Parenting: a Subject with Many Books but Few Answers

“Harry — I think I’ve just understood something! I’ve got to go to the library!”

And she sprinted away, up the stairs. […]

“Why’s she got to go to the library?”

“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

It has been several long months since I last wrote here! Before I jump back into book reviews and other fun things, I figured a little update is in order.

I approached motherhood the way I approach everything: with research. I read the now-classic What To Expect When You’re Expecting and the polar opposite (and significantly more helpful) Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta cover-to-cover, as well as several other books on growing, birthing, and parenting a baby. I knew that this didn’t make me an expert, but I figured it would give me a significant “leg-up,” and give me remedies for every possible problem that could arise (reflux, colic, trouble sleeping, trouble nursing, etc.) that I could just slap on like band-aids.

Being a mom has turned out to be the first thing in my life that I could not approach with research, that I could not study in books. I realized too late that no book could have taught me how to become a step-mother to my eight-year-old, either. To those who don’t already have children, when you hear people say that skilled parenting comes from a great deal of experience, patience, and love, know that they are not exaggerating! These are the only ways (in my limited experience) to approach the subject. And when you’re living off a few hours of broken sleep for years, the screaming won’t stop though you seem to have tried everything, and you feel like you’re about to lose your mind, skimming the indexes of baby books won’t help you; there is no magic remedy, at least not for my baby. The only thing to do is give your child even more love. “It requires real strength to love Man. And to love him despite all invitations to do otherwise, all provocations and all reasons why one should not. … To love is the road to strength. To love in spite of all is the secret to greatness” (L. Ron Hubbard, “What Is Greatness?”, A New Slant on Life). Fortunately children have the ability to produce in us infinite wells of love and patience. Locating and drawing upon them in moments of anger, frustration, and utter exhaustion can be an enormous challenge, one at which I have probably failed at more times than I have succeeded (I’m improving all the time, though!), but it builds character and teaches your children by example.

It has also been tougher than I had anticipated, and I had to take some time to get my bearings. I kept being told, “Once you two have your routine down, it will get so much easier!” but Oliver changes, develops, and has different challenges every week, so our routine does, too. I’m finally accepting now, in his eighth month, that our routine, if you can call it that, is “playing it by ear” and doing what we both need at any given time, and that has made life so much easier. As I realized while reading one of my (highly recommended) parenting books, Baby-Led Weaningmothers in most cultures are expected to alter their own lifestyles to meet the needs and schedules of their children; our practice in the West to expect our babies to conform to our own lifestyles is unique, internationally. (Unfortunately the standard of absurdly short paid maternity leave in the U.S. makes this a luxury when it really ought not to be.) Life flows so much more smoothly when I prioritize Oliver above all else. Everything falls into place behind him.

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I can only get through a fraction of the books I used to read, unless you count children’s books, in which case I am still a very avid reader. (Haha!) Most nights I fall asleep putting Oliver to bed around 7:30 pm! However, I am still committed to this blog and am going to do my best to churn out useful book reviews and post at least once a week, even if it’s only with a personal update or meme. Please bear with me during this exciting and demanding time in my life! ♥

Memorable Mondays: Loyalty

Memorable Mondays is a weekly feature in which we share a favorite quote from the books we’ve read. The quote I’m sharing this week comes from A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin:

I was with you at the beginning of your journey. It is right that I should follow you to its end.

Loyalty, fidelity, and faithfulness are extremely important to me. They go hand-in-hand with honesty, to others but even more so to yourself. Unfortunately in this day and age, these characteristics are valued less and less. In the end, though, no one can reprimand you for being disloyal, but you are your own worst executioner when you know that your actions are wrong.

What values are the most important to you?

The Sunday Post #3 // 28 August 2016

The Sunday Post is a meme hosted by Kimberly of Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s an opportunity to share news, recap the week, showcase books and things we have received, talk about what’s coming up next week, and anything else you’d like! In addition, I feature what I’m reading, playing, watching, and/or listening to, showcase new additions to my TBR shelf, and discuss any other general geekery that I want to share.

News

The weather has not been very kind to us here in the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in southern California and my family used to vacation to the desert, of all places, every summer (and we still do!), but I’ll take a blistering 120-degree day in the desert any time over a humid 90-to-100-degree day in Portland! At least in the desert there are things to do to enjoy the sun while escaping the heat, like go to the pool; in Portland, our pools are indoors.

Oliver has been having a rough time with the weather. We don’t have air conditioning and our house is 10 to 20 degrees warmer than it is outside, and the heat has been preventing him from napping. (Fortunately he’s still sleeping great at night, though!) Between his exhaustion and discomfort in the heat, he’s back to wanting to be held all the time. I can’t blame him; I’d want some mommy comfort in his position, and from what my midwives told me, skin-to-skin contact with mom actually helps regulate the child’s body temperature, whether to cool it down or heat it up as necessary. You never realize how amazing the human body is until you have a baby!

