Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

Book Review: French Twist by Catherine Crawford

January 5th, 2019

Catherine Crawford was raising her children to be spoiled brats until she discovered, almost entirely by chance, that there was another way.

She had invited another family over for dinner and was shocked to find that this family’s kids were polite, helpful, and actually pleasant to be around.

This family happened to be French, which tickled the Francophile Crawford’s fancy, and next thing you know Crawford was trying a radical(ish) experiment in French parenting.

It’s just the sort of thing I usually like. A parenting memoir-slash-project memoir. Except I couldn’t make myself like Crawford, her children, or the French.

Now, I realize that Brooklyn parenting is a whole lot different than Middle-American parenting – but I find it hard to believe Crawford really needed to go French to learn that she is the boss (not her kids.) Just about anyone who works with children could tell her that structure works wonders for children. And the importance of family meals? Seriously? You didn’t know that?

Surely Crawford’s Catholic parents, having raised nine of their own children, could have told her that you don’t raise pleasant children by bargaining with them and rewarding them with toys every time they do something that most people would consider common courtesy. But no, Crawford must go French.

And then there’s how the French apparently actually parent. They drink alcohol while pregnant. They don’t breastfeed (at least, not for longer than three months). They shame their kids. Schoolteachers rank their students on a daily basis and announce those rankings to the class. Parents aren’t welcome at school. Their job is to make sure kids get homework done, period.

Eh, I’ll pass.

Rating: 2 stars
Category: Parenting Memoir
Synopsis: The author attempts to turn around her parenting by applying “French” advice.
Recommendation: I didn’t hate reading this, but I clearly didn’t like it either. Skip it.

Book Review: It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather B. Armstrong

October 26th, 2015

Just to show how un-blog-savvy I am, I had no idea who Heather B. Armstrong was until I read a news article (by chance) about how famous people were leaving social media. Armstrong was cited as an example. Apparently, she was fired from a job for talking unfavorably about her workplace on her blog – and then became a wildly successful “mommy blogger.”

Even having read this article, I had completely forgotten who Armstrong was by the time I picked up her book (maybe a week later?) because it was in a Dewey Decimal section I was working my way through (306.8743 – mostly memoirs or sociological treatments of motherhood). It wasn’t until I saw “creator of” under her name that I remembered the article I’d read.

So I entered this memoir of motherhood with few preconceptions.

First impressions: Heather Armstrong is NOT A MORMON. This is the defining feature of her life. Every page of this memoir screams out her insistence that she is NOT A MORMON any longer. Even if her family is all Mormon and she lives in Utah and she went to BYU. She is NOT A MORMON any longer. Lest anyone start thinking she’s a Mormon mommy blogger and uncool, she must remind them that she drinks alcohol (NOT A MORMON!), listens to cool bands at cigarette-smoke-filled bars (where all the other people in Salt Lake City who are NOT A MORMON! are), curses like a sailor (NOT A MORMON!), and doesn’t wear holy underwear (NOT A MORMON!)

Hearing Armstrong declare (implicitly and explicitly) that she is NOT A MORMON! was exhausting. I wanted her to tell me something about who she was that would make me like her. Does she have interests, beliefs, passions, personality traits of her own? I couldn’t tell. It seemed like she only stood against, never for. Yes, plenty a memoirist drinks, goes to live concerts in bars, curses, and dresses immodestly – and sometimes I still manage to like them. But in order for me to like an alcohol-obsessed, rock-concert-going, cussing, immodest memoirist, they have to tell me something real about themselves – about who they ARE, not just who they AREN’T. I wasn’t a fan.

And then there was Armstrong’s tendency towards hyperbole. She just positively eats up her baby – slathers her with butter and jam and eats her up. And motherhood is absolutely the most awful thing ever and she throws things at her husband when he walks in the door from work because he’s done something other than try to entertain a baby all day and how dare he get her pregnant in the first place. Motherhood is awful, awful, awful, she says (and then goes off on eating her baby again.)

The thing is, nothing she was describing about her own situation sounded that awful to me. Her baby smiled at her at one month. Her baby slept through the night (12 hours!) at three months. My baby didn’t smile at me until three months and still hasn’t slept twelve hours. Armstrong complained about naptimes and how they have to be just right and blah-blah-blah-blah. My baby gave up napping the same time she started sleeping eight hours (about 3 weeks ago). But you don’t see me whining and complaining that it sucks and then I cried. Yes, I probably complain more than I ought – but I also recognize that this is how life with a baby goes, so sometimes I stop my whining and just do what needs to be done.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered somewhere around month six of Baby Armstrong’s life that Armstrong has actually been clinically depressed all this time and is now checking herself into a psychiatric hospital because she’s afraid her husband will leave her if she doesn’t get a grip on things!

What? She’s not just a whiner? Something is actually wrong with her? See, I assumed that all the awfulness of her really-not-very-awful experience caring for a new baby was hyperbole to balance out all that hyperbole about sweet-smelling baby whose smiles seem straight from heaven-that-I-don’t-believe-in and who I eat up every day with a side of caramel sauce.

