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Creating Your Perfect Family Size: How To Make An Informed Decision About Having A Baby: I hoped that this book would, like, give me information about how many children I should have, but instead it was just a long list of different things people think about when they have kids. You mean people who for religious reasons don’t use birth control generally have a lot of kids? I had no idea!

The Breastfeeding Book: Everything You Need To Know About Breastfeeding Your Child From Birth Through Weaning: I continue to have difficulties reviewing the practical advice in breastfeeding books, on account of I have never breastfed. It is inaccurate about the things breastfeeding books are always inaccurate about (yes, some people can’t produce sufficient milk; no, breastfeeding does not have all those benefits you’re claiming it does; yes, parents should be concerned about the iron levels of their exclusively breastfed six-month-olds). However, I appreciate the Sears’s characteristic kindness and empathy, and I wish their commitment to never making parents feel guilty for being unable to do something would extend to the parent blogosphere. I also really liked the chapter on how non-breastfeeding parents can help with breastfeeding, both through supporting the breastfeeding parent (cleaning, shooing away busybodies, giving them time for themselves) and through nurturing the baby (through babywearing, playing, and singing).

Norse Mythology: Neil Gaiman is always at his best when telling short stories, and this is essentially a collection of short stories, covering the major Norse myths. Grand, heroic, and with a sly sense of humor. Gaiman loves mythology and it shines out from every page of this wonderful book. Excellent for reading out loud.

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life: An excellent introduction to the practice of mindfulness meditation. Unfortunately, I only figured out halfway through that it was not actually intended for me, it was intended for mentally well people who want to try meditation, and Jon Kabat-Zinn has a completely different book for us crazies. Oh well.

The New Jim Crow: I feel like I am literally the last person to jump on this bandwagon but THIS IS AN AMAZING BOOK YOU SHOULD READ IT, especially if you have any interest at all in anti-racism and/or libertarianism. I started the book being like “well, mass incarceration is pretty bad, but it seems like a bit much to claim it is literally a racial caste system like Jim Crow” and ended it “welp, I guess mass incarceration is a racial caste system like Jim Crow.”

One point I found particularly insightful was her argument that to end mass incarceration you will need to enlist poor white people and middle-class-and-above black people by explaining to them how ending mass incarceration will benefit them. Poor white people receive the psychological wage of whiteness, which (in our colorblind society) has changed from “I might be poor but at least I’m not an [n word]” to “I might be poor but at least I’m not a criminal.” Middle-class-and-above black people receive benefits such as affirmative action, which ultimately uphold the system by promoting the pretense of colorblindness; if a black man can be President, it must be the fault of individual black people that they keep going to prison. To enlist these groups, a movement to end mass incarceration must explain why it is offering a better deal than the one currently on offer.

I hadn’t realized before how much we cut off people with criminal records from society. People who have committed felonies are not allowed in public housing or to get food stamps. In many states, they can’t vote or serve on juries; in many other states, they can get their right to vote back, but it’s an expensive process with many fees (this is not a poll tax because of reasons). There is massive discrimination against people with criminal records; making it illegal merely shifts the discrimination to black men more generally. Getting a job is often a requirement if you’re on parole. Since various bits of the government don’t talk to each other, people on parole can wind up with literally 100% of their wages being garnished, meaning that licit work is a money-losing proposition. Parolees are also often required not to talk to people with felony records; apparently no one who made this rule thought about the fact that in many neighborhoods a third of adult men have a felony record.Honestly, if I had to put up with all that shit I would probably commit crimes too.

One of the most striking points was the comparison between drunk driving and smoking crack cocaine, both of which were criminalized at about the same time. Drunk driving literally kills people, while smoking crack only rarely harms people other than yourself. The vast majority of people who drive drunk are white men, while crack is usually smoked by black people. Naturally, drunk driving is punished with a misdemeanor conviction, a week or two in jail, mandatory alcohol treatment, maybe your license getting suspended. Smoking crack, conversely, is punished with literally years in prison.

