January Book Notes

January Book Notes

One of my—I hate to call it a new year’s resolution; but can’t think of a better word—anyway one of the things I want to be more intentional about this year is tracking my reading in a more systematic way. I want to at least list all the books I’ve read and ideally comment on each briefly. I’ve had much positive feedback from blog readers about my book lists and I do enjoy writing about books and discussing them. So I’ve decided to keep a running list on my iPhone (Did I mention that I was eligible for a new phone and Dom found a great deal on a refurbished iPhone 3G?) which once a month I’ll transfer to the blog with reading notes as I feel like elaborating.

It seems to me that it makes sense to do this at the end of the month; but I reserve the right to change my mind and do a twice a month or a once every two month update if that is easier.

So without further ado, here’s January’s list (I still have this nagging feeling I’ve missed something; but I can’t think of what. Perhaps it’s a lingering regret over last January’s books that I never blogged about. Yes, I still remember that feeling of incompletion, isn’t that sad?)

1. Lay Siege to Heaven by Louis de Wohl

A biographical novel about St Catherine of Siena. Unlike the novels about St Benedict and St Francis, this one focused much more on the person of the saint. I sort of knew about Catherine’s life in broad outlines; but this made me feel like I got to know her much more. I look forward to comparing de Wohl’s novel with Sigrid Undset’s novel St Catherine of Siena.

2. i>The Glorious Folly by Louis de Wohl (and with this, I think I’ve exhausted our public library system’s de Wohl holdings, which is too bad because I’ve greatly enjoyed them.)

A novel about the times of St Paul. The protagonist is the Roman centurion Longinus who at first wants to stop Paul by violence and is a witness to the moment on the road to Damascus. The contrast between the two men is interesting. Longinus’ own moment of conversion is never shown, though it is referred to several times. When the novel begins he’s already a Christian and married to a Jewish Christian; but he certainly grows in his understanding of the faith and in his trust in God. By nature he is a man of action and so his first reaction is to try to recruit enough men to break St Peter out of jail. He fails and finds that prayer is the more effective weapon. when Peter shows up unharmed having been rescued by the power of an angel.

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Was the pick of the month at Reading for Believers. It’s probably been more than a decade since I read it. Perhaps almost two? I feel so old! I definitely found it to be a different sort of book this time through. Much more enjoyable. But I think the group’s discussion speaks for itself.

4. Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen (See my reading notes here.)

Hmmm. Only four books completed. About one a week. But I’ve begun quite a few more that I’m currently juggling.

In Progress:

1. Leaving My Beloved Children Behind by Takashi Nagai

Continuing in last year’s fascination with Nagai. In case you’ve missed my earlier posts on the subject, Takashi Nagai was a Japanese physician and scientist during the second World War. He was a pioneer in the field of radiology and though he well knew the dangers of radiation sickness, he heroically continued to put in long hours in the lab doing research and treating patients when there was a shortage of trained personnel during the war. He put his concern for his patients and his drive to further medical knowledge above his own health and well being. He knowingly exposed himself to dangerous levels of radiation and contracted leukemia and he and his wife faced the knowledge that he had only about three years to live, that he would leave her a widow with two young children.  Then the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and his wife was killed, their home destroyed. Their two children had been sent away and so survived as did Nagai, though of course being very near ground zero he received another intense dose of radiation.

Nagai was a convert to Catholicism and his memoir about the dropping of the atomic bomb is an amazing account of how he led the Catholic faithful of Nagasaki to understand the event as a voluntary holocaust that they were able to offer to God as a sacrifice for the cause of peace. 

Sadly this is it for books by Nagai in English. The Bells of Nagasaki was a memoir of surviving the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, told mainly as a man of science but also as a man of faith, this is a more personal book. But still it is Nagai as observer and commenter on Japanese society it also delves into subjects of greater interest: in this case reflecting on his own dilemma as he faces the prospect of his own death leaving his children orphaned he also examines the problem of all the children left orphaned by the war and how their plight should be addressed. Specifically interesting how his Catholic faith informs his response.

This is a heartbreaking subject. A father who loves his children very dearly and knows that shortly he will die and they will be orphans learning how to entrust them to his Heavenly Father. 

2. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome

(See my previous blog entry here.)

3. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

I think I heard about this one from Jen Ambrose? I put it on my library hold list on impulse and forgot about it. When I picked it up I wasn’t sure I really wanted to read it. But this is the book I’m having a hard time putting down. I opened it up one evening thinking I should at least give it a glance. It had me at the first page. I realized I know next to nothing about Korea and my curiosity got me into the first chapter. But Demick’s compelling storytelling has kept me reading. Demick’s narrative follows six people who defected from North Korea and weaves in history, politics and economics with their individual stories.

4. A Time to Dance No Time to Weep by Rumer Godden

The first volume of Godden’s autobiography. I’ve only got a few pages into it.

5. Psalms and Canticles: Meditations on the Psalms and Canticles of Morning Prayer by John Paul II

I’ve only read little bits of this volume which has meditations and catechesis for the psalms and canticles of every day in the four week cycle that comprises the Liturgy of the Hours. I’m hoping to get a bit more serious about using it during Lent.

6. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Inspired by Jamie, I began this quite some time ago. I put it down and have had trouble picking it up again. The story is just not the engaging to me and I keep finding books that are more interesting. not to mention library books from my on hold list that come in and get put on higher priority.

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • First let me say that I have NO experience with anyone diagnosed as ADHD.

    Second let me say that my mother used phrases like that, “Why can’t you do this? It’s so easy!” or, my most often remembered, “Why don’t you use your head?” I’m not saying it applies to Bella, but I grew up with no self confidence whatsoever and still greatly struggle. I completely understand losing patience happens (been there this week myself) but I know from experience such comments over time will make a child feel stupid and like they can’t do anything right.

    Third, now, remembering I said I have no experience with anyone diagnoses as ADHD, a couple of suggestions. I realize now, with a baby arriving soon, is not a good time, but maybe in a couple of months, seriously consider a more structured schedule. Maybe a daily schedule would help her remember and focus better? As far as the eating, can you require her to sit there until Sophia or Ben are done maybe encouraging her to eat more? Or would letting her go to bed hungry help her remember to eat more the next night? As far as sitting still, is there anything she will sit still for? coloring? a sticker book? (I know it is against your constitution, but) a video? Library story time? Cecilia is a child who has trouble sitting still, but there are things for which she will sit still, like painting, coloring, or a video. If there is anything she will sit still for, maybe try to use that to help her practice?

    I realize now is not a good time to try to deal with a lot of this. I’m 5 weeks behind you and I’m losing motivation and energy to deal with schedules or projects and we both know, c-section or vaginal, after delivery some things just have to wait. So unless Dom, your sister, or any family who might be coming to help in the coming couple of months can work on anything like I’ve suggested, such things might be best waiting until April or May. I think the most reasonable expectation you could make of yourself right now would be to focus on being patient and charitable with her. I was just saying Monday night how my children had taught me patience when, on Tuesday, Cecilia and Felicity began bickering all day and it was like I had dared the devil or something. Needless to say, I failed miserably, at least in the morning. I was so upset at myself. Two things shifted me back into focus this week, both of which were reminders of things I knew, but really needed: 1) A friend requested prayers for her nephew, Gabriel, who is 6 years old and, without a bone marrow transplant has been given 3 months to live. Another friend, seeing my update on Facebook on Elizabeth’s cold/fever this week, I think, misunderstood my intentions, but began reminding me to just be thankful I wasn’t a mom of a child suffering with cancer. Remembering to be thankful for our children and how blessed we really are can help put things in perspective, even when I’m about to put in ear plugs if the screaming doesn’t stop. 2) When James got home and began to lose patience with the girls, he told them they were lucky they were home with me because he wouldn’t have been as patient and nice. Talk about a guilt trip. But I realized I definitely preferred myself calm and my inner peace in tact and the environment it created and losing my cool was so not worth it, not only for the girls, but especially for myself. It cost too much!

    I’m so sorry this is so long but I just wanted to mention one last thing. I was dealing with bickering girls, but Bella isn’t misbehaving so much as not focusing. You know Bella better than anyone. How might things look through her perspective?

