Raising Readers: Selecting Books

A week or so ago, I wrote about how my spouse and I accidentally created a Reading Culture at our house, and then accidentally inculcated our children into it.

Today, I wanted to write about how our kids get books into their hands. Do they read just what they’re assigned to read by parents and teachers, or do they read only what they pick for themselves? Do my spouse and I limit what they are allowed to read, or do we let them  read whatever printed materials they get their hands on?

In our house, the short answer to both questions is: It’s something in between. Read More

Bookends: January 2016

Did you all know it’s February?

Turns out it is, and it has been for nearly five days now. And I totally missed posting my Bookends post for January on February 1!

Part of this is simply losing track of time in the midst of all of the other things I’m doing, but part of it is related specifically to my being consumed with trying to organize my books and tags to make LibraryThing more usable for me. Although I find Goodreads more intuitive to use and more visually attractive than LibraryThing, I’m not keen on the Amazon/Goodreads connection (why must everything I do become a means for promoting someone else’s wealth?). I have a sense that Goodreads is better as a social network for readers while LibraryThing is better for cataloging books, but many people happily use LibraryThing for both. Knowing there are so many people who love LibraryThing, I’m trying to really dig in and see what I can do with it myself.

This digging into my library is rather distracting and is another part of why I lost track of where I was in the calendar and didn’t post my Bookends according to the schedule I devised for myself.

Oh, well. Late > Never. Or so they say.

Here’s what I read during the first month of 2016:

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Weekly Walk 18

It’s six weeks after the winter solstice, and darned if it doesn’t feel like spring.



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Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich

The first time I encountered a vision board was in the late 1990’s when some friends of ours were trying to convince my spouse and me to sell Amway. We’d visit their apartment and see the magazine clippings of Mercedes sedans and diamond rings covering their refrigerator. This was shortly after one of them had quit grad school because he knew the only way he was going to reach his financial goals was to devote himself whole-heartedly to his Amway business. That MD-PhD he’d almost completed was a career dead end anyway.

The first friend who used the term “manifest” to describe what our Amway friends were doing with the fridge photos tried to convince me that I just had to buy a house in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007. It was a no-brainer: every rich person she knew owned a house, and it was ridiculous not to get into the market. She had just done it, and in a few years, it would be totally worth the financial pinch. Then I told her my family’s monthly household income, and she didn’t mention home buying again.

The day I started reading this book, another friend told me about the positive thinking certification class she was taking. “You’d really like it, Charity,” she insisted, and I considered recommending this book to her along with Julie Norem’s The Positive Power Of Negative Thinking. Instead I just kept quiet.

I am in the choir to whom Ehrenreich is preaching with this book. That’s not to say I haven’t taken a sip of the positive thinking Kool-Aid myself at times. From the draw of a friend’s megachurch when I was eighteen to starting my very own Happiness Project a la Gretchen Rubin when I was thirty-three, I do sometimes buy into the idea that my cautious optimism/defensive pessimism is a character flaw. But mostly I’m happy to live outside of the positive thinking bubble.

Most of what Ehrenreich says was no surprise to me, but one idea that really got my attention was that positive thinking discourages empathy. Ehrenreich writes:

“The challenge of family life, or group life of any kind, is to keep gauging the moods of others, accommodating to their insights, and offering comfort when needed. But in the world of positive thinking other people are not there to be nurtured or to provide unwelcome reality checks. They are there only to nourish, praise, and affirm…There seems to be a massive empathy deficit, which people respond to by withdrawing their own. No one has the time or patience for anyone else’s problems.”(56)

If our primary goal is our own personal momentary happiness, what incentive is there to empathize and build relationships?

I admit, though, that even as I strongly endorse the idea of empathy and do my best to practice it myself every day, I continue to have a sense of scarcity around empathy. What if I put in the effort to empathize with others and then no one empathizes back?

I’ve sworn off self-help books, but if I found one that focused on addressing the empathy deficit, I would read it.

I do wonder: Is it better in other countries? Are there places I could live where positive thinking isn’t so ubiquitous?

