A humble little blog about books, information, and other things that are good to know.

Posts tagged ‘non-fiction’

Childism

Title: Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children

Author: Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

Year of Publication: 2012

Genre Keywords: abuse, children, child abuse, child protection, domestic violence, emotional abuse, narcissism, neglect, non-fiction, parenting, prejudice, psychology, sexual abuse, sociology, violence, witch hunts.

Summary: In our culture, adults tend to understand children as the property of their parents, wild and uncivilized creatures who must be made to submit to authority rather than nurtured to fulfill some innate potential. The essential thesis of the book is that child abuse is a symptom of these larger prejudices, which are one point on the continuum that leads from responsible caregiving into abusive behaviour. The author, a trained and certified psychoanalyst, uses her observations of real abuse victims and of well-known studies in Child Abuse and Neglect to make the case that protecting children from abuse requires us to consider and challenge our beliefs about the nature of the child.

Who’ll Love It: Anybody who cares deeply about children will want to at least consider the idea that we interact with them more as possessions to be shown off, pets to be trained, than as real human beings. (Sure, they’re works in progress, but aren’t we all?) Fans of psychoanalytic theory and of topics in Prejudice Studies (like racism and sexism) will definitely appreciate Young-Bruehl’s approach. If your first reaction, however, was “Well, kids are wild animals who require strict discipline to become grown-up people”, you might want to start off with books on child development, investigating the educational and emotional needs of children as they grow. I also recommend How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish; I consider it the definitive guide to treating children with respect while still providing appropriate guidance and boundaries. I basically have it memorized.

Reality Check: Young-Bruehl definitely makes a point of restricting the scope of her book; she discusses childism primarily in the concept of child abuse and its psychological ramifications. But there are so many different places to apply the theory of childism. Consider child beauty pageants, where children are dressed up and made to perform like show dogs, and the related phenomenon of “stage parents“. How about the controversy over prescribing medication to make children more manageable in the classroom? Or the juvenile detention laws in your jurisdiction? These are just a few examples, but the exploration can go on in countless directions anywhere you find children. What examples of childism do you see around you?

Want a first taste of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s ideas about our social prejudices against children? This interview makes a great introduction to her writings on childism and its relationship to child abuse.

Rapture Ready

Cover art for Rapture Ready by Daniel Radosh

Image via DangerousMinds.net.

Title: Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture

Author: Daniel Radosh

Year of Publication: 2008

Genre Keywords: Bibles, business, Christianity, conservatism, creationism, cultural anthropology, music, non-fiction, politics, religion, theatre, travel.

Summary: Daniel Radosh – a non-believer of Jewish extraction – travels across America to investigate the far reaches of Christian culture. The result of his journeys is this collection of loosely-linked adventures. Meet the sellers of kitschy “Jesus junk”; learn how the Bible continues to be a best-seller even when every Christian’s got one; dance the night away at a Christian purity ball; rock out to the best of contemporary Christian music; investigate the historical anti-Semitism of the Passion Play; ride a dinosaur at Kentucky’s Creation Museum; and get the hell scared out of you (literally, the Christians hope) at a Christian haunted house where evangelizing gets graphic. While many people in the book come across as rigid and doctrinaire, the warmth of the story comes from the few genuine, thoughtful individuals Radosh meets: Christians genuinely grappling with the realities that accompany their beliefs, and trying to engage with broader culture through a Christian lens.

Who’ll Love It: This is a fantastic introduction to fundamentalism, and I say that as someone who has been following Christian culture in America with some interest. If you’ve never encountered the God Squad in the U.S. of A., you’ll get a broad-based view of them here. The book may highlight some of the kookier elements (like the Christian variant of World Wrestling Entertainment!) but it does so in a light, mostly-loving way. Judgment isn’t Radosh’s aim here, which is what gives the book its charm. Avid fundamentalist-watchers will find lots to love here as well, even if they’re already familiar with Answers in Genesis, Christian music, or Left Behind. The conversations with more nuanced thinkers within Christian culture will both inspire and challenge the reader. And I was absolutely riveted by an intensely personal scene in which Radosh, whose children were born through IVF, confronts a pro-life pamphleteer after reading his argument against artificial insemination.

Want More? Christian culture is so fascinating, it can get pretty addictive. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of it on the Internet. If you want to get to know the Creation Museum, check out their ministry at Answers in Genesis. If you liked reading about the Cornerstone music festival, you can find out more about this year’s event. If you were fascinated by the alternate realities of Left Behind and Hell Houses, you should know they were ripped straight from the pages of Chick Tracts. Keep up with the chastity movement at Chastity.com, get political about abortion at LifeSite News, or get it on – but only if you’re married! – with sex advice from the Christian Nymphos. Then, once you’ve found your favourite flavour of fundamentalism, hit Google to see what else you can find out there! (Be sure to comment, so everybody at Bookshelf of the Mind can follow what you’ve found.)

