Thursday, July 7, 2011

Reading Update

While I was gone I got a lot of books from the library and I have been reading in between catching up on laundry and driving to dental appointments.   Here's a list:

--1 --

War and Peace -- this is what I was reading on my Kindle whenever I had free time up in Oregon.  This was the first long trip I've taken where I didn't have to bring a big bagful of books!   I am 3/4 through War and Peace.    It is 1812 and Napoleon has occupied Moscow.   Lots of other things are happening.  I have no idea how the story will end.  I had heard that it's really hard to keep track of all the characters but I am not having as much trouble as I expected.   


Home Education -- when I didn't feel like reading fiction, I was rereading Home Education by Charlotte Mason and taking notes.  I am almost through.  I realize how much of this book shaped my homeschooling.   You know, one thing I didn't really notice so much on the first few times through the book (and others by CM as well) is how much she read of the science, philosophy and literature of her day and how much she uses it as groundwork or illustration of her points.  I mean, I noticed it, of course -- lots of Tennyson and Wordsworth quotes, lots of references to books by psychologists and educationalists of her day -- but I just realized that this is really a Method in itself -- constantly filtering through the currents of thought of the day, taking what seems to fit with her line of thinking, discarding with careful, polite remarks the parts that don't seem good to her.    This is actually totally an example of what Mortimer Adler calls Synoptic Reading.  It is quite inspiring -- I want to try to follow her example on this more intentionally than I have done in the past. 

Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin.    I've read several articles by Temple Grandin and know about her life but this is the first book I've read by her.  It's very interesting, especially the parts about her childhood and how her mother raised her during the days when no one knew much about the syndrome.    Grandin also quotes passages from the books of others with Asperger's, which gives an inner view into the perspective and challenges of a person on the autistic spectrum.  There was a foreword by Oliver Sacks -- a favorite author of mine from way back.    I have been interested in the subject of autism for a very long time, ever since I read Dibs: In Search of Self when I was babysitting the sons of a couple with psychology degrees when I was about 12 or 13.     I haven't quite finished reading it yet.


Bird by Bird Some Instructions in Writing and life by Anne Lamott.    For years I kept reading recommendations of this book in different places.  So I decided to finally read it.   Very funny in places where the humor worked for me, some bad language, quite a lot of good advice.  The basic idea is that writing is its own reward, that it helps make your life better, and that trying to get published or on the bestseller list isn't really an adequate motive for writing.  


House Rules by Jodi Picoult.   I couldn't figure out why I had requested a novel by Jodi Picoult since I've never read a book by her and in general don't read modern chick novels, but from reading the back matter I saw that it is a novel about a boy with Asperger's.  So I must have read a review somewhere and decided it would be good beach reading.   After I finished reading Bird by Bird, I felt like reading some modern fiction so I could sort of see what Lamott was saying about fiction coming out of living with the characters and so on, so I started reading this and ended up staying up till about 4 am turning pages until I finished the book.  The plot had some weak parts; some reviews I glanced at thought that she put too much undigested research into the book, about Asperger's and forensics, for example.  But after spending two weeks with Tolstoy this did not seem like a problem to me, except some of the forensics stuff was pretty creepy (so are Tolstoy's hospital descriptions, though).    I am trying to figure out why the book was so absorbing in spite of some severe plot implausibilities and a lack of real development in the characters.   I think it was the immediacy.  Though the characters didn't seem to progress a whole lot or gain a whole lot of perspective, their voices did have a strong rhythm and immediacy.   Sort of like reading someone's autobiographical blog.  I especially liked Jacob, the super-intelligent but clueless Asperger's boy -- I liked his sense of humor.and I probably sort of identified with his social problems.    Another thing I admired about Picoult's writing was her way of using a thread or focus idea to pull the book together -- in this case, the "House Rules" idea.   That's something I really admire in some modern writers, and she made it relatively easy to follow the idea through the book, so I could actually see it pulling things together.  In fact, this probably was what made the story seem cohesive and developing even though the plot had some simplistic parts and the characters didn't really progress.   Maybe it makes sense that a book about Asperger's and how it impacts families ends up on a resolution of focus rather than lives. 


