Everything Else I Read in 2007

Wow, I didn't realize I hadn't updated my book log since August. That's insane! Book log updates take a long time, so I guess I put off doing them, but eight months? Here are the books I read from August to the end of last year, and I'll post this year's books in another post. One day. Maybe in August.

Three Junes by Julia Glass was a vacation read I borrowed from Baba, and it was a great book. I am looking at all the notes I made on it after I read it, and sadly despite having written the notes and now reading them, I don't remember much of the story, which doesn't reflect well on my attempts to read more attentively and remember what I read. Anyway, it's one of those novels with dozens of different characters whose lives intersect in interesting ways. The characters are beautifully drawn and the intersections of their lives are plausible and enjoyable to read about.

I sound like an idiot when I try and write about fiction! Maybe non-fiction too. Oh, I wish I were smarter. You would think all this reading would help.

Get Smart: Nine Sure Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in School by Ronald Dietel. I think I picked this up because it was on display at the library. That is to say, I didn't order it especially, and I'm not worried about Delphine's academic development or anything. I'm not even particularly worried about whether she "succeeds" in school; the question of whether getting good grades can be considered succeeding is very much up in the air for me at the moment. Anyway, that's now, but back in September when I read this book I thought it would be cool to know how to help my kid succeed in school.

Dietel starts by commenting on the fact that apparently there is no time to be a kid any more, and there's big pressure on even the smallest of children to succeed in school. "The words 'let them be kids' are becoming a faint echo of the past." And that's all he says. He doesn't say that sucks, he doesn't say you should be a counterpoint to the pressure in your kid's life, he doesn't say maybe achieving in school isn't the be all and end all. And I guess he wouldn't! If he felt that way I bet he would have written a different book.

He goes on the talk about the different factors which affect your kid's success at school (specifically: ability, effort, attitute, school quality, teacher quality, school learning habits, home learning habits, evaluations, communication). And then for each factor he talks about how you can affect and improve it, varying from study techniques to working with your kid's teacher to homework routines. It was a pretty useful book, for what it was. I am older and wiser* now than I was when I read the book, and have some different perspectives on school and learning and how much involvement I should have in my kid's life, so even though I only read this book a few months ago I think I would approach it a lot differently if I read it today.

* I am older and wiser now mainly because of a book I just read called Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn which has blown my mind and made me rethink everything about interacting with my children, but in the best possible way. I will post about it sometime.

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins; another just-picked-it-up choice. This is a young adult novel about an Indian-American teenager who is torn between her traditional grandparents and her desire to be an ordinary American girl. I generally liked the story and the message of the book, but I am spoiled by all the Canadian books I usually read and was really put off by all the American references. I don't see why an American book shouldn't have American references, but there's something nice about books set in Canada. They're easier to read. I expect the same is true about books set in Sweden if you're Swedish. I also though that Sunita's boyfriend's exoticization of Indian culture was kind of creepy, but it was presented positively in the book.

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande is a book about how to succeed in medicine, or any endeavour which involves risk and responsibility. Gawande's three core requirements for success are Diligence, Doing Right and Ingenuity. He illustrates them with fascinating examples from the field, from the difficulty in getting people (doctors!) to wash their hands to the subtleties of conduct in the examining room, to the near-magical improvements in neonatal survival after the introduction of the Apgar score. This is a wonderfully written, interesting and thought-provoking book, whether you are a doctor or just want to be smarter and better at what you do every day.

Incidentally, here are Gawande's five "Suggestions for Becoming A Positive Deviant":

  1. Ask an unscripted question; be interested in someone else, surprise them, learn something about the people you see every day, find their humanity.
  2. Don't complain; it drags you and everyone else down, it is unhelpful and boring.
  3. Count something, track something; be a scientist in the world. If you count something you find interesting, you will learn something interesting.
  4. Write something; add some small observations about your world; step back and think about a problem; make yourself a part of the larger conversation.
  5. Change; respond to new ideas; recognize the inadequacies in what you do and seek out solutions.

Find something new to try, count how often you succeed, write about it, ask people what they think. See if you can keep the conversation going. These are words I try to live by, even in my relatively small world. I strive for constant improvement. That sounds really dorky, but it's true.

