Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book review: Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention by Katherine Ellison

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I am currently investigating the possibility that my son might have ADHD, and I am newly diagnosed with the condition myself, so I have a lot of identification with this situation. Many things that Ellison describes in this book seemed right on target. I recognized many situations, which was validating. Also, she has some very good suggestions and does a fairly thorough review of the treatment philosphies and options out there for this condition.

On the other hand, she seems a bit overly antagonistic toward her son at times. I understand that there are two things going on here, probably: her need to make people understand that this really is outside the normal high-spiritedness of kids, and does deserve a diagnosis and support (because there is a lot of bias toward this diagnosis, and a widespread belief that the condition doesn't really exist), and the fact that she is focusing on the difficult behaviors because that is what the book is about. However, it seems she could have done that in the context of a more well-rounded view of her son and their relationship. For the first third of the book or so, this kid sounds terrible. She talks so much about how he hurts his brother, I started to wonder why she didn't consider institutionalizing him. Once she established the severity of the problem, she did seem to back off that a bit and he sounded like a not bad kid who happens to have some difficulties, but geez, it was a bit much. Also, it seemed farily clear that the biggest thing that she did during this year of working on her son's problem was to stop seeing him as the enemy and start working with him rather than against him, which I found a bit frustrating. Parenting 101: you never win a power struggle with your kids. Never. This has nothing to do with ADHD.

That said, I read the book in less than 2 days after it came in the mail, and I feel that I learned a lot from it. I particularly liked seeing this Pulitzer prize winning journalist struggle with the same day to day tasks that trouble me. It makes me feel better about my potential and the accuracy of my own diagnosis. I appreciated Ellison's bravery and honesty in detailing both her son's and her own behaviors that were, at times, (far) less than perfect. All parents have an ideal that they strive toward as a parent, and they all fall short at times. Showing her own failures opens her up to negative feedback that must be difficult to hear. Despite my criticisms above, I could clearly tell from this book that Ellison loves her sons and is a good parent to them. Overall, definitely recommended, despite my annoyances with a few points.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What I am reading now

About a year ago, I suddenly lost interest in my spreadsheet of books. I got behind on updating it, and I never got back to it. I am still reading, though!

Mostly, I am re-reading lately. I have re-read most of my Sheri S. Tepper books, which I always enjoy. I got a set of the Galactic Mileau series by Julian May, and that was a lot of fun to revisit. Now I need to get the Intervention and Pliocene Exile books. It has probably been 15 years since I read those books, long enough that I can re-read and be surprised by a few things. And, right now I am reading the Harry Potter books, 4 through 7. We seem to have lost the first 3, or I would be reading them, too.

I am re-reading for a couple of different reasons. First, obviously, is the economic reason--it doesn't cost anything to read books that I already own! My children have reached ages where they seem to be outgoing all of their clothes all the time, no doubt because they eat all. the. time. So, it is nice to have a large library of books that I can go to for entertainment at no extra expense.

But, I also find it a bit comforting to re-read. I love picking up a book that I already know I will like. A lot of the books I re-read, I may not remember the details before I read them, but I remember what it was like to read them. I can revisit what it was like when the ideas were new, or I can remember things that were happening in my life when I read the books the first time around. This can lead to expense, though--sometimes I have to go out and buy a book that I remember but can no longer lay my hands upon. But I can usually find something on my shelves that meets my needs, which makes me feel good about keeping all these books. Yes, there was a point to keeping them!

Musing on TV

I really like the new USA show, Covert Affairs. The cast is appealing, the action quotient is high, but not so high that it actually overshadows character development and actual thought about what is going on. I love that they have a strong female lead who is both feminine and aggressively competent at her (dangerous, exciting, difficult) job. I love that they don’t spend a lot of time explaining things, even though the show just started. They show you what is going on with action in the story rather than a lot of exposition. I also love that they show the vast amount of background support that a good spy would need.

Good lord, though, I hope the writing improves as the show goes on.

In last night show, Annie realizes that the MI6 guy is actually a closet Catholic working with the IRA because he knows how long Lent is and he is quitting smoking. “His file says he is Anglican,” she says, doubtfully. I hate to break it to her, but as followers of a Christian religion, Anglicans know how long Lent is. And referring to his nicotine patch is both a bit obscure and an enormous leap to Catholicism. I was raised Catholic, so I know that Catholics give up something for Lent, but surely they are not the only Christian sect to do so. If they are though, the lack of explanation about Lenten sacrifices would leave the vast majority of viewers confused about what the patch has to do with being part of the IRA.

Also, cigarettes are not the kind of thing people I know gave up for Lent; something like chocolate or fast food or desserts was much more common. Sure, someone might give up smoking for Lent, but there are a LOT of other reasons why someone might be giving up cancer sticks. Being Catholic and it being Lent might explain why someone was quitting smoking at that particular time, but giving up smoking is far from evidence that you are Catholic, Lent or no.

Overall, the writing has many strengths. The problem with something like this is that it is just lazy. They want to get to the part where they know he is the bad guy, and I guess they want to throw in the Catholic thing, so they just sort of glide over this. And it was so unnecessary! The fact that the witness went to the British Intelligence and yet he claims to have never heard of her is enough reason to doubt him already! Although, now that I think about it, that is bad, too—why would an American citizen go to British Intelligence first (or, for that matter, at all) when reporting a coded radio transmission that was sent by an unknown someone on an American radio station?

On another note, I really hope that next episode does not feature a subplot wherein Annie’s sister thinks she is a selfish jerk, but then they make up and show their super-close relationship by eating dessert together. How close can their relationship be if her sister thinks she is an insensitive bitch all the time? You can tell that the sister is just there as a foil and is not a real character because I haven’t the slightest idea what her name is. Has Annie ever called her by name? I would think she must have, but I can’t recall it.

Hopefully, these things will be fixed as the show progresses and the writers are more comfortable in the environment. I am still watching, it is just that this type of thing threatens the willing suspension of disbelief that is so important for a show to work. It’s why I don’t watch Chuck, even though I love that cast and there are lots of good points to that show as well—it’s just such an incredibly ridiculous scenario I cannot believe in it. I am crossing my fingers that Covert Affairs writers will get better and avoid this problem.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I sometimes wish...

...that we as a culture had a much more liberal definition of what constitutes acceptable make-up. Like, the kind of makeup you see on models in art photographs or runways, or men wearing more make-up. I'd like to see it be more about the statement and the personality than just conventional prettiness.