I’ve been slow to post about my latest two reads. Mostly because they are non-fiction (again) and have to do with my children. They are potentially even self-help books. Who, me? Perish the thought.
The first book was Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn. I was in desperate need for some parenting advice. My eldest child was defying us at every turn and no disciplinary technique seemed to be working. (I know. Not MY child.) To make a long story short, I picked up this book.
Kohn’s book is the anti-behaviorist parenting book. He asks a fundamental question of what can we do to work with our children rather than doing to our children. He suggests moving away from rewards and punishments and moving to love and reason.
At first, I thought he belonged to the same school of thought as “Love and Logic”, but after talking to some other parents and doing a little research of my own, I realized he really did not belong in this camp. He is not a “there will be consequences for your actions” type of guy. In fact, he could come across as a real softie with his parenting approach.
However, a lot of things work in his favor. He backs up his argument with scientific studies which separates him from one those “Hey, it worked for me, so maybe it will work for you” authors that litter the how-to-parent literature landscape these days. He also strongly defies the conventional wisdom of parental discipline today, which is depressingly heavy on correcting and controlling children. He is not overly prescriptive with his solutions – he does not offer scripts or scenarios that I can never remember or apply at just the right moment, but instead gives overarching principles. Many of those principles resonated with me.
While I find it extremely difficult to pull off all of his suggestions all of the time, putting his practice in place for just a few weeks resulted in an immediate change of responses from our child. It is still too easy to fall back on a more dictating style of parenting, but I’m striving to be more respectful of my children and minimizing command and control, so it’s a start. Recommended. And he’s coming to a theatre near you:
|September 27, 2007||Kennesaw, GA
SPONSOR: Kennesaw State University
EVENT: evening “Distinguished Educator” lecture
FOR MORE INFO: (770) 423-6347
The other self-help book was Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. I picked up this book at Wordsmiths Books in Decatur on my way to the North Carolina mountains with my family. I thought it would be appropriate given the gorgeous natural landscape we’d be surrounded by for the next 8 days. I also wouldn’t have to feel guilty that my children would be experiencing any kind of nature-deficit for the next several days. Whew!
I have to say I’m inherently disposed to the argument Louv is making, which is: Being outside and in nature is an imperative for children. I was a child who spent a lot of time outside and my husband had a similar experience. Big backyards, lots of other neighborhood children outside, lots of opportunities to explore. Both of us have great memories of playing outdoors and my husband, at least, is very well-adjusted.
I would like to try to provide the same experience and environment for my children, but it hasn’t been easy. We don’t exactly live in paradise. Another challenge has been that one of my child’s “best friends” gets creeped out by the feel of grass under his bare feet. It has been nice to have this book provide support to the thinking that getting your child outside, in nature, is important of and by itself.
Taking a trick from Nitro Nicole, the pros/cons of the book are as follows:
- strong arguments for advantages to children spending time in nature
- easy examples of how to get your child in nature and involved in nature
- tries to overcome fear factor that has increasingly pervaded our culture and has had dampened enthusiasm for outside experiences
- made me scope out perfect tree for backyard fort
- -is he preaching to the choir?
- could be taken as another manifesto to make parents feel guilty about their child-rearing
If there is one post-Katrina industry that is thriving in New Orleans, it has to be the nostalgia business. You can buy anything emblazoned with a fleur-de-lis. Last time I was there, I picked up the flag above at a shop on Magazine Street. This flag of the French Bourbon Dynasty is flying all over town. There is another variation where the field is all white with three golden fleur(s?)-de-lis – very sharp. The official flag of the city adds a red stripe to the top and a blue stripe on the bottom of the white Bourbon flag. The Bourbon flag was flown over the city when New Orleans was French. According to the flag shop guys, the flag continued to be used until the 1920′s when the city adapted a version to call our own. Sounds about right. Bourbon Street takes its name from the dynasty, not the hooch. Anyway, I dig my handsome flag.