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Concept cover art for Kingdom Blades

For once I’m actually looking forward to the usual Portland weather. It’s supposed to go back down into the 70s next week. Phew!

In bookish news, the only book I am dying to have in my hands, Kingdom Blades by Melissa McPhail, the fourth book in the A Pattern of Shadow & Light series, is slated for publication in October as of Melissa’s last update, and with each week that we inch closer I get more and more excited! I can hardly wait! Even if October rolls around and all we have is an official release date, I’ll still be happy.Read More »

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Memoirs of Lady Trent #1)

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A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

★★★★★

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Take Indiana Jones, make him into a woman, place her in Victorian England and sprinkle in some dragons and you have the perfect beginnings of an excellent adventure.

Isabella Camherst is a female Indiana Jones in a world similar to ours, but with a few notable differences: Isabella’s country is reminiscent of England during the Victorian era, the most advanced technology is steam-powered, and dragons are just another species of wildlife, if one of the more enigmatic creatures out there. Very little is known about them as a species during Isabella’s youth, and what is known is enough only to fill one leatherbound book, Sir Richard Edgeworth’s A Natural History of Dragons, a book which, despite the perplexing references to anatomy, little Isabella, who is fascinated by dragons, sneaks off her father’s shelves to read and study again and again.

Sneaking the book away is necessary because natural philosophy isn’t a subject meant to be taken up by women. Very few subjects are meant to be taken up by women, in fact: women are meant to be elegant, modest helpmeets whose pleasure is derived from serving as hostess, mother, and wife, and in partaking in properly feminine hobbies like reading novels and strolling through parks.

There isn’t anything particularly wrong with that life, other than that Isabella would die a little inside if her thirst for knowledge weren’t daily quenched in some capacity. I’m sure every scholarly person can relate to Isabella’s craving to know. While coming out to Society, she even deliberately seeks out a husband who will keep a library and support her book habit! (Don’t tell my husband about that; he might start to ask questions.) “Where knowledge is concerned,” reflects Isabella, “I am as greedy as the mythical dragons in the stories, sitting atop their glittering hoards.”

But Isabella isn’t just studious and ink-nosed; she’s adventurous, too. From going on dragon-researching expeditions to falling into smugglers’ pits in ancient ruins, Isabella’s memoirs read like a classic adventure story, but one told in the voice of a gutsy, intelligent, clever, and capable woman reflecting on her youth. She is one of those rare characters who you so desperately want to befriend that you wish you could pull them right out of the pages and make them real.

Too frequently I come across a lack of professionalism in writing — sheer laziness, really, whether in fully fleshing out characters or clearing up abundant typos. Marie Brennan, on the other hand, has considered every detail, right down to interspersing the book with Isabella’s sketches. The effort Brennan went through to perfect her book makes it shine all the more.

Between the thrilling adventure tale and the memorable Isabella, the first installment of Isabella’s memoirs earns 5 out of 5 dragon’s bones.

Cleanliness & Content Advisory: A Natural History of Dragons is intended for adults, but because it’s written like a Victorian memoir, there really is no gore, sexual content, or cursing — unless you consider words like “godsend” to be curse-words, in which case Isabella has this message for you:

To those of my readers who flinch at minor blasphemies of the sort: I must warn you that there will be more ahead. Mr. Wilker restrained his language around me in our Vystrani days, but as we grew more comfortable with one another, he revealed a casual habit of naming the Lord. If I edited his language here, it would misrepresent his character, and so I pray you pardon his frankness, and mine. We were neither of us very religious.

Aside from occasionally needing a dictionary, a young adult could easily read this book. I would give it a PG-13 rating.

First Lines Friday: Strange Sensations

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Emma at Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author, or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines? To participate, simply choose a book off your shelf, copy the first few lines to hook the reader, and then reveal the book!

This week’s first lines are from a book that’s been gathering dust on my shelf, waiting to be read.

In many places in the Peopled Worlds, the pain came suddenly in the midst of the day’s labor. It was as if an ancient and comfortable presence left them, one that they had never noticed until it was gone, and no one knew what to make of it at first, though all knew at once that something had changed deep at the heart of the world. No one saw the brief flare in the star named Argos; it would be years before astronomers would connect the Day of Pain with the End of Worthing. And by then the change was done, the worlds were broken, and the golden age was over.

Curious about that unsettling feeling of loss?Read More »

Classic Fridays: School Reading

Classic Fridays is a Friday feature hosted by Brooke at The Cozy Little Book Nook in which a set of questions are given based on the chosen theme for the week. This week’s topic is Back to School.

How many books did you read per month during the school year?

I only really started devouring books when I was 15; prior to that I think I was only reading about 10 or so a year. From age 15 on, I was reading between 30 and 50 books a year, typically reading multiple books at once.

Did you usually enjoy reading books assigned by your school?