To highlight the scope of the problem: to get the number of people imprisoned down to even 1970s levels, which were already elevated, four out of every five prisoners would need to be released. This would involve perhaps a million people losing their jobs, many of whom are in rural districts that play an outsize role in elections (particularly since imprisoned people count for population size even though they can’t vote).

The argument that gangsta rap is a modern-day minstrel show is interesting. Like minstrel shows, gangsta rap portrays stereotypes of black people aimed at a white audience, although black people often enjoy them in part because it is a major source of black celebrities.

Out of the Darkened Room: When a Parent is Depressed: Protecting the Children and Strengthening the Family: By far the most valuable part of this book for me was the stories about children of depressed parents. Most people who mention that their parents were depressed are people who are fucked up about it. If your dad was depressed for most of your childhood and you’re fine, you don’t generally bring up your dad’s depression very often. But if you were traumatized by it, it comes up a lot. So it’s really easy for depressed people (me) to conclude that depressed people are universally shitty parents who fuck up their kids. And it was really comforting for me to read pages and pages of stories about mentally ill parents whose children were fine. In spite of having a parent who attempted suicide, had manic episodes, or lay in bed all day crying, the kids were happy, got good grades, had friendships, got into good colleges, and generally had perfectly reasonable childhoods.

The steps for parenting well while depressed were:

  1. Discussing depression openly with one’s spouse and other loved ones.
  2. Learning about depression and resilience.
  3. Addressing the children’s needs (for relationships outside the family, success away from home, reflection on and understanding of what they’ve gone through).
  4. Planning how to talk to the children.
  5. Having a family meeting with the children.
  6. Continuing to openly discuss issues of mental illness and the children’s response.

In general, resilient children are realistic about what they’re dealing with (understanding that mental illness will recur and they can recognize it), are aware of and can articulate strategies for offsetting the effects of mental illness on themselves, and believe their actions make a difference and take action based on that understanding.

Note that while the book title says “depression”, it actually covers all mood disorders.

Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential: grrrrrraaaaarrrrrrggghhh

Large sections of this book are not, in fact, “how to help your gifted child with the struggles of being gifted”, but instead “how to help your twice exceptional child with the struggles of being twice exceptional.” That would be great– as a former 2E kid myself I’m all for advice about helping us– except that the authors seem to have no idea that disabled gifted children exist. Clearly, infodumping, impairments in perspective taking, and difficulty making eye contact are just part of being gifted, not a sign that your child has autism at all!

Much of the advice provided in this book seems, to my mind, decent. However, it is interspersed with mind-bogglingly awful advice, particularly on social skills. For example, parents are encouraged to tell children who read at recess that they’re part of the school community (fine) and ignoring community members is rude (what? no it isn’t!). At no point is it mentioned that children might read at recess because they’re being bullied or as a way of managing their emotions during an overstimulating school day. Parents are also told to tell children that correcting teachers who teach incorrect facts is rude (even though it is literally the teacher’s job to teach things that are true). Parents are told to tell children to lie and pretend they like sports even when they don’t to avoid making other children feel bad.

All the goals here are reasonable. Reading at recess is not a very good way of making friends. Correcting the teacher in public is likely not to work as well as talking to them after class. It’s important to be tactful (“sports aren’t really my thing”) instead of blunt and rude (“sports are stupid and boring”). But for children with social impairments (whether subclinical or clinical) it is particularly important to give accurate reasons for your advice. It is not true that you have to hide what you’re interested in to have friends, or that correcting powerful people is always wrong, or that it is rude to ignore people you don’t like or who mistreat you if they happen to be a member of some broadly-defined “community”. While these might cause effective behavior in the short run, in the long run they will cause extremely ineffective behavior: pretending to be someone you’re not, letting your boss make a dumb decision rather than correcting her, tolerating mistreatment or even abuse. With children with social impairments you must tell the truth.

