Cribsheet: A Data-driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting…

I’ve tried several times to start reading books on pregnancy, parenting, or child development, and haven’t stuck with any of them. Not because I know everything (in fact, I’m learning every day how little I know about parenting), but because most of the books stress me out. Making decisions about your child is hard – the information seems endless and the stakes are high.

A colleague of my husband’s gifted him Emily Oster’s Cribsheet, and I picked it up one night at 3 a.m., because it was the only book lying close enough to reach while nursing my 2-week old. And in two pages I was hooked. Because in this book, Oster isn’t offering solutions or prophesizing catastrophic results for you and your child if you stray from her advice. Rather, from the beginning, Oster promises only to present the data and some helpful considerations as you make your own parenting decisions.

So when the Washington Post called this book “freeing” for parents, I had to agree. Oster presents the information you need to make informed decisions, without all the fear-mongering or judgement of so many other parenting books. I’d highly recommend this one for new or soon-to-be parents.

And if you like cribsheet, you might like to know that Oster also has two other books for parents, including Expecting Better and The Family Firm. The later of these is on my TBR list now – have you read it? What did you think?

Review: Braiding Sweetgrass

Braiding Sweetgrass, the latest from plant biologist and professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, has been on bestseller lists (and my personal TBR pile) for quite some time. And now I understand why: this book really has something for everyone.

Not since “Boys in a Boat” have I read a book where, each time I talk to someone about it, I end up talking about something different. My nerdy cousin loved Kimmerer’s descriptions of plant biology. My friend loved the relatable, simple anecdotes from Kimmerer’s life that she uses to communicate critical messages. Environmentalists and activists are using this book to spread awareness about the history of land abuse that Kimmerer outlines in the later chapters. And me? Well I loved all of that, but was especially drawn to Kimmerer’s detailing of traditional Native American cultural beliefs and practices.

And what’s really great about this book is that, even if all those things aren’t for you, Kimmerer’s writing makes it easy and interesting to learn about all these things (and more). Most importantly, I think she has written a book that simultaneously provides a dire warning and a hopeful how-to guide for getting back to a healthy relationship between humans and nature, which is something we desperately need.

Did you read it? Let me know what YOU loved about the book in the comments below!

Ready to read it? Get the book from an independent publisher by going to my affiliate bookstore at bookshop.org!

Hamnet – To Read or Not To Read?

Definitely “To Read.” There really is no question on this one. Maggie O’Farrell has done such a brilliant job in Hamnet of reimagining the life of Shakespeare and his family. I dove into this one because, as a book nerd, I was excited at the idea of a historical fiction novel based on Shakespeare, but to be honest this book is so well written, and the narrative so enticing, that I wouldn’t have been able to put it down even if it had no historical context or connection to anything. It’s just an incredible story.

However, knowing that this is a historical novel based loosely on Shakespeare added a whole extra layer of intrigue when reading Hamnet. Though it is entirely a work of fiction, I still felt like O’Farrell developed the characters in such a way that gave dignity and life to historical figures who, especially in the cases of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, and his wife, Agnes, have largely been criticized or ignored. I really enjoyed listening to Maggie O’Farrell speak to this in the New York Times Book Review Podcast, and would highly encourage anyone who finishes the book to check out the interview, to better understand O’Farrell’s reasons for making the decisions she did when writing Hamnet.

This is probably my favorite book of the year so far, so I really hope you’ll read it. When you do, be sure to let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Related Links

Use my bookshop page to find the book from an independent bookstore or publisher HERE

Listen to the New York Book Review Review Podcast with Maggie O’Farrell HERE

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is one of those books you’ve seen a million times – in airport bookstores, on the subway, on your own shelves… At least, that’s how it seemed to me and yet, it took me until now to finally get around to reading it. Naturally, my expectations were high because of the book’s overwhelming popularity and longevity.

