A fascinating read on the state of postmodern relationships.

I am currently reading comedian Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance. At 1/3 of the way through the first chapter (which follows a hilarious and spot on introductory section), I am taking so many notes that I don’t know if I could possibly do this book justice in one review. So I’m documenting the book here a couple of chapters at a time.

Of course, this assumes that the remaining 250 pages will keep me as interested, amused, and in agreement as the first 28, and that is probably quite the stretch. I hope not however, because despite the clearly secular bend of the book, the first little bit is overflowing with truth. For example, this quote from Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity, which is now another book added to my increasingly long “must read” list (I sure hope it isn’t a divorce apologist tome):

So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide:

Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.
Give me comfort, give me edge.
Give me novelty, give me familiarity.
Give me predictability, give me surprise.
And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.

Like I said, interesting book, so stay tuned for periodic updates as I blog my way through it.

 

Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice

Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, by Dr. Willie Parker. Published in April, 2017. 224 pages.

I used to have a master list of books I want to read, complete with a timetable for when and how I am going to read them. It never works out however, because I visit the library at least every other week, and every turn past the “featured titles” shelf has me leaving with some title which has piqued my curiosity and gotten me off the planned reading list schedule. This was one of those books.

I don’t even know how to review it because although I find the philosophy, theology, worldview, and conclusions utterly wrong headed at best (repulsive at worst), Dr. Parker is a decent writer who wove together a good story and kept my attention throughout this book. None of that however, diminishes the problems with his logic and processing of the Christian faith.

A black doctor who grew up poor in segregated Alabama, Dr. Parker was a fervent and passionate Christian from his teenage years onward, and still confesses Christ today. He held to Christian principles in practice even after becoming an OB/GYN physician, refusing to provide abortion services even as his compassion deepened for the women seeking abortions who came to the office he worked.

Because his theological and moral defense of abortion is hardly original, I’ll lay it out for you here as well a directing you to an interview Dr. Parker gave to Rolling Stone laying out his case. No need to add to the sales that the pro-abortion/feminist lobby will give to this book. It basically comes down to this:

He has a duty to extend Christian compassion to the women who come to him for abortion services by helping them end their unwanted pregnancies safely, and with little pain and complication as possible. They have as much right as any one else to fulfill their god-given potential and fulfill their dreams without having their lives thrown off track because of one mistake and a legal and societal culture who would judge them for it. Giving them their freedom and acknowledging their bodily autonomy is, in his opinion, the right thing to do.

Of course, as always happens when liberals want to justify the unjustifiable, Dr. Parker repeatedly cites parallels between the freedoms of the women seeking abortions in 2017, and the freedom of the former slaves and black Americans who suffered all manner of indignities in the South.

The first commandment of liberal theology: Every person who wants to do something immoral or unnatural and encounters opposition or delay is experiencing oppression equivalent to the descendants of the transatlantic slave trade. The second commandment is like unto it: True Christian love is demonstrated by a willingness to see to it that everyone has or is able to do what they need to feel accepted and good about themselves.

Like I said, despite Parker’s unassailable way with words and compelling story telling there is nothing new to see here. Gloria Steinem’s rave review does nothing to change that. I did learn more about the medical intricacies of abortion than I ever wanted to know, complete with mental imagery I won’t soon forget. I learned a lot about the legalities of the debate as well.

The most compelling parts of the book were Dr. Parker’s retelling of his life story, family history, and educational development.

 B+ for writing, D for philosophical content.

Final grade: C

Content advisory: In depth details on the procedures, nature, and aftermath of abortion in one chapter.

Better Than Before

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin. Published in 2015. 320 pages.

I am in the process of re-establishing good habits that I allowed to waver over the past year, while also (and probably more importantly) working to let go of some bad habits. As I have been contemplating and making some pretty big changes of late, I stumbled upon this book in our local library. I was curious enough about the possible research and information to pick it up and give it a look.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the NYT best-selling book, The Happiness Project. I was not familiar with her work prior to stumbling upon this book. That’s a good thing. Had I been familiar with her claim to fame, I might have been inclined to skip picking up this book, which I found pretty insightful.

It wasn’t so much that Rubin broke any new ground here, as much as she put it all together in ways that made sense; to me at least. It is entirely possible that we are more open to and impressed by ideas that speak to where we are on a particular leg of life’s journey. However, even with that concession, I think this is a good book for anyone in the process of trying to establish new habits and break old ones.

The trick to breaking old habits, of course, is to replace them with something better and stick to that thing until it becomes a habit. What Rubin attempts to do here is assist her readers with identifying what strategies will work best for them as they embark on a new habit or attempt to break one.

There is, as there always are with these things, general standards offered by way of a quiz to help the reader categorize him or herself in ways that best narrow the strategies that will work for them.  In years past, I balked at these types of things mainly because the idea that I fit into a neat box offended my snowflake tendencies.