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman. Another fantastic book! It's great when I get two good books in a row. This is a fascinating book about, as it says, how doctors think, and mainly how they diagnose. Groopman talks about the inadequacies in medical training, how doctors feel about you as a patient, how they come to their conclusions and how they can get stuck in stereotyped views of you and your condition. Most importantly he writes about how you can ask questions to understand your doctor's thinking and perhaps gently steer them in a different direction if you feel like they are not giving enough thought to your condition, or if you just want to understand their diagnosis better.

Everyone who is a patient should read this book, and doctors should too.

The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough by Sarah Nettleton. This is mainly house porn; lots of pretty pictures of "simple" houses; houses that are exactly as big and complex as they need to be, and no more. Pretty and inspirational.

Supernanny: How To Get The Best From Your Children by Jo Frost and Nanny Wisdom: Our Secrets for Raising Healthy, Happy Children — From Newborns to Preschoolers by Justine Walsh and Kim Nicholson. I read these books because I was looking for inspiration on how to discipline Cordelia, who was just getting into a bit of a hellish phase. Both books favoured timeouts, which I tried and which failed miserably because Cordelia would either be completely happy on the "naughty step", or Delphine would go over and comfort her.

Anyway, otherwise these are pretty good books which emphasise what I consider to be the cornerstone of good parenting, a structured routine. They also both give a shoutout to an early bedtime, another parenting tool which I think is sadly underused these days.

However, I wish the Nanny Wisdom nannies would stick to general parenting advice and stay away from advice on nursing, which is... well, it's none of their business and they don't know what they're talking about. They say you should stop nursing at a year and they say that at some point your milk dries up and your kid is just nursing for pleasure. Which is not true at all! They clearly overstepped the bounds of their own expertise there. If you want good nursing advice, the book for you is Breastfeeding Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. Not some nanny book.

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is what you experience when you are completely involved in what you are doing, when you feel simultaneously focused and transcendent. It doesn't happen very often, and Csikszentmihalyi has studied when it happens and how. This is a book about how to fully engage in life, how to live without waste of time or potential. If you don't believe in an afterlife then you know we've only got maybe eighty years of consciousness, and you'd better believe I don't want to waste any of mine. This is a wonderful book about finding happiness and fulfillment, sometimes where you least expect it (like at work!).

Factory Girl by Barbara Greenwood. Barbara Greenwood is a lady in my choir who writes really neat history books for children, which combine historical facts with a narrative. She tells the story for a few pages and then breaks off and talks about the facts behind the story. This was an interesting read for me because it made me realize how much I bluff when I'm reading historical fiction. For example, the character in the book works in a sweatshop that makes shirtwaists. Sure, shirtwaists, I thought! Cool! It was only three pages later when Greenwood breaks out and says, in effect, "Here is what a shirtwaist is" along with a few illustrations out of the Eaton's catalogue, that I realize I had no idea what it was, really. Similarly she tells what, specifically, you could buy with the girl's meagre pay. I found this to be a very effective teaching technique; I think you're more likely to ask questions about what you're reading if you know that the answers are coming up, and I think these books encourage curiosity. I look forward to reading more of Greenwood's books with the girls.

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs. This was better than the last Kathy Reichs. I think I need another go-to mystery writer, though, because Reichs continues to annoy with her sentence fragments and her "it's on the tip of my tongue" intuitive mystery-solving.

Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. This was useful but I can't remember exactly what I learned that I didn't already know. Oh, I guess I learned that it is considered okay to put the entire message in your subject header (if your message is short). That always annoys me, but I guess if no-one else minds I'll have to put up with it. Also apparently you are only supposed to have one topic per email; if you want to talk to someone about two things you should send two emails. That sounds really maddening to me, but I have learned from experience that some people just don't read (or comprehend) more than one item or paragraph in an email message. Also I suppose having one topic per message might make it easier to file, if you're a dinosaur and you still use folders instead of tags.

And that's the end of my 2007 reading! I can't believe Cordelia is still asleep! I might even be able to post about what I've read in the last three months sometime before the end of April.

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