  • Melanie,
    I think it is tremendous that you are able to consider this now and recognize the differences. I think it is SO much harder to see things in a first child because you don’t have the comparison.

    I keep starting to write up my experience with my son, but it’s too much and takes my comment in a different direction.

    So I’ll just say that you are wonderful to be recognizing this now. You will have time to sort out how to make things work for you and for Bella. My son is 12 and with a new diagnosis on the Autism spectrum, the specialists ask all kinds of questions. NOW we see things that should have clued us in very young. NOW things make sense. It is embarrassing and humbling.

    Don’t get me wrong—I am NOT saying that those are the signs you’re seeing in Bella at all. It sounds like you may have hit it with ADD (and or ADHD—our son didn’t have the “H”). But what a blessing that you see it and can think through with Dom how to approach it.

    Parenting is always humbling, isn’t it?

    For homeschooling, I can only offer outside advice (as our kids go to school). But clearly she has a wonderful curiosity and intelligence. You may need to make any HS curriculum a bit flexible—key to her interests and do shorter “chunks” of teaching time interspersed with a change—get up and wiggle, or move to a new table, or take a bird watching break. Little chunks of learning can work so much better for kids with attention issues. And it may also work well with your younger children around because there will be built-in breaks as you attend to their needs.

    Meal time is tough. Remembering to be extra patient is even tougher (I speak from experience here). But knowing that she might have a difference in how she learns and functions is still a help, even if it means you don’t have all the answers.

    One of the things that helped me was reading a LOT of books—hit your library (especially if you can request online and Dom or your sister can pick them up for you). You won’t agree with everything you read, but you may find some tips or tricks or even just moral support.

    God bless. I have no idea if my rambling even gets my points across. But I think you are very lucky—and Bella is too—that you can see these tendencies so early.


  • Melanie,

    I think I’m a Bella and I certainly know my sister was a Bella and her oldest is a Bella too!

    I think the best thing you can do for Bella and yourself if talk with her about what happens and teach her techniques to manage it on her own.  It’s impossible and will become even more impossible for you to manage it for her.  So any little tips, tricks, etc you can teach her now will help so much.

    Of course it will need to be geared to her age, but I think it can be done.

    You are so blessed.


  • Melanie,  it’s great that you have picked up on this Bella-ness.  I have a niece whose inability to focus (maybe ADHD, maybe Asperger’s, maybe her own personality without a label) has not been managed very successfully.  Now she is applying to college and everyone is worried about how she will get through.

    I think it helps if you can praise more than you criticize.  But to do that you have to have something TO praise, so structure and rules will help.  Rules that she can succeed at following.  Here’s a suggestion for dinner (or any other meal).  My rule of thumb has been one bite per year of age.  So, if Bella is four, she would have to eat four bites of the three things on her plate before leaving the table.  Or, since you serve soup more than I do, four bites of three soup ingredients (carrots, broth, rice?).  Believe it or not, this dozen bites will get her through to breakfast without both of you being crazy – I recommend it because I have children who are unbearably grumpy if they are hungry.  Couple the four-bites rule with a rule that you can’t get up from the table without asking permission, and you may have a workable structure for dinner.

    So I’m imagining this conversation:
    (Bella is leaving the table)
    Melanie:  Bella, remember our new rule?  You have to ask before you leave the table.
    Bella:  Mommy, may I please leave the table?
    Melanie:  I’m glad you remembered to say “please!”  Have you eaten four bites of carrot?
    Bella:  I don’t know.
    Melanie:  I saw you eat two bites.  How about two more?
    (Bella is back at her place, eating the carrots.)

    Since you have three adults, and since this rule might take some time to get used to, you might assign one adult to watch each ingredient for the first few weeks.  If you prefer that Bella takes responsibility for counting immediately, you could just start her over every time she doesn’t remember how many bites she’s had of whatever.  Four is not too many to remember for a bright four year old… I think.

    I hope you don’t mind the concrete suggestion.  Even if you don’t like it, it may help clarify your mind about how you do want to begin to handle Bella’s distractibility.

    I wouldn’t assume that she will grow out of it, but I wouldn’t assume that she won’t, either.  My most distractible kid, the one who literally danced on the table in kindergarten, the one who couldn’t stay focused long enough to do a math fact sheet, is the young man who spends hours playing the French horn and wishes he could “do math problems all day long.”  My husband says he would have been on Ritalin if he had stayed in school.

