On my personal Facebook page (not the Afterthoughts page, but rather the page where I’m just with people I know in real life), I started recommending books. It’s an old hobby I decided to ramp up after seeing friends ask each other what to read next. My goal was to use a different category every day of the week. It’s not that I would never repeat a category, but my goal was to never repeat a category within a single week.
I’ve been going strong for over a week now (I skipped the weekend), and it dawned on me that you might enjoy these, too. Of course, you have probably already heard me mention these, but perhaps it’s nice to have them in one place? If you like it, I might share a second list after I amass a few more titles.
So here we go!
1. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
The first time I read this book was when it was assigned in AmblesideOnline for second grade. I remember wondering if it’d be “too much” for a seven-year-old, but it turns out that if you read the King James version aloud to a child from the time he is little, and you never mention that some people think it is “hard,” that child won’t notice much of the language.
Children love this book, though admittedly the moral conversations lose them. It captures their imaginations, which is probably why Louisa May Alcott showed the girls in Little Women playing at Pilgrim’s Progress for fun. My own little guy wore an old backpack and asked me to make him a little roll to carry.
The book wasn’t written for children, though, and it captures the imagination of adults, too.
Russell Kirk once wrote: “Being brought up on Bunyan was some protection against being swallowed by Hobbes’ Leviathan.” This was true of Americans over a hundred years ago, but I think it’s true now, too.
One last thought: you don’t have to understand the whole book to appreciate and enjoy it. I’ve read it five times, and it feels new each time.
2. The Roots of American Order by Russell Kirk
Since I quoted it yesterday, I figured I should go ahead and make Russell Kirk’s Roots of American Order my second recommendation. This book is absolutely wonderful. If you want to understand why the government of the United States is what it is — a representative republic that eschews direct democracy and guarantees each state a republican government — you need to read this book.
Kirk covers the four primary influences on our government: the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Christians. If you think England is missing from this list, think again. His chapter on the Anglican church and his application of Blackstone’s Commentaries on English Law are brilliant. He explains it all with a delightful thoroughness.
I think every American high schooler should read this before graduating.
3. The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
This “unprecedented” thing we’re going through is what some would call a Black Swan event. The whole concept that unexpected bad things DO happen (and there are ways you can prepare for them) is what The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb is all about.
So here’s the deal: if you weren’t raised by a finance guy (like I was — thanks, Dad!), or you don’t read a lot of economics books, you’ll probably want to skip the optional chapters. You’ll also have to put up with Taleb being pretentious. He’s much more likeable in Antifragile (which is by far my favorite work of Taleb’s) but I don’t think Antifragile quite gives you what is handy in a time like this: the conception of how deeply flawed computer modeling is, and why.
Taleb is fun to read because he reads broadly. So he’ll quote you the scientists and the mathematicians, sure, but he’ll also throw in your favorites from Greek and Roman mythology, fairy tales, fables from Aesop, and stories about his co-workers. He’s an interesting and unpredictable writer, so in additional to being brimful of handy Stuff to Know, he’s also fun. Or, at least, I thought so.
4. Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks
If you ever watched the movie Awakenings, you already know who Oliver Sacks is. Uncle Tungsten is his scientific memoir, and it’s amazing. His memories of surviving World War II as a child living in London (after being abused by his schoolmaster when he was sent away from his family for “safety”) complement his boyhood love affair with chemistry.
I read this alongside a standard high school chemistry text and felt like it helped me finally understand some things that had eluded me. But don’t read it for the chemistry.
The book reveals the heart of genius and its (sometimes unsettling) development. It’s a beautifully told story that will disturb you in some parts (like when his surgeon mother flippantly performs an abortion) and amaze you in others.
Category: History, Science
5. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Quarantine got you interested in dystopian fiction? Not to worry, Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea has got you covered. This is the cheerfullest piece of dystopia you’ll ever encounter.
Ella Minnow Pea, an absolutely hilarious epistolary novel, takes place on a mythical island off the east coast of the United States. The people there practically worship Nevin Nollop, the genius who invented the phrase (containing all the letters of the alphabet), “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” They have enshrined the phrase on a public monument. As the monument begins to decay, letters fall off, and the local government decides this is some sort of message from the gods forbidding their use.
What ensues is a hysterically funny romp through tyranny … and back again.
6. Being There by Erica Komisar
I originally bought Being There by Erika Komisar, because I found the story BEHIND the story interesting. Komisar was a feminist who thought her fellows would be interested in what she had to say, but ended up ostracized by her own and embraced by folks at places like Fox News. Turns out, saying babies need their mothers is controversial in some circles. I always saw it as an affirmation of womanhood, so this surprised me.
Because I was already a mom of teens by the time I read it, a lot of the information was not new (but might be VERY encouraging to a young mom). I had never read the research behind attachment disorders or postpartum depression, so that was interesting.
The three most interesting ideas I gleaned were:
- Leaving a baby for a prolonged period before he has a sense of object permanence is a trauma to the baby.
- Being bored with your baby is a sign of post-partum depression.
- Good mothering is passed from mother to daughter, so if you had a non-nurturing mother (or were put in daycare before age 3), you will have to make conscious choices and work hard to not perpetuate the problem.
Needless to say, this made me thankful for my own mother for whom Being There was always a priority, even when she was working.
There were helpful tips, too, on how to handle childcare if you are a mom who has to work outside the home. This is never ideal (before age 3), she says, but some forms of care and approaches to leaving are less likely to create attachment disorders than others.
This book is probably most helpful for young moms struggling with being home. It reminds them that they matter, and NOT A LITTLE. That their jobs are important — that the first three years are vital, and can’t be duplicated later on.
7. How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Robert Mendelsohn, M.D.
I like to think of this book as The Book That Started It All. I was not-yet-thirty and overwhelmed by the magnitude of issues I was facing with our children. This book didn’t touch on the biggest issue — the child who stopped talking after her DTaP — but it did light a fire by teaching me to be brave, question everything, do research, learn to think for myself, and pursue other options (because the options we were given were dismal and completely ineffective).
What do I mean? I could give a thousand example, but it commenced with anti-pyretics. Somewhere along the line, I had become afraid of fevers. I had no clue that this was the body’s natural defense — that raising the temperature was a surefire way to kill a virus. I had children getting one sickness after another and another — one round of antibiotics after another.
Dr. Mendelsohn was the first to teach me to allow a fever to run its course. So I began to question anti-pyretics and I did research and learned all sorts of interesting things. We’ve never taken a Tylenol again, and I think we’re the better for it (though of course this was the beginning, not the end, of a story).
There are other books — newer books (this was published in the 1980s, after all). But this one is still my favorite. It might be a case of nostalgia and gratitude; I don’t know. But I recommend it for lots of young moms looking to shift perspective on children’s health.
A hundred years ago, moms were expected to Know Things. They needed to know how to nurse their children through illnesses. They became tough experts themselves through the process. If this book taught me anything, it was to never show up helpless (if I could help it). I guess you could say it inspired me to become a more competent mother.
That’s my list … so far. The longer this lockdown continues, the longer my list will grow.
What about you? Do you have recommended reads for these categories? I love a good book recommendation (not just my own)!
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