But to be honest, I was a little bit disappointed with this read. I anticipated a philosophical book with insightful or enlightening messages. And while certainly the book feels philosophical throughout, it’s primary message seems to be nothing more than the age-old “listen to your heart” (along with a few secondary messages that feel equally uninspired for me, like “follow your dreams”, “money isn’t everything”, and “love conquers all”).

I will say that I appreciated the accessibility of the language and the natural flow of the story, which combine to make the narrative fable-like in tone. It occurs to me that this might just be a book that found me at the wrong time in my life or in my reading journey, and I am at least glad that it seems to have resonated with so many readers who found it more inspiring than I.

What did you think of The Alchemist? Am I totally missing something? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

The Tiger’s Wife

I’ve been meaning to join an official book club for a while now, because obviously I love discussing books, and Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife is the book that has finally made me pull the trigger on that.

In other words, this is a novel I need to talk through – from the unique structure to the heavy symbolism to genre blending and cultural influences… I just have so many questions. And while some readers might find it frustrating to leave a book with questions unanswered, I personally love being asked to think critically about the various meanings hidden throughout a story.

And though I think it is certainly possible to read too much into “hidden meanings” and symbolism, Obreht’s novel blends just the right amount of clarity and ambiguity. The narrative follows three distinct, yet related stories, two of which read like local legends or fables with hints of magical realism, cultural influence, and regional history, and which shed light on the third strand of the narrative about the death of the protagonist’s grandfather.

Serendipitously, I saw that an Instagram influencer I enjoy, @fictionmatters, selected this as her July book club pick. I’ll be joining in on the discussion and may just have to come back for a part 2 to this book review! 😀

Related Links:

Get the book from an independent bookstore or publisher.

Join the Fiction Matters Patreon to become part of the book club. The Tiger’s Wife is her July pick!

Read more book reviews.

James Baldwin, “Go Tell It On The Mountain”

Having only read If Beale Street Could Talk, I’ve been eager to get to more of Baldwin’s work for a long time, and was excited to pull Go Tell It On The Mountain off the shelf. And while I have to admit that while I found Beale Street a bit more riveting of a narrative, the thematic complexity of Go Tell It On The Mountain is unmatched.

One could spend hours and hours unpacking the racial, gendered, and religious power dynamics that play out between characters in this novel – it’s the kind of book that makes you want a class or a reading group to discuss it with, the kind that prompts me to look up podcasts and articles that analyze it.

And the fact that this is a semi-autobiographical novel makes it even more troubling, painful, and powerful. The fact that it was Baldwin’s first novel makes it even more impressive.

Finally, I want to mention that although, as I’ve mentioned earlier, this wasn’t quite as spell-binding as Beale Street (I found it a little slow at times), I also want to mention that this narrative develops in a way that is really unexpected and yet, realistic. With Go Tell It On The Mountain, Baldwin once again uses his craft to offer an insightful perspective of race, religion, gender, sexuality, and class in America.

Get the book through a local or independent publisher, HERE.

“Our Souls at Night”, Refreshing & Lovely

After a few epic, dense reads, I was looking for a story that would be a little lighter – something with a high entertainment factor. I took a recommendation from my mother with Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. And I got everything I was looking for and more.

This story is not only full of surprises. First of all, the two central characters are elderly, which, I realized as I was reading, almost never happens. And of course, if older characters do appear in literature, it’s usually only to fulfill some kind of trope or stereotype… the sage, the senile or incapacitated, the cranky old hermit… Gandalf, Grandpa Joe, Scrooge. In this story, Kent Haruf rejects those stereotypes and gives dignity, agency, and voice too a segment of society that is too often denied all three.

Secondly, while the narrative and themes in this story feel straightforward – quite simply, two lonely people coming together and throwing social expectations out the window – Haruf ultimately does a fantastic job of making that narrative and the core themes of the story extremely complicated. So not only did I get a quick, entertaining read, but I actually found myself thinking really deeply about age, love, friendship, loneliness, social expectations, parenting, and so many other topics and themes of this simple, lovely story.

