I’ve been on a pretty good reading streak lately, and it’s time to give a little update on the bookishness.
Mostly literary fiction/novels, which definitely explains why I have been able to read so quickly. I love non-fiction, but it always takes me way, way longer.
Let’s get to it!
China Court by Rumer Godden
This book was really interesting and a really good read. I’ve already read several of Godden’s novels and had heard good things about this one from Like Mother, Like Daughter. It basically tells the story of three generations of a family living in a country house called China Court. Godden uses tenses very interestingly to give a sense of the passage of time– when writing about the present-day characters, she writes in the past tense, but when writing about all the family members from the generations past, she writes in present tense. It took me a little while to get used to, but then it became really natural, and almost felt like I was watching a home video of the family members, where all the action is happening right there in real time. Godden includes a detailed family tree at the back of the book, and warns the readers that at first we may have trouble keeping up with all the different people and names, but that eventually we will just go, “Oh, that’s so and so, the daughter of so and so and sister of so and so,” and everyone will be all lined up in their correct generation. It’s absolutely true. By about a third of the way in, I knew all the characters, and no longer needed to consult the family tree. By jumping back and forth through time and the different family members’ stories, you eventually get the whole picture of all the mundane and monumental events that made up the life of the family at China Court.
You will like this book if you enjoy:
-The Liturgy of the Hours (the chapters are structured after the main hours in the Divine Office)
-Rare and ancient books (the present-day plot turns on the family’s connection with a collection of them)
-arranged marriages (kidding. Kind of.)
-complicated family histories/drama
-English countryside, beautiful gardens, old houses
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
This one wasn’t my favorite, but definitely had some beautiful passages and ideas to ruminate upon. It’s written in the first person as a memoir of an elderly Congregationalist minister, writing letters to his seven year old son (he marries in his sixties). He recounts different memories of his life growing up in a small town in Iowa– his family members, his close friends, the townspeople, the wars, the Depression– peppered throughout with his meditations on various spiritual matters. It’s a peaceful book, not necessarily a page-turner, and Robinson definitely masters the character of a seventy-something year old man.
Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman
Here’s a little non-fiction to spice things up! I’d heard a lot of buzz about this one and wanted to see what it was all about. The author is a journalist who becomes in ex-pat in Paris and ends up having and raising her three kids there. She goes on a mission to determine why French children seem so well-behaved and disciplined and how French moms seems so relaxed and poised. Overall, of course, she makes a lot of sweeping generalities (I mean, all French kids aren’t going to be like Parisian French kids, and there is probably a lot more variation in parenting than what she encounters) and she skews towards claiming that the French way of parenting is de facto superior.
I did find some of her observations really compelling and interesting, and they seem to align with basic common sense as well as other parenting/child development theories, like Montessori:
– give babies and kids a very firm cadre, or structure. French kids learn to wait for things like food (they only snack once between meals around 4:30), and their parents’ attention (they are told to wait while parents are talking to other adults or doing something). Within that cadre they are given a lot of freedom: they eat their daily sweet or chocolate (at the 4:30 snack), play at the park without parents hovering, and supposedly even have a “little kid” curse word that they are permitted to say in certain settings (it’s loosely translated as poop sausage….).
– there’s a huge emphasis on teaching babies and kids to delay gratification, lest you end up a with “child king” who rules the entire family. You definitely do see this all the time in America, but supposedly in France, it’s very uncommon, she claims. The French parents teach their children patience in little situations to build up their tolerance for frustration and reduce tantrums and outbursts. Parents hold the authority always, and will often tell their kids directly, “It’s I who will decide.” They have no problem firmly telling their kids “no” and expecting to be obeyed. Druckerman observes that this is an underlying assumption that French parents have (as opposed to American parents who tend to not want to be “too harsh” or will get into complicated negotiation sessions with their kids over disagreements), and that it works: French kids learn to just obey, because parents mean what they say.
-French kids are not given “kid food” but rather begin their culinary adventures with things like fish, Brie and Camembert, and every vegetable imaginable. Lunch at the creches (day cares) consist of four courses every day. French parents basically assume their children will learn to have non-picky palettes if they let them try lots of different things right off the bat, and they keep on trying them if the kid doesn’t like it the first time. They are horrified by the idea of boxed mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and all the typical “kid food” we think of here. It just doesn’t exist there. And because they haven’t been snacking every 1.5 hours, they are really hungry and eat their meals. Makes sense.
There were also several sections that I found a little crazy, like the baby sleep chapter. Apparently, French parents expect their babies to be sleeping straight through the night from 2 months onward. I suspect there is a strong correlation between the insanely low breastfeeding rate and this sleep phenomenon, but the breastfeeding moms claim their babies sleep too.
Druckerman discovers that the parents use “The Pause,” in which they wait a few minutes when the baby cries, to see if he will put himself back to sleep, and in this way babies learn to self-soothe early on. I think that’s totally fine, but I also know from experience that it doesn’t guarantee that your child will either fall asleep on her own OR become a great sleeper automatically. This phenomenon is also greatly driven by the fact that almost every mother in Paris goes back to work by 2-3 months, so they say the baby “knows their Mom needs to get up the next morning, so they just learn to sleep all night.” Right. If only my babies knew I needed to, you know, function like a human being the next morning, and would just sleep through the night!
I do agree with their premise that babies need to be taught how to fall asleep and that it’s a hugely necessary thing for the entire family, but I still think 2-3 months is pretty dang early to do that.
Anyway, it’s a light-hearted read that will make you think about parenting assumptions we have in America, and whether or not they’re necessarily good. It’s always interesting to observe what another culture does and glean their best practices.
What are you reading lately?? I’m always up for more recommendations!