Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Book Reviews

It's the end of November, and the chances of me finishing another book this year are pretty slim. But, this has been the year of books for me. I think I have read more books this year than in the last 10 years, combined. No kidding.

So, I thought I would post these book reviews that I have been compiling throughout the year. Yep. I have read all of these books... this year...So, at the risk of destroying my reputation as a hater of the written word, here are my reviews. (Please keep in mind that I have no idea what a book review is "supposed to" be like.)

The Lost Daughters of China by Karin Evans
Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past
I could not put this book down. I haven't met a book like that in a long time (though I will admit I haven't been looking...) Johnson couples the story of her daughter's adoption with research and historical, economic, and cultural information about the causes of abandonment in and adoption from China. This combination kept me interested both emotionally and intellectually. Though the process of adoption from China has changed since she wrote this, the other factors, unfortunately, remain the same. A quote by Jan Waldron that appears on the back of the book expresses one of the most important things that I got out of it as a westerner... "There has been much press about rescuing (adopting) baby girls from China's oppressive sociopolitical climate, but little about the women and men who are losing their daughters. Here, Evans gives us a whole story, both moving and jarring." I think this is a book that would interest a lot of people, not just those adopting from China.

5 stars

Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son by Kay Ann Johnson
Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China
As a mother, I have a really hard time believing that an entire country of people could "hate" their own daughters, as has been suggested to me by others in their misguided attempts to affirm our decision to adopt. So, at the suggestion of a trusted member of the "big group" I picked up this book to try to learn more. It is a fantastic book. Kay Ann Johnson and her colleagues have conducted a large portion of what little research exists on the causes of abandonment in China. The book is a collection of her articles written over a twenty year period and reflect her changing understanding of the situation in China. The fact that these articles were written to stand alone, makes for a fair amount of repetition (which the reader is warned about in the introduction) and this can be mildly annoying. Johnson has worked and interviewed extensively in the large orphanage that housed her daugher. She has first-hand knowledge of two other orphanages, though at least one is considered "large" as well. So, while I do not doubt the information she shares about these particular orphanages, I do not think they are representative of the many other smaller, rural orphanages (which are not nearly as well funded as those she has visited.) To her credit, she admits this more than once, but I think it leaves the "orphanage care" aspect of her book a little thin. Especially of interest to me were the data from families who had abandoned babies, the explanation of China's reproductive policies (which, I was surprised to learn, is NOT a one-child policy for a large percentage of the country,) and the explanation of how cadres enforce this policy. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I think mostly it appeals to folks adopting from China.

4 stars

My Country Versus Me by Wen Ho Lee
The First-Hand Account by the Los Alamos Scientist Who Was Falsely Accused of Being a Spy Now, I have never been accused of espionage, so I don't know how I might write my story if I was. But, the manner with which Lee writes about his accusers and FBI investigators seemed decidedly "junior-high." I did, however, find myself incredulous at the abuses he suffered in prison, the lack of evidence against him, the lax security in the Department of Energy, and the mysterious "evolution" of the status of Lee's downloaded files (which were not labelled classified until after he was in jail.) But, I also found Lee's security breaches, well, stupid, frankly. I would be interested to read another account of this story. His chief accuser, Notra Trulock, has written Code Name Kindered Spirit, but wonder if it will be as biased as I fear Lee's account is. Perhaps A Convenient Spy by Dan Stober would be more appropriate. But, though I found the story interesting enough to keep me reading, I think I have had enough of this topic for now. I am guessing not too many folks would find this one very interesting.

3 stars

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Hmmm. I might still be deciding what I think about this one. I definitely enjoyed the book. Ehrenreich, a writer for Harper's Magazine decides to do a bit of investigative reporting. The book is the story of her attempts, in several locations around the country, to get a low-wage job and make ends meet. Here is what I liked: she made important observations about the disparities between rents and wages and the difficulties with finding assistance. Some of her observations and subsequent conclusions about management are insightful, but some seem nit-picky or generalized. What bugged me about the book was that she "cheated" a few times, relying on funds from her "real" life (like when she went to GNC to buy pills to "detox" after her pot-smoking "indiscretion" so she could pass the urine test required of new hires.) It also seemed like her Merry Maids experience didn't fit her thesis very well, so she spent most of that chapter complaining about the people who hired them and making fun of their decor. But, what bothered me the most was that her expriment seemed flawed. She never seemed to stay long enough at any place to really see things through. After one particularly bad day, she quit her waitressing job and just moved on to her next location. That is a luxury most low-wage workers don't have. In addition to all of this, she was alone! She had no support network like most other humans have. So she had no one with whom to share rent, groceries, gas, favors, etc. Overall, I thought several of her points were very insightful. And I enjoyed reading the book. I am just not sure that her entire experience supports all of the conclusions she makes.