  • Melanie, I wonder if you might like the book, “Dreamers, Discoverers and Dynamos: How to Help the Child Who Is Bright, Bored and Having Problems in School”?  Here’s the summary that appears on Amazon:

    Psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino claims that 20 percent of children have what she calls the Edison trait: “dazzling intelligence, an active imagination, a free-spirited approach to life, and the ability to drive everyone around them crazy.” She named the trait after Thomas Edison, who flunked out of school despite his obvious brilliance. Palladino says that Edison-trait children think divergently, while the routines and structure of schools are more geared toward convergent thinking, or focusing on one idea at a time. The incompatible school environment, she says, usually leads divergent-thinking children to act out, receive poor grades, and often be labeled as strong-willed and disruptive.
    These symptoms may sound similar to those of ADD, but Palladino says that’s an overused term often mistakenly applied to Edison-trait children. “In most cases,” she says, “ADD behavior patterns are comparable to but more extreme than the typical patterns of an Edison-trait child who does not have ADD.” A diagnosis of ADD does not take into consideration factors such as “intelligence, perceptiveness, sensitivity, creativity, and wit.”

    With many references to scientific studies, Palladino helps you decide whether your child is one of the three types of Edison-trait children: dreamer, discoverer, or dynamo. She also gives pointed, practical advice regarding such controversial topics as diet, neurofeedback treatment, and psychological testing. For frustrated parents and educators, Dreamers, Discoverers, and Dynamos will be a rich source of both help and hope.


    I found this book really helpful with my dreamer. smile  I’m not saying it isn’t ADHD—it could be. But that’s where a book like this can be helpful, I think, as a step in beginning to sift through that.

    (Also, just a quick heads up on your link—I couldn’t get through to Kate’s blog!)

  • Melanie, I just wanted to say that this reminded me so much of Miriam: “And yet she is so dear to me. Such a sweet, smart, thoughtful child. She truly wants to be helpful (though she also does have a stubborn streak—get’s that from me!) and doesn’t mean to be aggravating. She just is… scattered. Flaky. Dreamy. Pick your word.”

    I guess I’d ask, like the comment above, is there anything that totally absorbs her? Miriam also gets so distracted, but more because she becomes totally absorbed in something else—anything but the task at hand. I have no idea about ADHD, but it seems more like her particular brand of intelligence.

    Of course, her temperament must be formed. Scoth Meg describes almost exactly what we do with M (i.e., the dinnertime routine, counting out a specific number of items to be eaten and a way to be excused). When M has her routines and consistent expectations from us, she focuses much better.

    I yell at her everyday, too, though. And I think it has so much to do with the fact that she IS intelligent and the ONLY child at the moment even close to RATIONAL THOUGHT. smile

    Anyway. I just wanted to encourage you that there are lots of kids out there like Bella. It’s likely that she’ll be a great scholar with particular aptitudes and passions—she’ll have a better attention span at those things than I have at anything! smile

  • Melanie,
    My thoughts are similar to the others. My oldest was ADD and my 4 yr old probably is too. The ideas of being consistent, patient, and a regular routine are so true but so hard to do. I’ve found with my 4 yr old that giving her a consequence or a reward works somewhat to keep her focused. As in “When you’re ready for the day or after you do this, you can do ____ . Also asking for one thing at a time from her and making sure she is looking at me when I talk to her are helpful. I’m working on my daughter repeating what I said or at least saying Okay Mommy. I don’t have any particular ideas for dinner except go over the expectations and what a consequence might be. One thing could be to try to involve Bella a bit with getting things to the table or clearing it after. Also try to just pray for guidance and be kind to yourself with Anthony’s birth so close your emotions and patience are probably quite sensitive.

  • Melanie,
    You have described my daughter Isobella (Ella for short) almost perfectly! I read part of this post to my huisband and he agreed. Isobella is nearly seven and it’s taken me almost her whole life to begin to figure her out.

