Category Archives: parenting

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 12.09.13 PMThis was good and I’ve yet to read something by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I haven’t been impressed by or hasn’t provoked me into thinking about something slightly differently than I did before. This thin, little book is composed as a letter to a friend who was seeking advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. Adichie offers 15 suggestions, specifically linking them to Nigerian, Igbo, and western cultures, but even these specific examples are still universal. Adichie admits that these tenants may be hard to accomplish, but we must strive to embody them to create feminists in our children and in ourselves.

A few choice quotes are below:

“Be deliberate about showing her the enduring beauty and resiliences of Africans and of black people. Why? Because of the power dynamics in the world, she will grow up seeing images of white beauty, white ability, and white achievement, no matter where she is in the world. It will be in the TV shows she watches, in the popular culture she consumes, in the books she reads. She will also probably grow up seeing many negative images of blackness and of Africans.” (p. 40)

“We ask of powerful women: Is she humble? Does she smile? Is she grateful enough? Does she have a domestic side? Question we do not ask of powerful men, which shows that our discomfort is not with power itself, but with women.” (p. 24)

“If we stopped conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, then we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.” (p. 15)

“Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity.” (p. 43)

“Social norms are created by human beings, and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.” (p. 51)

Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow

sickintheheadI acquired Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow in an incredible deal from Greenlight Bookstore where I was allowed to buy slightly damaged hardcover books for $5 each! This unprecedented deal caused me to overzealously purchase many books that I normally wouldn’t have and subsequently allowed me to spend some time getting to know comedy extraordinaire Judd Apatow. 

This book isn’t a memoir — I had mistakenly assumed the book would be to match the style of the slew of comedy books that have been published in the past few years. The full title of the book, which, again, I picked up on a whim, reinforced my mistake: Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy. Instead of being internal conversations between Judd and himself, this book consists of many interviews with people who dabble or fully embrace comedy. Each chapter consists of a transcript of Apatow interviewing a famous person — the topics vary dramatically from person to person as do the circumstances surrounding the conversations. Apatow first began interviewing comedians for his high school radio show in the 1980s and some of those original transcripts appear within the book, as do more recent interviews Apatow conducted specifically for the book and interviews Apatow either conducted or was the subject of for other publications or projects.

If you’re looking to read a history of stand up comedy, you’ll find that in Sick in the Head. If you enjoy comedians, but are less interested in their actual craft, you can also find that in the book by picking and choosing what interviews to read, as I did. Apatow briefly introduces each of his subjects to the reader to provide context for who they are within the comedy world and his own life which would help me to determine which interviews I should actually digest. That said, I probably only skipped 5 of 30+ interviews.

As with most deep conversations with comedians, interviewees often delved into discussions about their upbringings and childhoods which led me to also be reflective on my own circumstances. At times, the interviews almost felt like a print version of the WTF with Marc Maron podcast (the book has a transcript of Apatow’s appearance on that podcast too!). After the first interview, the subsequent interviews are sorted into alphabetical order by first name. My handpicked favorite interviews featured Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, a Freaks and Geeks Oral History, Jeff Garlin, Louis C. K., Marc Maron, Michal Che, Roseanne Barr, and Steve Martin. I enjoyed the Steve Matin interview which closes out the book so much that I scooped up and quickly devoured his novella Shopgirl, which I’ll be reviewing on the blog soon.

I recommend this book to anyone vaguely interested in comedy + entertainment and especially to those who want to dive into comedy, but don’t have access to the comedy sphere because of their geographic location or available resources.

Publication date: 16 June 2015 by Random House. All profits donated to 826 National, a nonprofit which provides tutoring and writing workshops to under-resourced students.

Author: Judd Apatow @twitter/instagram

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

betweentheworldandmeThis is a book that I instantly wish I owned multiple versions of because I feel like I need to consume it in different ways for the weight of its words to fully sink into my consciousness. I finished the audiobook version of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates a couple of weeks ago and it was MARVELOUS! The book is part memoir, part current American history and is written as a letter directly to the author’s son. Because I knew that the book followed this format, I opted to purchase the audiobook from Downpour (if you like audiobooks and you aren’t a subscriber to Downpour, you need to get on board!!) as the author was the narrator and I wanted to hear the author’s intonations and emotions as he spoke his words.

Coates is both a powerful speaker and writer. While he detailed the lessons that he was forced to learn as a black man growing up in America and contrasted them from the lessons his father had to learn and the lessons his son has already learned or will have to learn was incredibly poignant. The world has shifted significantly since his father was a child, but there is still so much room for the world and America’s culture to grow and improve. While his son currently leads a privileged life because of his father’s wealth and their family’s residence in Paris, France (all privileges Coates acknowledges), this doesn’t eliminate the ways that his son must prepare for how he will doubtlessly be seen as a young black man when he is in America. Regardless of any of his own characteristics or intentions, people will cast stereotypes upon his body and his mind and he will have to know how to evade or protect himself from them; hence, why Coates has chosen to write his son a series of lessons he has learned in his own life.

