Friday, October 16, 2009

The Message is not the Medium 

Tyler Cowen, on the death of books. This is an excerpt from his essay for the latest issue of the Wilson Quarterly: the Death of the Book.

His essay is titled, "Three Tweets for the Web!" Excerpt:

Sometimes it does appear I am impatient. I’ll discard a half-read book that 20 years ago I might have finished. But once I put down the book, I will likely turn my attention to one of the long-running stories I follow online. I’ve been listening to the music of Paul McCartney for more than 30 years, for example, and if there is some new piece of music or development in his career, I see it first on the Internet. If our Web surfing is sometimes frantic or pulled in many directions, that is because we care so much about so many long-running stories. It could be said, a bit paradoxically, that we are impatient to return to our chosen programs of patience.
Read his whole essay.

My take is: With the Internet, I read more, and I read deeper, both from books and online. I learn more, and where the information comes from is less important than the medium of the information.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Blurbs from bloggers 

Rob Riemen’s Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal (which I haven't read and know nothing about), like many books, has blurbs and reviews on the covers. The only blurb on the front cover, however, is by Mark Sarvas, who maintains the blog The Elegant Variation, where I found this entry. Brian Sholis notes on his own blog the format of the citation is interesting:

::text of comment::
- Mark Sarvas, The Elegant Variation

Sholis writes that this is the first time he's seen a blog quoted on the front of a book. He then questions the format used for referencing a blog. "The Elegant Variation" is printed in italics, just like a magazine or book or other publication. He seems to be asking if a blog really deserves that kind of respect or recognition.

I wondered instead why the blog is referenced by its title and not its URL.

I also wonder how rare it really is to quote a blog on the cover of a book. I assume blurbs rely on an appeal to authority in trying to convince people to buy or read the book, so a quote from a famous blogger or blog would certainly be appropriate. Without getting into whether certain bloggers are famous for their blogs, for writings for online magazines, or for offline work they publish online, I looked at the covers of a few books I had in my library.

Those were the books I found that actually cite blogs. I found more that cite people I know as bloggers (they have day jobs, but I know them first and primarily from their blogs), like Tyler Cowen, Lawrence Lessig, Mike Adams, Walter Williams, and Virginia Postrel. Maybe that's just because I'm not as print-literate as I'd like to be. And of the books I have that I bought based on the authors' reputations as bloggers, only Glenn Reynolds' actually includes his URL on the cover.

Just a few thoughts.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Fairy Tales and Maternal Ambivalence 

I had a recent discussion on Hansel and Gretel.

I understand that the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel depicts the ambivalence of the mother. The mother archetype is represented in both the children's mother and in the witch who owns the candy house. The children's mother originally resents her children and wants to return to a childless state. She asks her husband to abandon them. It takes two attempts (Hansel figures out how to get home), but finally the children are lost, only to be found by the witch. Whereas the mother wished to abandon her children, leaving their fate open to being adopted or to dying in the woods, the witch clearly has more sadistic plans. She intends to use the children for her own purposes, which means Gretel cooks and cleans for her, and Hansel is fattened up to become supper. The witch's actions reflect the occasional hatred that all mothers feel for their children. But the children's mother relents finally and wants her children back. She sends her husband to find them. He does, they kill the witch (the sadistic mother), and the family is reunited. Hopefully the children's mother has dealt with her ambivalence and accepted her duty to her children.

I need to read more fairy tales about mothers, if there is as much to them as that. I could only find one book in my library that seemed relevant. I'm looking for more, but here's what I've found.

In Psyche's Stories, vol. 2, (ed. by Murray Stein and Lionel Corbett) Genevieve Geer studies the role of the women and the mother in the fairy tale "The White Snake." The mother is close to the earth, lives in the "rhythms of birth, sacrifice, and death," and lives by a set of values that seem rather alien, illogical, and wrong when compared to the dominant patriarchal value system. To a young servant not her son, the mother appears as a "messenger between her [feminine] domain and that of the patriarchal world." In this fairy tale, she inspires the servant's quest after intuitively realizing he had committed a crime against her or her husband but guessing wrong as to the crime.

The Celtic myth of "Oisin's Mother" looks at the feminine cycle of maiden-mother-crone and what can happen when the cycle is disrupted, mostly at how a girl or woman can be trapped in the child maiden phase, according to Claire Douglas' examination in the same book. The character Saeve, much like Kore (Persephone) from Greek mythology, is an innocent maiden who is raped by a much more powerful being (a druid family member in Saeve's case, and Hades, god of the underworld, in Kore's), and their psychic development stops. But while Kore is able to transform herself, largely because of her own mother's devotion to her, the mother-less Saeve is trapped and flees her situation in the form of a fawn. Like Ariadne of Greek mythology, must find and integrate the animus, the male equivalent of herself. Both betray the powerful men in their lives, and are thus cut off from society, including the traditional matriarchy. But again, where Ariadne matures and finds a way to integrate the animus (in the form of Dionysis), Saeve attempts to find and cling to a strong lover but loses him. Ariadne matures and transforms. Saeve does not. She alone remains the maiden, defenseless and subject to the whims of the powerful men in her life. Douglas goes on to compare these three figures to sexual abuse victims (a very enlightening examination), but I want to focus just on the transition between maiden and mother, or maiden and adult. Of these three, only Saeve has a child, but she loses him when she can't fight to remain in the state of mother.

