educational, joys of reading, just for fun, nonfiction, Uncategorized

Current Kid Read: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Our 12-year-old is the only one of our five offspring who is not an avid reader. She reads the books she is assigned for school, with mixed reactions. Every now and again, she’s assigned a book she really enjoys, but most of the time, she grits her way through it. It is a source of angst to me at times, but I’ve learned to accept that there are people born into the world, even possibly born of me, who don’t enjoy reading.

This week, however, she has been more engrossed and talkative about a book than I have witnessed since she read Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, which she truly loves. This extraordinary book -in the sense that my kids is captivated by it- is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Young Readers Edition, which her sister picked up for her as a spontaneous gift.

omnivores dilemma young reader

I’m not sure how she knew 12-year-old would like the book, or if she even knew the book would be such a hit with her, but it has really piqued her interest in myriad ways.

Sitting next to me as I try to recapture my inner student (I recently started taking online classes via Local University.) was this child informing me that we are all basically composed of corn. The first section of the book assess the expansion of the corn industry and how affects nearly every food we put into our bodies. Unless of course, we avoid processed foods and make as much as we can from scratch.

Before encountering the book, this child was the least likely of all our children to show much interest in what was in her food so long as it tastes good. This has always had trouble dealing with our propensity to have cabinets and a fridge with nothing but healthy fare. Now, she takes the phrase “USDA Organic” with a heaping grain of salt, and is infinitely more curious about where and what kinds of meats I buy when I shop.

Behold the power of books.

 

 

 

In other's words, nonfiction, politics, quotable literary quotes

A Preview of Coming Attractions: The Two-Income Trap

Due to my haphazard style of reading several books at once, it often takes me longer to finish a book than it would if I’d just pick a book and stick through it already. My reading is much more targeted when I read fiction, and especially so if I am enjoying the characters and plot. With nonfiction, however, it may  take as long as two months to finish a book as I pivot from one volume to the next depending on the topic I’m in the mood to read about.

I’m currently moving -albeit glacially- through Elizabeth Warren’s The Two-Income Trap, which I’ve been reading for a few weeks. I should finish by May’s end, as I’m more than halfway through it at this point. However, in the interest of keeping my personal commitment to write more and post installments here with greater regularity, I decided to preview the forthcoming review with a rather profound insight from Mrs. Warren, found on page 67 of her book:

So how did families get sucked into the Two-Income Trap? The answer is unexpectedly simple: No one saw it coming.

The politics that surrounded women’s collective decision to integrate into the workforce are a study in misdirection. On the left, the women’s movement was battling for equal pay and equal opportunity, and any suggestion that the family might be better off with Mother at home was discounted as reactionary chauvinism. On the right, conservative commentators accused working mothers of everything from child abandonment to defying the laws of nature. The atmosphere was far too charged for any rational assessment of the financial consequences of sending both spouses into the workforce.

The massive miscalculation ensued because both sides of the political spectrum discounted the financial value of the stay-at-home mother. [emphasis mine]

Despite my feelings about Elizabeth Warren the politician, this is very insightful commentary from the Elizabeth Warren of 16 years ago, the professor.

I look forward to reviewing this work in a fuller context sometimes next week.

 

American history, Digital reading, economics, nonfiction, politics

Discrimination and Disparities

discrimination and disparities

Discrimination and Disparities, by Dr. Thomas Sowell, Kindle edition. Originally published March, 2018. 143 print pages.

Thomas Sowell, among the most brilliant economist and political commentators of our time, was the first voice that resonated with me as I began to formulate my own thoughts about how the world works. His work helped me to intelligently process which policy ideas were worthwhile  and which are actually destructive to society. For the first few years of my adult life, I had accepted a lot of things at face value which turned out, under closer scrutiny in the light of facts, to be fallacious at best, but mostly just ridiculous and dangerous.

This book is particularly exciting for me to share because it is exactly the book I would recommend to anyone who is unfamiliar with Dr. Sowell’s work. Having read many of his books, I can attest that his work is not light reading. You must approach it attentively and prepared to be confronted with boatloads of facts. Dr. Sowell bombards his readers with so much documented research that thinking is required to read his books.