The nostalgia extends to just about anything that the city can call its own, regardless of whether it even existed at the time of the storm. A great example of this are the very in-demand K&B Drug Store t-shirts. K&B gave way to a national chain in 1997. I have a New Orleans Jazz basketball team t-shirt. The Jazz moved to Utah in 1979. (Can someone pass a law requiring the team to be renamed? Seriously. Is there a less jazz-like place than Salt Lake City?). The world’s greatest pastries, Hubig’s Pies, are now available on-line for the displaced and the ex-pats. (Get a t-shirt with the combo pack!)
One of the strangest fits of nostalgia is the city’s love affair with its water meter covers. We love these things. I have no idea why. I have a set of silver water meter cuff links that are AMAZING. I also have a beautiful crockery plate with the manhole cover at its center. You can buy water meter hats, shirts, floor mats (I have one of those, too), dog bowls – you name it.
If it is unique to the city, the city loves it. There is an almost palpable longing to cling to our culture with both hands – an “at least you can’t take this away” mentality. I’m all for it, obviously. Load up on your NOLA gear.
In NOLA book news, The SF Chronicle reviews Chris Rose’s 1 Dead in the Attic (Rose will we at the Decatur Book Festival Saturday morning) and Billy Sothern’s Down In New Orleans. Washington Post Book World also has a look at Sothern’s book.
It’s not all about looking backward though. Richard Fausset writes in the LA Times this morning about the new wave of forward thinking sweeping the city. As he notes, that’s almost unprecedented.
Today is the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast. It is fitting then to talk about the novel that may well become the definitive fictional treatment of the storm’s arrival in New Orleans, James Lee Burke’s Tin Roof Blowdown. (Link goes to an excerpt.) Tin Roof is the 16th installment in Burke’s Dave Robicheeaux detective series (if you’re not familiar with French pronunciations, that’s robe-i-show).
Robicheaux is a detective with the New Iberia Police Department. He’s a Vietnam veteran and a recovering alcoholic. There are no shortage to the demons that haunt Detective Robicheaux, but he thought that they were in his past. In the first chapter, the detective, awoken by a recurring Vietnam nightmare, says:
When I go back to sleep, I once again tell myself I will never again have to witness the wide-scale suffering of innocent civilians, nor the betrayal and abandonment of our countrymen when they need us most.
But that was before Katrina. That was before a storm with greater impact than the bomb blast that struck Hiroshima peeled the face off southern Louisiana. That was before one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere was killed three times, and not just by the forces of nature.
After the hurricane hits, Detective Robichaux is called into action to assist the Feds and the New Orleans Police Department with the investigation of a murder. A black looter was found shot in an upscale, and mostly white, neighborhood. Burke uses the investigation of the shooting to lead the reader into all of the unseemly aspects of the storm and its aftermath – exposing the senseless death, racism, violence, betrayal, desperation, greed, futility, horror, human misery, and the inexplicable world of politics.
It is a testament to Burke that he can hit all of these hot-button issues without being condescending to the residents of the city or preachy to those who live elsewhere. Having written fifteen prior novels about the region, Burke may be singularly qualified to tackle Katrina. It has been said that if you read all 16 of the Dave Robichaux novels, a contemporary history of New Orleans will emerge. In fact, this may be the book that Burke’s entire career has been building towards. Burke’s descriptions of Louisiana have been honed to gleaming mirror.
Detective Robichaux’s home in New Iberia is west of New Orleans in Louisiana’s Cajun country. It is a real place – it’s where Tabasco comes from. James Lee Burke splits his time between New Iberia and Montana, so he knows the lay of the land. In the 2005 hurricane season, New Iberia was battered by Katrina and then pummeled by Rita. In my thinking, it’s the perfect place for a writer to emerge to write “the great Katrina novel” – close enough to have experienced first hand the impact of the storm with the perfect amount of distance to allow for some amount of remove and perspective. And I’m saying that this is “the great Katrina novel.” Or at least the best so far.
As a detective story, the novel may disappoint true fans of the genre. The case is a little murky, and its resolution is too realistic to be truly satisfying. Bad men go to jail, but the powerful men pulling the strings may go free. In the end, the crime is almost beside the point. Detective Robichaux leaves the real mystery at the center of this novel unsolved:
The failure to repair the levees before Katrina and the abandonment of tens of thousands of people to their fate in the aftermath have causes that I’ll let other people sort out.
