Book Review: Ina May Gaskin vs. Milli Hill

With Little Baby constantly reminding me of her imminent arrival by hearty kicks and punches, it makes sense that I’d devote a portion of my summer reading list to books on parenting and childbirth.

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Us having a drink at 32 weeks



The first book I tried was one I’d been encouraged to read by several sources. I was even handed a free copy of it on my first visit to the midwives, but ended up giving it back because I already had a copy sitting on my bedside table at home. It was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin.

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I actually purchased my copy of this book before I even got pregnant. As someone who was terrified of the process of pregnancy and labor, I’d seen and read many places that it was important to fill my mind with positive birth stories to combat my negative notions. This book was recommended so consistently that I bought myself a copy and eagerly began to read, hoping it would allay my fears when I finally got my positive pregnancy test.

The first half of the book is all personal birth stories from women that gave birth on “the Farm” which is the birthing center that Gaskin set up. They are meant to encourage and inspire women towards the beauty and bliss of natural home births with a midwife. But for me, these “positive birth stories” were completely ineffectual. It seemed like many of these women had some kind of complication, some nearly emergent complication, going on during their labor. They all ended up giving birth to happy healthy babies without medical intervention. That, I believe, was the point of them telling their stories. Look what I did without a doctor. I mean, it was touch and go for a while, but it was all fine! Yes. Right. Lovely! But instead of reassuring me, these stories just set me on edge and gave me a longer list of “what ifs” for my still unknown labor and delivery story. *shakes head* I call that a fail at positive birth stories.

Gaskin’s book read to me like a three hundred page advertisement for why you must have a home birth with a midwife and avoid hospitals and doctors. I skipped over the chapters at the end that warned me about the probably hidden mortality statistics for pregnant women giving birth in hospitals. I needed encouragement, not more reasons to fear. And while I highly respect Gaskin for the trail she blazed promoting better childbirth options in this country, I really could have done without reading her book. Especially when taken in conjunction with another book I read, The Positive Birth Book written by Milli Hill.

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This book, seriously, was an absolute sleep-saver for me! It opened up with the author explaining how desperately she wanted to be pregnant, but how utterly terrified she was once she saw the positive pregnancy test. Everything about her emotional state echoed mine. She compared it to sky diving. You’re in the airplane, looking down over the distant ground, and you know you have to jump eventually; it’s too late to turn back. You feel guilty for telling people you’re terrified now that you’re actually pregnant. You’re supposed to be happy. Meanwhile, everyone is laughing themselves silly for the look on your face after they’ve told you about all the horrors that await you through pregnancy into parenthood.

This inspired Hill to start The Positive Birth Movement out of which grew her book. It walks through all the stages of labor, the most common complications, the ins and outs of cesareans, and tips on adjusting to the early days postpartum. All of it was told with an upbeat candor that truly brought peace to my thudding heart. This could happen, but this is why it will still be okay. 

Another aspect of the book that I loved was how she shied away from the common idea of 3 stages in labor. She described it in 14 stages to make it all as clear as possible, a method I found a lot more beneficial than how Gaskin addressed it in the second half of her book. She also mathematically broke down the average percentage of time that most women are actually in terrible pain during natural childbirth. The average woman is in labor 8 hours and only 23% of that time is spent having contractions. Even if I don’t turn out to be average, just reading that lessened my fear of labor by leaps and bounds.

The whole of that book had that effect on me. I loved it, and if I could recommend any one birth book to a new mother, it would absofrigginlutely be this one.

Book Review: “The Mist” by Stephen King

This may sound obvious, but seriously, Stephen King is an amazing writer.

I talked about this a little bit when I read The Shiningbut I just really enjoy his style. It’s easy going, almost simplistic, but with this kind of flourish that makes me crave the sound of his voice. His characters are all so real, just like the kind of people you bump into every day at the gas station or target or work. And his figurative language is perfect. It just feels so original. Like, saying the old basement smelled yellow. I love that! It’s spot on and fresh, every time.

I saw the trailer for the new series they were making off of The Mist in my Facebook feed. I looked up the book and saw it was only a novella. Since I hadn’t read anything from Mr. King in a while, and since I was 12 books behind on my Goodreads Reading goal for the year, I decided to get it from the library.

