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Living at the Edge of the World: How I Survived in the Tunnels of Grand Central Station

In the version of this book that I read, the cover said “by Tina S. with Jamie Pastor Bolnick” I notice that the paperback copy has Bolnick’s name in much larger type and a larger picture of Tina S. not looking her best. Tina was a street kid living mostly in Grand Central Station. She got her life together, more or less and co-wrote this book describing her experiences. Like a lot of books written by people on the fringes of society, this book does a lot of explaining away past behaviors as well as telling the author’s side of what is a complicated story involving a ot of bad behavior. Tina is an engaging narrator mainly because she doesn’t try to portay herself as in control, or as someone who just got a bad deal out of life. Her stories often describe her as complicit in her own downfall, or backsliding and don’t pull punches when discussing some of the seamier sides of her life in the tunnels.

This book is also good at exploring the question “how do those kids get homeless?” With Tina it was a combination of Mom’s new jerky boyfriend, lack of a familial and social safety net, a crush on a street kid [who later dies a really untidy death] and a lack of better options. To a poor inner city kid, the social networks of the tunnels give them a place to really attain stature and make friendships with people who, while they may be nutty addicts, don’t cop attitudes or wrinkle their noses. Tina’s description of her life, both in and out of the tunnels and general homelessness are a rich exploration of not just the gritty reality of poverty, but the implications and long-term effects of a society with a lack of better options for people like Tina.

The Brothers K

First off, I have no idea how closely this book has anything to do with The Brothers Karamazov. My second biggest impression was that this sort of book was what I always hoped Sometimes a Great Notion had been like when my old boyfriend said it was his favorite book ever and then I read it and was unimpressed.

This is one of those epic family stories that watches the characters grow up, change, learn to forgive, get along, fight, get along again, and so forth. I am a sucker for those sorts of books. The family has six kids and this is narrated by kid number four. His Mom is deeply attached to the church, his Dad is a minor league pitcher who suffered a hand injury and now works at the mill. One of the best things about the book is that you watch the style of the narration changing as you watch the narrator age and mature. The book opens up basically being told to you by a child and when it ends, the child is now in his twenties. Duncan does an amazing job of creating believable voices and conflicts that cover a wide range of life experience. No one is truly evil and no one is truly right. The family comes apart and comes back together in many different ways. Most of the story is set in rural Oregon and so its strength as a Pacific Northwest novel is also impressive.

Sex Education and the Intellectually Handicapped

You just don’t see these books in bookstores in the US. For some reason it’s really hard to get materials on sex and disability around here. This book is Australian, if I remember correctly, and strives to help parents and caregivers deal appropriately and sensitively with the sexuality of their developmentally disabled children as they grow into adults. The author is aware that this isn’t the easiest topic to discuss and spends a lot of time exploring the repercussions of not discussing sex with their kids [same as with everyone... they will find out anyways] and outlining a good timeline for sharing information about sexuality. The author allows many developmentally disabled adults to share their own stories about sex and relationships, helping the readers get a grasp on how these issues can seem to people with an intellectual handicap.

The book is full of practical advice: dealing with birth control, menstruation, sexual experimentation, masturbation, homosexuality, etc and the author gives parents small scripts that may help them broach these subjects with their children. The overall tone is one of respect and guidance. While adults shouldn’t be making decisions about their children’s sexuality, they may need to be more closely involved than they might expect in their kids' and adult children’s sex lives than they might have thought: McCarthy relates one story of a couple who goes on a honeymoon and takes the bride’s mother along as a chaperone, resulting in some amusing wedding night anecdotes. This book isn’t necessarily light reading for those who have no need to avail themselves of its contents, but it does a good chapter by chapter overview of the issues involved with the sexual maturation of the disabled and how to best approach it as a supportive and helpful guide.

Q is for Quarry, P is for Peril, O is for Outlaw

For some reason -- I think it was the end of the 4th of July festivities and travelling and working -- I found myself needing to relax and plow through a good mystery novel. This was a good mystery novel. I don’t think I’ve read any of this series since back around D or F or something, but it was pretty easy to pick up where I left off. Grafton has really mastered the art of sequence. Her stories stand alone well yet, like X-Files episodes, they each add a little to the overall picture, if you’re into that sort of thing. Her female detective is likable, fallible and not anyone’s bad stereotype of what a lady detective should be. By the time I’d read through three of them in a week or so, their plots ran together a bit, but I wanted to give a shout-out to the genre and to Grafton as a consumate master of it.

Museum of Hoaxes

It’s tough to make a book with a website companion and have one of the two not suck. Not only is Boese’s book about famous hoaxes through the centuries engaging, well-illustrated and engaging, but he has a website to go along with it that is equally fun to look at. The website contains further reading on topics in the book as well as containing a frequently-updated weblog of hoaxish information and pictures.

I’m pretty up on hoaxes, it’s one of my family’s little pet trivia issues. We know all about the Cardiff Giant, PT Barnum, Virginia Woolf dressing up as an Arab, all those stories. Even so Boese adds little bits to all of these stories that make them worth reading again. he also imposes a chronology of sorts on the evolution of the hoax -- going up to modern day and Internet hoaxes -- that forms a really useful framing of many of the stoeis he tells. I expected to find nothing new in this book, I was completely and pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife

The flying baby on the cover grabbed my attention but the writing inside the book kept me going. Peggy Vincent is a Midwestern woman who, through a series of plans and accidents, finds herself as a midwife in Berkeley California in the Sixties. She aspires towards the hippie-crunchy lifestyle she sees there and finds herself among a good group of teachers and clients and moves from working in an obstetrics ward to running her own practice, until a bad situation with a client causes her license to be revoked and she goes back to hospital obstetrics.

Vincent is chatty and conversational and you get the feeling she would be a fun person to have a cup of coffee with. Her Midwesterner-in-California personality makes a lot of the things she says when advocating midwifery seem to have more balance than if she were just a homegrown hippie gal who had known nothing else. The book is split into chapters which loosely take us through Vincent’s schooling at the rate of about one birth a chapter. Since most non-fiction birth stories usually are from the point of view of the birther, we rarely see giving birth in such a wide range of types, styles and opinions. Vincent is good at telling it how she sees it, offering advice but generally being supportive of most of the women and their individual choices in how to bear their babies. Since she is a midwife, she obviously leans towards this avenue as a preferred means of having control over ones own birthing situation, but does not get polemical or strident. She lets the stories speak for themselves, and she’s good at telling them.