Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

You knew I was going to read this. You probably saw the article that triggered the firestorm that alerted me to the existence of the book. If not, it's here.

I'm still digesting, and mostly my thoughts are about how we're raising our son - Chua's experience is the exact opposite of the experiences that I've been seeking out. She is the opposite of unschooling, the opposite of being the boat that rides the waves, the opposite of finding a moment and seeing the beauty in the ordinary. She is driven, she is stubborn, she is (this is the universal part) parenting her children in the manner in which she was parented.

I do not agree with all of her approaches (the worst of which  - until the meltdown that humbles her* - are in the WSJ article) but I can't completely fault her. Her prose is engaging, her motivation is truly love for her daughters, and were I to sit next to her at a party I think I would enjoy her company.

She says, over and over, that there is tongue-in-cheek humor...but it's insider humor. Unless you are the child of an immigrant it might sail past you and leave a bad taste in your mouth. Statements that come across as judgmental would likely be hilarious to Westerners had they been written by Matt Groenig (or Trey Parker or Matt Stone) and delivered by Homer Simpson (or one of the four South Park kids.) Humor is cultural, and I suspect that is why this book has struck such a nerve.

Does she have some truly heinous parenting moments? Yes. But who doesn't? She also has moments of clarity and brilliance where everything seems to come together, and at the end...she learns and grows, which is really all anyone can do.

As Calvin's dad said: You do the best you can with the knowledge you have. (Yes, he said it first, Not Oprah. When I run across the strip, I'll scan it and prove it.)

The book has made me think...really think and really scrutinize my plans and how they will impact my child as he grows. Whether I agree with her or not, that is the best thing a book can do for you. As you read, you look around and think "is this really the best life I can lead? Are my intentions pure?" Few authors trigger those thoughts (I am lucky to have reviewed some of them here) and Chua is among them.

*the subtitle: "The is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. The was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising their kids than Western ones. But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting tastes of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old."

Here she is, in her own words, on PBS:


I keep picking up the latest in series that I love only to be met with the "Writing off" of characters I love. In this case: the Pym sisters. That's right - I spoiled this one right off the bat. But it happens in the first chapter and their impending departure is the catalyst for Lori's trip to New Zealand: their deathbed request of her is that she deliver a letter to their estranged nephew - son of their only brother who was cast out of the family when the twins were small children.

Lori, being married to an Estate lawyer, packs her bags and takes a very long plane ride. The story is set during the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which features minorly into the plot. Additionally, she has a native guide and meets many more interesting characters (a refreshing change from the familiar faces of Finch, although they have their appearances as well.) It turns out that Aubrey, Jr, (nephew) has passed away. As has his son, leaving Lori to track down an eighteen-year-old great-grandniece as she runs away from her troubles across the island.

I'll tell you that I read this with enthusiasm: will Lori catch up with Bree? Why is her native guide so eager to help her? When can I book my own trip to New Zealand?

All in all, it was a satisfying read...and no, you do not have to have read the previous installments to enjoy this one. But it certainly adds a layer of heart-string tugging when you've encountered the Pyms sisters 14 previous times and now they have passed away to the realm of Aunt Dimity herself.


A Face in the Window

This - the second to latest installment of the Home Repair is Homicide series - takes a different tack: 3rd person all the way through. And since Graves isn't one to shy from "killing" our favorite characters, the level of suspense is ratcheted up. This one falls squarely into Page Turner territory.

The great thing about a series is that you can invest in the characters - and Graves plays on that by sending Ellie and George on vacation and then having their daughter (in the care of Jake) abducted.

That's as far as I'm going with the plot because holy cow. I'm not sure how to talk about it without giving away too much. It's downright gripping.

If you're a fan of the series, you won't be disappointed.

And if you're a fan of the series you'll be happy to know that there is another...but will there be another? After A Face at the Window....it's really anybody's guess.

Unfamiliar Fishes Teaser

She was on the Daily Show.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Sarah Vowell:

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Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton

I bought this for my husband last year with the knowledge that when he finished it, I would read it. I just finished it. Literally, I just read through the last section of "recommended reading, our favorite convenience foods, and acknowledgments." The book is filled with flags of further reading or items to investigate and I have already made one of the recipes (bibimbap.)

Amster-Burton is a food writer and father living in Seattle with his wife, Laurie, and daughter, Iris.  Here is something annoying: Iris at the time of writing was 4. Iris at the onset of fun food was about 20 months. Which is six months from where we are and I find myself impatient. But I digress.

This book is engaging. It is funny. It is inspirational and appetizing....that is, I would have a nice, full dinner and a little while later I would read a chapter or two in the bath and when I emerged I would be starving and inspired to really cook. Hence the bibimbap, which was delicious.

Amster starts with the precept that there is no baby food. There is only people food, presented in such a way that babies can eat it. And he went from there. He also invited Iris into the kitchen - one of the most intriguing slices of their life is the way Iris participates (or opts out because she's "busy lying on the couch.")  Through tales of farmers markets, fishmongers, preschool snack days, and pasta sauce, Amster invites you in to his kitchen - there is no doubt in my mind that given the chance the invitation would be real and the casual comraderie would not falter. Or I'm just a crazy fan who reads too much into things. Either way, I really want a sequel.

He has a blog, and this entry has video footage with Iris, so you can see just how cute she really is:


Happy Reading!

PS - they are NOT vegetarians, so if you take issue with things like "it starts with flank steak" or "We bought a live lobster" then be warned those parts are in there. But don't skip the book. There are muffins and udon, too!


Momma Zen By Karen Maezen Miller

I thoroughly enjoyed Miller's other book, so I made sure I was able to savor this one, in which she takes us along on her journey as a new mother, musing over lullabies and sleepless nights, food struggles, television guilt, schedules, and the sudden illness and passing of her own mother. I do not personally know Karen (although we are "facebook friends") but as I read her reflection on the loss of her mother, I mourned with her.

Miller is moving and inspirational without being the kind of person who gives Moving Inspirational Speeches. She quietly shows you how things work for her and provides space for you to recognize what is (and isn't) working for you. Here is a space to allow yourself to truly feel what you are feeling and then the gentle guidance needed to let all of that go.

A random pull quote:

"On a perfect day in your perfect little world (and it's always perfect) there is breakfast time, playtime, lunchtime, nap time, snack time, dinnertime, bath time, story time, and bedtime. There is time for everything when you are the timekeeper." (p68)

It is not just her own wisdom that she shares, every chapter opens with a quote from Sutras, Blessings, Buddhist Lessons, and the Wise Ones who came before. The book ends with a lesson on How to Meditate, and follows with an index "For the Hard Days", in which you can look up lessons for the help you most need right now.

Miller is a Zen Buddhist Priest, and while that informs her writings and her lessons, she neither shoves it down your throat nor urges you to throw off your previous labels and Join Her. She merely invites you in to a place where the people are just people, lives are just lived, and every moment exists in your breath. I consider myself lucky to have both of her books on my shelf.

(Bonus: she has a blog.)
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