As I have grown older, however, I have come around to the conclusion that while none of us fit neatly into any particular category (an obsession with categories is unhealthy), human tendencies can indeed be roughly narrowed and quantified enough that we can all use some of this information to help us achieve the goals we wish to accomplish. What’s more, there isn’t anything innately wrong or ungodly about making allowance for the fact that we all have personalities within we much navigate as we set ourselves on solid paths in life. The problem comes in when we use this information as an excuse not to change we should rather than tools to help us change the things we need to address.

As I said at the beginning, this book isn’t groundbreaking. Since there is nothing new under the sun anyway, we could all save ourselves a lot of angst by understanding that people the saying the same things in what we perceive to be a new or more comprehensive way doesn’t make it new. It just means that they said it in a way we can identify with. Like Gretchen Rubin did.

You can read an excerpt of her book here.

What I figured out from this book:

  • Unlike my husband, and my father before him, it is not enough for me to be internally motivated to do better in an area of change course in another. I invariably run out of steam if I don’t set up the proper guardrails to keep me moving in the right direction. That reality doesn’t mean I’m a “bad Christian”, which is what I used to think.
  • I can use my husband’s (and to a lesser extent one of daughter’s) stronger internal push as a guardrail. For example, once I decided that potato chips with a side of tears are not the key to managing stress, I took a page from this book and said out loud, “I don’t eat chips.” If I pick up a bag, I can trust my husband to take it from me so as to help me not be a liar, which would make me a bad Christian.
  • Our kids saw a lot of themselves in the four archetypes. Even the 10-year-old rebel has shown some growth since we all took the opportunity to examine ourselves in light of some of the insights here
  • Habits are surprisingly tough, and habits are surprisingly fragile (p.160) I totally need to remember that. You’d think after a year of running faithfully and spending a crazy amount of money -at least for me- on a race, I’d turned into a runner for life. Didn’t happen, but the health gains I made as a runner were so startling that I am back at it, this time with the understanding of how fragile habits are.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • Too much of it focused on eating and health issues when most people’s most entrenched habits are related to things other than diet and exercise. For instance, my hurdle at this point is managing my Internet time. Exercise and eating are quite frankly, secondary. I’m in decent health and my husband thinks I’m gorgeous even carrying 25 extra pounds. The mental and time drain lost online however…that’s worth addressing.
  • Given the time this book was written, I was surprised at the sparse amount of time given to some of the other things people deal with as habits.

The good far outweighed the bad, however, and even without specifically mentioning things like social media, smart phones, collecting clutter (NOT an issue of mine), mindless spending (also not an issue of mine) or other vices, the book’s tools are easily transferable to whatever one’s habit might be.

Grade: B

 

 

 

Dr. Susan Taylor’s Rx for Brown Skin

brown skin book

Dr. Susan Taylor’s Rx for Brown Skin: Your prescription for flawless skin, hair, and nails. Published in 2008. 304 pages.

I stumbled on this one as I was doing my usual stroll through and perusal of our local library’s shelves. There is little about caring for our skin that we can’t readily find answers to online these days, but as a lover of books, I picked this one up anyway.

It’s a good, comprehensive book covering common skin problem women of Asian, Hispanic, and African ancestry have to deal with. As much as we enjoy the fact that our higher melanin content means few to no wrinkles for many years, there can also be problems associated with darker skin than can be bothersome if we don’t exercise due diligence with regards to skin care. In other words, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

What I liked about the book was the extensive coverage of all topics related to hair, skin, and nails. Because women of color tend to be more inclined to going the “extra mile” when it comes to beauty treatments, the admonitions against things such as over processing of hair -with heat and chemical treatments such as relaxers- and damaging the nails with the use of acrylic nails was important.

At one point, she alluded to the notion that what we eat has less importance with regard to our epidermis than the care we give it. I disagree strongly with that but later in the book she makes a point of noting that nutrition is an important part of maintaining a healthy appearance. I suspected the dermatologist in this author was loathe to concede that women can reverse many of their skin conditions through proper nutrition rather than dermatological intervention. I can understand the inclination, so I gave her a pass on that because the book overall was quite informative.

For instance, it has always been obvious to me that my skin tone varies greatly in photographs I have seen of myself. The difference in the winter and spring made perfect sense since most people tan in summer and lighten in winter, but  the fact that the change can be exaggerated simply by stepping from the shade into the sunlight was good information and demystified for me why I looking at photos makes me wonder, “Why is my skin a totally different shade than it was in an earlier photo?”

Dr. Taylor also offered sections for dealing with skin care during pregnancy, middle age, and the more mature stages of life. In short, she left no stone unturned, including referencing the safest and most effective over the counter products to use. She also included references to those products which should be avoided due to their harshness or incompatibility with darker skin.

It was a useful book.

Grade:  B

 

 

Crafting With Feminism

crafting femCrafting With Feminism: 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy, by Bonnie Burton. Published in 2016. 110 pages.

This is logged under “tales from the local library” because I ran across it as I was perusing the shelves, and the morbid part of my curiosity picked it up to flip through it. I am constantly amazed at the things that get published these days, although I shouldn’t be.

The foreword is written by Felicia Day, and starts with the line, “Hi. My name is Felicia. I have a vagina and I make crafts.” Then she goes on to explain the ideas which make her a feminist and how to create crafts which make the charged topic a little less dour and a lot more humorous.

