Sunday, May 8, 2016

girls and sharks

It's Mother's Day, about which I have Opinions, but I have been ranting enough on my Facebook about that and will leave it out of here.

Perdita has turned two, and is a force of nature, in the same way that the Atlantic Ocean is. She's delightful and exciting and changing every day, and sometimes she is full of sharks. But I have always preferred my nature like that: it's one reason a vacation in a tropical clime sounds incredibly unappealing to me. Soft, perfectly-blue, warm water that doesn't want you dead? What's the point? I want my daughter to stay strong and opinionated and believing that her wants are valid. I also want her to have manners and consideration for other people - we're certainly not working in one of those "spirited child" models which teach that giving a toddler limits means crushing their creativity and soul - but a shark or two is a good thing, especially to have in reserve as she faces a world which will forever be telling her that girls don't get to do certain things or behave certain ways or study certain topics or have ownership over their bodies. Whenever anyone tells her those things, I want her to have teeth.

Read lately:

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck. Buck and his brother travel by mule-driven covered wagon along the Oregon Trail, in a Bill-Bryson-inspired travelogue / history primer / memoir. I liked the history sections best, though Buck at least loves and takes excellent care of his mules, unlike the excruciating saga of animal neglect that is Tim Moore's Travels With My Donkey. I wasn't terribly interested in how this trip was about Buck's father, but it was a decent read.

Sun and Shadow, by Ake Edwardson. Yet another Scandinavian police procedural to blend into the mental files. Often while I am reading one of them I forget which country it's set in.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande. Blub. Written with profound intelligence and profound emotional awareness, as is the case with all Gawande's writing. Also about death and decline, and therefore utterly heartbreaking, for all the encouragement he offers.

The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin. A eunuch in 19th-century Istanbul digs into a murder. It started out quite strong, with excellent period setting and an intriguing protagonist, but lost me by the end, when the coincidences and convolutions of the crime became too much.

A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction, by Joel Greenburg. A little boring: after the first few chapters it just turned into a litany of ways people killed pigeons.

The Resurrectionist, by Matthew Guinn. Novel about the dark racial history of a Southern medical college (I know; who would have thunk it). Actually better than I expected, for a first novel available for free on Amazon. But our hero wasn't very sympathetic and the story stayed too much on the surface. Still definitely shows potential for Guinn's future work.

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body, by Jo Marchant. I expected this book to be much more of an exposé, but Marchant does a really good job of reporting the ways in which placebo treatment, mental distraction, and emotional support effect health outcomes, without ever going along with any actual "mind-over-body" claims. And she has plenty of stories of people who blame themselves for their diseases and try to cure them with diet, homeopathic remedies, and "positive thinking", and how tragic the results inevitably are in such cases. The conclusion, with which I agree: pseudoscience is pseudoscience and hurts people. The science of integrated (emotional and physical) healthcare can help people.

Wine of Violence, by Priscilla Royal. Medieval nuns and monks solve a murder in their abbey. The murderer's identity is too obvious, but I thought this was fun nonetheless and will probably check out more in the series.

Happy Mother's Day if this holiday brings you joy. If it doesn't, remember that there are fifty-one Sundays of the year when going out for brunch doesn't feel like trying to get a lifeboat seat on the Titanic. Let us all be grateful for those.

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