In case you missed the link to this:
Click the pic if you need to see it super-sized.
My book-club selection this month was The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean. Marina Buriakov is an 82 year old Russian immigrant afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease. The novel flits back and forth between the current day in which Marina can not even remember whether she has eaten breakfast or recognize her own daughter and the siege of Leningrad at the beginning of WWII where her family ended up living in the basement of the Hermitage.
Marina was a tour guide in the Hermitage when the war broke out and was responsible for packing up for storage the thousands of paintings, statues and art works that the Hermitage housed. The siege of Leningrad devastated the population many whom nearly died of starvation and Marina had to to eat the glue from the picture frames to survive. The book is filled with many references to famous works of art and conveys how the beauty of art can provide solace during the worst of times.
- Good descriptions of many works of art
- Describes Alzheimer’s and how much more devastating the disease is for the family members than for the patient
- Overall, was uninterested in any of the characters, even Marina
- Had no real ending and didn’t link Marina’s past and life as an American together
- Boring and just didn’t float my boat
I’m lukewarm on this book and unless you have any interest in Alzheimer’s or Leningrad -pass.
Sunday, September 2:
- Breakfast: The most important meal of the day.
- Noon: Michael Tisserand and Chris Rose kick things off with a discussion of New Orleans and New Orleanians post-Katrina. Rose celebrates the official publication of his book 1 Dead in the Attic. The Times-Picayune reporter self-publsished 60,000 copies before getting a publisher. It will be a tough call. Across the square Melinda Long will be reading from Pirates Don’t Change Diapers.
- 1:15: Do I skip lunch to see if someone dares to ask Robert Olen Butler about that train-wreck of an e-mail? I might. Karen Abbott, who I recently saw, will be reading at the same time.
- 2:00: Wren’s Nest Storytelling. Got to get my Brer Rabbit on.
- 2:30: I think that the Chuck Klosterman Q&A may be the most interesting thing on the Fest Agenda. Or not. I’ll be there to check.
- 3:45: Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch author Hollis Gillespie reads with Patti Callahan Henry. Peter Case plays at the same time. Decision time. My daughter and I spotted Gillespie at breakfast last week. I was going to whip out my phone and snap a picture for a quick Gawker Stalker-style post. I decided against it.
- 5:00: Way back when Wordsmiths Books was still theoretical, they hosted Brooklyn in Decatur, a group reading by writers with Brooklyn indie publishers. Aaron Petrovich gave one of the most impressive readings/performances I’ve ever seen. If my daughter and I have been able to make it to the end, we’ll see him again.
Print a schedule to map your own course for adventure.
Chabon, Safran Foer, Lethem – we sing their praises and love their quirky, cutting-edge stories. After reading, Ministry of Special Cases, Nathan Englander should definitely be included with this crew.
This witty, unique novel takes place during Argentina’s “dirty war” and tells the tale of a middle-class, Jewish family that is just trying to make it in a world run by a terrorist government that is kidnapping and disappearing students and other leftist citizens. The story is about the complexity of family relationships and what happens to a family unit under times of duress and, ultimately, tragedy. The main character, Kaddish, is disliked by his son Pato, tolerated by his wife Lillian, and just tries to make his family happy while making a quick buck along the way. When Pato disappears, the many paths that Kaddish and Lillian follow to try and find him and their accompanying emotions keep the reader completely engrossed to the gripping finale.
- I know it’s a cliche, but this book makes you laugh, makes you cry, and experience the full range of all the emotions in between
- The writing is brilliant and the story is well constructed – full of symbolism, humor – and keeps the reader gripped until the end of the book
- Englander’s use of Judaic rituals and themes is clever and seamlessly interwoven throughout the book
- Introduced me to the Argentinian “dirty wars” which I knew nothing about and engaged me to do some research about what went on during those years
Big thumbs-up from me. Even better than Yiddish Policeman’s Union. (I know blasphemy…)
And when I say “ultimate”, I mean a list of things that I am going to try to see and do at the Decatur Book Festival next weekend. A list of good intentions. My wife will be on the other side of the country for the weekend, so it really comes down to how much a three year old and I can pack into a weekend before nap time. Print out a schedule so that you can follow along. Here’s my game plan as of today:
Saturday, September 1:
- Breakfast. Caffeinate adequately. Review strategy and logistics. Ensure adequate supply of Goldfish and milk before going in. Hop on MARTA. It’sMARTA.