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It was a little too close to finals though, so the little green paperback sat on my bedside “To Read” stack for almost a month. I went online and saw that it was due back in 4 days. I shrugged, clicked the “renew book” button and saw the dreaded error message.

THIS TITLE CANNOT BE RENEWED: REQUESTED BY ANOTHER PATRON

I groaned a little, picked it up and checked the page count. 230. I smiled, and thought those two little words that every Booknerd has tattooed on their soul: No problem. I wasn’t feeling too hot anyway, so I just spent my day resting, reading, and letting Little Baby inch her way a little closer to nailing me in the ribs when she kicked.

I opened this post with a gush of praise about Mr. King’s writing. I meant it. The only catch is that he often writes in two genres that I am very hit or miss on as a reader: horror and science-fiction. I enjoy both, but no where near as much as I enjoy other genres. This makes me a little hit or miss with his plots.

For me, The Mist was a miss.

It opened the way I experienced the trailer, surreal and creepy. The narrator is named David, an artist who spends his summers at a family lake house in Maine. A horrible storm kicks up one night, knocking out the power and felling trees. In the morning, Dave, his son, and his next-door neighbor head into town to grab some provisions until the power comes back. While they’re there, a thick, otherworldly mist settles over the town, trapping them in the supermarket.

This was all fine and creepy, I was enjoying it, but as the story continued to unravel it became a sort of mixture between sci-fi and 1940’s B grade horror flick. It reminded me heavily of a black & white movie I used to love called The Crawling Eye. So much so that I ceased to be creeped and began to chuckle, the same reaction this B Grade movie used to give me as a kid. In his memoir On Writing, Mr. King mentioned his love for old horror movies (any/all horror movies really), and I kinda wondered if he’d seen it too.

In the end, I wasn’t thrilled with the plot, definitely shrug worthy for me on that score, but I so enjoy listening to him tell a story that I was still glad I read it.

…all in one day so that I could get it back to the library before it was due. 😉

Book Review: “The Atlantic Sound” by Caryl Phillips

This was another book I read for my Readings in Global Literature class last semester. This one isn’t a novel. It’s part travel, part history book, and covers several trips the author made in order to study the African diaspora and look for global community among blacks.

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Even if that topic is of no interest to you, the historical sections were fascinating. One of them went deep into the roots of Liverpool, England to discuss its key role in the slave trade, as well as more current issues of race within the community. The other was about Charleston, South Carolina and the life of District Judge J. Waties Waring. Both of these sections were completely new history to me, and Phillip’s way of telling them was both refreshing and honest.

Another part of the narrative that I found refreshing and honest, was the immigration story of Phillips’ guide in Ghana during Panafest. Phillips almost tells the story twice, and by this challenges the classic stereotypical narrative people often hear or imagine once you discover someone has been deported from a country or denied a visa.

Many of my classmates found Phillips’ tone overly negative. What I saw in him was a skepticism of the idea that the entirety of who we are is to be found in our ancestral roots. But this doesn’t mean he’s completely anti the idea of seeking out your historical origins. He describes things very cynically at times, but he also places against that cynicism the actions of some of the members of the diaspora that he encounters. If you’re paying attention you can see him tracing the community among them. Even if you don’t agree with his ultimate analysis of global community, his book is a fascinating study of the results of the transatlantic slave trade on the black diaspora.

Phillips’ writing is lovely, but I wouldn’t necessarily call this book an easy read. It was dense, though not heavy, and as much as I adored it, the reading itself was slow going. The most rewarding part was the last chapter and the epilogue. Something changed with his writing style and it became like poetry. It happened slowly and subtly. I looked back and couldn’t tell where it even started. By the time I got to the very last paragraph of the book I just didn’t want it to end, the writing was just so beautiful.

I will definitely be reading more of Phillips’ work in the future. He appealed to me with the way his writing was both beautiful and intellectually stimulating.

Book Review: “Sold” by Patricia McCormick

This book. Just wow.

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It’s poetry. Literally. The whole book is a series of poems all telling the story of Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl from Nepal who is sold into prostitution.

