I really wanted to write at length and with copious quotations about all of these books as soon as I finished them; but they were due back to the library. Part of the problem with reading while traveling. I guess these days of reading with small children about. I have more time and energy to read than to write and so I develop this huge backlog of unwritten book posts. So lacking the books and the mental energy, I will be forced to put the fascinating discussions of them on the shelf to gather dust. However, if you’ve read any of them and care to chat, I would be more than willing to do so.
1. Unprotected by Miriam Grossman, M.D.
Grossman is a psychiatrist working at a big name university. (This book was originally published anonymously but in the later edition she revealed her name.) The book is a broadside directed at political correctness which prevents her colleagues in mental health from actually helping the students. She looks at the double standard which allows doctors and nurse practitioners to bate students about alcohol abuse and eating habits but requires them to withhold information about how sexual promiscuity endangers both physical and mental health, especially of young women. She contrasts the required reporting of probable tuberculosis carriers with the required privacy protection of those who carry the AIDS virus. She questions why young women are never asked about whether they plan to have children and are never counseled that their fertile years are limited but are instead allowed to live with the illusion that they can wait until their careers are established in their forties to have children. She describes how a young Mormon woman was refused an appointment to obtain drugs that would help her conceive a sixth child but was immediately seen when she requested “birth control”. She describes how the center she works for refuses to hire conservative religious professionals and how students who are conservative and religious feel they aren’t able to get help.
The anecdotes are all very compelling and I felt my outrage overboiling at the injustice done to young women especially and the frustration Grossman feels about having her hands tied. A great book. Must-read for anyone headed to college.
2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
I really wanted to write a long post about this very compelling book. To write anything less than a thorough treatment with lots of quotes seems almost pointless. I fell like just saying, well go read the book. There were so many interesting tidbits and not having written them down, they’ve mostly leaked out of my head. If you are an introvert, you should read this book. If you aren’t an introvert, you should read this book. Maybe someday I’ll check it out again and do it justice.
3. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
I really enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife and so grabbed this off my mom’s shelf to read on the plane ride home. (on which no reading happened, as it turned out.) The book was beautiful and compelling and then the ending left me absolutely feeling like I’d just wasted several days of my life. The plot revolves around two pairs of identical twins. One of the twins in the first pair is the mother to the other pair of twins. Their aunt, who dies int he first chapter, leaves her nieces, whom she’s never met, her London flat and all of her fortune, on the condition that they live in the flat together for a year and that they allow neither of their parents to ever set foot in the flat. The novel in part revolves around the mystery of why the twins mother and her twin haven’t seen each other since the girls were infants. The story also follows the dead aunt’s lover, who lives in the flat below, and the couple who live in the flat above, as well as an interesting cast of supporting characters who all volunteer in Highgate Cemetery, which the flat overlooks. The cemetery itself is a sort of character in the novel and plays an important role. I can’t tell you why the ending was so absolutely terrible without totally spoiling it; but I would be willing to discuss it in the comments if anyone so desires.
4. The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling by Quinn Cummings
A funny, quirky homeschooling memoir. After taking her only child, Alice, out of school, Quinn Cummings has serious doubts about whether she can make it as a homeschooling mom. She sets out to find a supportive “tribe” to which she can belong, to affirm her decision. Along the way they try out various homeschooling approaches and curricula. Quinn hilariously describes her journey across the country to a radical unschooling conference and sneaking into another homeschooling conference of secretive fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers wearing a long dress and wig so that she will blend in. My favorite moment, though, was the surprise cameo appearance of Melissa Wiley and her Catholic homeschooling group’s Shakespeare Club. (Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise since I heard about the book from Lissa but it was.) I enjoyed the humorous look at the homeschooling world from one who definitely felt on the outside looking in even while she was fully engaged in the trial and error challenges every homeschooler faces.
I was rather disappointed in the history of homeschooling section which seems to have been drawn primarily from rather anti-Catholic Protestant sources. I disagree that one can claim that “Good Queen Bess” was equally tolerant of Catholics and Protestants. And the idea that the home as a domestic church and parents are naturally the primary educators of the children is somehow a uniquely Puritan idea just ignores the Catholic Church’s teachings completely and shows an almost willful ignorance of the Catholic homeschooling tradition which heavily emphasizes both of those ideas. The skewing wouldn’t have seemed so odd had Catholic homeschoolers not been on her radar at all but given that they were at least a small part of her investigation, it just seemed to be an uneven treatment, even given her disclaimers about the incompleteness of the history she recounts. But I do realize that is just my own peevishness about two pet subjects of mine: the plight of Catholics during the Reformation in England and Catholic homeschooling.
On the whole, though, a fun read and I think to criticize it even to the degree that I have is to rather miss the spirit of the book, which aims above all to be funny.
5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Absolutely beautiful novel about a young woman who is a product of the foster care system. Abandoned as an infant, never adopted, never having known a stable home, Victoria finds herself suddenly on her own on her eighteenth birthday. A confirmed misanthrope, she loves flowers and is something of an expert in the Victorian language of flowers. The story of how she gradually connects with the world around her is lovely. A gorgeous reflection on love and trust and relationships. Victoria’s struggles really spoke to me profoundly. Again, hard to discuss without completely revealing a major plot point or four. A very hopeful book, about the opposite of Her Fearful Symmetry in that regard.
6. The family at Misrule by Ethel Sibyl Turner
The sequel to Seven Little Australians, set five years later. Just as fun as the first novel. Written very consciously in the vein of Louisa May Alcott. I’m very impressed with how Turner manages her cast of seven siblings. There aren’t many books about large families and I think one reason it just that it’s hard to keep all the characters in play with interesting stories. I don’t think, though, that I’ll be reading either this or the first one to my girls anytime soon. There is some subject matter than I think is a little more sensitive than they are ready for. Perhaps better for a preteen audience?
It’s too bad these books are so hard to come by. Now I really want to read the next two; but they seem to be out of print. I’ll keep looking for used copies that don’t have to be shipped from Australia.
I really wished as I read that I had some sort of reference book at hand to help me understand the Australian context and so many of the colloquial words that I just had to guess from context. Makes me want to go read up on Australian history, a subject I know far too little about.