The beauty of this book is that it is perfect for the stunted attention spans of 2019. In fact, if I had to describe it in a concise manner, I would characterize it as a comprehensive Cliff Notes version of Dr. Sowell’s accumulated research on the whys and wherefores of group and individual outcomes. If I had to pick one quote from this book that encapsulates its spirit, it would be this one from page 17:

What can we conclude from all these examples of highly skewed distributions of outcomes around the world? Neither in nature nor among human beings are either equal or randomly distributed outcomes automatic. On the contrary, grossly unequal distributions of outcomes are common, both in nature and among people, in circumstances where neither genes nor discrimination are involved.

What seems a tenable conclusion is that, as economic historian David S. Landes put it, “The world has never been a level playing field.” The idea that it would be a level playing field, if it were not for either genes or discrimination, is a preconception in defiance of both logic and facts.

You really need to read the entire book to fully appreciate the wealth of insight in that  quote. This is especially true in our world where people are so highly invested in their personal narratives of why the world is the way it is. Whether it is those who insist we can legislate our way to equal distribution of outcomes which are mostly a result of overt, hostile discrimination, or those whose haughty belief in their own superiority cause them to genuinely believe that entire races of people are inferior to other entire races of people, Sowell puts both assertions on the chopping block. Using solid facts and evidence as the ax, both erroneous assumptions lose their heads.

The cool thing about this book, besides its detached and factual approach to a sensitive subject, is that the notes section is extensive. In fact, a full 1/4 of the book is encompassed with notes and research references. In other words, Dr. Sowell doesn’t simply offer up  his clear belief that most inequality of outcomes can be easily directed to causes other than racial, sexual, or class discrimination. He backs it up with facts, then backs up those facts with even more facts.

If you’ve never read Sowell, or tried and gave up under the weight of his intellectual style and overwhelming factual record, this short book is an excellent read to get the gist of why this man is so well respected as a giant in the intersection of economics and political policy. Or why he is so hated by those who prefer that we just make decisions based on whatever makes us feel as if we’re good people.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Culture, educational, nonfiction, philosophy

Digital Minimalism

digital minmalism

Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport. Published February 5, 2019. Hardcover, 304 pages.

This highly anticipated new release from Cal Newport arrived at my doorstep promptly on February 5, and I read through it at a speed which is highly uncharacteristic for me. That might mean that my anticipation propelled the momentum of my study, but I suspect it is best attributed to Newport’s engaging tone. It also helps that the topic he is covering is a hot topic of the day.

It seems every where you look, you can find discussions of the perils of social media, online distraction, and the lurching menace of the world’s largest technology companies as they encroach into every area of our lives. The result is making privacy rare and more zealously guarded by many, such as this woman who disconnected from all services connected to the “big 5” tech giants. It is into this atmosphere that Cal Newport actually manages to offer a fresh perspective.

I hesitate to say that he offers a new perspective, because he doesn’t. He actually draws on the wisdom of those who have gone before, beginning with Aristotle and moving forward to more modern minds such as Wendell Berry. I am a great admirer of Wendell Berry, so the invoking of his unique and uncommon wisdom made this book all the more alluring to me.

Newport doesn’t use an abundance of pages offering tips on how to better manage your online life (although he does present a few). Neither does he use his megaphone to condemn any and all social media. Instead,  he calmly and methodically makes his case for a more intentional way of living, using an engaging and conversational tone. When he finishes, the reader is left to draw her own conclusions about the value or disadvantages of technology and online distractions in her life.

The best and most compelling arguments in the book are in the chapter dedicated to the importance of high quality leisure.  In this chapter, we find a most concise and piercing synopsis of why the subject of leisure, along with the role of the Internet in our daily lives, are such vital issues to confront. While discussing an example of a man whose time without access to the constant connection of the Internet, Newport notes that the man wasn’t missing any one specific digital activity. Rather, he was most uncomfortable with the general lack of access he was used to. Here is the linchpin of his presentation:

The more I study this topic, the more it becomes clear to me that low-quality digital distractions play a more important role in people’s lives than they imagine. In recent years, as the boundary between work and life blends, jobs become more demanding, and community traditions degrade, more and more people are failing to cultivate the high-quality leisure lives that Aristotle identifies as crucial for human happiness. This leaves a void that would be near unbearable if confronted, but that can be ignored with the help of digital noise. It’s now easy to fill the gaps between work and caring for your family and sleep by pulling out a smartphone or tablet, and numbing yourself with mindless swiping and tapping. p.168

Newport doesn’t assert that this instinct is a a new thing, of course. If it were he wouldn’t be able to draw on Aristotle in his quest for solutions. Whether through drinking, television, or any other number of alternatives, man has always been tempted to revert to low-level distractions to divert ourselves from the pain of physical, emotional, and spiritual realities we’d rather not face. The difference today of course, is that it is so much easier to avoid these realities than in times past. Our comfortable, easy physical existence makes us ripe to be mined by the masters of the new attention economy.

