Friday, February 29, 2008

What I'm Reading: Non-Fiction Binge

This past month or so, thanks to lots of doctor's appointments and some compelling text, I read a lot more books than I usually do. I went through a whole fun non-fiction binge of four terrific books.

Spelling Love with an X (A Mother, a Son, and the Gene that Binds Them) by Clare Dunsford. I'd read parts of this before, because Clare is in my writer's group, but I was glad to finally get to read the whole thing. She's a terrific writer and tells about her journey, as a mother of a son with fragile x syndrome, in a way that's both compelling and literary. Not an easy challenge, but she pulls it off. My own son has various special needs, and though they're not the same as Clare's son, JP's, I can relate closely to her experiences with doctors and diagnoses and special education classes. And the shift from an over-educated, middle-class sense of certainty and security about the future of our children, to having to stumble through life one day at a time, being forced to look at this moment and love our children for who they are right this instant. I'm grateful to Clare for writing this book and know I will return to it again in the future.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. Yet another book about boys with challenges that made me think about my own son. The boy in this case is a 6'6", 340 pound black teenager, basically abandoned to the streets of inner city Memphis, who ends up basically being adopted by a white, rich, evangelical Christian family with deep ties to college athletics (Ole Miss). (We adopted our son at a young age, unlike the boy in Lewis' book, but our son is black, we are white, and he's on track to be 6'4" and big enough to play football.) Lewis is an astounding writer, blending in details about professional football and the rise of importance of the position of left tackle , with the story of a gifted athlete who becomes highly sought after by college scouts nationwide and a family who takes him into their home and tries to protect and educate him. It's a fast read. I'm definitely going to read Michael Lewis' other books as soon as possible. I've been hearing great things about Moneyball for a long time now.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Another book about sons, really. Just as compelling as Blind Side, but Krakauer's style is so different--much more lyrical-- as he tries to puzzle out the mystery of why young Chris McCandless apparently trudged into the wilds of Alaska, poorly equipped, and starved to death. The story ends up being a lot more complex than it seems at first, and it's especially interesting to watch Krakauer pursue it, because he clearly sees himself in McCandless and feels a strong paternal protectiveness for the young man and his choices. I have no idea how they turned this into a movie, because part of what makes the book work is the disjointed narrative of Krakauer trying to pull together all the pieces, and telling us about similar adventurers in the past (and his own escapades). Still, I'll probably watch the movie, and I can't wait to read Into Thin Air.

Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food doesn't really have anything to do with sons (I tried to find a tie-in, but no luck). In a way, it doesn't cover a lot of new ground (I LOVED his Omnivore's Dilemma), but it does hit the high points about some important ways to think about food and eating (it's basically an expansion of his essay in the NY Times Magazine from last year). His main points are simple: Eat Food, Not too Much, Eat Mostly Plants. If you stick with that, you're likely to stay healthy and avoid a huge amount of stress from trying to figure out how to interpret the latest mishmash of dietary studies and fads. Luckily for us, our family has already been eating this way for the past year, so this book serves more as a support and confirmation of our efforts, rather than a challenge. It's a quick, sensible read--if you're concerned about your health and confused about how eating might fit in, this book is the place to start.

Oh, I also read Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. If you want to start a worm bin, this is worth getting from the library.

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