Book updates

Of late I have noticed that I don’t have much time to read. This is rather surprising because no matter what, I used to have a lot of time to read but apparently having a baby ensures your time goes down a black hole (an elaborate post on that some other time).

Not to mention sometimes, the baby-related reading you have to do just to make sure that you are not screwing up big time itself takes up time. Before Bobo started solids, I had to quickly read Gill Rapely’s Baby Led Weaning. My child guru N explained the concept, gave me the book and all I had to do was to actually read and implement. Unfortunately right around that time I also laid my hands on The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I seriously contemplated postponing starting solids so I could finish Oscar Wao but luckily for Bobo, things did not turn out to be so dire and I managed to read enough Gill Rapely to figure out how to feed him his carrots at exactly six months.

Oscar Wao is not exactly hero material. He is fat and dorkish and while he loves women, he is never loved by them, atleast not in the romantic sense. Coupled with the fact that he belongs to the Dominican Republican community where the men and women are apparently going at it all the time, Oscar is not exactly in a happy place. But boy does he try! There is also a thread that takes us back in time to a story that shows the worst of the Trujillo regime. Gripping and well told, the book was an excellent insight into what life was back then and how it goes now for people of Dominican Republic. While the book is meant to be narrated in the voices of different people, at times they sound the same. That is a minor quibble though and the voice itself speaks such a charming, colloquial lingo that you don’t mind too much.

Keeping with the mood, I decided to plunge into A Feast of the Goat by Maria Vargos Llosa. A friend of a friend had recommended it and it lay awaiting its day in my book shelf. This one again takes us between the past and the present of Dominican Republic. The past recounts the last few weeks of the Trujillo regime, especially the preparations for Trujillo’s assassination. I am not sure how many authors could have successfully pulled off telling us about the personal motives and foibles of the assassins and how the aftermath evolves. You get a cold reality check on how politics plays its role the entire way. In the present, Urania Cabral comes from the U.S. to Santo Domingo after a self-imposed life-long exile and tries to come to terms with her past. While Junot is good, Llosa is brilliant. The latter did win the Nobel prize after all!

Both these books bring to light how a dictatorship works and how people survive in one and the price they pay for it. Suffice to say it is horrid. They also told me the history of a nation whose existence I was not particularly concerned with. But it is a history worth knowing just so we are reminded again why one man should not be given too much power. 

I managed to read a bit of non-fiction, something I usually don’t do. Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman tells us how the French bring up their children. Druckerman quits her successful career as a journalist, marries a Briton and moves to Paris. She has two kids during her stay and documents her perspectives on the French method of parenting. It is an interesting enough book and provides insights into how the French are sane about the role of children in their lives. Unlike the Americans, they apparently do not change their lives to revolve around their kids. Instead they fit their kids into their lives. This seemed sensible to me. Especially the parts about it being ok to put children in day care, giving them a variety of foods and permitting them some leeway to do mischief. Except Druckerman seems to think that the French can do no wrong. She gently wonders why most of them don’t breast feed for a longer time despite evidence that breastfeeding is good. She is quite ok with French women having lower expectations from their husbands when it comes to child rearing and household work, since that maintains the peace in the house (Thank you for taking us back to the dark ages!). I think this book would have been better had it taken a more balanced approach but it is still a decent read. Especially if you are a mother whose life does not revolve around her kid/s 24/7 and wants to hear about a culture which is ok with this behaviour.

Then it was onto Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, a book that seems to have got more bad press than really necessary. Taken as another voice to the debate on how to help women make progress in the professional world, it has a few points to make. The book focusses mostly on what women can do to help their own cause. I agree with a lot of her points. I have seen women be less ambitious and aggressive than men. I have seen women not ask for the same degree of pay hike and promotions. I have seen women who view their output more poorly than men even if they have done better. I had a conversation with my mentee last year, who did well at work, went to B-School and did well there as well and then told me that she wanted to take a job that would help her achieve a balance in life. I completely agree one needs balance in life but I also strongly think that there can be no preconceptions of how that balance will work for any particular individual. Women cut themselves short thinking of establishing a balance even before they have figured out what their potential is and how ambitious they are. Whereas men just start off ambitious and then cut back as they figure out where they fit.

Most of this happens at entry levels and I guess those women who stay in the race usually become more aware of these follies and start taking a conscious effort to do better. But this journey of self-discovery takes time and it is handy to have a book like this to remind women that they can indeed do better.

Sandberg however addresses the systemic issues that women face in a very peripheral manner and that is indeed a shortcoming of the book. Especially considering her clout she could have spent some more pages on this topic. But seriously, I would recommend this as reading to women who work. If you are putting in those eight or ten hours, then you may as well figure out how to make the most out of it.

Then there was the random book I picked up in the airport. David Nicholls' One Day which came with a blurb heaping high praise on it. The book tells us the story of Dexter and Emma over a period of twenty years, from the time they are undergrads. It describes beautifully both of their evolutions from their college persona. Dexter, charming and clever, is all set to be a big success. Feminist and a bit of a commie, Emma is constantly viewing success as a threat to her core principles. As the years pass, they both grow up and learn a lot about life. You can clearly see how well suited they are to each other and can also empathise with why they are never in the same phase of life. The dialogues are interesting and the warmth of their friendship comes out nicely. You can see a bit of yourself or your friends in the phases they go through. The ending is a bit dramatic though and I thought was rather an anti-climax to an otherwise realistic story. A good holiday read. 

Incidentally Bobo seems to be developing an interest in books. Right now his love for devouring them is mostly conveyed by him literally devouring them. Most of the expensive books we bought for him are already well chewed and may not last to the point where he actually enjoys books for what they are and not merely as teething tools. The other day however, he sat on my lap and patiently listened while I read The Hungry Caterpillar. No grabbing and putting it straight into his mouth. Either he was very sleepy or he may actually be developing an interest in story telling. I suspect it is the former but I will take what we get


Priyanthi said...

Heard and read quite a bit about bringing up bebe, but always figured I'd read it after I actually have one..... Reading "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman". It's a series of incidents from the physicist's life told in the first person. Good time pass and I must say he is quite an interesting character!

Anita said...

Priyanthi - yup, read that one. Very nice. THen I got overambitious and bought 'Six Easy Pieces' by Feynman. There were not easy.