Saturday, February 26, 2011

Batte Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I read this because one of my upcoming podcasts is going to be about the Tiger Mother phenom that is taking over the country AND because one of my co-workers went to Yale Law, where Ms. Chua and her husband both teach.  I really enjoyed this book, even though I may not subscribe to her parenting style wholeheartedly (but that's for the next podcast!).

This book is actually a mommy memoir - which I think gets lost in the shuffle of the hoopla that has surrounded this book.  In it Chua tells of her struggle to raise her children in the traditional "chinese" way while living in the United States and, specifically, in a culture that seems to espouse what she calls "Western" syle parenting, in which children seem to have all the flexibility that they want without all the discipline. This isn't a parenting guide - Ms. Chua doesn't tell one how to be a "tiger mom."

I respect Ms. Chua's complete and utter honesty in writing this book. She really put herself out there for all the world to see and to talk about and to criticize or take pot shots at. It takes great courage to really put yourself out there the way that she did, because she must have known that this book would be controversial; how could an intelligent woman like her not know that?  What I also really appreciated about this book was it's read-ability.  Ms. Chua is a very good writer and a very good storyteller. The stories that she tells evoke such poignant images that it's almost as if you're there, witnessing the events that she tells from the concerts and lessons to the fight in Russia.

I really enjoyed reading this book - what I think about the style that she espouses must be left for a different day!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

I picked up this book because I have a daughter.  My son also goes to school with daughters - some of whom are totally going through the princess phase. Some women think it's "just a phase" by Orenstein wholeheartedly disagrees and this book is her argument as to why it isn't just a phase and why it can hurt more than help. Orenstein does this by looking at things like the little girl beauty pagents to sexting and other online communiques by girls.  She also looks at the Disney Princesses and fairy tales and what that means to our daughters as well.

I think that this is an important book, albeit a flawed and limited one. it would work wonders, perhaps, for the white mother of privilege that has a white daughter at home but it wouldn't translate well to multiracial or children of color or to people that aren't so well off. Aside from a very brief discussion of Disney's recent The Princess and the Frog, there isn't any other discussion about race and gender and how they intersect (and we all know that they do - just think about how Asian or Black women may be more eroticized because they are seen as "exotic" or how the push to be more "white" impacts them). I also don't like how Orenstein tried to hide the Disney stuff from her daughter (who I think is Asian - she's adopted - which is interesting considering how limited the discussion about race and gender are).  I mean, why not just take it head on with your child? The one thing that I have learned from being a parent is that children are smarter than we give them credit for and they don't live in a void. They are constantly watching everything and everyone around them and it's the very rare instance where a toddler, pre-schooler or kindergartner, let a lone an elementary scool kid misses something. This stuff is ripe fodder for discussion!  Take the bull by the horns and deal with it!

An important book but take it with a grain of salt - I was so much more hopeful and was disappointed in the results.

Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot

In this masterful book, Lise Eliot looks at a tremendous amount of studies that compare boys and girls in an effort to determine whether there really is a biological difference that contributes to gender or if it's nature.  Dr. Eliot says that it may be a little of both - there are miniscule biological differences between boys and girls at birth that form our core assumptions.  Our assumptions are then projected onto our sons and daughters, thereby solidifying the differences and creating a self fulfilling prophecy - in essence, while there may be a biological difference in why boys are better at spatial projections than girls, our assumptions that girls are worse at it than boys makes those differences wider, which is a shame because Dr. Eliot believes that those gaps can be closed with socialization in the opposite direction.  After clearly explaining the scientific research conducted in areas such as the role that testoterone plays in development while in utero and why boys lag behind in verbal and language skills, Dr. Eliot provides the readers with a list of things that they can do to ensure that their children close the gaps that exist.

I really enjoyed this book because it seems that everyone that was anyone seems to believe that the biological differences are actually bigger than they are. Dr. Eliot eloquently and thoroughly debunks these theories and lays out exactly why those theories are incorrect (for instance, sometimes information is left out or the experiment's results haven't been replicated). I also really appreciated that Eliot put in ideas at te end of each chapter that would enable parents to attempt to use nurture to counteract the other gender stereotypes that our children are exposed to. 

Very good book!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger

This book was on The NY Times list for 2010's most notable books and I thought that it was a good book, but maybe not one that should have been on the list.

It is obvious that Ms. Freudenberger was heavily inspired by the Chinese art of the early nineties because that is the crux of her novel.  Her story actually focuses on a group of artists that comprised the East Village art consortium of Beijing. One of them travels to Southern California to teach art at a prestigious, private all girls academy and lives with a family of one of his students. Yuan Zhao is the fictitious member who lives with a somewhat disfunctional family - the Travers family. The four family members barely interact with each other and have no interest in their supposedly famous guest.

i didn't feel that the Travers family and the sections that focussed on them were very well developed at all.  Perhaps Fruedenberger did this intentionally to make it obvious to us that this family is super shallow, but I wasn't interested in reading those sections at all.  The more intriguing sections were the sections that discussed Yuan Zhao's time in Beijing with the other members of the East Village.  They were fascinating, as were their motivations.  These were people that I wanted to watch, listen to and get to know because they were very interesting, deep and passionate people.

Generally, this book was all right - there was nothing fantastic about it but nothing overtly horrible either.  This may be good as an audio book for a long drive. 

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...