The best parts of this book are the chapters which chart the economics and psychology behind this new way of living, and later the importance of being careful of how we use our leisure. Most importantly, the reader is admonished of the importance of leisure activities that stretch us and grow us as human beings rather than viewing leisure as a time to indulge a mindless, vegetative state via screens.

As I read the examples given, I was reminded of the scene at our house on Super Bowl Sunday. Our kids -as they always do whether we have company or not- made great food, and turned on the set mainly for the purpose of ranking the commercials. There are two people in our house who know enough about football to sit through a game and maintain interest. I am one, and one of my daughters is another. My husband, having played high school football, knows the game, but is not at all interested in watching. My interest has steadily tanked in recent years as well.

While the girls watched commercials, and chattered in between, my husband was working on a project he started for me a couple of weeks ago but which has taken a lot longer than it might have if he hadn’t begun a new job this year. As he cut, sanded, measured and worked with his hands (I offered some help as well with staining), it was a prime example of what Digital Minimalism described. Rather than sit and watch the game, which would have drained the energy from someone like him, the time was spent doing something infinitely more satisfying. In the book, Newport referenced the difference between being able to point to something -anything- produced as a result of proficiency and effort being infinitely more satisfying than a nebulous number of likes in response to a saucy tweet or a photo of your plate at a trendy new restaurant.

In addition to stressing the importance of high-quality leisure, the book also emphasizes the importance of meaningful, in-person socialization. I especially appreciated those parts of the book.

In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport turns on a light rather than simply railing against the darkness. As more and more people awaken to the reality that their overly connected lives are out of control, they will be looking for constructive counsel and directions out of the digital wilderness. Digital Minimalism provides both of those and does it well.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

joys of reading, nonfiction, the business of books

The book I’ve been waiting for is here!

 

digital minimalism
Ignore the Latin declensions in the background…

 

Today, Amazon* delivered my pre-ordered copy of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism to our front door. I was so excited I started reading it right away. Life being what it is, I only got as far as the introduction before I had to put it aside, but I’m enjoying what I’m reading so far.

Stay tuned for a review in the near future!

*Yeah, I ordered it from Amazon. I’m making a concerted effort to reduce the number of dollars I send the way of Mr. Bezos, but sometimes my American addiction to convenience gets the best of me.

American history, books for women, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction

The Feminine Mystique: Ch. 10

feminine mystique

This is the 6th post in the series on The Feminine Mystique.

I’ve tired of Betty Friedan’s commentary, despite this book being on the list of books that helped shape America. Although I concede that she made a few valid arguments, this book grew increasingly redundant as it went on. I’m not sure if I’ll add any more posts to this series, mainly because the more I read, the more narrow Friedan’s analysis and study appears. I recognized early that her attempt to liberate “American women” had nothing to do with my mother or grandmothers for obvious reasons.

However, I now see it had very little to do with the mothers and grandmothers of my many friends from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and regions of this country. This book, as feminism has always done, speaks for a privileged and elite group of women. The fact that they propagandized their complaints well enough to trick the rest of us into believing that feminism was also about us does nothing to change the ultimate truth. Chapter 10, however, is an interesting one. It’s about a topic that interests me as well, so let’s explore it.

Chapter 10: Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available.

Mrs. Friedan discusses the ways which women -together with the educators, functionality experts and expert marketers- contrived to convert housekeeping from work that “can be capably handled by any eight-year-old child”, to a full-time occupation which takes 6 hours a day to complete. Friedan and one of her experts assert that the work is often incomplete by dinner  despite a wife working diligently all day to complete it:

But when the mystique of feminine fulfillment sent women back home again, housewifery had to expand into a full-time career. Sexual love and motherhood had to become all of life, had to use up, dispose of women’s creative energies. The very nature of family responsibility had to expand to take the place of responsibility to society. As this began to happen, each labor-saving appliance brought a labor-demanding elaboration of housework. Each scientific advance that might have freed women from the drudgery of cooking, cleaning, and washing, thereby giving her more time for other purposes, instead imposed new drudgery, until housework not only expanded to fill the time available, but could hardly be done in the available time. p. 286

