Book Chat

book chat
This month’s book reviews:

Pretending to Be Normal

“Pretending to Be Normal” is Liane Willey’s memoir. She grew up knowing she was different from others, but only as an adult, after she’d had three children, did she learn that she had Asperger’s Syndrome. Willey views AS in a mostly positive way, and indeed she has been quite blessed to have had understanding parents and an understanding spouse to help her make sense of a world that’s normal to others, but often not to her. She recognizes these things, and says of a friend: “He never questioned me or criticizad me, he just let me be. If only everyone could be that gracious — maybe then, we would not even need a definition for Asperger’s Syndrome.”

She helps us understand that while someone may look “normal” to us, they may be facing many issues we know nothing of. I think Willey is an ideal person to write such a book, because she seems to have an abnormally good sense of self-awareness, certainly more than most AS folks have.  Indeed, she says her goal is to “tame my life and make it work” … she aims to be “a first rate Aspie, not a second rate neurotypical.”

The book was first published in 1999, but this updated version also adds tips for dealing with others who have AS, help organizations, etc. I wish she had gone into more detail about what life is like now for her children, one of whom has AS as well. Compelling read.

Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy.

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Game Changer
Daughter #3 recommended “Game Changer” to me. In this book, KT Sutton is an eighth grader who lives to play softball. She has her life planned out, with dreams of the Olympics and a full-ride softball scholarship … until an unexpected event happens at a big game, and KT is transported to an odd world where academics are valued over sports, “nerds” are popular, and few things have remained the same.

Throughout the book, KT is forced to face issues in her life, at the same time she’s fighting her way back to reality. Along the way, she learns lessons about accepting others and appreciating what she has. Good book for anyone, but particularly for teens who often struggle with these issues. Margaret Peterson Haddix is an author I recommend (and a Hoosier as well), if your teen/tween is looking for good books. She’s written several, and they’re all age-appropriate and hold one’s interest well.

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Essential 55
I’ve discovered a paper recycling dumpster behind a nearby elementary school that I pass on my evening bike rides. To my chagrin, earlier this summer I found a dozen or more basically new books in the dumpster. I rescued a few that I could reach, and among them was “The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules For Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child.” I paged through it, and it looked interesting. The author, Ron Clark, earned the 2001 Disney Teacher of the Year Award. In this book, he goes through his 55 classroom rules for (not surprisingly) discovering the successful student in every child.

I began reading one of these rules each night to the girls after dinner. They are nothing earth-shattering, but they’re things that are just good to know, and be reminded of every now and then: Make eye contact. Respect others’ ideas and opinions. Do not save seats. Say thank you within three seconds of receiving something. When you win, do not brag; when you lose, do not show anger. etc.

Most are good advice for life in general, not just in the classroom. That’s what I like about the book. About halfway through, I did feel it bogged down with rules that became repetitive or just plain odd (Do not bring Doritos into the school building. Yes, he does say this in a lighthearted way, but still). There are several rules about how to behave in the movie theater, subway, etc. I must say that I would love to have been in Mr. Clark’s classroom, as he takes his kids on “25 to 30” trips per year, including visits to the White House, etc. I had to wonder how he ever found time to teach!

So overall, I enjoyed the book, but it probably would have made a better magazine article focusing on 10-15 rules.

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The Greatest ComebackGrowing up, I loved President Nixon. Our family spoke well of him, and if you’ve read my memoir, you know that the evening of his resignation is still etched clearly in my mind, although I was just 9 at the time. After that, I wrote him a letter, telling him how much I admired him and wished him well (I’m still a little sad that he never wrote back ….)

So, when Crown Publishing offered me a review copy of “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from the Dead to Create American’s New Majority,” I was happy to comply.

I have to admit that I felt this book would be about Nixon’s comeback from Watergate. It’s not — it’s his comeback from electoral defeats to win the presidency in 1968.

