I still have a business trip coming up, and a generally hectic schedule at work, so I'm not promising regular.  I know I still owe you all another health care reform post.)

We had a nice trip, which included visits to both sets of grandparents, my high school reunion, and visits to some friends.  The weather was absolutely awful for a while in the middle which led us to a sudden trip to Toys R Us for more board games, but then was nice on either end.  Did you know Monopoly now comes with an extra die that speeds things up?  It still is a long game, but doesn't take forever the way it used to.

Vacation for me means reading.  I read Blood Lure, by Nevada Barr, the Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell, and Netherland by Joseph O'Neill.  Blood Lure was mindless fun.  Esme Lennox was a choice of my sister-in-law's book club, which she passed on to me. It's the intertwining stories of a girl growing up in colonial India and Scotland and her great-niece today.  I liked it, although it left me somewhat unsatisfied, with the contemporary story being much weaker than the historical one.  Netherland was a disappointment, given the great reviews it's received.  It reminded me a bit of Ian McEwan's Saturday, which I found similarly frustrating — lovely writing, but I didn't give a darn about any of the characters.


Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

This week I'm looking at two of the recent series of books about parenting from a father's perspective.  If the female version of these are "momoirs," does that make these "dadiaries?"

Of the two, Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, by Michael Lewis, is the more recent and the more hyped.  Lewis is the author of one of the better books I've ever read (Liar's Poker, about the excesses of Wall Street in the 1980s) and so I had high hopes for this book. And it has some really funny moments.  But basically, it reads like the slapped together collection of Slate columns that it is.  In it we learn that parenting can be absurd, exhausting and messy, but that "If you want to feel the way you're meant to feel about the new baby, you need to do the grunt work.  it's only in caring for a thing that you become attached it." 

I'd actually be interested in reading a book by Lewis in which he uses his journalistic talents to look at the contested territory of parenting in the 21st century, because he does nail some issues: "For now, there's an unsettling absence of universal, or even local, standards of behavior.  Within a few miles of my house I can find perfectly sane men and women who regard me as a Neanderthal who should do more to help my poor wife with the kids, and just shut up about it.  But I can also find other perfectly sane men and women who view me as a Truly Modern Man and marvel aloud at my ability to be both breadwinner and domestic dervish — doer of an approximately 31.5 percent of all parenting.  The absence of standards is the social equivalent of the absence of an acknowledged fair price for a good in a marketplace.  At best, it leads to haggling; at worst, to market failure."

Dinner with Dad: How I Found My Way Back to the Family Table by Cameron Stracher doesn't try to describe modern fatherhood in general.  Rather, it's the story of one man who decided to be home for dinner, 5 nights a week, for one school year, and how it changed his life.  And yes, it looks like it started out as a blog

In order to do this, Stracher started working from home a few days a week, and eventually wound up quitting one of his two jobs, and thus having more time to coach his kid's teams, and generally be part of their lives.  Stracher acknowledges that everything he does would be unremarkable almost anywhere but in the suburbs of New York City, but he also doesn't downplay the difficulty in changing patterns of behavior when he works a two-hour train ride from home, he's expected to travel regularly for work, and all of the kid-focused activities are scheduled for at-home-parents. 

The other major theme of the book is Stracher's desire to cook "real" (e.g. grown up) food for his family, and his frustration when his kids turn up their nose at it again and again.  He writes with passion about the pleasure of feeding people you love, and how easy it is to put undue weight on it.  (I know that one of the reasons I make waffles and muffins so often is they're pretty much the only things I can make that the kids will appreciate the effort.)  He's not the elegant writer that Lewis is, but I think I enjoyed this book more.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

I've been reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to N at bedtime.  I hadn't read it since I was in 2nd grade, and am pleased that it's almost as good as I remember (although the mother is pretty annoying).  But I had realized how much it would be a guide to the changes in parenting practice since it was written (1972).

  • Peter (age 9) gets to go to Central Park without an adult, as long as he's with another kid. 
  • But not because it's safer than today — Peter says his friend has been mugged three times, and he assumes he'll get mugged someday too.
  • Three fourth graders are left alone in charge of a 2 1/2 year old.
  • The reason Mrs. Hatcher goes back to the apartment is that she realizes that she forgot to turn the oven ON. 
  • At Fudge's 3rd birthday party, the other kids are all dropped off and their parents leave — even though one kid is a known biter and another is terrified.

It looks like all of the Judy Blume books are still in print.  I remember reading a few years ago that she had updated Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret to update the references to sanitary napkins with belts (which were dated when I read it 30 years ago).  I don't know if she made changes to any of the other books.

What children's book of the past decade do you think our kids will be reading to their kids 37 years from now?  And what in them will seem most dated?

TBR: One Big Happy Family

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

With Mother's Day approaching, I realized that I never posted a book review for One Big Happy Family.  Yes, it's another anthology of essays about families, this one with the twist that all of the families are nontraditional in some way — the subtitle is "18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love."  I'll admit that when they emailed me to ask if I wanted a review copy, my first thought was "Househusbandry makes the cut?  I'm not hopelessly uncool and traditional?"

Anthologies are always somewhat of a mixed bag, and this one — with the members chosen for their breaking the norrm in some way — is probably more of one than most.  Some of the voices were ones I've read before — Dan Savage reports on his son's mommy, and how he copes with her erratic communications, Dawn Friedman writes about Penny, Madison, and open adoption, Amy and Marc Vachon make their usual pitch for Equally Shared Parenting.  Some were new to me.  Overall, I enjoyed most of the essays, although a lot of them were a shade too didactic for my taste.

That said, the one essay that I truly disliked is the one by Neil Pollack, which is the one that I think is supposed to be about "househusbandry."  For one thing, Pollack explicitly says he's not a househusband and his wife isn't a housewife — they both work from home, and neither of them seems to do much housework.  And they both come across as incredibly passive aggressive and annoying.  If Marc and Amy make sharing things down the middle seem impossibly perfect and easy, Pollack makes it seem like chewing broken glass would be far preferable.  I think the last time I read an essay by Pollack that was causing a shitstorm on the blogosphere, the conclusion was that it was supposed to be satire.  I truly hope this essay was satire, although it wasn't funny.  Because if it's just true, it's sad.