Denying History

“Where everyone’s opinion is equal to everyone else’s opinion, no one’s opinion matters.”

Denying History by Michael Shermer & Alex Grobman

Image via Skeptic Magazine.

Title: Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?

Author: Michael Shermer & Alex Grobman

Year of Publication: 2000

Genre Keywords: censorship, evidence, free speech, history, Holocaust, Holocaust denial, ideology, logic, Nazism, neo-Nazism, scholarship, skepticism.

Summary: A smart and readable book about the phenomenon of modern Holocaust denial, written by two authors committed to the accurate understanding and portrayal of history. They begin by warning against silencing the people who deny that the Holocaust took place – instead, they argue persuasively, it’s best to place the beliefs of Holocaust deniers under a microscope, to seek flaws in logic and ideological motivations. There is a factual truth in history, and only by exposing the truth can we defeat the lies and misrepresentations of deniers.

Shermer and Grobman then go on to discuss the Holocaust denial movement’s ideological underpinnings – who says the Holocaust never happened and why they say it. (They also go into how Holocaust deniers use logical fallacies and twist the evidence to suit their purposes by outlining the deniers’ main arguments.) Then they go into the historical evidence to examine the major tenets of Holocaust denial: the ideas that concentration camps were not used for extermination, that the extermination of Jews was not a part of Hitler’s plan, and that the number exterminated was less than six million or even one million. As most of us would probably expect, they find that the majority of evidence disproves the deniers’ claims.

Who’ll Love It: Any readers concerned with the Holocaust have probably already decided they want to read this book. But more broadly, those interested in truth and misinformation – and how people with an agenda can manipulate the truth to spread bad information – should definitely look at this.

A Question for Librarians: The issue of free speech in this case is complicated enough that Shermer & Grobman could have written the entire book on just that question alone. It’s an issue that arises in library studies as well. Most of us agree with the authors’ persuasive point that misinformation is best defeated by an honest, careful study of the evidence, not by censoring deniers’ views. After all, censorship gives their ideas a power they don’t deserve. But on the other hand, would you put Holocaust deniers’ books on the shelves of your library? Would you give them a platform? And if they argued that your refusal to make their ideas accessible amounted to a form of passive censorship, what would you say?

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

Image via Women's Day.

Title: The Happiness Project: or, Why I Spent A Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

Author: Gretchen Rubin

Year of Publication: 2009

Genre Keywords: experiment, happiness (obvi), memoir, non-fiction, philosophy, psychology, self-help.

Summary: Gretchen Rubin wanted to maximize her enjoyment of a life that was hectic and sometimes frustrating but otherwise non-problematic. But she knew she didn’t have the luxury of abandoning her family and moving to Bali, nor would she want to. Instead, she designed a self-help experiment based on all the expert knowledge she could find on maximizing happiness right where she was. Focusing on one area (money, leisure, parenting, etc.) each month, she started trying to make the changes that would increase her joy in the life she was living.

Who’ll Love It: Anyone who suspects that the life they’re leading should yield more happiness than what they actually feel. Because the wisdom of Rubin’s plan is at heart more about changing your attitude than changing your circumstances, it can apply well to anybody who wants to maximize their enjoyment of life. Very cynical types might be turned off by Rubin’s efforts to look on the bright side, but she writes with enough honesty about her grumbly nature that nothing she said came across as particularly preachy.

Inspiration Alert: Plenty of readers have started their own happiness projects as a result of reading about this one. In fact, I’m hoping to have a happiness project in 2011! You can learn more at Rubin’s Happiness Project website. But don’t forget, just like no two people are quite alike, everybody’s Happiness Project is different – be yourself!

The Story of Tibet

Cover image of 'The Story of Tibet' by Thomas Laird

Image courtesy of The Tibet Connection.

Title: The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama

Author: Thomas Laird

Year of Publication: 2006

Genre Keywords: Asian history, Buddhism, cultural studies, Dalai Lama, history, politics,  religion.

Summary: Throughout a series of interviews, Thomas Laird came to understand the history of Tibet from the perspective of the Dalai Lama, starting with the country’s myths of origin and moving all the way into the twentieth-century controversies over Chinese occupation. Laird interweaves historical and political source material with the Dalai Lama’s own words and ideas, which often combine the spiritual and the political for a unique perspective on Tibet’s place in the world and his own role in moving his nation forward.