Scattered How Attention Deficit Originates and What You Can Do About It by Gabor Mate.    I got this because I recently reread Hold on To Your Kids which he co-authored and because it is about ADHD.  I started reading it last night because I was too wired to go to sleep after finishing House Rules.    Scattered so far looks like it is going to make the case that ADD is more about family environment than about genetics or simple biochemistry.   But I am not sure yet how he is going to support the point.   I do know that he is carefully avoiding the "blame the parents" line of thinking, which seems interesting --  certainly it seems like it would be somewhat challenging.  He starts the book off on a very personal note, describing his own adult diagnosis of ADD and the subsequent diagnosis of all three of his kids -- so perhaps he is going to be able to make a case for the parents not being so much to blame for aggravating ADD, as being affected by it themselves and this having a sort of ripple effect on the whole family.     That seems like a subtler case than many pop psychology books are able to make, but I do not know how it will be carried out or whether it will be successful at this point.  I try not to look at reviews of a book until I finish reading it!


So that's the recent reading!  In my library stack I have several more non-fiction books about Asperger's and also a book called Free Range Learning:  How Homeschooling Changes Everything which looks like it is going to be a good read, though too packed with information to quickly devour in a day or two like I did with the others.    There's also a book called The Mother Factor:  How Your Mother's Emotional Legacy Impacts Your Life which unfortunately seems to be more targeted towards dysfunction than I had been hoping -- I was hoping for a less "counseling" and more general type book, but it looks like it's going to be in sort of the Melanie Klein/Anna Freud school of thought.


  1. Temple Grandin's book was one of the first autism books I read when my oldest was diagnosed. It was very eye-opening and I would probably have read it even without having autism hit so close to home as autism has also interested me before i ever had children. She's a good writer and is able to share her experiences in life and her differences in perception very well.

    I'm amazed at your ability to read such hard reading so quickly! I'm still trying to get through the modern language version of Charlotte Mason's Home Education and I don't think War and Peace will be on my list anytime soon, LOL! Kudos to you!

  2. Thanks, Susan! True confessions, though, my first reading is usually just a matter of getting the big picture -- I usually don't remember much about the details unless I write about it right away. Then if I liked the book I go back and reread it.

    War and Peace hasn't been quite as difficult to get through as I thought it would be -- maybe Kindle makes it easier since you don't have to face a huge 10 pound volume with a long introduction and small type.

    Lastly, I could never have even tried to read it when I had a little baby like you do ;-).

  3. re: Home Education. That was one of the things that really struck me on my last reading of it as well. My goodness the woman was well-read and seemed to be under the assumption that her audience was as well--throwing out quotes willy-nilly, most of the time with no explanation whatsoever as to where they came from, just so casual. Made me feel a bit like a dolt for not recognizing many of them!LOL! Anyway, very impressive to say the least.

  4. You may have ordered House Rules 'cause I was recommending it? I really think it her best book. I'm currently reading her 'My sister's keeper' thought provoking but none of them have been as good as House Rules. then again I was very interested in aspergers too.

  5. Theresa,

    I bet that was one of the last generations when an educated person could count on her readers basically having read the same things that she had. I see it when I read Chesterton, too, but very shortly later you see it much less. Or so it seems to me. There was sort of an explosion of information.

    Erin, I bet that was it! Thank you for recommending it. I think I somewhat identified with the mother/son relationship too.... how the mom was always pouring so much into keeping things going. Even though her life was so much harder than mine, I could see myself and other moms I know in that drive to learn everything and do everything that might help the child have a better chance.

  6. What a interesting selection of books, Willa. I have enjoyed following the links and seeing what is available. I wonder if you read one book at a time. Or perhaps you dip into lots of books all at once like me.

    "War and Peace" took me so long to read, I didn't have time for anything else for a while. It was one of those books I had to concentrate on otherwise I kept getting confused. I am glad I persevered. God bless.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!