Tag Archives: parenting

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions‎: On Raising a Feminist

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I had a conversation with my brother a few months ago about raising kids. We talked about the challenge of instilling sensible (re: feminist) politics and circled around how that might be done. I’ll be sending him Adichie’s tiny book Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions because in it, Adichie takes this exact question – how to raise a feminist – and poses fifteen possibilities. Granted they are suggestions aimed at a woman-identified character/speaker about raising a lady-identified child, but the suggestions, edicts,  prompts nevertheless read as widely applicable. (This apparent universality is – perhaps – a point for further questioning and consideration). Continue reading

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Bone Gap: Beach Reads

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A beach read (or if you’re like me, a book you read in the shade in the general proximity to the beach, but more probably far from the beach because of Freckles and Sun and Burns) ought to accomplish a few things: it should be the sort of book that you can read a few pages of and then doze off, wake up and keep reading without entirely losing the thread of the plot; at the same it should be the sort of book that you don’t want to doze off while reading because it should have a compelling plot; it should not pander to your blockbuster whims by delivering candy characters and thematic explosions; at the same time it should not require scrupulous close reading in order to unravel or form an opinion; it should probably involve some elements of the fantastical because you are, after all, on some kind of holiday from your own life when you’re reading a beach read; at the same time, it should include no fantasy at all because you don’t really care for wizards and prefer your drama to come from everyday life (being the sun-sensitive Muggle that you are).

As you may have gathered I’m drafting my 2016 cottage reads list now (which is your invitation to send me your suggestions – post to come before July 17). Had I been drafting the list before reading Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap I’d probably have put it on the list because it fits the bill (though I hardly knew that before I started reading it). So if you’re assembling your own little “what to read while on holiday” list I’d suggest adding Bone Gap to the contenders. Why?

It’s magic realist fiction (and young adult fiction) at its finest in that it marries the imaginative other world of magic and whimsy with the harsh and heartbreaking moments so that you come away rethinking your expectations of relationships. Told from a panoply of perspectives and weaving together greek myth and decollage pop theology, the novel follows two brothers as they sort out love, life without parents (*cough* another orphan young adult fiction novel?!) and the quest (make that Quest) to save a damsel in distress (which turns out to be about saving themselves because this damsel doesn’t need saving thankyouverymuch). It has some bizzare bits with animals, talking corn and small town gossip. It is a delight of Important Themes and bursts of exquisite writing. It’s the sort of book you’re very satisfied to be reading while you’re reading it, and also sure that it won’t trouble you much once you’re done: aka: a perfect beach read.

So there you go. Read Bone Gap or don’t and you probably won’t be better or worse for either. You’ll have a good time if you read it though. And if you have an eleven year old in your life you could safely give it to them and know that you would be the Coolest for doing so (actually there’s a fair bit of mature sexual theme so maybe you’d want to be prepared for your eleven year old to blush or to Not Talk About the Sexy Bits).

Your turn: what should I read this summer? First ten suggestions get serious consideration. Though after the debacle of last summer (and 2014, and 2013) I reserve the right to ignore your suggestions if I deem them ridiculous.

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Filed under Fiction, National Book Award, Prize Winner, Young Adult Fiction

Ghost Light: How to get out of paying your taxes

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Lydia Millet’s Ghost Lights is so great. It’s funny, dark, complex. It’s a fast read. It takes on the complicated and fraught questions like what agency do we have as individuals? what are our responsibilities to our children and spouses? how do we make sense of tragedy?

*Minor spoilers to come (as in all this gets revealed in the first 40 pages*

You want more context? Sure.The book folks Hal, the IRS tax-guy, as he figures out what his life means in the present and what parts of that life he can control. Hal’s wife is cheating on him. His daughter, paralyzed after a car accident, makes her living as a phone sex… what’s the noun? operator? When Hal’s wife boss Thomas Stern (who prefers to go by T. – a choice he’s made, but can’t control sensing a theme here) goes missing in Belize, Hal decides to go and find him. After years of feeling and acting tethered to the loss of the life that could have been have been (had Casey not been paralyzed), Hal throws himself into the present. Realizes that there’s not much he can properly control. Realizes “he should not think too much. As a rule he set too much store by thinking. Or at least, complacent in the knowledge that thought was the most useful tool available to men – and one so often neglected by his fellow Americans – he relied on it to the exclusion of other ways of filtering information. Thought was the act of conscious cognition but there were alternative processes of the mind that could work around or alongside it” (77).