Here, Friedan parks right alongside a good point. However, due to her adamance that a career was the answer to the disillusion women faced, she missed a valuable opportunity. Instead of denouncing the increasing materialism and isolation of suburban family life, she decided that what women really need is be more like men. Eight years ago a writer friend of mine took an excellent turn at expressing the problems that came with the increase of ‘labor saving” devices, the nuclear family as the center of life to the exclusion of broader community cohesiveness, with emphasis on the sexual domain as the sole purpose of a woman’s life. From her 2011 article, Return of the Washerwoman (link unavailable):

Yes, you have a washing machine in your basement, but you used to only have three changes of clothes per person, and many had their laundry washed for them. I know this for certain, as my aunt’s family used to run a laundry service and she swears that her family washed the laundry for the entire urban neighborhood. Women bought washing machines, which killed the washerwoman business, but then everyone’s wardrobes grew exponentially.

For all of the talk of “pioneer women”, they were a small minority of women and many tended to be dead before they hit 50. Most women 100 years ago were doing a similar level of housework and homeschooling as I am, but they didn’t have to take on the additional chauffeuring duties, they weren’t as isolated, and they weren’t expected to look like a lingerie model and turn tricks in the bedroom that would put some prostitutes to shame. The workdays were also shorter before cheap electric lighting and most people got more sleep.

In other words, Friedan was right about the evolution of the suburban housewife, and she was even right about the changing nature of the work women did in and around the home:

And yet, for the suburban and city housewife, the fact remains that more and more of the jobs that used to be performed in the home have been taken away: canning, baking bread, weaving cloth and making clothes, educating the young, nursing the sick, taking care of the aged. It is possible for women to reverse history- or kid themselves that they can reverse it-by baking their own bread, but the law doesn’t permit them to teach their own children at home, and few housewives would match their so-called generalist’s skills with the professional expertise of doctor and hospital to nurse a child through tonsillitis or pneumonia at home.

A lot has changed since this was written, as most of us can -many do- educate our children at home.  Even the brightest among us, however -and I know a lot of very bright women-find that we are helped immensely in that endeavor by educational support systems which include other women, a point which brings me to the overwhelming flaw in Mrs. Friedan’s conclusion. The flaw is assuming that being a housewife and contributing to the larger world are mutually exclusive endeavors.

Unfortunately, it’s also a trap that a lot of well meaning Christians mistakenly fall into, believing that we can bring back the good old days simply by doing things the ways our grandmothers did them in order to fill the days. Ask any woman who sews her own clothes how expensive it is to purchase high-quality woven fabrics and this notion is quickly disabused. Fortunately, it is possible to “be all you can be” as a woman without doing so on man’s terms nor pretending we can live a 1919 existence in 2019.

Women are supposed to be contributing to society outside of the four walls of our homes, we are supposed to be serving people besides our own immediate families, and we are  to use our gifts, creative energies and talents to the fullest. We should be volunteering in our churches. We should be active in our children’s schools. We should be visiting the elderly and extending ourselves to those in various states of need.

Life has provided me ample opportunities for intellectual stimulation,  to utilize my talents, and to contribute to society in ways I never imagined when I was a 23-year-old  housewife. I spent years living under the delusion that being at home might waste my talents. I realized early on that I could not have been more mistaken.

Mrs. Friedan’s assertion that the only way women contribute or exercise their potential is through careerism is wrong. The dissolution of community and the disappearance of engaged extended families has proven that her prescription, rather than freeing women, has only served to increase their burdens. Women who work, whether at subsistence jobs or in “fulfilling careers”, still have to endure the “drudgery” of housework. It’s just added on as a second shift, and they have to do it without much support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

books for women, Culture, Digital reading, marriage and relationships, nonfiction

The Black Girl’s Guide to Being Blissfully Feminine.

blissfully feminine

The Black Girl’s Guide to Being Blissfully Feminine, by Candace Adewole. Kindle edition. Originally published in July 2016.

This is a short book, one I was able to read from beginning to end in about two hours. Nonetheless, it’s full of thought-provoking, soul-stirring truisms that black women need to hear. It’s not perfect as no book is, but -and this is especially true for the non-religious woman- it’s the truest counsel I’ve ever read directed at black women. Ms. Adewole well expresses what it is going to take for black women to stop being considered, in the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “the mules of the world”.

