Feast on These
This holiday season as you pass the turkey, Aunt Cindy’s cranberry delight, and the proverbial Waldorf salad, pass along these irresistible book titles as well, which are sure to generate (despite football) some lively family discussions—some that may even go into overtime.
The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore
Readers are reminded of the pliancy and flexibility of all good parents—at any age—when the comfortable old Vermont home of empty nesters, William and Ginny, suddenly becomes the summer refuge of their three grown children in Meg Mitchell Moore’s The Arrivals.
Tempestuous Lillian, with toddler and nursing infant in tow, arrives first. She has just left her husband over a serious indiscretion with his young, gum-snapping assistant, and yet has no plan—other than to seek solace in her old bedroom.
Within days, her insecure younger brother, Stephen, and his über-professional (and very pregnant) wife, Jane, arrive for a short weekend visit. No-nonsense Ginny barely contains her dislike for Jane, especially when she learns that her directionless son plans on being a stay-at-home dad so Jane can return immediately to work—that is until the resourceful Jane is hospitalized with placenta previa.
Now she has no choice but to spend the last weeks of her pregnancy flat on her back, with a bristling mother-in-law, a nerve-racked husband, and Oprah for company.
Meanwhile the tender-hearted Rachel, alone in Brooklyn, has her own woes: Her boyfriend has abandoned her, she thinks she’s pregnant, and she’s broke. When she arrives in Vermont, the house must expand once more. But there’s always an extra air mattress.
Moore writes with a graceful, old-soul understanding of what it means to be a middle-aged parent especially a mother—whose fierce longing to nurture her own never ever goes away.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
As if it were yesterday, I can still see my father holding my report card, his large thumb covering an outstanding row of As, and staring at the one lone B. “How did this happen?” he would ask, reducing me to a near-jellied state of self-pity. My Asian colleagues, however, tell me they would have not only expected, but thrived on such criticism.
That is why they, and not me, get Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, an often narcissistic, and, (let’s hope), somewhat facetious rant extolling corporal education—Chinese style. Exacted on her two talented daughters, Sophia and Lulu, Chua’s tough love tactics include screaming, haranguing and humiliating, not to mention tossing a scantily-clad three-year-old out on a cold winter’s day when she refuses to practice piano.
Occasionally Chua tries to elicit cultural empathy: Her own father was a taskmaster, her youngest sister was mentally challenged, and as a young bride, her Jewish mother-in-law came down on her for serving the wrong cheese at a dinner party.
But most readers, (unless perhaps Asian), will respond less with compassion and more with outrage as Chua shocks rather than shows why Asians honor education.
Is it really, after all, an Asian mother’s destiny to make prodigies of one’s offspring no matter the cost, the amount of tears, or the emotional scars – even if both sisters claim to have gleaned love out of the ordeal?
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother raises this and many other provocative questions regarding education, culture, parental responsibility, and how all three shape us as individuals.
You may disdain Chua’s methods and varied madness, but the book’s underlying message that children are our greatest investment will resonate.
Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss
Nicole Krauss’s Man Walks into A Room is a small and provocative gem. Imagine waking up and having no recollection of what you did the night before. Indeed, having no memory of anything at all—except the most poignant and tender ones of childhood. Such a medical phenomenon occurs in 36-year-old college professor, Samson Greene.
Found wandering in the Nevada desert, doctors later discover a benign, cherry-sized tumor languidly growing on his temporal lobe. Surgery is successful, but Samson has no recollection of his tenure as a college professor at Columbia University, nor of Anna, his bewildered and broken-hearted wife of ten years.
Before long, he succumbs to his desire to escape the pretense of his role as husband. Like his boyhood hero, astronaut John Glenn, Samson longs to test boundaries, and when a charismatic Los Angeles neuroscientist beckons, he heads for California.
There, along with other off-kilter “volunteers,” Samson donates the clean slate of his adult memory to a controversial and risky mind-swapping experiment.
A somber, sometimes very funny—even eerie—look into the innateness of human memory and love.
Additional posts by Aimee Zuccarini
- Three Books that Are Spring-Fresh and Fun!, 06 Apr 2013 in Book Reviews
- Challenge Yourself (And Your Book Discussion Group) With a Big Book this Winter, 30 Jan 2013 in Book Reviews
- Inner Peace on Earth, 05 Dec 2012 in Book Reviews
- Steamy Summer Fiction, 13 Aug 2012 in Book Reviews
- Buzzworthy Books, 08 Jun 2012 in Book Reviews
- Girls Rule: 3 Writers Prove that Women Authors Can—and Should—be Taken Seriously, 11 Apr 2012 in Book Reviews
- Steller Reads for the New Year, 01 Feb 2012 in Book Reviews
- Books You (and the Men in Our Lives) Will Enjoy, 02 Nov 2011 in Book Reviews
- Page-gripping Beach Reads, 08 Aug 2011 in Book Reviews