I don't know if I should read these things as commentary or look for advice somewhere in them.


This is a really, really cute book. Baby-gami: Baby Wrapping for Beginners is written by Andrea Sarvady, with great photography by Bill Milne, and a short but worth-reading foreward by Fern Drillings, RN, MSN.

Baby wrapping is a modern term for swaddling, which is the practice of wrapping or folding a baby into a blanket or long piece of cloth to limit his movement and keep him warm. Infants are used to the tight safety of the womb; they also don't recognize that those limbs flailing around are, in fact, their own. Swaddled, they feel warm and secure.

The book also talks about baby wearing, in which the mother or father keeps the baby wrapped in a sling and resting against their stomach or hip or back. Babies want to be held. Slings let a parent hold the baby while keeping her hands free. Baby again feels warm and secure.

The book offers several pages describing the science and history of baby wrapping before going into the general how-to of wrapping, making a basic sling, and being sure the wrap is snug but not tight. Helpful tips (like what kinds of cloth to use and how to sew your own wraps) are scattered throughout in easy to read sidebars.

Each wrap or sling has a description of the difficulty, appropriate age range, situation (use a wrap made from a paper bag "for desperate times" while , and materials

The writing is clear, informative, and witty, but the color photographs and illustrations make the book. All 13 ways of wrapping the baby and 9 ways of wearing the baby are illustrated with a full-page photograph. The beginning wraps and the more difficult ones are illustrated with step-by-step diagrams or photographs with descriptions that seem complete and easy to follow (I can't test that yet and won't be able to until January).

The book looks like it will be very useful. Right now, though, I love it for the pictures.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Everyone talks about common sense, but nobody does anything about it 

Mark Twain said that about the weather.

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have a new book that looks at much of the common sense theories about raising children and contrasts them with an impressive amount of recent research. They don't do any new research, but they collect some of the most interesting new studies I've seen in childhood development. I had come across some of these studies during my time at Catholic U., and just reading psych journals, but I've never seen a collection of research this interesting and accessible. Common sense might be common, and it might make sense, but that doesn't mean it's correct.

Bronson and Merryman are award-winning magazine journalists (they've written for Time and New York, among others), and they were drawn into this topic as Bronson and his wife became parents and as Merryman ran a tutoring program for inner-city kids, and wondered how much of what they were so sure that they knew was true. They began to research the new science of child psychology.

Each chapter in NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children takes on the common beliefs towards a particular topic of parenting, from why children lie, to how racially-diverse schools affect kids' attitudes toward race, to IQ testing in preschool, to the reasons behind (or existance of) teenage rebellion. I read this book in the span of a few days, but I'm sure it could be read in chapters, over weeks, and that you could skip or rearrange chapters without losing the gist of the book.

Some highlights:

From the chapter "Why Kids Lie": Children lie to please their parents, more than to make themselves happy by avoiding punishment. Many kids think profanity is the same thing as a lie - lies are things you say that get you punished. And parents encourage lying by asking questions that have no safe, honest answer ("Did you just draw on the table?!") or by teaching those social niceties we call "white lies."

From the chapter "The Inverse Power of Praise": Children who are told they are smart perform worse than those told they "work hard" or who receive specific praise about doing a specific task well. Children who are praised for their intelligence seem to stop learning, or stop trying to learn, when presented with material that no longer comes easy (often between elementary and middle school). They are afraid to try because just having to try means their "gift" of intelligence has run out. But children with equal intelligence and test scores who have been praised for their work ethic continue to do well, despite facing more challenging material. Also, kids worry about image-maintainance, but the "work hard" kids are more likely to accept their grades. The "smart" kids are more likely to cheat or lie to inflate their grades.

From the conclusion: Robert Emmons' work on gratitude (see his book Thanks!) demonstrates that encouraging adults (most of his work was with graduate students) to actively become aware of people and things in life to be grateful for, for example by listing five things to be grateful for every night, has a positive effect on mood. Gratitude intervention doesn't work with middle- or high-schoolers, according to research by Jeffery Froh. It makes many kids feel better, but it makes many kids feel worse. Kids who were fairly disengaged or apathetic became more excited and energized as they realized gratitude. Kids who were already filled with hope and excitement realized how dependent, controlled, and beholden they were. The illusion of control kept them from being depressed.

There's much, much more in this book. If any of this sounds interesting, go read it.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?