Because it’s a short book, I’m going to keep this review short by using the bad news first/good news last approach. Thankfully, there is far more good news than bad.

The Bad News

  • It sometimes felt a little new-agey when the author ventured off into discussions of “black girl magic” and “feminine mystique”, not to be confused with the Betty Friedan school of thought.
  • Some of the sex advice went too far. The best way to figure out how to please your husband -in any area- is to ask him or read obvious context clues if he’s less given to saying what he wants.
  • Too extreme on the provisional aspect of a relationship in the dating stage: I get and completely agree with the overall principle that one of the things a man is charged to do is provide for his woman. However at the dating stage, I don’t think it is wise to advise that a woman should never split the bill or pick up the tab. My experience, old and limited though it may be, is that it is entirely possible to find the balance and still end up with a husband ready and willing to be the primary provider.
  • Too much emphasis on the value of travel, although I can appreciate her assertion that other cultures are more open to acknowledge the beauty of darker women than one finds here in America. It’s something I’ve heard expressed by various women throughout my life.

The Good News

  • Despite my discomfort with the sexual specifics, the sexual advice to women in the market for a husband was very conservative. In fact, the author advised women to refrain from sex at all until officially engaged and wedding plans in motion. No, it doesn’t go far enough to satisfy the tenets of my Christian faith, but it isn’t a Christian book and the author didn’t specify any religious faith.
  • Excellent advice on the value of silence and -if you must speak- doing so quietly with language free of any and all profanity. Truthfully, from what I have seen and heard, this is hardly advice only black women need to hear. It has nothing to do with prudishness, snobbishness, or religiosity (though that should be a consideration for some of us). It has everything to do with femininity and grace.
  •  Acknowledging the healing power of feminine touch. Although it was something the author learned via observation through marriage to a Latino man, being affectionate not only with our men but our friends and family members is important. We Americans tend to zealously guard our space bubbles, and the hypersexualization of the culture coupled with many black women’s penchant for wearing permanent armor makes this a hard hurdle to leap. But at least she put it out on the track.
  • The understanding that being comfortable in your own skin and with where you came from isn’t mutually exclusive to forming bonds with all kinds of people and meeting all kinds of men.
  • The importance of smiling, laughing, not going through life with a chip on your shoulder, and avoiding what is known as “resting bi*ch face“. There was also included the advice to use a gratitude journal if necessary to maintain a more positive outlook.
  • Emotional vulnerability: Mules can’t be emotionally vulnerable. When you are carrying your load, your kids’ load, your man’s load, and doing so without missing a beat, emotional vulnerability is an unaffordable luxury. Black women are expected to “hold it down” for everyone, and Adewole -rightly- calls B.S. on that. Many black women take on this role, swallow their feelings (literally and figuratively if our obesity rates are any indication), and wear the superhero cape with pride. That is, right up until they crash and burn (if mental illness and instability rates are any indication). Adewole address all of these issues with frankness and candor, understanding that rather than airing dirty laundry, she’s invoking the permission to heal and live a balanced life.
  • Acknowledgment that wanting to be loved and cherished is as acceptable for black women as any other women. She did a good job overall, so I’ll wrap this up with my favorite lines from the book:

I thoroughly detest being called a “strong” black woman for its masculine connotation, the underlying implication that I am somehow built for hard labor, like some animal, and that I am undeserving to be treated like a lady who needs (and wants) to be protected, cared for, adored, cherished, and treated gently.

She continues a bit further on:

I prefer to be called a feminine black woman or a resilient black woman because, although technically a synonym of the word “strong”, the meaning feels better and more feminine. Resilience and personal fortitude are what you must have mentally and emotionally to get through tough times. I don’t want to be “strong”. I DO need a man. I DO want help. I DO want to be taken care of and protected. I DO need community, and I wear dresses, not capes.

There was a some beauty and health advice in the book as well, but those chapters are all well tilled ground, unlike the parts I highlighted here. I stumbled upon this book and read it for the curiosity factor, having been spared a lot of these struggles through the presence of strong, protective men throughout my entire life and marriage. But I think it is well worth a read for the 70% of black women who have not been so blessed.

4 out of 5 stars