I remain deeply puzzled at the number of times parenting books tell me not to do my children’s homework for them. People, if it has occurred to you to make your kids’ dioramas for them because all the other parents make their kids’ dioramas for them and you don’t want your kid’s to look like it was made by a child (because it was), you are too fucking invested in your kid’s dioramas.

I recommend skipping this book and instead reading Mind in the Making.

Against Equality: Queer Revolution Not Mere Inclusion: This was an uncomfortable read in the best way; it really challenged a lot of my viewpoints and I’m not sure what I believe. Against Equality is an anthology of essays centered around the claim that LGB rights activism actually winds up reinforcing oppressive institutions: the military, the prison-industrial complex, and marriage. On one hand, I’m pretty sympathetic to the idea that it shouldn’t be particularly high priority to advocate for queers to also be able to commit war crimes, murder brown people, and suffer lifelong trauma. Like, why are you advocating for our full inclusion in doing something that no one should be doing in the first place? And it seems like the resources directed towards gay marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell could have been directed towards abolishing marriage and giving queer people in poverty more non-shooting-related options so the military isn’t their only way out. (Also, HIV healthcare access. The state of access to HIV-related health care is a disgrace.)

On the other hand, there is no requirement that every queer in the world agree with the political opinions of me, Ozy. Even if I choose not to donate towards or advocate for queer inclusion in the military, other queer people think joining the military is a noble sacrifice for the sake of their country, and it really isn’t that reasonable for me to object to their activism because of our shared non-normative gender identity. There are actual, practical, material benefits to military and marriage equality: I have friends whose literal physical safety depends on the legality of same-sex marriage. Why are we, the oppressed people, the ones who have to sacrifice for the sake of ending an oppressive institution.? Straight people first! It smacks of privilege, which was an annoying trend throughout this book (particularly when they talked shit about the rich white cis gay boys at the HRC– guys, choosing to become a performance artist does not magically take away your class privilege). Frankly, some of the concerns people have in this book are even more privileged than the ones they’re criticizing: arts funding? Really?

The HRC could quite reasonably object that they are the Campaigning In Favor Of Gay Legal Equality organization and DADT was obviously an example of gay people not being legally equal. While advocating for economic justice, the rights of sex offenders, open borders, and prison reform is great, none of them are gay legal equality, and the HRC should stay within its area of competence. Anyway, the natural extension of “money is better spent on homeless shelters for queer youth than pro-gay-marriage campaigning” is “money is better spent on African public health than on anything even remotely related to queer people,” so you know.

The weakest section is about marriage, partially through no fault of its own (at the time the book was published it was not clear that legal gay marriage would also help improve attitudes towards LGB people in general). The strongest section is about the prison-industrial complex, mostly because it outlines a mechanism through which hate crime laws strengthen prisons (they put people in prison for longer, mandatory minimums are still bad if you’re woke). I’d particularly like to highlight the excellent section on sex offender registries, false accusations of Satanic ritual abuse, and other abuses directed at people accused of being sex offenders.

The Persian Boy: Tragic gay romance novel about Alexander the Great and his extremely Slytherin boyfriend, the Persian eunuch Bagoas. If this summary makes you want to buy the book, you should. Reading the Persian Boy felt somewhat invasive, like someone had taken my id and spread it across the pages for anyone to see; given that I read it for the first time in middle school, this is probably because it made my id.

The Persian Boy is really an absurdly sexy book given that all the sex scenes are like this:

He really wanted love from me. I could not credit such fortune; nobody ever had before. In the past, I had taken pride in giving pleasure, since it was my skill; never had I known what it was to take delight in it. He was not quite so ignorant as I had supposed; it was just that what he knew had been very simple. He was a quick learner, though. All I taught him that night, he thought that by some happy harmony of our souls, we were discovering together. So, indeed, it seemed at last even to me.