Maybe that’s saying more about me than about her. But I think maybe it also says something about her writing. She couldn’t tell her story well enough that I could figure out that she was experiencing something more than just what every mother experiences?

So, yeah. I wasn’t a fan.

Rating: 1 star
Category: Memoir of motherhood
Synopsis: Armstrong is NOT A MORMON. Turns out, she’s not just a crazy hyperbolist who whines more than is necessary. She’s actually suffering from rather severe postpartum depression and anxiety. Bummer she couldn’t have somehow communicated that to the reader before she commits herself to a psychiatric hospital.
Recommendation: Nothing redeeming in this one. Skip it.

Book Review: Thank You, Dr. Lamaze by Marjorie Karmel

August 18th, 2015

Marjorie Karmel had no intention of reading Grantley Dick-Reed’s Childbirth without Fear, which a friend had pressed into her hands at a dinner party. Marjorie wasn’t afraid of childbirth. She’d be out, after all.

But when she was desperately seasick on her trip back from New York to France, she picked up the book and started reading, fascinated. The book brought up all sorts of repressed memories (a terrible story of her mom’s delivery of her, a friend who’d told her about her own not-so-pleasant delivery, all previously forgotten) but also gave her hope for another way.

She asked around in Paris, searching for a doctor who’d be willing to let her try a natural childbirth – and found Dr. Lamaze.

Dr. Lamaze practiced a form of “Pavlovian childbirth”, based on Ivan Pavlov’s conditioned reflexes. Apparently, this form of childbirth was popular in the Soviet Union – but Lamaze advanced the technique, adding certain breathing methods and whatnot.

In Thank You, Dr. Lamaze, Marjorie Karmel writes of the wonderful experience she had giving birth to her first child in a Parisian hospital with a monitrice (doula) who’d taught her the Lamaze techniques and Dr. Lamaze attending – and she tells of using that same technique to give birth naturally in a New York hospital with much less natural-childbirth-friendly practices (and practitioners.)

I raced through this memoir, finding it absolutely fascinating.

Why? What was so interesting?

Well, the first is obvious. I love the process of birthing, love learning about the process of birthing. I wanted to be a midwife when I was a kid. I’d still love to be a midwife. It’s amazing.

But beyond that, it was interesting because it was a story of birthing practices at a certain point in time – and was a story that sparked significant changes in how birthing is done in America. It is through Karmel’s “ASPO” (American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics), now called “Lamaze International”, that things like having your husband present during labor and delivery became mainstream in America. Yet some of the aspects of how Karmel gave birth have been rejected by modern natural childbirth organizations, including Lamaze International.

Another interesting aspect was hearing about Karmel’s experience trying out a “natural childbirth course” at an American hospital. The class was led by a facilitator rather than a teacher – and the facilitator kept pointing out how every woman is different (and therefore there aren’t any general principles for women to learn to help them understand the process) and how medications will always be available if needed. The bulk of the class ended up being women talking about their past experiences or expected experiences – with very little learning about the actual process of birth or of ways to deal with it. I thought Karmel’s description was fascinating, because I feel like I’ve heard about that same class – except taught in these days :-)

It’s a short book, an easy read, and interesting to people like me. :-)

Rating:4 stars
Category: Birth Memoir
Synopsis: Karmel shares her story of giving birth naturally in a Paris hospital with Dr. Lamaze’s techniques – and of applying the same techniques in a New York hospital with less aware attendants.
Recommendation: Definitely worth reading for those who enjoy this sort of thing

Book Review: Cut, Stapled, and Mended by Roanna Rosewood

June 17th, 2015

The first chapter includes a sex scene, bodily possession, and a token reference to “a woman’s right to choose”. So I think it’s safe to say that Roanna Rosewood and I have very different philosophies of life.

The rest of this VBAC memoir confirmed that. From the beginning I was inclined to not like Rosewood very much. I felt somewhat heartened when she told the reader that though she’d been raised in the mystic spirituality of the hippy 60’s, she had considered it useless as an adult – but she quickly found that particular brand of spirituality again. Rosewood also has a antipathy towards doctors that transferred from her hippy heritage – one that I don’t share (I’m squarely in the Western medical establishment – I just believe that for the majority of cases, childbirth is not a medical event.) Furthermore, Rosewood has a complete lack of discernment regarding alternate practitioners.

The short of Rosewood’s story is that she intended to have a homebirth but didn’t prepare her body at all because childbirth is natural and why did she need to learn about it? Her waters broke to start labor, but then labor piddled around for days until her midwife insisted that she did indeed need to go to the hospital. There, she received a c-section. She felt great failure, didn’t bond with her baby, etc. etc. I felt like she set herself up for what she got.