I learned a lot reading this book, since I basically have no memory of the 1968 campaign or of Nixon’s victory (I had just turned 4 when he was elected). The book is by Pat Buchanan, who I know from The McLaughlin Group, which I enjoy watching on Saturday mornings on PBS. Buchanan was a young assistant to Nixon during the campaign, and he’s written this book based on his voluminous notes and excellent memory of a time nearly 50 years ago. The book is full of details — but they’re details of a campaign and of specific people (George Romney — Mitt’s dad, who ran for President too, which I didn’t know; Ronald Reagan, who ran then also, and Nelson Rockefeller, to name a few).

It was also interesting to read about the 1960s, and to realize that, as bad as things now seem in our nation, they must have seemed pretty lousy then as well ( in 1968 alone, there were the assassinations of RFK and MLK Jr., race riots, and Vietnam).

The book had next to nothing about Nixon’s personality, his relationship with his wife or daughters, or information on any of them, which I would have found interesting.

Still, if you’re a political junkie, you’d most likely enjoy the book. It definitely takes you to another time and place.

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I'll Watch the Moon book
I thoroughly enjoyed I’ll Watch the Moon. The story is set in the late 1940s, just after WWII has ended. The author did a great job of re-creating what that era must have felt like, and I learned a lot about the Spanish flu epidemic, polio, iron lungs, and concentration camps. So, this all sounds a bit depressing, but the book isn’t. Despite the struggles the characters face, we see them through the eyes of the child Nova, and this softens things. She learns life lessons from the various boarders in her aunt’s boarding house, where she lives with her mom (even hearing Shakespeare from one of the boarders: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy).

I love the book’s Christian focus, which is an underlying theme but not done in a preachy or overbearing manner. And I particularly love the story told about a rabbi, which makes a lot of sense when you’ve read the book (I don’t want to give away spoilers):

There was a rabbi who lived in Poland a long time ago. I think hundreds of years ago. And one day he was out with his students having a picnic or something up on a big hill that overlooked the town. While they were there, a bunch of people came riding into town–people who hated the Jews–and started killing everyone, even the women and children. And here was the rabbi and his students looking down from the hill and seeing it all happen. Well, of course they were horrified. And the rabbi said, ‘If only I were God.’ And one of his students said, ‘If you were God, what would you do differently?’ And the rabbi said, ‘If I were God, I wouldn’t do anything differently. If I were God, I would understand.’

Linking to 5 Minutes for Books, What’s on Your Nightstand.

7 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. Don’t forget we went to see President Nixon when he spoke at Vernon, Indiana. I believe it was the summer after you completed first grade.

  2. I’m intrigued by the Aspie book! I’ve read a few blogs by adult Aspies and find it all so interesting. I’d like to read that one!

    Tatlock is a Christian author whose name I’ve seen on a few blogs. I’m adding her to my mental TBR list!

  3. You’ve got lots of interesting books here. I’ll have to return before I make my next trip to the library. 🙂 I love the Nightstand meme for this very reason.

  4. I read Tatlock’s book years ago (before I had a blog and wrote these things down 🙂 ) but only have a vague memory of it – I do remember the boarding house and some of the characters. I think I got a Kindle copy a while back – will have to check.

    I would have been more interested in Nixon’s personality sand relationships that details of the campaign as well. My only clear memory of his is when he announced the end of the Viet Nam war. I was in my mid teens then.

  5. Several of these books seem like they would be interesting to me, but I would particularly like the last one, I think. Maybe I’ll read it some time.

  6. I’ve only read one or two books by Tatlock, but I found them to be generally thought provoking and well-written. It just so happens my library has a copy of I’ll watch the moon – and I think I might just have to pick it up.

  7. I’ll have to look into Game Changer for my avid readers here. I was feeling pulled to grab the Nixon book but not sure without the personality/family etc being addressed in the book. Political junkie I am not. I am, however, trying to dabble outside my normal reading. Thanks for sharing!

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