    Homeschooling has been a gift for us in that respect. I also had a moment last year when somehow I realised what it would be like to not have her….
    She is random, so easily distracted, very excitable, flighty, unpredictable, sometimes she seems immature, she’s a dreamer, can act in quite strange ways, and yet she is very loving, thoughtful, affectionate, kind, helpful, has an insatiable curiosity, and is always so eager to learn.

    I read this post last night on my phone just before I popped into the supermarket, thinking I would comment as soon as I got the chance. I didn’t get the chance till now, and I’m amazed to see how many people have commented, and how lucid and genuinely helpful these comments are. I think it is partly because your honesty Melanie, as always, is compelling, but it is also because you have described Bella in such detail.  I don’t know any other child who is a “Bella” or an “Ella”, but I feel like I’ve “met” one now. I’ve struggled to understand and appreciate Isobella because she is just so different. My husband has too. She can be infuriating, exasperating, and sometimes just plain old annoying. But I love her desperately, as you love Bella. Thank-you for your words. And thank-you to you all for your comments. I am inspired. I think I will go and write some words of my own about this… smile

  • Thanks everyone, I’m not sure I was clear enough in my explanation. My sister (who lives with us, experiences Bella everyday, and concurs with my observations) is very ADHD and my mom and one of my brothers are ADD as well.

    In fact, I’m catching my reactions in part precisely because how I see them mirroring family dynamics from my childhood. But it’s one thing to be an older sibling, another thing to be a mother. And finding my own patterns of behavior so hard to change.

    So I’ve got lots of experience with what ADD/ADHD is like in adults and older children. With the gifts that different intelligence can bring and the real hardships that come with them as well. My sister is one of the smartest people I know and yet struggled in school, struggled with self-esteem. In fact part of what first drew me to homeschooling was my observations of how my younger siblings struggled in school and my conviction that there had to be a better form of education for children like them, one that could address their strengths and not overly penalize their weaknesses. I still remember a teacher who told my mom that my sister was failing—although the teacher knew that she knew the material—simply because she couldn’t turn her work in on time. That really hit my adolescent sense of injustice and strengthened my conviction that grading often gets in the way of real education.

    The funny thing is watching how much my sister struggles with Bella in precisely the same way that we used to struggle with her when she was younger. She’s now seeing why it was that we often reacted to her in the ways that we did: “Is that what I was like as a child?” she asks, “No wonder you all had such a hard time with me!”

    Anyway, thank you all for your comments and support. I think it’s really helped me to write about it because just getting the words down help me to sort through much of the emotional component.

  • scotch meg,

    We’re already working on a similar bite system to deal with picky eating.Sometimes though it’s just you have to try one bite of everything on your plate. I do like the idea of requiring the number of bites that is their age. 

    I’ve noticed that when dinner is something that Bella really likes, she has a much easier time staying put. Tonight for example I made enchiladas and served her quesadillas and refried beans. She loves dipping her quesadillas in her beans and I think she only got up once during the entire meal. (She also thanked me profusely for making such a wonderful dinner for her.)

    I have been trying to attack it more systematically. Part of the problem is that I’m not all that good at consistency myself. And then half the time I’m also trying to make sure Sophie and Ben are eating and so I think a huge source of my frustration is the feeling that Bella ought to be the one child capable of feeding herself without supervision rather than the one who sometimes needs it most.

    Another big part of the dinner dynamic problem can also come when Sophie and Bella are both overwrought and play off each other, spurring the other on to silliness. I think that’s common in any family with close siblings, though. Sometimes silliness just reigns and there’s not much you can do.

  • Karen, That book sounds fascinating. I’m definitely going to pick it up. And thanks for the heads up. I’ve fixed the link.

    Erika, definitely I’ve observed her tendency to get very absorbed in books. From what I’ve read it is consistent with ADD to hyper-focus on certain things at certain times. In fact that’s contributed to my feeling that she fits that profile.

    Also, I should clarify that I’ve always felt from knowing my sister and brother that ADD is not really an illness as much as a different kind of brain wiring. It’s seemed to me it’s really only such an issue because of the peculiar expectations modern society has of socialization and education, etc.  Really like so many psychological diagnoses it’s kind of a catch-all to describe patterns of behavior and thought. To me the label is useful in terms of recognizing that a group of people seem to fit into a similar model of how they think and interact and that certain coping mechanisms may help a person who fits that profile to fit in with certain social expectations, to cope with fitting in.