(That is the entire scene.)

Like, that is definitely a sexy passage, it’s just that it is missing such normal aspects of sexy passages as “more than ten sentences” and “a reference to genitals” and “literally any idea of what the protagonists are doing.”

Be sure to read the afterword, in which Mary Renault is wonderfully snarky about all her sources.

The Health Hazards of Homosexuality: What The Medical and Psychological Research Reveals: I don’t recommend reading this book but it was definitely worth my ten dollars for the following paragraph–

The name of the website Feministing makes obvious reference to the practice of “fisting” (insertion of one’s hand into a partner’s rectum or vagina). The website’s banner shows a naked female form with hand upraised in the insertion position.

And also this passage, discussing the DSM’s change to the ‘paraphilia’ definitions so they can only be diagnosed if there is impairment in social or vocational functioning or if the patient experiences distress:

(Was the famous coprophiliac Adolf Hitler’s daily functioning impaired due to this practice, or did he continue to hold down his job – at least for a time?)

Also, it seems to me that if you’re going to spend all that time concern-trolling about the children you shouldn’t take creepy photos of teenagers at gay pride and illustrate your book with them. (I mean, did they consent to being in the homophobe book?)

Intersectionality: Key Concepts: I am the sort of person who buys books about intersectionality to read for fun and I was bored by this book. It’s basically all about the definition of intersectionality? Which, okay, fine, there are lots of people who are confused about that point, but surely you could knock out the definition in one chapter and then spend the rest of the time on an intersectional analysis of prison or agriculture or sex or something actually interesting.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting: Definitely a parenting must-read. Children make parents unhappy: they take away sleep, make it harder to engage in flow (one of the most pleasant human experiences), force you to spend large amounts of time with a person who doesn’t understand niceties like “clothes” and “not screaming,” reduce your freedom, make it harder to advance in your job, and aren’t even that fun– studies consistently show that interacting with children is generally less enjoyable than e.g. folding the laundry. Childrearing particularly tends to worsen marital satisfaction, in part because women tend to do more childcare, especially boring childcare (like toothbrushing, not playing catch) and watching the children while doing other tasks. (Interestingly, fathers experience more work/life conflict than mothers, perhaps because they want to feel like evolved parents.) Childrearing leads to social isolation and lack of sex, neither of which are exactly good for a marriage.

Parents feel like they must engage in “concerted cultivation,” driving their children from extracurricular activity to extracurricular activity, entertaining them when they’re bored, hoping to make them well-rounded adults; this is stressful and unpleasant. If you don’t do this, you feel like a bad parent who is dooming your child to never get into college and who will probably get kidnapped when you tell them to go play in the front yard. In the American colonial era, children made an economic contribution to the household from a fairly young age (even five-year-olds can pick weeds) and were mostly ignored before then. Now children are useless from a family perspective; their work is about improving themselves. The new uselessness of children is particularly grating on adolescents, who developmentally want to start contributing to society. This is part of the reason why parenting adolescents makes people really really unhappy. (Another part is that they keep getting into stupid fights about their children’s hair or music taste. Parents of adolescents: the research suggests you will be a lot happier if you commit not to fight with your child about anything other than issues of morality or safety, on which adolescents are generally much more likely to listen to their parents.)

Then why do we raise kids? (Other than a combination of ignorance, optimism, and the fact that in most states one cannot drop the child off at a safe haven once they are older than a few weeks.) Young children can yank parents out of their preoccupations, inhibitions and routines, allowing them to be more present in the moment rather than wrapped up in their anxieties and achievements. Young children can connect you to the physical world and encourage you to ask deep questions. And they offer an opportunity to give love without any return. While the experiencing self typically doesn’t enjoy parenting, the remembering self does; our relationships with our children are among the most important relationships in our lives, and being a parent consistently increases one’s sense of meaning. In the stories people tell about themselves, being a parent plays an important role.