It won’t be any surprise when I say that this book was hard to read. It’s Young Adult and not atrociously graphic, but it’s well written enough that it nearly shattered me. I barely slept after I finished it, because it made me feel so powerless. The author went to India and Nepal to interview girls who were saved from child slavery and sex trafficking. It didn’t matter that Lakshmi’s story was fiction; the whole book just feels far too real. It made me feel miserably uncomfortable and helpless, like when you get an alert on your mobile that there has been some global catastrophe, and you know that there is little you personally can do to help.

I think that telling this story through poetry was especially effective, because of the vivid visual nature of poetry. Yes, this can also be accomplished through prose, but I wonder then if the story would have needed a lot more excess description of movement and action. In poems everything is cut back to sensations, sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. This made the book able to talk about something as horribly graphic as child brothels by preserving the essentials and making the trauma palpable.

All I could think was, this girl is only thirteen. This girl is only thirteen.

This book meant a lot to me. It was one of those books that forces your eyes open, drags you from your comfortable life, and screams, “Don’t waste your life. People are suffering. This is real.” These are the kinds of books that deserve medals and awards, because they bring awareness to the world about ugly things. If you can stomach the ugly, read this book.

I spent a day or two looking for organizations that work to stop sex trafficking in Nepal and India. I have placed two links below if you want to read up on the work they do, or donate to help.

World Vision
MountainChild

 

Book Review: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

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My “Readings in Global Literature” class was not at all what I expected it to be. The literature chosen for class focused mostly on the transatlantic slave trade. There is nothing wrong with this at all, and I learned so much, but when I read the course description I thought we would be reading novels from all around the world. I hoped to read a book from China or India, then maybe some from Russia or the Middle East. Basically anything but American or European, which is what most of the literature courses seem to concentrate on.

This was my only complaint with the course. Otherwise, the professor was phenomenal, and we read several wonderful books. One of my favorites was the novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The title apparently comes from an old African-American belief that when they died their souls would journey across the ocean, back to their homeland of Africa. The author herself was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, and says that the character Marjorie has very similar experiences to herself. Which is interesting to know once you get to her chapter and the chapter of Marcus at the end of the book.

In my opinion, Homegoing is epic. I say this because the purpose of the novel is to try and trace the effects of the slave trade across generations, starting back in the 1700’s all the way to present day. Gyasi does this by following the story of two half sisters born in Ghana. One is sold into slavery, one remains in Ghana.

Each chapter is almost like a short story. A portion of a character’s life is relayed, giving key information about the family and about important events regarding slavery during that time period. The next chapter switches to the other branch of the family, so you go from Ghana to the United States and back to Ghana.

In some ways, this could be a bit confusing. Often times you meet a character once then see very little to nothing of them ever again. I did find myself referring back to the family tree at the opening of the book, just so I could gage where I was at generationally, but it helped that any chapter that takes place in the United States is one sister’s decedents, and the others are still living in Ghana. Gyasi also weaves in recurring themes of fire and water, which help to tie the story together.

The scope of the story is just incredible. It’s so ambitious, to try and condense so much history into one novel, but I truly think that the author did an excellent job. I’ve read some reviews that remark on how her characters have “all the things” happen to them just to make reference to important historical events, but personally this did not bother me. I liked that it was there to remind you that these things did happen to real people. It made the story all the more compelling to me in a historical sense.

I found this book absolutely breathtaking. Every chapter, every generation that brought me closer to present day had me more and more wrapped up in the story. I didn’t feel disconnected at all from the geographical or character jumps. I just wanted to see how the author was going to tie it all together. Her prose is pretty straightforward, except for now and again she breaks into a kind of poetry that always made me stop and reread the sentence.

Definitely one of my favorite reads this semester.

March Reading Summary

My blogposts tend to be pretty random in content. I started with a ton of poetry which slowly morphed into a sort of random-anecdotes-from-my-life thing. I sometimes think I blog mostly just to exercise my writing muscles, and I’m thankful for anybody who takes the time to read my random blatherings.

With Little Baby on the way, and only one year of school left, I find myself frequently considering what I want to do with my post-school time. This has left me wondering if I might not want to refocus my content hereabouts.

One of the things I’ve been toying with is posting more book reviews. I read a lot, and my taste in books is wide ranged and random, so I’m not sure this is my best idea. But with books being one of the only things I know, I figure blogging about my opinions regarding them can’t be any more yawn worthy than the other stuffs that I post here.