- 10:00 AM – Jack Wilkinson and Abe Schear: Baseball and the Braves. Hey, we were just talking about Schear!
- 11:15 AM – I’ve seen Kwame Dawes recently, so I am either going to check out southern gardening guru Walter Reeves or southern authors Roy Blount Jr & George Singleton. Probably the latter. The game day decision may come down to distance to walk, temperature on the field, and the mood of my festival companion.
- 12:30 PM – I’d really like to check out Joseph Crespino, Matt Lassiter, and Kevin Kruse’s panel on new approaches to Southern History. This may be when my daughter and I check out the food booths and tents on the square. We do need to find the Wren’s Nest tent so that we can buy our copy of Soy Nut Butter, the Nest’s hip new lit mag for local high schoolers.
- 1:45 PM – Ice cream and air-conditioning break at The Little Shop of Stories to keep my festival companion in good spirits.
- 3:00 PM – We’re well into nap time here. If we were able to nap al fresco on the square, we’ll head on over to see Pulitzer Winner Natasha Trethewey. If the crowd is crazy, we’ll set off to see Josh Dorfman read from The Lazy Environmentalist.
- 4:15 PM – Are we still here? If so, it’s upstairs to see novelist Wesley Stace perform. He was formerly the musician known as John Wesley Harding.
- 5:30 PM – How’s my little trooper? Hanging in there? Then it’s off to see novelist Sherman Alexie whose work I’ve recently fallen in love with.
- Later – Charles Frazier is presenting a key note address in the evening. I expect it’s going to be a mad house. If you’re not off to see Chuck, I know of this totally hip book store around the corner that is hosting a panel discussion at 7:30 PM called Future Tense – a look at the future of media. And I’m on the panel. As unlikely as it sounds, it’s true. Check out the flyer. There’s music afterwards with deep guy electro-popsters One Hand Loves the Other. Please, please come see us. I’ll have more on this later.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which will cover SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY!.
I’ve told author/reviewer Eric Miles Williamson a million times to lay off the hyperbole. (That’s my favorite hyperbole joke.) Williamson’s review of Richard Lange’s short story collection Dead Boys is so overwhelmingly positive, it seems too good to be true. The review begins with a bleak assessment of the short story market:
There are probably more “writers” of short stories than there are readers of them, far more submissions than subscribers, all those would-be writers scrambling around trying to get published in literary quarterlies no one reads…
Yikes. Williamson then ladles the praise on Dead Boys:
Stylistically brilliant, painfully and truly observed and rendered, “Dead Boys” is not just one of the best collections thus far this decade: “Dead Boys” is one of the best short story collections of the past 50 years
Dead Boys has been in my to be read stack for a few weeks. This review just bumped it up to the top of the pile. See. Reviews do matter.
Speaking of reviews, author Lionel Shriver is one of many to heap praise on Amy Bloom’s Away.
Lastly, the San Francisco Chronicle has a preview of all of the buzz worthy books coming this fall (Chabon! Roth! Junot Diaz! Patchett! Something called An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England!) You better start making a dent in that to be read stack. It’s not going to get any smaller.
I received a copy of I Remember When: A Collection of Memories from Baseball’s Biggest Fans by Abe Schear largely by happy accident. Frank of TTT fame knows the author. He asked if I would be willing to have a copy sent my way. (Hint: the answer to this question is always yes.) He mentioned that the book was self-published, which can often be a red flag for impending suck-itude. However, I am happy to report that I am very glad to have this book in my mitts – as it were.
