Monday, December 5, 2011

The Long-Awaited Book Review Post

Because I know you all have been checking this blog hourly, waiting for my book reviews....

1. Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) by Gavin de Becker

This is the book I was trying to finish before typing up this review, and it goes first because I want all three of you readers to see this. If you have children, buy this, read it, keep it. It's geared a little more towards parents of older children but I didn't really find any of it irrelevant.

The gist is that true random acts of violence against children are extremely rare, and in almost every single other act there are indicators and red flags. And parents, particularly women, have been trained to reason their way out of those red flags ("Oh come on, it's just a guy in an elevator, you take elevators all the time." "That man looks perfectly nice, he's probably just trying to help me." etc.). But, when it comes to your kids, you can't ignore your gut, and if someone skeeves you out, it's for good reason. I know that sounds like common sense, and much of the book is "trust your gut!" But he also details indicators of child predators, signs of abuse, signs of bad friendships, signs of vigilant parents, signs of children with emotional problems, etc. Nothing too earth-shattering but it's all laid out there, with questions to ask your children's school administrators, babysitters, day care workers, friends' parents, and anyone else you trust to take care of your child.

There are also sections on teenage girls and sexual abuse, and teenage boys and violence, but my favorite parts were discussions of what to convey to your children so they are assertive, confident, and able to handle themselves in difficult situations so they aren't easy targets or victims. For example - don't tell you children to never talk to strangers and to find a policeman if they get lost. They are going to talk to strangers - they see you do it all the time - and if they're lost, the chance of them finding a policeman is so remote as to be ridiculous. Instead, teach them how to avoid people acting strangely, teach them to never be alone with a stranger, and tell them to find a woman when they're lost, who is statistically much more likely to help them than a man. Definitely food for thought.

And now I remember how annoying I thought it was that my mom would call up the parents of my friends and talk to them before I slept over or went to a party, and I'm totally going to do the same thing with my kiddos. Good job, Mom!

Seriously, if you have kids and you read one book these next few months, make it this one. I'm not doing it justice in this review.

2. Night by Elie Wesiel

Reread this classic, but this time I picked the version translated by the author's wife, which he notes in a forward is more true to his original language. I didn't find that too much changed from how I remembered it, but it was still a powerful little book. I probably read it in two hours, tops.

Depressing, yes, but oddly I found myself wishing for more detail and more information. It's really just a few snapshots of life as a devout young Jewish boy during the Holocaust, but it is a powerful reminder of how base humanity can really be. And how lucky we all are to live like we do, how we do, when we do. Made me hug Julia tight.

3. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Cute, and another quick read. As a biography, it fails, because it doesn't truly get down to any significant emotional level. Tina Fey kept it light and funny, and touches on what it feels like to be a mom torn between her child and her career, and what it felt like to be an outcast type growing up, but doesn't really get deep enough to be especially relatable. But, there were some pretty funny parts when she describes her SNL career, especially once it started to take off, with the Sarah Palin bits and 30 Rock.

A nice airplane or beach read. I'm glad I got it from the library and didn't buy it myself.

4. Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku

My dad lent me this book, not having read it himself, I think hoping I'd read it and tell him the gist. It was a little dry but overall I enjoyed it.

The author goes through several different realms of technology, discussing the current state of research and where things are likely to go over the next century. I found the book to be surprisingly realistic and believable. It wasn't just some guy speculating about flying cars and space elevators. It was some guy talking about automobile automation technology and, based on the past trajectory, how things would likely change over the next several decades.

It was well-organized, and easy to pick up and put back down, which was an advantage because there's only so much science you can take in at 10:30 on a weeknight. He was a little full of himself as an author; I think he was trying to be relatable, but talking about how you built some particle accelerator in your parents' garage when you were in grade school doesn't come off as charming but instead as pretentious and a little weird. Despite the little anecdotes that made me roll my eyes, I'd recommend this to anyone who is interested in technology and is looking for a few interesting tidbits for a cocktail party (I forget the exact comparison, but it's something like the computing power of your cell phone was greater than all of NASA's when they put a man on the moon for the first time. Crazy to think about, isn't it?).

5. Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

A fictional story based on the real leper colony on the island of Moloka'i, following a young Hawaiian girl who contracts leprosy and is sent there as a six year old in the 1890's, then lives there until a cure is available in her middle age.

The plot itself is a little predictable, but still well done. I didn't realize that leprosy isn't fatal in itself, so anyone who got the disease was sent away, but not necessarily to die. Leper colonies were places where people lived, sometimes for decades, carving out lives for themselves - marrying, working, having children, forming families. Some of the book is just heartbreaking; he describes many instances of families being torn apart by the disease - the six year old protagonist leaving her family, when she eventually marries and must give up her own healthy baby girl for adoption, etc. The work of missionaries was highlighted and investigated, which was interesting. What would compel someone to essentially banish themselves to help these people? And the development of a cure came as a relief to me as a reader, but as a source of confusion and anguish for the people living in this colony. Do they leave behind their lives to re-integrate into society with their visible scars and associated stigmas?

All in all, it made me think about something I had never given much thought to. And while, like I said, the plot and the characters were a little predictable and flat, it moved along nicely and the characters were generally likeable, so it was a pleasant read. A good beach read if you're looking for something a little weightier, but not so heavy as to put it in the realm of "serious classic."


  1. In fact I HAVE been waiting for this post!! I'm buying the first one for sure now, and I've been to that leper colony on Moloka'i many times, we used to moor up outside of it and swim in the bay. It's still there.

  2. I like the recommendations for airplane reads, that'll come in real handy! Maybe I should consider a library card?