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.
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 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.
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 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 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?
Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy–Until You’re 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D., 3/5
Clearly, the target audience for this book is aging guys who will appreciate the old-fashioned generalizations and cringey humor that make Younger Next Year pretty unrelatable to anyone else. Fortunately though, you don’t have to be an old man to be encouraged by the premise that consistent exercise, smart eating (but not “dieting”), and healthy relationships can make old age a less terrifying prospect. This book also confirms something I’ve suspected for a long time–that we often associate increasing age with loneliness, misery and a sedentary lifestyle because those are the most available and memorable role models (thanks, negativity bias). All the healthy, adventurous, active, passionate old people are too busy out doing things to stop and convince us that a post-prime life can be amazing.
On a sad side note, I learned that the younger co-author, Dr. Lodge, died at the age of only 58 from prostate cancer. I’m tempted to conclude that one shouldn’t sacrifice happiness for health, since the latter is never guaranteed.
Why I read it: my dad gave me a copy because he enjoyed it.
How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love, Ed.D., and Steven Stosny, Ph.D., 2/5
Perhaps I’m just cynical, but I feel this book’s title may as well be How to Improve Your Marriage by Reading About It. Yes, the book presents some interesting psychological concepts, focusing mainly on how men’s vulnerability to feelings of shame and women’s vulnerability to fear can result in a sense of disconnection not reparable by verbal communication. Unfortunately, you have to take the authors’ word for even the most outlandish-sounding statements, since they provide no footnotes or references. This lack of academic documentation seriously undermines the book’s credibility, in my opinion, and gives a strangely pop-psych flavor to an unpopular message of resolute self-improvement and one-sided commitment to acts of connection. While I respect and agree with the authors’ encouragement to generally be an emotionally intelligent human being and not a shitty, selfish one, their “practical” advice seems laughably out of touch with reality. I honestly can’t see the “Power Love Formula” saving any relationships, but I guess what do I know since I’m lucky enough to be almost four years into a relationship with an amazing, sensitive man who is secure and loving enough to demand we talk things out even when I’d rather sulk in silence. In terms of practical relationship advice that resonates with what I’ve observed and experienced, I find The Five Love Languages to be much more relevant and helpful.
Why I read it: it resonated with my dad but not my mom, so I was curious.
Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 4/5
Written by a bona fide Arctic explorer, this book reflects a bygone era of exploration, when sane men packed up and left on insane adventures into unexplored territory from which they well knew they might never return. Indeed, every one of the five stories in this book involves death or disappearance, often punctuated by the horrors of starvation, betrayal, cannibalism and pure ineptitude. The author is not shy in drawing his own conclusions for each scenario and though his writing style is not the most entertaining, his first-hand experience and rational approach to the information available at the time make for a fascinating read.
I learned a lot from this book, such as that the Arctic, which I once imagined to be an abandoned ice desert, is (or at least, was) actually livable land, teeming with life. Unintuitively, the Inuit would move north during winter due to the abundance of game in the frozen landscape, killing everything from seals to polar bears without the aid of guns (often in territory in which well-armed Europeans managed to starve to death). I also learned a lot about scurvy, its causes and surprising psychological effects. According to Stefansson, scurvy plagued those explorers who tried to maintain a European diet, even when supplemented by fruits and vegetables. It was the author’s strong opinion that a diet consisting solely of native, fatty meat was the best way to stay healthy in the Arctic. It’s strange to think that the ketogenic diet is still controversial after over 80 years of arguments and studies.
Why I read it: an impulse buy in a used book store; for $3, who could resist?
Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People by Bob Goff, 3/5
After loving Love Does, I was very excited to read Goff’s next book, which I hoped would provide further illumination on the challenge of how to love people extravagantly without getting used up in the process. Unfortunately, I didn’t sense the same spirit in this book: the stories felt a little forced, the resulting morals were sometimes a stretch and the whole thing came off a bit preachy and canned. It’s actually a little funny because when I read Love Does, I literally thought to myself that it was the kind of inspired book you would live your whole life to write and never write another.
Why I read it: I wished Love Does was a longer book.