4 stars

All Together Now by Anita Jeram
A children's book about a mother rabbit who has a baby rabbit and adopts a duck and a mouse. This book is great for kids like mine, who will need some validation that their biological/adopted family is okay. The family sings a song together in which each animal gets to make a sound or movement that is unique to them (quack, squeak, and thump!) The story goes on to explain (simply) that each child is good at different things. But what I like the most is that it goes on to point out one way that they are all the SAME - they all have big feet! This is such a great book for kids who are affected by adoption and it's a great starting point for discussion with them. But the story would appeal to lots of kids, in the 2-4 age range.

5 stars

A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza
A young bird searches for a mother who looks like him. When he can't find one, a bear offers to be his mother. Choco objects because they don't look alike. But Choco is wooed by her sweet mothering and is pleased to find out that Mother Bear has lots of "other" animal kids that don't look like her either. Obviously this book is a good discussion starter for young kids about what really makes a family. Not just good in adoption situations, I think this book can help kids understand that everybody needs to be loved. (ages 2-5)

5 stars

Muncha Muncha Muncha by Candace Fleming
This book chronicles Mr. Mc Greeley attempts to grow a garden, and the development of his elaborate system to keep three hungry bunnies out of his vegetables. We first heard this book at story time, and the kids loved it. We checked it out and read it several times, and shouted "MUNCHA! MUNCHA! MUNCHA!" each time the bunnies infiltrated the garden. The kids also enjoyed finding the bunnies on each page as they spied on Mr. McGreeley. A fun read, and a funny ending. (ages 2-5)

4 stars

China Wakes by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn
The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power
This book was written by a husband and wife who spent five years (in the late 80's and early 90's) in Beijing as correspondents for the New York Times. The books covers a wide array of topics, including human rights, the rise of communism, changing culture, graft, successes of the communist party, the Cultural Revolution, the burgeoning economy, foreign relations, and the list goes on. In every instance where it is necessary, the authors give appropriate historical background, and they display their impressive knowlegde of the political and cultural systems of several other countries in their comparisons with those of China. They conclude their collection of stories with speculation about what the future holds for the government and economy of China, though they admit that "China watching is the only profession that makes meteorology look accurate and precise." Except for the unnecessary physical descriptions of (what seemed like) every person they wrote about, I enjoyed almost all of this book. The part I could absolutely have done without was an excerpt from a trashy Chinese novel which comes, without warning, at the beginning of the tenth chapter. But, mostly, I find myself wishing that their insights also covered the last decade, since so much has happened in China since they left Beijing. Great reading for anyone who wants to be better informed about China.

5 stars

I Love You Rituals by Becky A. Bailey
This book is almost entirely a book of games to play with your children that promote attachment and bonding. I think the games can be particularly helpful for adoptive parents who are working on attachment with their adopted kids. But, all together, they are great ways to say "I love you" to any child. The cover claims that these rituals "boost brain potential, encourage cooperation and caring, promote learning and literacy, increase attention and decrease power struggles, [and] build bonds of unconditional love." I suppose these could all be possible effects, but I am pretty sure there are better methods to accomplish most of those things. Most helpful to me was the second chapter, in which Bailey describes how children express different needs and how parents can best respond to them. The actual games, however, were a bit disappointing, (and I admit that I didn't read them all because of that.) They are meant as a starting place, and the author fully expects parents to come up with new games as interaction with their children evolves. The games (categorized as: positive nursery rhymes, interactive finger plays, silly interactions, soothing and relaxing, hide and seek, cuddling and snuggling, and physically active) are helpful examples of how to incorporate loving touch and postive messages in a playful parent/child exchange. But, the nursery rhymes and finger plays seemed a bit "clinical" to me, and the silly games seemed obvious! Because a lot of rhymes are used in the games, anyone who thinks they would use a lot of the games should probably own a copy of the book. Overall, this is an okay book about a great concept that can be very beneficial for kids. The book is greatly enhanced by the second chapter. May be best for first time parents or those who aren't really creative.