As the title suggests, the book is a collection of oral histories collected by the author. The subjects are principally the locally (Atlanta) famous. The names include Leo Mazzone, Stan Kasten, Tom Glavine, President Jimmy Carter, Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Senator Zell Miller, Skip Carey, et al. It’s a handsome volume, big and coffee-table sized. I’m about halfway through, but I am infatuated with this book. I’m also completely envious of the various people that Schear was able to get to talk with him about baseball.
I should mention that the proceeds of the book benefit the baseball charity The Baseball Assistance Trust. It’s a great gift for the baseball lover generally and Atlanta baseball fans in particular. I’ve got my copy, but if BGB’s Dr J is on your shopping list (or if you’d like to pick one up for yourself) visit the I Remember When web site. The author will be kicking off the Decatur Book Festival next weekend with a discussion of baseball and the Braves at 10:00 Saturday in the Decatur Library Conference Room. I assume that books will be on hand and that the author will be signing copies.
OMG! The Decatur Book Festival is Labor Day Weekend, and I haven’t written a thing about it. I’ll get on that ASAP. Come back tomorrow for the definitive BGB guide to the book fest…
I have fallen way behind on posting some of my recent reads. To further add to the backlog, I just came back from a beach vacation where I basically sat under an umbrella and read for a week. Due to time constraints as well as lack of motivation to write thorough reviews on all of my recent books, I have decided to go with a new format based on my other favorite blog – Midtown Lunch. This blog is geared toward the food-obsessed like myself who doesn’t want to eat a deli sandwich every day for lunch. The blogger posts on all the cheap restaurants, food carts, etc in the NYC midtown area. He summarizes his lunch experience, post some photos, and then does a +/- section.
I have decided to follow this format by posting a brief summary of each book and then a +/-. The goal will not be to provide a true review of each book but rather to either garner interest or disinterest in any of these books from our readers.
Here goes (in order of read the longest ago to most recently read):
This book was previously reviewed here by RaeRae but as a refresher, Kingsolver and her family move from Tucson to a family farm in Appalachia and decide that for 1 year they are only going to eat food that is grown locally and seasonally in the Virginia area. She has 2 daughters, a teenager and a pre-teen, so it is all the more impressive that she managed to do this considering how challenging it often is to cook for children. Kingsolver’s basic premise is that if we really want to stop harming the environment, then eating locally is the way to go. Her descriptions of how much fuel and resources are used to transport food are mind-boggeling.
She acknowledges that this experiment is “easier” for her since they live on a farm and are able to grow the majority of their produce and raise turkeys and chickens. However, she gives a lot of guidance throughout the book on how to make small changes in your food buying and eating habits.
It is amazing how much the availability of food has changed even in my lifetime. When I was growing up, you couldn’t buy a perfectly ripe peach in the middle of January – it just wasn’t available. And that is exactly Kingsolver’s point – you should eat what is seasonably available. The amount of damage to the environment as well as the economics of transporting that tree-ripened peach in the middle of January is nonsensical.
Kingsolver keeps the book entertaining by including recipes, funny stories as well as lots of historical facts.
- Powerful statement about our eating habits vis-a-vis the environment
- Motivated me to shop at my farmer’s market on the weekends
- Good recipes
- This book has become a topic of conversation amongst my friends
- I was paralyzed the other day in the grocery store when I wanted to buy apples for my kids and they were all from Chile. I succumbed and bought them anyway
- In the 21st century, you shouldn’t have to deprive yourself of eating bananas because they don’t grow in the northeast
- I’ve been feeling way too guilty eating a lot of my meals
This was one of those books that got a lot of hype in 2006 and definitely did not live up to all the hullabaloo. The book describes the lives of three privileged 30 yr old New Yorkers right before and after 9/11. There is the beautiful daughter of a famed journalist who has never done anything with her life, the more homely, intellectual documentary film maker, and the resident gay male to round out the three-some. Interwoven with these three characters is the famed journalist and his subservient wife, his nerdy, brilliant nephew from Middle America, and lastly the daughter’s sarcastic, condescending fiance. Sound pretentious and contrived? Well it is. I did not find any of the characters in the least bit likable and my main problem with the book was that the writing was pretentious, over-wrought, full of run-on sentences and much too wordy. And in what I found to be a lame and almost offensive ending, Messud used the tragedy of 9/11 to neatly wrap things up for the characters and their ongoing issues.