As a white woman, Between the World and Me truly illuminated the world that black parents must build and teach to their children — something that I never had to be taught by my own family. When I was a child, my innocence and piety were often assumed by strangers, but this isn’t the case for many black children who are often undeservedly assumed to be devious or guilty. One of the vignettes that stuck with me most clearly was when a white adult was extremely rude to Coates’s young son and Coates struggled to contain his anger in the face of assumptions and rights incorrectly projected onto his child. To hear this told from a parent’s perspective was heartbreaking and I admire Coates’s ability to so poignantly and clearly discuss how this affects him and his family on a micro-level, while simultaneously situating his personal experiences within historical and societal contexts. 

Between the World and Me is very of the moment (because of the renewed, necessary spotlight on racial tension and inequality in America) and also of America’s history. I believe this book will be a touchstone that people reference decades from now when trying to convey the state of race in America in the early 2000s and Coates has done a remarkable job creating a piece that will last. 

While I loved listening to this audiobook, I wish I also owned a physical version of this book so that I could highlight and come back to the most touching/provoking pieces with ease. I greatly valued hearing the author beautifully speak his story, something that most authors who aren’t trained entertainers struggle to do well. The audiobook was also quite a quick listening experience and clocked in at about 3.5 hours. My recommendation is to consume this in whatever way that it comes into your life and then consume it again and again. I’ll likely be purchasing a physical copy when I get the chance and will re-read it again in the coming years. Clearly, I profusely recommend. 

Publication date: 14 July 2015 by Spiegel & Grau. Format: Audiobook from Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.

Author/Narrator: Ta-Nehisi Coates @twitter/articles

Tap, Click, Read by Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine

9781119091899.pdfI purchased Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens because it was relevant to my work as an educational media researcher. When I know I’m going to have a lot of travel in my future, I always try to scoop up a work-relevant read to indulge in during spurts of travel. This allows me to feel productive for work things when I’m not able to be online and respond to emails quickly.

This book satisfied my itch to productively read for work! Soon, I’ll be beginning a project that examines how educational programming (including television, apps, websites, and digital games) influences literacy skills so this book was a perfect primer for helping me frame my thinking around literacy and digital screens. In fact, I’ve recommend this book to all of my coworkers who will be embarking upon this project with me.

Tap, Click, Read serves as a great overview of many current research studies which examine the intersection of literacy and emerging technologies. Since I wasn’t familiar with many of the existing literacy studies, the book was immensely helpful in furthering my knowledge base. The book would also be a great read for anyone who works with mediating media or books for young children, educators, librarians, caregivers, and family members so that they can learn ways to encourage positive reading habits and intellectual curiosity within the young children in their lives. While I was highlighting portions of the book that I found particularly interesting, I found half of my highlights to be work-related and the other half to be reading tips that I wanted to relay to my brother, who is the new father of a 3 month old. As far as being a book centered around research, I found it to be very accessible and not daunting or full of academic jargon. 

Though as a researcher, I unfortunately had some pet peeves when it came to reading the print version of this book. I make that distinction because I think the digital version had more features (such as the ability to click on notes in the book and watch videos that tied into certain sections). Instead of traditional footnotes or endnotes to link to citations or clarifications, the book features “Notes” at the end of each chapter that are organized by chunks of words that appear in the chapter. As someone who was very interested in seeing any citations and clarifications, I found this extremely annoying because it would have forced me to constantly toggle between the text and Notes to see if anything was included. This made it extremely difficult for me to be able to follow up independently on any specific studies that were mentioned in order to make my own opinion about their findings, which may have been an intentional choice by the authors or the editor.

I also noted a small error in the description of one of the studies included, which mentioned that Ice Age was a film from Disney: it’s not, it’s from Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox, HIT Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox Animation. While this is a very simple mistake, it made me wonder if other bigger and less obvious mistakes existed within the book that would be difficult to find because of the annoying Notes style.

Despite my pet peeves, I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in thinking about how literacy is evolving for young children due to the emergence of new technologies and how we can continue to continue to prioritize literacy in the home, classroom, community, and digital sphere.

Publication Date: 21 September 2015 by Jossey-Bass. Format: Paperback.

Authors: Lisa Guernsey web/twitter and Michael H. Levine twitter

our kids: the american dream in crisis by robert d. putnam

Our KidsA lot of press have published very enthusiastic and positive reviews about Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam, but as someone who works in the education field, has a background in family, youth, and educational sociology, and is a frequent reader of nonfiction, I must strongly disagree with the bubble of positivity surrounding this book. The book covers what the author believes to be the disintegration of the “American dream” which, for the purposes of the book, is essentially the belief that individuals can achieve upward social and economic mobility through increased educational attainment.