This book is exactly what the title implies; 25 feminism inspired craft projects for girls to do as a sign of female empowerment. Projects include, but are not limited to:

  • Feminist badges of honor
  • Heroes of feminism finger puppets
  • Pizza not patriarchy reusable lunch bag
  • All Hail the Queen crown
  • Tampon buddies
  • Power panties
  • Next Gen feminist onesie
  • Male chauvinist tears coffee mug

Very few of the finished products shown in the book look particularly crafty or polished. However, that may be the point. Who knows? I for one, hate it when I spend good money on supplies only to have my finished product look like a 5th grader did it. But hey, maybe that’s just me.

Grade: F.

I think that was my first “F”! Seem apropos, no?

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle

mrs piggle wiggle

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, by Betty MacDonald, originally published in 1957. 128 pages.

I’d been meaning to get acquainted with Mrs. Piggle Wiggle for the past couple of years but she kept dropping off of my radar screen. In anticipation of a recent family road trip I ventured out to the library to find books on CD. There on the shelf, was Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

Before I continue the review, a brief aside. Despite the fact that we are a house full of avid book lovers, our 9-year-old shows very little interest in reading. She occasionally runs across a book that holds her interest to the very end, but without some gentle prodding from one of us, rarely will she pick up a book for the pure pleasure of it.

It occurred to me that in addition to the books on CD, I should also check out hard copies of the books so that our youngest girls could read along while they listened to the books during the long road trip. We checked out several books and CD sets according to this plan.

In the car the girls decided to start out with The Whipping Boy, even though they’d read it before. They like the story and read their books while the CD played. It was such an enjoyable experience for our 9-year-old that she said it “didn’t even feel like I was reading.” Of course I filed this strategy into the mental Rolodex, and decided to pass it along to any readers who have a child who is a fine reader but just doesn’t particularly enjoy it as a pastime. While they read The Whipping Boy, I decided to preview Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is a delightful woman who lives in an upside-down house, smells like fresh-baked sugar cookies, and welcomes all the children in the neighborhood into her home where they can play, be creative, and of course, have tea and cookies. She also knows what makes children tick, and because of this parents often call on her to provide fun and creative, if a bit wacky, solutions to the behavior problem they encounter in their children.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle reminded me of a cross between Nanny McPhee and Mary Poppins, but without actually living with the children she helps, which means she could help lots more children and parents.

One of the interesting notes about the book were the way Betty MacDonald had the mothers of the children call on their friends to ask for suggestions to deal with their child’s sassiness, messiness, or selfishness. Of course after several phone calls someone always refers her to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, who is sure to have a fix for hat ails the child.

With tricks to cure everything from impudence (The Answer-Backer Cure) to sibling fighting (The Fighter-Quarrelers Cure, to messiness (The Wont-Pick-Up-Toys Cure), there is very little related to the proper care and training of children that Mrs. Piggle Wiggle doesn’t know about. This magical neighborhood nanny always gives instructions to the parents for them to execute, and with patient endurance and sticking to the plan, they always get results.

With plenty of humor that only an adult could appreciate, Betty MacDonald weaves a tale and creates a character in Mrs. Piggle Wiggle that is good fun for adults  as well as the children who are her target audience.

I would suggest that this book is appropriate for children ages 8-10.

Grade: B+

Content advisory: In Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, spanking is mentioned as a normal and perfectly legitimate for parent to use as a disciplinary measure. It didn’t bother me, but I thought I should offer this information for those who are reluctant to allow their children to read it for that reason.

Confession: Big Books Start to Bore Me After a While

This is the reason why I haven’t yet posted my review of Vanity Fair, even though I’ve been reading it off and on for almost a month. My attention span is horrible.

It doesn’t even matter how great the story is, such as in the case of Vanity Fair. I get restless when reading large tomes because I am so easily distracted by other books which catch my attention. Or the circumstances of life overwhelm me and I need to reset so that I can focus my mind well enough to finish the book later.

As I started reading Vanity Fair I was fairly well engrossed. It really is a good story, at least the first half. That’s as far as I’d gotten before I started a slow drift into what can only be described as a funk. Consistent reading of great literature is for me, a part of a productive lifestyle and I haven’t been feeling as productive of late. Life and all that.

When you also factor in that any random trip to the library or any bookstore can easily divert my attention to tens of other titles, it isn’t long before I set aside the longer books for the quicker satisfaction derived from completing shorter books. I eventually (usually within 6 months to a year) finish my longer book. All that to say that Vanity Fair probably won’t be completed before the end of July.

Meanwhile, I have a few other things on tap:

  • The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis. I am drawn to this one right now.
  • The Year We Disappeared: A Father Daughter Memoir
  • The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting, Relationships (Seeing the *stuff*around me has made me curious about the kind of books that address this issue. My marriage is better than fine, so no worries.
  • Kitchen Confidential
  • One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics. Fully expect to disagree with most of this because I don’t know that there was ever a Christian hope for American politics, but I’m intrigued with the part of the church that is still drinking this kool-aid.

Consider this my summer reading list.