Related Links:

Ready to read it? Get the book from a local, independent bookstore or publisher HERE.

Turns out there is a 2017 film adaptation of the book, staring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. It has an 88% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not too shabby. I might have to give it a watch. Did you see it? What did you think?

Lastly, I couldn’t help but wonder about some other books that put a positive spin on age. Here’s a few things I found:

Book Review: The Overstory

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s partially because The Overstory by Richard Powers is a long and dense – though also beautiful – novel, much like the trees that inspire it’s plot and characters (and partially the result of Spring’s arrival, pulling me away from books, into my garden).

As someone who spends a lot of time in nature, I would have told you (before reading this novel), that I had a deep appreciation for trees and a really progressive view regarding conservationism. But now I know my appreciation for trees is a sapling compared to the Giant Sequoia that Richard Powers has presented to us with this novel (albeit a sapling that has grown immensely due to reading this book).

The Overstory follows nine primary characters across several decades, as their stories come together as a result of their relationship to trees and forests. In a Between the Covers podcast featuring Richard Powers, he articulated how the narrative reflects the structural components of a tree: various roots coming together for a common cause, only to diverge later on and drop seeds that may or may not lead to future stories. The nerd in me can’t get over that, though in hindsight it seems obvious (I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, I guess).

But I will also say, that while this story is worth the time and effort required to get through it, it’s definitely a long commitment and, at times, slower than the rave reviews led me to believe. However, despite those slower parts, I found myself understanding trees and conservation so differently as a result of this story. And, for me, any story that can fundamentally change the way I look at the world is invaluable.

Ready to read this one? Get the book from an independent bookstore HERE.

Love. By Toni Morrison. Love. Love. Love.

I have never read a novel by Toni Morrison that wasn’t worth raving about. And yet, I have found that my favorites are not the same ones that get all the hype. Most of us have read, or at least heard of, The Bluest Eye and Beloved. But my favorites have tended to be Morrison’s lesser-known works, including Sula and Song of Solomon.

And Love falls in the latter category. Though not her most popular work, this might be one of Morrison’s best, in my humble opinion. On the surface, this is the story of a friendship between two women that has eroded over decades, but of course it is so much more than that. This novel really highlights the complex, unexpected, and shifting nature of love – of love between friends, between siblings, between lovers and spouses, between parents and children. And it’s about the impacts these relationships have on a community over time.

But what really amazes me about this novel is Toni Morrison’s incredible skill with subtly. Because when I’ve talked with others about this novel, the words “hate” and “anger” come far up far more frequently than “love” or “joy.” But without spoiling anything in the story, the final chapter starts to peel back the ways in which, throughout the entire novel, Morrison has been writing about love with great intention, subtlety, and scrutiny.

I am left thinking of all kinds of love, the way it changes over time, the power it has to hurt or heal. And what is more beautiful and memorable than a book that leaves you thinking about love?

Eager to read this one? Get the book from an independent bookshop HERE.

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo turned up on my radar when I started seeing posts about the book on Instagram with a variety of covers. I soon learned that the book has been translated into more than a dozen languages, sold millions of copies in South Korea (where it was first written and published), and even inspired a film of the same title.

And if that wasn’t enough to pique my interest, I also learned that the book did a lot to fuel the struggle for gender equality and the #metoo movement in South Korea. The story of Kim Jiyoung depicts the pervasive, incessant discrimination against women in South Korea in the home, workplace, and public spheres, and the negative impacts that discrimination has on one woman’s self-worth and mental health. Needless to say, I think the issues touched on in this novel are important, complex, and timely.

However, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t as swept up in Kim Jiyoung’s story as I expected to be – after all, her life is rather mundane, and that’s a big part of the point Cho Nam-Joo is making in this story. But at the same time, I couldn’t ignore that Kim Jiyoung was hard to feel close to as a reader, and at times the writing in this story feels almost clinical (not to give away the twist at the ending. 🙂 But there’s a lot here to unpack, so I have to ask: did you read this one? What did you make of it?

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