3 stars

The First Emancipator by Andrew Levy
The Forgotten story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves
Laborious reading, though not altogether unprofitable or uninteresting. (But, if there is legal action that can be levied for the use of run-on sentences, I'd consider filing suit against Levy.) The book is really a biography, so I was bored with a lot of the early stuff, because it wasn't until near the end of his life that Carter actually freed his slaves. The first four chapters are primarily about Carter's spiritual evolution and the political climate in Virginia around the time of the Revolution. I enjoyed reading about Carter's friendships and correspondence with men such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, George Mason, Patrick Henry, and many other "big names" from Revolutionary History. But the best part, by far, were the last two chapters in which Levy told how Carters' slaves were freed, and then discusses the reasons why Robert Carter is virtually unknown in American history, despite the fact that his Deed of Gift was the "largest single act of liberation in the history of American slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation." (He freed over 450 slaves; more than any other American slave owner had or would ever free.) The last chapter ties together tidbits from the earlier ones about why other Virginia gentlemen, though they morally objected to slavery, did not free their slaves. Levy also explores the reasons that Americans of that day (and today) are comfortable with such an act falling into obscurity. I will let Levy's words from the introduction describe what I found most fascinating about the book: We are taught... that the founders wanted to free their slaves, but could not, because they faced insurmountalbe obstacles.... Most important, we are taught that the young nation was too fragile to support large emancipations: the founders knew, and historians have reiterated this point for two centuries, that compromise on slavery was the price of a republic... There has always been good evidence to support these claims.... But one need only hear the basic facts of the Deed of Gift to wonder if the whole story has yet emerged.... The fact that [Carter] freed more slaves than Washington and Jefferson owned together ought to have made some mark on the historical record.... No other Virginian of the Revolutionary era, including those who founded a great nation and spoke eloquently of the immorality of salvery, managed to reconcile freedom in theory and freedom in practice with such trasnparent simplicity."

3 stars (Make the last two chapters into an essay, and this would easily be 4.5 stars)

Attaching in Adoption by Deborah D. Gray
Practical Tools for Today's Parents
This book gives invaluable, practical advice for parents who want to make attachment a reality with their adopted children. (And there is some plain, old good parenting advice in there too.) Chapters give techniques for adopting at different developmental stages and how to determine if it is or isn't working; how to determine if your child needs counseling; how to find a qualified counselor; signs of distress that need to be addressed; how to work with school personnel. Just a great resource. I think every adoptive parent should own a copy. I know I will be referring to it many times. The only stinky part of the book is that it contains a bunch of typos. But this is easily overlooked, given the content.

4.5 stars

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Hilarious. Thanks to Leslie for suggesting it to me. I really did laugh out loud as I read about his attempts to hike the Appalachain Trail with an old college buddy who is, uh, less than the model of fitness. Of particular interest to me was the chapter about the town in Pennsylvania that sits above a coal deposit that has been burning underground for decades. Very interesting. And did I say, hilarious? Because it was hilarious.

5 stars.

Did you like how I threw those children's books in there? Hey, I gotta do what I can.

But, should I decide I want to improve on my book-reading record in 2006, I thought maybe I would ask for suggestions. So, do any of you have a good nonfiction book you'd like to recommend? You never know, I just might read it!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked reading:

Bill Bryson's, A History of Nearly Everything.

Hillary Clinton's memoir, Living Histroy really inspired me as a woman and as a US citizen.


Wed Nov 30, 12:23:00 AM  
Blogger yomama said...

i am so impressed. good job! i hope your year of reading motivates you to keep at it.

i read n&d-ed and saw barbara ehrenreich speak at hillel @ ohio state. it was pretty interesting. she has a new book out. i haven't read that one yet.


Wed Nov 30, 10:54:00 PM  
Blogger Patti said...

Madeliene L'Engle wrote lots of books that dealt specifically with religion that you might like. I would reccomend others, but we have TOTALLY different tastes. I like Jane Eyre, you'd probably not like it.

Thu Dec 01, 09:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Cup-a-Joe said...

I have wanted to read Nickle and Dimed for a while now. It is nice to have someone discerning pre-read it.

If I had one suggestion for next year's reading it would be Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks. It is a fairly easy to read discussion of the shift in culture since the 1960s. It is the best explanation I have read of why the culture is doing what they are doing. I have found it particularly challenging as I attempt to work out my orthodoxy into orthopraxis, and figure out what the lordship of Jesus in my life really looks like in practical life. It was frightening just how centered in the stream of the culture I am, and thus begs the question, should I be there?

By the way, don't you like how you get pushed to keep reading or read more... is this positive reinforcement or are we getting on your back ;-)

Fri Dec 02, 07:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't know that your read Nickel and Dimed. I read that this summer. Really a great book, I thought! We are living in parallel universes. Maybe we should move to the same city.


Fri Dec 02, 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

Just read this post. Great post by the way.

First, let me say that I just have tremendous respect for anyone that adopts a child. You remind me of what it means to be a Christian. In fact, early Christians were known for retreiving babies that had been left to die (there was a place to do this somewhere around Rome I believe) and raising them as their own. So anytime I know of someone who has adopted a child, that is what I think about.

Also, to Anon's comment, Bill Bryson's book is great! I also liked a Walk in the Woods.

Sorry, don't know how to do italics.

Also I recommend The Challenge of Jesus by N.T.Wright.

Merry Christmas.

And now back to shopping.

Fri Dec 09, 02:48:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home