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To that end, I’ve decided to do a recap of all the books I read in March. It was a light kind of month as I still had a ton of school work to do, but near the end I had a few pregnancy induced sleepless nights that I devoted to reading.

  1. Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

urlThis book was one of the novels I had to read for school this semester. While I appreciated Evaristo’s storytelling abilities, I struggled to enjoy this book. It is a “what-if” dystopian satire that turns the transatlantic slave trade on its head: Africans have enslaved white Europeans. The story is about Doris, a white slave, and her attempts to escape her black masters.

After discussion in the classroom, I was able to appreciate Evaristo’s aims in this rewrite of history. By flipping the familiar, she is trying to show how racial bias has warped our thinking in so many ways. She even reinvents the map of the world, shifting different countries above and below the equator. And while I understand what she’s doing, and believe she does it well, I think, for me, I would much rather read a non-satyrical account of slavery or a true life slave narrative. But, all in all, well written and if the idea piques your interest, I’d say dive right in.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

2. Passing by Nella Larsen

url-1This is another novel I had to read for school this semester. This one I loved. Larsen’s writing style is so poised, gentle, straightforward, and beautiful. The story is about Irene and Claire, two black women from Chicago now living in Harlem during the 1920’s. The story is dark and beautiful and deals with issues of race, racism, and jealousy. It’s also a short read, the kind of book I like to take to the beach because I know I can finish before it’s time to go home. I definitely recommend it for Larsen’s poignant themes and lovely writing abilities.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

4. Twitter: The Comic by Mike Rosenthal

url-2This one was a just for fun quick comic that I stumbled across while at the library. Rosenthal collected a bunch of goofy tweets and began to illustrate them. His tumbler account got popular, leading to this collection in this book. It was nice to flip through as a cool down after school one day. It made me chuckle. For a taste, you can find Rosenthal’s tumbler here.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

5. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

url-4Yet another book I read for one of my classes. This book is the coming of age story of a young girl in Antigua. It heavily discusses the relationship between the girl and her mother, and all the complications it develops as the girl’s childhood fades into adulthood. Kincaid’s writing style was straightforward, but the story itself had layers of imagery within it that deepened the themes to a satisfying level. It was also a short easy read, another book I’d happily take to the beach.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

6. My Point…And I Do Have One by Ellen DeGeneres

url-5OH MY GOSH! This woman is hilarious. Really. I read Seriously…I’m Kidding a few years ago, and she’s just so freakin’ funny. The book has no plot or anything. It’s just chapter after chapter of hilarious anecdotes and stories about her life, some of which you know have to be majorly exaggerated for comic effect. I read multiple chapters of this aloud to my husband and my brother-in-law and we were all cry-laughing at it. Seriously, if you need a pick-me-up then pick this one up.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

7. Welcome to Dead House by R. L. Stine (Goosebumps, #1)

url-7This series was excessively popular when I was a child. I never read any, one: because I didn’t enjoy horror back then (even the covers freaked me out) and two: if I’d tried to take one out of the library my parents probably would have slapped it from my hands and called the elders over to pray the demons out of me.

It was about what I expected, a creepy book for kids with kind of light corny humor interspersed throughout. The writing was strictly meh, but typical of a lot of serial books aimed at elementary/middle schoolers. Now that I’ve satisfied my curiosity, I feel no urge to ever read something by Stine again.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

8. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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This has been on my to-read list for a while, so when it popped up as required reading for my Harlem Renaissance class I was super excited. This was one of those classics that absolutely lived up to the hype. Hurston’s story of Janie’s search for self revelation was deep and beautiful, full of breathtaking prose and delicious poetical imagery. Please, do yourself a favor, if you haven’t read this, DO IT!

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

That more or less finishes out March, except for my favorite read which I’m saving out to write up a separate review for. Hope I tickled the fancy of a few book nerds out there, and maybe gave you a title or two to check out.

Cheers!

Spoiler Filled Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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This review of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD contains MAJOR of spoilers. If you want to read this book, do not read this post. 

You’ve been warned.