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Raising Readers: Reading Culture

I was sitting and reading one afternoon last fall when the cat got up from my lap and, wakened from the world of the novel on my lap, I realized that the house was very quiet. So, I decided to check on the kids. I looked in on them in the room we’ve dubbed “The Library,” and both of my  children were sitting on the couch, reading silently to themselves. They looked up at me and smiled and then looked back at their books.

“Holy cow!” I thought. “Finally, we can all read as a family!” Smiling, I went back to my book and my couch in the other room.

Friends have asked me how we got to this point. How did we get our kids to love reading? How do we get them to choose reading over screens and devices? In a recent post, Cheyanne of Tangerine Wallpaper posited some related questions, and I figured the topic of reading was worth a blog post (or two).

Really, we didn’t set out to make our kids into readers, but when I look at our house, I realize that we have developed something of a reading culture in our house, and even though we didn’t develop this reading culture for the purpose of promoting a love of reading in our kids, I think it contributes to the reading habits my kids have developed. Here’s what our reading culture looks like: Read More

The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

The Makioka Sisters
The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Makioka Sisters is the January 2016 selection for the SBC (Sisters Book Club). February’s book is The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. If you’d like to read February’s book—or any future selections—along with us, visit our Goodreads Group!

Reading this book was strange. I kept expecting something to happen, some major change to take place, but the daughters of the once influential Makioka family are just on the cusp of change. They’re in the last years in which they can focus on the minutiae of their lives while riding the tide of tradition.

That’s not to say that nothing happens. A lot of small things happen, the kinds of things that make up the majority of daily life—meals, annual trips, family squabbles, moving house—but on the periphery, we get rather chilling inklings of what’s going on outside the family in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. There are passing references to the “China Incident,” which appears to be how the characters refer the Sino-Japanese War in which Japan perpetrated horrific war crimes against China and massacred hundreds of thousands. There are casual mentions of Hitler Youth returning from visits to Japan. There’s the character who takes a quick trip to California in 1941. There are German neighbors who return home to Hamburg and write letters inviting the Makiokas to visit when Germany has won the war, assuring them they will love the “new Germany.” That last one especially gave me chills. Read More


Weekly Walk 17

Five weeks after the winter solstice, with the rest of the east coast of the United States reeling from record (or near-record) snowfalls, we got a pleasant 3-ish inches.


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Weekly Walk 16

Four weeks after the winter solstice, our walk was cold (22°F when we left the house) and snowy.


A couple of inches of tiny, sparkling snowflakes had fallen the night before. We brought the brand-new traction devices we’d gotten for our shoes, but we didn’t need them. The snow was light and dry enough that the trail wasn’t slick except in spots.

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Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

Welcome to Braggsville
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shortly after I moved from North Carolina to the San Francisco Bay Area, I saw a promo for a TV documentary that described the Bay Area as “the epicenter of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.” It was my first inkling that the Bay Area thinks of itself as the center of a pre-Copernican universe, the celestial body around which all of the rest of humanity revolves.

A year or so later, my spouse and I were having dinner with a couple who introduced us to James Fowler’s six (or seven, counting Stage 0) Stages of Faith. Over bok choy and warm water with lemon, they told us with all seriousness that most parts of the world, especially the American South, are at Stage 2 (“Mythic-Literal”) while the Bay Area is at Stage 5 or Stage 6 (Stage 6 being “enlightenment”). (This couple also lived in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood because of the lower home prices and then hired a full-time Colombian nanny so they could send their daughter to private school and she would still learn Spanish.)

So, the weather is awesome, but the culture is a little full of itself. (“Why would you live anywhere else?”)

As such, I was tickled when T. Geronimo Johnson imported a bit of Bay Area intellectual hubris to small-town Georgia. Read More

Fruit Punctuation

This morning while I was peeling and chopping and tossing things into the slow cooker, my six-year-old told me about something in a book he was reading.

“It says ‘Anakin’ and then it has those big bananas,” he explained.

“Big bananas?” I asked, clearing onion skins into the compost bucket.

“Yes. You know, those big word bananas that explain what things are.”

I turned to looked directly at him. “Big…word bananas?”

“They’re like giant commas around words.”

“Oh! You mean parentheses?”

A cloud of deep thought crossed his face and then cleared into a smile of recognition.

“Yes!” he said. “Parentheses!”

Big word bananas. Okay.