- Any book set in NYC is somewhat interesting, because I know the streets and restaurants they are referring to
- The characters are so pathetic that it makes you feel that much better about your life
- Way too long, no real plot, like reading a bad reality show
- Completely uninterested in the characters
- Use of 9/11 to “wrap things up” really stank
Obviously a thumbs down for me.
And on that happy note – I will sign off and continue the vacation reads in parts 2 and 3.
I’d like to declare a moratorium on blog posts that follow this formula: “I poop on your well-written and clearly well-thought out blog post by posting two-sentences of snark that offer nothing in the way of reasoned criticism – just me being bitchy for no apparent reason.” And I want it now.
Hey Kids! Did you know that if you read five Brer Rabbit stories in one month,The Wrens Nest will, like, totally hook you up with a free t-shirt? Neither did I. And, if you read 20 stories, you can collect the whole set of four shirts. I found all of this out last night when I stumbled across a flier at The Little Shop of Stories. If you don’t feel like schlepping out to Decatur in the heat to read the flier yourself, you can find out all of the details at the Wrens Nest’s web site. You’ve only got two weeks to qualify for this sweet Brer Fox tee pictured below. And kids, if you’d rather just get some cash, tell ‘em to send you an XL, and we’ll work out a side deal.
I’ve been meaning to acknowledge and thank Ragdoll at My Tragic Right Hip for kindly recognizing us with the Thoughtful Blogger Award. In some circles, such an award is an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or compassionate conservatism. Not here. We are humbled by the recognition and will try not to let if go to our heads. This award is going on the mantle over the fireplace. Stay classy, Ragdoll.
Pynchon not challenging enough for you on his own? Check this out…
From BoingBoing: The Adobe software company has been broadcasting a mysterious message via an art installation called San Jose Semaphore from atop their corporate offices in San Jose, CA. The message was encoded by four rotating LED wheels on top of the building. It turns out that the company is broadcasting the entire text of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. Hats off to the guys who figured that out.
What’s the plural for “Sedaris”? Anyone know? I ask because the Sedaris Siblings are happening.
Amy Sedaris is coming to Atlanta (Decatur, actually) on September 28th. She’ll entertain the crowd with selections from her book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. Head over to Wordsmiths for the scoop. I’ve bought two copies as gifts, now I’ll have the opportunity to get a signed copy for myself. Nice.
If you missed David Sedaris on This American Life, run – don’t walk – right on over to this link right here. David’s story is right after the intro piece. Warning: you may soil yourself. Which is in keeping with the story being told actually. I had to quit listening to the tale at work – even though I was wearing earphones. When Sedaris warms up to THE mystery in his childhood home lukewarm coffee shot right out of my nose. And then I was giggling uncontrollably. I was drawing attention to myself. You’ve been warned.
And then there’s Paul. If you’ve read any of David’s books, you know him affectionately as “The Rooster.”
I’ve emerged after a brief hiatus from the wilds of Coastal Mississippi. There was no free wi-fi to be found in my limited search. To be fair, the area has been wiped clear of pretty much everything, so limited wi-fi should not have been a big surprise.
Accordingly, the blog has been more or less on auto-pilot since Wednesday afternoon with only a few small blips along the way. (The proper formatting to Part 3 of my interview with Steven Hall has been addressed. If you missed the interview last week, please take time out to check out Parts 1, 2, and 3.) Meanwhile, the in-box has become chock full of word of upcoming events, blog worthy news, reviews-in-progress, and other “must read” items. Hopefully, we’ll be caught up in a few days or so. Let’s start with this:
A recurring theme here has been shout-outs to the book stores we love. Usually these are stores that we stumble across in our travels. My mother was traveling abroad recently, and she e-mailed the picture below, which was taken at a book store in Turkey. The country. The first thing that I noticed was the Irvine Welsh book with the banana on the cover. Very cool. On the other end of the same shelf are chick-lit author Marian Keys and mass-market guy James Patterson. This is not remotely alphabetical. What possible organizing principle could be at work here?