    I know routines would help Bella. But I’m so bad at being consistent. I have such a hard time making rules and remembering to enforce them, creating routines and sticking to them. I’ve definitely made so much progress since she was a baby; but it’s a very slow process.

    Also, this describes my experience/feelings perfectly: “I yell at her everyday, too, though. And I think it has so much to do with the fact that she IS intelligent and the ONLY child at the moment even close to RATIONAL THOUGHT.”

    I think all too often I fall into the trap of thinking that because Bella seems so much more mature than Sophie and Ben that she is really more rational and more mature than she really is. When I check myself and ask whether my expectations really match what is reasonable to expect from her I see that often I am being unreasonable.

  • I totally understand the feeling that as the eldest she SHOULD be less hard work than the younger ones – at 12 my middle daughter is still far harder work than the teenager and the 4 year old put together.  And “scattered, flaky, dreamy” describes her too. One thought I had about the discomforting fidgeting when she sits next to you. Would it help to give her something to focus her physically – something to handle and fiddle with which would allow that need to move to dissipate itself away from your ribs?

  • Different brain wiring for a different type of more personal concentration for sure.  I have a good friend whose husband was outwardly definitely seen to be ADD.  She always appeared to be very different – controlled, organized, “anal retentive”.  But … since his death I’ve noticed that she has always been inwardly ADD.  (that’s why although they appeared to be sooo different she inwardly could relate to his outward ADD)  In conversation it seems she relates experiences in an impersonal way … she often repeats herself in future conversations.  But when you begin your side of the conversation she isn’t interested, can’t stay there.  I used to think this was selfishness but it’s because whatever you offer makes her go off in her own mind because it doesn’t relate to her own experiences….foreign!  The Asperger/Autism expert, Temple Grandin, 
    explains so well how different brains are wired to verbal, picture, pattern/math/music.  It’s amazing when she explains how her own pattern of thinking gets organized.  And there is the question of overload with greater expectations from parents/authorities than is manageable.  She mentions how she went from frustration leading to anger (throwing things) to now where she just cries and that takes care of it!  My friend is extremely intelligent, creative, and packs more in each day than most.  When it doesn’t seem that things penetrate it’s only because things have to fit into her patterned way of thinking in order to fit them into function.  She was also subject to migrains due to this necessity of control and orderliness and overload in expectations.  I would say then that often what looks like an inability to follow directions is just that those directions don’t fit in the necessary way that that brain is planning its own patterns … of basic survival!!

    And …. sometimes expectations for reliability, esp. in the oldest, can bring about more desire to be that than actual ability to fit the desires in reality.  And there is actual need for more one-on-one attention than independent activity for the necessary foundational emotional security for life.  Whatever the child DOES show interest in is what should be extended in broadening interests from that point of interest … like following what was the latest concentration in reading to acting out chores in some related way, etc., carrying it out from the mental to the real.

    Just some thoughts.

  • Hi Melanie,

    you’ve got a lot to think about & have clearly done a lot already.  The above suggestions are good.  I also notice these help: protein at every meal, plenty of sleep at night (focusing at all seems to really wear one of mine out), a routine, and behavior charts.  Here’s a good example:
    Now, at age 13 & 10, my kids still need reminders to check their charts.  But they help. 

    I can really sympathize with you.  Making a structured day did not come easily to me, either. In fact, sending my kids to school was a big help for me in that regard – it always started at the same time. But the first school my kids went to was really a homeschool- school hybrid.  (only mornings, 4 days a week.)  So we still got some of the advantages of homeschooling.  I did not know my kids had ADD, (I think you are very blessed to be able to recognize it, although I know your sister probably would rather not have provided you with that ability.)  All I knew was, everything was a struggle with them, 24/7, and I eventually didn’t have it in me to make school be part of that struggle too.  But maybe knowing what you know, so early, will make it possible for you to be successful.  If you don’t mind, I will think about it some more and email you more ideas. Like you said, you aren’t going to be making lots of changes before baby boy comes anyway.  smile