Disappointed. That’s the word. And not like those people who were shocked and dismayed to discover the hefty hardback they’d preordered was a play instead of a novel.  When I bought my copy I knew what I was getting. The play itself isn’t even written by J.K. Rowling, but by Jack Thorne (which it says right on the cover by the way). But even the knowing of these things did not prevent me feeling cheated as I read the script, nor did it prevent me from directing my disgruntled emotions toward J.K. Rowling, because it was the plot that I found lacking. That, I believe, was all her.

The opening scene of the play is a dramatized version of the prologue in Deathly HallowsThis didn’t bother me at first, because it made sense to me as a springboard into the new story and would appeal to fans of the books. But that wasn’t the only old scene that was put into the story.

The plot centers around the use and misuse of a time turner. Now, time travel is tricky any way you slice it, and in my reading/viewing experience, often leaves approximately 458,290,002 plot holes behind that you need to caulk and spackle. Kudos to anyone who does it. But this rolling back of time, plus the occasional nightmare of Harry Potter, had multiple scenes thrown in from the original books. While this is a lesser complaint, I was hoping for more new content.

I was also frustrated by what seemed to me like a whiny violin play for sympathy over characters that I most often see mooned over by fans. Namely Severus Snape (who by the way is my favorite), Cedrick Diggory, and Neville Longbottom.

The initial jump back into time is all in an effort to save the tragically killed Cedrick Diggory. This screws up life and the world because Cedrick apparently turned Death Eater and killed Neville at the battle of Hogwarts. If Neville dies, then Voldemort lives, because Neville is responsible for destroying one of Moldy-Volde’s Horcruxs.

Now, we can rush past the whole Hufflepuff Cedrick becoming a Death Eater issue and play the “Author knows best” card, but by the time I hit this part of the play my eye was already twitching. Then when Severus Snape turned up alive in this new world, and gave his life AGAIN to make it all be right, I felt like I’d been roped into crying over the same crap I’d already been through with Deathly Hallows. Plus, there was this whole emotional moment when Snape is told that Harry named his child after him. Snape’s dying words are, “Tell Albus Severus Potter, that I’m proud he bears my name.”

But by far the worst part for me, was when I found that Voldemort was the father of Bellatrix Lestrange’s child, a little girl born just before the battle of Hogwarts. Sex? Voldemort? No. That is an oddity that no amount of “author knows best” can excuse in my mind. I just don’t buy it. I felt like I was reading fan fiction. Nothing wrong with fan fiction! I’ve written some myself. Except, I just think that Rowling doesn’t need to do that.

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I’ve read The Cuckoo’s CallingI’d give it a solid 5 stars. I heard mixed reviews on it, some harping on the fact that it didn’t really sell until the news popped out that Robert Galbraith was J.K. Rowling. Of course that made it sell. J.K. Rowling had already been tested in the fires of unknown authordom and found brilliant. Rightfully so. She is utterly fantastic. Nobody knew Robert Galbraith. Why risk picking up his book instead of John Grisham’s? I call it courage to go through those fires again when her name would have sold it easily without the initial rejection.

But that’s just what I mean, she’s too good to have to repackage the old franchise. She’s a true writer, and probably has a thousand untold stories dancing in her head. And while I love Harry Potter, I think she deserves to work on the new and not fall under the hypnosis of the MORE HARRY! MORE HARRY! chant from fans and publishers. That’s what Pottermore is for. She has there the blessing of a forever fandom, where she can post endless anecdotes and updates on her characters to the eager approval of all. Most authors just have to walk away from their favorite characters when the story is done being told.

And stories do end. Harry’s mortgage, petty marital arguments, and eventual aging arthritic knees will not make for compelling sequels. Harry has now saved the world for Voldemort TWICE. How many times can a person save the world from a super-villian that they’ve already vanquished? Is Harry a Saturday morning cartoon of a DC comic now?  And if I have to believe he is going to save the world THREE times from He Who Shall Not Be Named…well, I just won’t.

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In case this post sounds utterly negative and like I hate the continuing Harry Potter franchise, I LOVELOVELOVED Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  The world she created in the Potter books was bigger than just Harry. Give me more new characters like Newt Scamander and I’ll come back forever. Also, the play is scheduled to open in NYC. If by any chance I could secure tickets, I would sure as anything still go, but it wouldn’t be because I was in love with the plot. It had some very fascinating special effects written in, which I would love to see worked out on stage.