Determined to have a home VBAC, Rosewood threw herself into physical preparation and childbirth education. She learned the stats and became one of those annoying VBAC proponents (yes, I say this with tongue in cheek). She actually learned about the stages of labor and management techniques this time around. She walked like her midwife encouraged her to so she could have some strength and stamina when labor rolled around. And she engaged in every quack therapy you can think of (and some you can’t think of).

Her second labor followed the first’s example, and she ended up with a second c-section. This one was better, because she knew what to expect and had done some things to prepare. She had skin to skin, got started breastfeeding more quickly, etc. But it was still failure.

She didn’t plan to get pregnant the third time, it was an accident born of “goddess sex”. And she didn’t plan on keeping the baby, she just kept putting off taking the Plan B her doctor had prescribed. What she did plan was a home birth, acting expressly against the policy of the OB she was also seeing, in case she needed to deliver in the hospital. This pregnancy actually seemed more medically risky – she bled clots early on and had various other scary signs – but this time she did some inner work in addition to the physical stuff. She discovered that she was a bitter woman who pushed other women away, that she had never learned how to relax and just be, etc. So she went on a voyage of emotional and relational discovery (including a “goddess week” in Hawaii). Then she had a successful home birth when her inner goddess pushed for her.

I don’t recommend this story. Rosewood is a flake. Both her methods and her beliefs are highly suspect.

Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a takeaway. The truth is, childbirth isn’t simply a physical thing. A woman’s mind and emotions do impact the progression of labor – and it’s important to not ignore that. Relationship with your labor support is important. Having a goal beyond “not failing again” is important.

That said, there are many differences between Rosewood’s sections and mine. I do not feel my c-section was a failure. It was not forced on me, I chose it. While Rosewood experienced a very difficult labor after premature rupture of membranes, I never went into labor. Rosewood’s initial experience of premature rupture of membranes followed by stop and go labor was repeated in each of her pregnancies. At present, I have never gone through labor and have no reason to expect that my labor should not proceed normally.

I will be preparing for my first labor and delivery, which just happens to be after a c-section. Rosewood was trying to correct what she’d done wrong in her first labor and delivery in order to avoid the undesirable outcome she had. It’s a very different experience – and one that causes us to have very different mindsets from the outset.

Rating: 1 star
Category: Childbirth memoir
Synopsis: Rosewood tries for a home VBAC twice – and learns that childbirth isn’t just physical.
Recommendation: I don’t recommend it.

Book Review: “Beaten, Seared and Sauced” by Jonathon Dixon

September 13th, 2011

Martha Stewart, The Cooking Channel, and Food Network have made foodies of us all.

Okay, so we haven’t all become food snobs, but the ranks of food-o-philes have certainly swelled.

For many of us, that means we salivate over cookbooks, avidly watch cooking shows, and indulge our imaginary gluttony via online recipe blogs. Some of us clip those recipes and give them a try in our own kitchens, purchasing flavored vinegars and exotic spices, trying new varieties of vegetables and grains; while others of us only dream of the luxuries of saffron and quinoa and goose.

Jonathan Dixon has been a foodie for years, enjoying cooking in the privacy of his own home while passing through a collection of dead end jobs. He dreams of being a better cook, and even takes some cooking classes; but he’s still pretty discontent with his life.

Then a family friend urges him forward. Why not enroll in chef school? Why not just do it?

And so, on the cusp of his thirty-eighth birthday, Jonathan takes the plunge and enrolls in the prestigious Culinary Institute of America.

Beaten, Seared, and Sauced is Jonathan’s memoirs of his experience of becoming a CIA chef.

This book appealed to my inner foodie and made me itch to go back to school myself-except not.

I loved hearing all about how the student chefs learned to cut a perfect dice and make a perfect bechamel. I loved reading of how they learned to tell by touch whether a roast chicken was done. I loved that they learned how to determine when a piece of produce is perfectly ripe.

I want that knowledge. I want those skills.

But I definitely don’t want to go to culinary school.

Dixon’s memoir makes that perfectly obvious.

Culinary school is a mess of sleeplessness, yelling instructors, and hard-to-get-along-with class/work-mates. It’s intense.

And this girl is reaching the age where she’d fit the “non-trad” bill–and Dixon’s difficulties with his (younger) fellow students and with assimilating rapid-fire data already start to hit home. I’m too old to go back to school–at least, too old to go back to that sort of school.

So I’ll indulge my fantasies vicariously, through Dixon’s memoir–and keep dreaming of someday embarking upon a self-study program to give myself even just a fraction of the skill Dixon describes.

As a food person, an avid learner, and project memoir junkie, I greatly enjoyed this memoir. My guess is that fellow foodies and/or project memoir lovers will enjoy it as well.

Rating: 3 stars
Category:Project Memoir
Synopsis:38 year old Jonathon Dixon chronicles his experience of becoming a chef at the Culinary Institue of America
Recommendation: If you’re a food junkie and/or a project memoir lover, you’ll probably enjoy this title. If neither of those is quite up your alley, this book probably isn’t either.

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