Saturday, May 10, 2014

more late-night reading

Apparently this child does not like classical music. I may have to return her.

Kidding! Maybe! I have yet to test her on Bach or Mozart. Anyone can have a day when Beethoven doesn't quite do it (the Handel-related screaming is a larger concern). And she does seem to enjoy D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths very much; that has become our official bedtime reading. By "enjoy" I mean it makes her temporarily fall asleep, which to parents of a newborn is a major measure of enjoyment. Like many babies, she has a crazy-fussy time from about six p.m. to midnight, so bedtime is a challenge. (I believe this is a phase that should pass sometime in the next six to ten years.)

What I have read lately, balancing a Kindle on the Boppy as best I can:

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code, by Sam Kean. I found this a lot more accessible and consequently more enjoyable than the book of Kean's I previously read; apparently biology is easier for me to grasp than chemistry. 

The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, by Jill Lepore. I really like Lepore's writing, even though the chapters in this book were clearly written as separate essays about specific historical figures or trends, and then cobbled together into a sort-of chronology of man's seven ages (or thereabouts). The second piece is all about breastfeeding, which was certainly timely for me to be reading, although Lepore's impassioned personal view that anything except feeding directly from the breast is horrible overrode everything historical and social she had to say about the subject (seriously, I don't know what a breast pump ever did to her, but it must have been awful, judging from her vitriol about feeding your child pumped breast milk). She tries to couch this view in a very thin layer of maternity-leave-reform, but, well, what she seems to be saying is that working American mothers should have to take a year's paid maternity leave for the sole purpose of having the baby attached to our breasts for that entire year.

Unsurprisingly, I have issues with this. God knows if a year's paid maternity leave was an option, that would be a beautiful thing, but I doubt I'd leave work that long (my job is in an ever-changing IT field, and it would be extremely difficult for me to keep up with a year's worth of new versions of our systems from home), and even if breastfeeding had been a perfect, easy thing from day one (Lepore makes the irritating assumption that it always is and that women only pump or supplement because they had to go back to work), I would probably want to put the baby down now and then. I'm callous like that.

So, yeah. Bad timing on that chapter. Otherwise I liked the book very much.

The Deep Dark: Disaster and Redemption in America's Richest Silver Mine, by Gregg Olsen. The story of a horrible, fatal mine fire in Idaho in 1972. Pretty grim and unrelenting. 

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, by Ann Patchett. Patchett's memoir / memorial for her friend Lucy Grealy, a poet and cancer survivor who died of a drug overdose at 39. I do like Patchett's writing, but the problem with this book is that Lucy as described has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. She just comes across as a blindingly self-centered and needy person who uses everyone around her. This is pretty typical for an active addict, but where and how she found quite so many people to enable her for so long is not explored: if it was just Patchett, with her admitted Catholic guilt, that would make some sense, but Grealy appears to have a whole network of people willing to pay her rent and clean up after her and take her to the hospital, while she merrily self-destructs. In my experience of addiction, this generally works in one's early twenties, but by the time you reach your late thirties, if you're still behaving like this the only people around you will be people who are behaving the same way, and who are therefore in no position to help you out. Grealy managed to maintain a safety net of people who were financially and emotionally stable, even as she behaved like a sullen teenager her entire life, and so there must have been something about her from which these people derived benefit or pleasure, but Patchett doesn't show us what that was. So I felt like I was just reading about someone being used for twenty years, complete with Patchett throwing in a faint and vague "you can't understand how amazing this person was" defensiveness now and then, but never coming up with anything to write down that actually was amazing about her. Very uncomfortable-making. 

Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials, by Marilynne K. Roach. SO DULL. Trying to stay awake with this book and a slow-feeding baby at three a.m. was like fighting chloroform.

Baby-and-music update: reaction to Vivaldi was decent. Maybe I won't give her back just yet. 


  1. 'Apparently this child does not like classical music'

    OH DEAR ....not to be all Unhelpfully Helpy, but one thing that calmed the tiny evil kitten down when she was in heat before we got her fixed and she was YOWLING constantly was Machaut. I put on Machaut, she would sit there and bliss out. Listen to anything else, and the YOWLING began. Something about the harmonies maybe.

    -- To me that Patchett memoir was straight-up codie halo burnishing -- it really read like "Let me tell you alllll about this person who was so special and wonderful, only I really appreciated and helped her, only she was SO TERRIBLE, and I will detail that for 200 pages, and you will undersand how fantastic I really was in dealing with her." It's that weird passive-aggressive "let me show you how great I was, without bragging, by detailing how terribly this addict behaved." It's not self-righteousness exactly, but it just really gives me the pip.

    1. Post-Machaut-experiment: baby was indifferent (neither slept nor screamed); dog acted completely stoned. Perhaps it is an animal thing? Intriguing.

      Yeah, you hit the nail on the head with Patchett. She is trying to document her incredible patience and selflessness, it seems. I found it cringe-worthy because it was so defensive about her being used: "no, no, I CHOSE to do everything for her, so it's not like that," etc.

    2. WTF I never saw this! Argh, Gmail.

      'dog acted completely stoned. Perhaps it is an animal thing? Intriguing.'

      Heh, maybe. I should see how the cat reacts to Machaut now she's been fixed!

      Stereotypical codie memoirs (basically "I WAS SO PATIENT") are like the flipside of stereotypical addict memoirs (basically "I WAS SO AWFUL"). When in truth a lot of addicts are raised by addicts, and get codependent stuff from _them,_ and it's a lot less clear-cut than it would seem, at least I think so.

      I liked Patchett's later collection, published a year or so ago I think, much better -- altho I did find it annoying that I paid for a long piece as a Kindle Single and it was in the book. But the whole thing was a lot better than the memoir.

  2. And DUH, you have read that collection already I think! should have remembered that.

    1. Yes, I did read it (and liked it a lot), but I had to hunt through my librarything to find the title... no memory left anymore. None.