It’s a novel that looks at what happens when you radically shift your approach to decision making – and realize that you still can’t control anything and that ‘choice’ is entirely dependent on circumstance. Into this realization comes Hal (no accident then that Hal works for the IRS: the only things you can’t avoid in life being death and taxes) who in his effort to do something (rescue Stern, have an affair) proves the limits of choice and action: he spends good chunks of the plot passed out from drinking and having his life happen to him.

So what can you choose? What can you decide? Probably only that you should read this book. Probably not even that.

Stern has gone AWOL from running his fancy-pants company and making bazillions of dollars.

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Filed under American literature, Bestseller, Prize Winner

Adult Onset: What you need to know about being a parent (without having kids)

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I’m not a parent. Most of the significant members of my social circles have become parents in the last year or so (friends, colleagues, siblings). It’s been hard at times to be the child-less 30-something among a seemingly ever-expanding network of parents. Sure you say, they don’t stop being siblings or friends, and you’re right, they don’t, but they become something else, too. And in becoming, add to their vocabularies, stories and frames of reference experiences that I can only imagine and witness: baby-led weaning, sleep training, pumps, exhaustion and marital discord. At this point in my life I am interested in parenting in the way I am interested in filing my own taxes: I’m conscious of the merits of taking part, wary of the responsibility and the risk of fucking it up, and secretly suspicious that the claims of it being ‘so hard’ are overstated.

Anne Marie MacDonald’s Adult Onset takes up these questions about parenting by following one parent – Mary Rose – over the course of a week as she grapples with the tensions of raising kids in the particular moment of yuppy, 2014, Toronto. Okay, so the particular moment of 2014 Toronto, but also Mary Rose’s own experience as a child and how her relationship to her parents colours her self-conceptualization and realization of her own identity as a parent. That is to say, there’s a bit of past-present blurring and Mary Rose-and-her-mother blurring  throughout.

It would be oversimplified to say her understanding of parenting is ‘fraught,’ but it is. Her parents experienced miscarriages, stillbirths and the death of a child; these experiences contributed to postpartum depression that necessarily impacted the way Mary Rose experienced her own childhood and the way she conceptualized what the acceptable activities and attitudes of parents include. Mary Rose and her partner Hillary raise an adopted child and a biological child (for Hillary, but not for Mary Rose), complicating in the novel how biological connections shape – and don’t – parenting. They’re also lesbian parents in a 2014 Toronto that has legalized gay marriage and (as of yesterday) introduced gay marriage into the curriculum, but still encounter tension in the representation and construction of normalized ideas of ‘family’ and ‘parent’. Add the complications of parenting in an era of anxiety, hyper-vigilance and over-protection (I recently read and enjoyed Hanna Rosin’s “The Overprotected Kid” which is well worth a read if you’re interested in how surveillance culture is impacting parenting norms). Add to that the week depicted is one in which Mary Rose must parent “alone” as Hillary is away.

I’d probably have enjoyed Adult Onset a lot more if I wasn’t currently surrounded by new parents. Don’t get me wrong – I love the babies in my life and the parents raising them. I don’t mind – in fact, I usually enjoy – hearing about teething, naps, day care and the toll it takes on the body.  At the moment I’m invited to watch and to listen the transformation and power of parenting in my real life, and so the opportunity to do the same in a novel is – while beautifully rendered, full of complication and nuance, exceptional writing and strong characters – not immediately exciting. But it was a great read and will – no doubt – lend itself to a rich discussion at the next book club (where, yes, I’m the only non-parent).

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