Category: Book Reviews

Spiritual Midwifery

Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin, 4/5

Almost half of this book consists of childbirth stories told by members of The Farm, a counterculture community that peaked in the 1970s. It is both entertaining and educational to read about other people’s experiences, but there are a couple factors that affect the helpfulness of these personal accounts, in my opinion. Firstly, it is clear that most of the narrators are deeply invested in the particular form of spirituality and beliefs associated with The Farm. The way in which the shared experience of such a close community can affect an individual’s way of thinking and communicating is something an outsider must account for. For example, the words “psychedelic,” “trip,” and “aura” clearly have a deep and nuanced meaning to these people, but it’s a little unsettling to encounter such vocabulary in a book that also gives serious medical advice. All in all, while there was a lot of interesting and helpful info in this book, I found Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth to be less dated, more accessible and more trustworthy in tone.

Why I read it: a friend recommended it to me.

The Time of Contempt

The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French, 4/5

In this installment of the Witcher Saga, Sapkowski really dives into the politics of his fantasy world, a focus that I did not find particularly interesting though I appreciated the worldbuilding. In addition, a satisfying amount of interesting characters (some new, some old), exciting scenarios, and a somewhat elevated tone, raised this book in my opinion closer to the level of the first in the series.

Why I read it: I’m gradually working my way through the series.

Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding

Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin, 5/5

This book’s introduction alone provides such an incredibly compelling argument for breastfeeding and against the use of formula that I started to feel quite fanatic about the topic. Then I remembered that, still pregnant with my first child, I should probably keep my opinions to myself until I’ve had some real-life experience. Since that experience is still a few months away, I appreciated all the helpful info in this book, presented with Gaskin’s trademark practicality and tone of encouragement. I now have a more educated optimism that my new baby and I will be able to join the billions of mothers and children who have participated in the tradition of breastfeeding throughout time.

Why I read it: I plan to breastfeed and really liked Gaskin’s other book: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.

The Family Bed

The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin, 2/5

The author is a passionate advocate of communal family sleeping arrangements but writes in the simplistic style of a college research paper and relies too heavily on anecdotes. Before the topic of bed-sharing was even on my radar, I had already been warned against it by a friend whose eight-year-old was still not comfortable sleeping alone. Since opinions obviously vary, I wish this book had presented a more scholarly approach to the topic. Despite its shortcomings, it did provide an interesting point of view that encourages an open-minded approach to what should be a very personal and judgement-free lifestyle choice.

Why I read it: I’m expecting my first baby, so a friend gave it to me along with a couple books on childbirth.

2020 Stats

In 2020 I read nineteen books, ten of which were nonfiction, and nine fiction.

I read 1 book written between 1900-1949
5 books written between 1950-1999
13 books written between 2000-2018

Books that I rated 1 star: 0 (0%)
2 stars: 2 (11%)
3 stars: 9 (47%)
4 stars: 5 (26%)
5 stars: 3 (16%)

Great American Folklore

Great American Folklore: Legends, Tales, Ballads, and Superstitions from All Across America, compiled by Kemp P. Battle, 3/5

I understand the need to document and collect traditional stories to preserve them for posterity, but if there is a way to do so while also creating a good reading experience, the editor of this volume has not discovered it. Most of these tales clearly belong to an oral tradition, so it feels strange to encounter them stripped of their correct community context, not to mention the awkward (potentially racist) attempts to convey vernacular in prose.

Why I read it: Somehow it ended up in my to-read pile, though I can’t remember where or when I acquired it.

Blood of Elves

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by Danusia Stok, 3/5

There are three books preceding this one in the Witcher Saga, chronologically, but Blood of Elves really does feel like the first to make a coherent contribution to an overarching story line. I feel that its literary quality isn’t quite up to par with The Last Wish, but it is definitely an enjoyable entry in an over-saturated genre.

Why I read it: gradually working my way through the series after enjoying the first season on Netflix.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, 5/5

Anecdotal evidence may not be the best kind of evidence, but it is definitely the most entertaining. I enjoyed reading about the natural childbirth experiences of the many women represented in this book and appreciated that, overall, the stories were comforting without sugarcoating the intensity of the birth experience. Entertaining or not, I wouldn’t have been able to take Gaskin very seriously if she did not also have vast practical experience and the approbation of many more traditionally-educated medical experts. Advocates of natural childbirth can seem a bit fanatical, but their passion is understandable in light of the unnecessary and often harmful medical interference that seemed to characterize obstetrics in the 1900s (in addition to the U.S.A.’s frankly appalling maternal mortality ratio). I am cautiously optimistic that medicine has by now advanced to include a more open-minded and respectful view of the female body’s innate capacity for birth.

Why I read it: a friend recommended the author’s book Spiritual Midwifery, which was not available as a hard copy at my library at the time, so I read this one instead.

Autumn

Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Ingvild Burkey, 3/5

Reading this collection of short essays, mostly on such prosaic topics as “apples” and “plastic bags,” is a calming and grounding experience. Knausgaard combines the sensibilities of a sophisticated writer with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, rendering even the most commonplace subject somehow remarkable. The simple and honest manner in which the author’s thoughts and everyday life experiences permeate the text give one a sense of voyeurism without its intrinsic guilt; as if someone has left their curtains open solely to warm the hearts of passersby in the dark.

Why I read it: a recommendation by my sister, Anna.

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg, with Peter Rosegg, 4/5

I read this book for a laugh, expecting that almost 40 years of advancements in the field of medicine would have rendered it largely useless by now. To my surprise, I found myself being won over by the commonsense advice it presents, emphasizing mindful relaxation, supportive coaching, patience and faith in the natural process. After all, the act of childbirth is as old as time and if, as so many experts assert, we still experience primitive influences on a biological level, why should we rush to intervene with little excuse?