Who’ll Love It: A thoughtful reader with an interest in Asian or Buddhist thought, history, and culture. The Story of Tibet is hardly a quick read – actually it took me an unusually long time to finish – but it was well worth the effort for somebody fascinated by the Dalai Lama and his Buddhist outlook on life. Throughout the story, he supplies an unusual take on history that really spoke to me. I’m moved by the challenge of eliciting change without resorting to violence, and the ways our own media and social system makes that difficult.

The Quotable Lama: “I believe truth has its own strength and we must retain our faith in truth. Of course guns have their own unique strength. But the strength or force of a gun is short or temporary. Temporarily it is decisive, but in the long run it is weak. The power of truth stands up. Truth always remains unchangeable.” (The Story of Tibet contains lots of little gems like this one.)

Brainy Beach-Reading

This blog entry is dedicated to the Zigar family, who graciously hosted us and our friends throughout the weekend and generously offered me the use of their refrigerator.

"Beach Blues" by Mimi McCallum

Picture by Mimi McCallum. Click to check out more of McCallum's warm and evocative artwork.

I spent the weekend in cottage country – Ipperwash Beach, to be exact – and, predictably, when I wasn’t floating on Lake Huron or toasting marshmallows and singing “Sweet Caroline”, I was sprawled out on a beach blanket reading. I wasn’t the only one. As many librarians know, the reading public is drawn to the concept of the beach read: the fun, fluffy fiction that melds reading and relaxing when you’re taking your summer vacation. (Check out some fairly typical recommendations here and here, or hit Google with the search term “beach reads”.)

When you think about a beach read, you’re usually not thinking about a particularly heavy story; hot summer days don’t need bulky clothes, big meals, or dragging stories to weigh them down. They’re usually short paperbacks, easy to rest in your lap or hold up as a shield from the sun. (My selection this weekend was an exception: Stephen King’s Under the Dome weighs about as much as my cat, and doctors have recommended that I avoid lifting it. My cottage-country companions nicknamed it “Under the Tome”.) Beach reads aren’t usually the kind of stories you want to overthink – never mind deeper meanings or profound life lessons. Nobody wants to overheat their brain any more than necessary under the hot July sun.

Or do they?

The hot trend at Ipperwash Beach this summer seems to be all about expanding your cranium. When it comes to fiction, the classics are back in fashion. Instead of the latest crime thrillers and bodice-rippers, I caught my companions stretched out in lawn chairs with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. It’s rare to think of non-fiction as material for beach reads, but even that was drifting around. I caught friends toting paperbacks about Kantian metaphysics (really!) and perusing the latest issue of Scientific American, with stories on brain research and climate change.

I’ve got nothing against fun, fluffy fiction. Snobbery has no place in librarianship, or in life; you could miss out on great life lessons by assuming there’s nothing you can possibly learn from a James Patterson or Nora Roberts . . . or, for that matter, an episode of The Bachelor. Or maybe there is no great life lesson in store, but it’s just fun to read. That’s okay too. As long as it piques your interest, there’s really no such thing as a bad choice when it comes to reading material.

But if libraries stick to promoting the more traditional beach reads, they’re missing an opportunity to capture the imagination. A beach escape can be a great place for escapist fiction, but it can also be the perfect place to dive into thought-provoking, reflective reading. Recalling the fresh breezes, soft sands, and soothing wave-sounds of Ipperwash, I find it hard to imagine a more perfect place to pick up a book that will get your mind going in all kinds of new and intriguing directions. The beach is a great place to get wrapped up in the classic literature you’ve been dying to peruse, or to learn more about some subject that’s piqued your interest, or to search for some conclusion on a controversial topic you’d like to understand. And if, like many of the people I saw this weekend, you like to alternate your reading with cookouts, campfires, boat rides, and water games, it gets even better. The breaks between reading sessions can help your mind digest and reflect on the material you’ve read and possibly make interesting connections that just wouldn’t surface in the fast-paced environment of the workaday world.

If you love your beach reads as they are, more power to you. It’s your vacation, after all: read what you want to.

But if you’re a reader (or a librarian) who feels stuck in a beach-reading rut, maybe it’s time to stop overlooking the more daunting reads that will get your neurons fired up. Don’t be afraid of paragraphs that might take a bit of re-reading or things you’ll want to pause and reflect upon as you read. Where better to reflect than on the water? Or while you’re looking up at a summer-home sky full of stars you’d never see in the big city?

You might find yourself thinking thoughts you honestly never expected, fired up in a whole new way, and more mentally rejuvenated than you thought your summer vacation could ever get you.

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