Shirley Jackson is funny

I continue to adore Shirley Jackson’s essays/nonfiction chapters about raising her four kids in a possibly haunted house in small town Vermont in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Life Among the Savages lived up to all my expectations about the essays’ hilariousness and strangeness.

To wit: I was giggling audibly while reading them on the sofa next to my husband. He asked me what was so funny, so I read him the paragraph that ends with her daughters’ singing “Baby ate a spider, baby ate a spider.” Then he started laughing.

Him: Who wrote this?
Me: Shirley Jackson, you know the woman who wrote The Lottery? [You know, that story you read in high school about the woman who ends up getting stoned to death? aka NOT FUNNY – Kate]

I wasn’t expecting the first set of her essays to be so entertaining, but these lived up to every expectation I had. Definitely recommended.

Teenagers are weird

The teenage brain

What’s it about?
The Teenage Brain is a book about brain development, especially through the teenage years. It came recommended from someone in my book club who has three kids, one of whom is in college. “It was so helpful.” It’s very science- and fact-based, as you’d expect. There’s a chapter on sleep, another on alcohol, another on stress, one on gender, another on mental illness… It’s comprehensive and clear and I learned a lot.

Why should you read it? 
Maybe you, like me, have children who are on the cusp of becoming teenagers. Maybe you’re interested in the brain. Maybe you are a teenager and you want to know what’s going on inside your head. Whatever, I’d recommend The Teenage Brain. The author hits the right amount of data vs stories, and there are a lot of diagrams to explain chemicals and synapses and receptors (oh my). I feel like I have a better grasp on how to be a parent through my kid’s teenage years, honestly. And that’s what I was going for.

Love and understanding

far from the tree

What’s it about?
Far from the Tree is, to summarize, about parenting difficult/different children. The author posits a construction. Vertical identity is the culture you get from your parents; horizontal identity is the culture you get from the world around you. But what happens when your child has a drastically different horizontal identity? Each chapter looks at family units who are dealing with a radically different horizontal identity: deaf children born to hearing parents; autistic children; prodigies; children who choose lives of crime; there are more. It’s a sympathetic look at how parents and children navigate figuring out who they are as individuals and who they are in relation to each other and the outside world.

Why should you read it?
It is long (700 pages). You should read Far from the Tree if you have children or want children. It’s not going to give you parenting tips, unless you want to be hammered over the head with “your child needs to feel safe and secure and loved so DO THAT” and “find meaning in your parenting to be happy.” These are lessons so global as to be almost useless. But it does help you understand differences in the world – all the examples about Deaf culture or how the world treats transgendered kids illustrate that everyone does have the same basic needs: to be loved and accepted. (I did skip most of the chapter on kids conceived in rape. I couldn’t deal with 50-60 pages continually recounting women at their most vulnerable.)

Overall, a thorough book that’s worth your time.