Everything covered in the book isn’t new to anyone that works in education or is in tune with social inequality in anyway. I concede that this book is likely not meant for people who are already interested in and informed of these topics, but is rather meant to serve as an introduction to the general public of the troubling conditions that surround young people who are trying to advance themselves within society. However, the tone that Putnam adopts within his book is incredibly condescending. Within the work, he highlights the different life and education experiences that typically occur for youth in different economic classes, ranging from upper-middle class families to those who are living below the poverty line. I’m happy that Putnam (or rather his graduate student, Jennifer Silva, who actually conducted all of the interviews detailed in the book) included a range of representations of what it’s like to grow up in America today in comparison to what his and his high school classmates’ lives were like in 1959 in his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio. However, what really irked me is when the author would write calls to action with an air of assumption that anyone reading the book helms from something above a working class background. When this happened, it seemed to me like Putnam sometimes lost sense of the humanity of the populations that he doesn’t personally identify as and assumed that anyone reading his book would be of the same social social class as him. Because of this, I felt like the calls to action were particularly alienating.

The main argument Putnam makes throughout the book is that class influences a child’s success in the American schooling system and subsequent career and education trajectory more than race does. While I agree that class is incredibly influential on these outcomes, race can also greatly impact how children are treated by their peers, community, and educators, and this cannot be brushed aside as easily as Putnam makes it seem. I wish Putnam had spent more time digging into how the intersection of race and class can impact certain children, but he seemed to cherry pick stories that supported his main thesis instead of looking to include a representation of different experiences.

Below, I’ve included two quotes that I found particularly troubling in order to provide examples of why this book rubbed me the wrong way. They are only included in this review because I feel like they can help potential readers decide whether or not this is a book they would like to read.

When describing how a poorer individual relates to his parents’ political ideologies, Putnam states, “David lives in a chaotic family situation with no role models at all for political or civic engagement, so our questions about those topics elicited a puzzled stare and a brief response, as though we had asked about Mozart or foxhunting.”

“But most readers of this book do not face the same plight, nor does its author, nor do our own biological kids. Because of growing class segregation in America, fewer and fewer successful people (and even fewer of our children) have much idea how the other half lives. So we are less empathetic than we should be to the plight of less privileged kids.”

Aforementioned alienation aside, I guess Our Kids can serve as a good introduction to how social and education inequality affects young people for a reader who is completely new to these topics. If you decide to read this, please realize that Putnam’s tone can be incredibly condescending at times and this subsequently impacts how he details the experiences of all of the study participants who were interviewed. I partly think he did this in order to enact a larger call to action and a greater sense of shared responsibility with the assumed (upper-middle class) audience who is reading the book, but it fell flat for me.

Publication Date: 10 March 2015 by Simon & Schuster.

Author: Robert D. Putnam web/facebook/@twitter

dad is fat by jim gaffigan

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

This past weekend, I flew from New York to Dallas to visit my family for my cousin’s wedding. I love going home to visit family, but I do not love the fact that my flights home, without fail, always end up delayed. When I’m not traveling anywhere but home, I don’t mind getting delayed because it means I get more listening and crafting time as I’ll usually listen to a podcast or audiobook while knitting. However, when I’m going home to see family, every hour taken away from me stings. All of this is a lengthy way of saying, I got delayed while traveling this weekend and subsequently was able to listen to all of Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan while knitting a baby blanket for my soon-to-be-born niece in one sitting.

The fact that I was knitting a project for the impending arrival of a new edition to my family while listening to this audiobook was perfect. While I assumed that some of the essays within this memoir would cover parenting based on the title, I didn’t realize that literally every essay contained within Dad is Fat would cover the author’s relationship with and perspective on children.

The author is stand-up comedian and actor Jim Gaffigan, who, at the time of the memoir’s publication (2013), is a proud father of five. I had no prior knowledge of Gaffigan’s previous endeavors, which include comedy albums and specials (two are currently on Netflix) and television appearances, but the lack of Gaffigan background didn’t prevent me from enjoying any of his stories. Usually, I only read memoirs by famous people if I’m already a fan of them or if they’re not famous and their story intrigues me, but I received this recommendation from a friend who works with children frequently and decided to trust her on it. Thank goodness I did!

I definitely would have enjoyed his memoir even more if I had been a parent, but since I interact with children frequently, I found most of the essays and jokes to be extremely on-point and humorous. That said, if you find children annoying (Jim does too!) and can’t bear to stand to hear about them (Jim finds humor in their annoyingness!), this book is definitely not for you.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and think it’s probably better to be heard in audiobook format since the author/narrator is a comedian and is clearly skilled in delivery and comedic timing. The essays are fairly short and I feel like I might have gotten annoyed by that if I was physically reading the book, but in audiobook format, all of the essays flow together seamlessly.

There will be a TV show based on his family life coming to TV Land this summer… which funnily enough I saw a promo for while sitting in a cab on my way back to my apartment from the airport. You can watch some promos of the show here.

Publication Date: 7 May 2013 by Crown Publishing Group. Format: Digital Audiobook from Random House Audio.

Author & Narrator: Jim Gaffigan web/@twitter/facebook/tour dates/youtube