Yes, absolutely! I was exposed to many books that I may not have encountered otherwise that way. The beauty of the reading assignments at my high school, though, which was an alternative school in which the students themselves had a huge influence in their own education, was that our English teacher would suggest several possible books centered around a discussion theme and we were each able to choose the one that most interested us, or substitute our own related read with the teacher’s consent. I discovered so many amazing authors that way, like Jack Kerouac, Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, Dalton Trumbo, Truman Capote, Tim O’Brien, and Yann Martel; as well as plenty of classics.

What has been your favorite assigned read?

That is a really tough question! I have three favorites: “The Electric Ant” by Philip K. Dick, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. All of them radically changed my perspective on the world and made me realize that I wasn’t alone in the way I felt, a really important thing for every teenager to become aware of!

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Which required read was the hardest to get through and why?

I love studying history — I am a glutton for knowledge — but I found The Iliad too gory. I couldn’t make out the story or the purpose of it through all the corpses and blood on the Trojan battlefield! It was pretty horrific, especially since I was reading it while suffering from a really bad case of mono and tonsillitis that had me out of school for three months. It was not uplifting stuff.

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Were they always classic novels or also recent books?

Up until high school they were all classics, but my high school English teacher Barbara did an excellent job of exposing us to all kinds of literature, both modern and classic! I feel really blessed for that.

Which books do you wish your school would mark as “required reading” and why?

I think Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder should be required reading for all young people. I read it when I was 12 and it helped me to understand so much. It is simultaneously a mind-blowing book-within-a-book and a history of world philosophy delivered in novel form in the most clever way imaginable.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline would also be on my dream school reading list. As we get more and more adept at VR and as we make further and further advances in technology without stopping to take care of our fellow humans along the way, the message of Ready Player One becomes more and more relevant. Teenagers might not get all the ’80s references without quite a few Google searches, but I can’t imagine a young person not enjoying it!

Finally, I’d add Felicia Day’s memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Today’s teenagers have never known life without the Internet (at least here in the U.S.). They have always been able to talk to anyone in the world with an Internet connection, find data on any topic with just a few keystrokes, and learn how to do whatever interests them. It’s beautiful because it opens the door to being totally yourself and doing whatever it is that you desire to do, while on the other hand it’s unfortunate because you’re simultaneously exposed to all of humanity’s awfulness. Felicia Day, “Queen of the Geeks,” has experienced it all, and describes her experiences — from discovering people who were just like her as a child to getting doxxed (i.e., having your personal information, such as your name, address, phone number, and credit card information, leaked online) as an adult — eloquently and with lots of humor. Between overcoming anxiety, depression, and gaming addiction, surviving #Gamergate, being an extremely successful online entrepreneur and entertainer, and figuring out how to use the Internet to help her be herself, she’s really relevant as a role model.

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Fortunately I’m homeschooling my little one, so I make the reading lists now! 🙂

What is one book that you had to read for school?

6215274This was no ordinary war. This was a war to make the world safe for democracy. And if democracy was made safe, then nothing else mattered — not the millions of dead bodies, nor the thousands of ruined lives.

This is no ordinary novel. This is a novel that never takes the easy way out: it is shocking, violent, terrifying, horrible, uncompromising, brutal, remorseless and gruesome… but so is war.

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo is an absolutely gut-wrenching read about a young man who goes off to war with a girlfriend and all the opportunity of youth only to return with — well, with what you get out of war: nothing. Or less than nothing. I won’t spoil it for those who don’t know what occurs because I can remember the marrow-chilling shock of it as I came to realize what was going on as I read. It’s one of the most important (and brutally, unforgivingly honest) books I’ve ever read and though it was so hard to swallow and gave me an absolute horror of what happened to Johnny happening to me, I’m so glad that I did. It’s an absolute favorite of mine but it is so difficult to absorb that I have only read it once.

What genre was it in? Is it something that you normally read?

It is historical fiction, which I frequently read, but it is also a novel about war, and I almost never read books on war.

Would you have picked up this book by yourself?

Probably not, or only because it is a classic. If I had known the details of what goes on in the book, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t pick it up these days; I prefer books and entertainment that gives me pleasure. As an angsty teenager, though, the opposite was true, of course, haha! So I may have picked it up on my own back then.

What activities did your class do with this book?

We discussed it and wrote essays. Besides being connected to what we’d read in one way or another, the essays we wrote for our readings didn’t have to follow any specific pattern or be on any particular topic so long as they weren’t summaries — we were absolutely forbidden from writing book reports. As Barbara so astutely pointed out, she already knew what the books were about so she didn’t need to read our clunky descriptions of them. (We could even write fiction or make visual — or even edible! — art based on the work if we chose to and Barbara gave us her blessings.) My essay was on severe anxiety and depression, which I suffered from at the time, being very similar to what Johnny experiences.

POSSIBLE (IF VERY VAGUE) SPOILERS AHEADRead More »