One-Minute Book Reviews

October 7, 2007

Is Penelope Leach the Margaret Thatcher of Child-Care Experts? Quote of the Day (Katha Pollitt)

Yesterday I went to the Borders store at Madison Square Garden — the airiest bookstore in New York with its huge plate-glass windows — looking for books I’ve wanted to review. I struck out on two new editions of children’s classics: a Little Red Riding Hood illustrated Andrea Wisnewski and Ruth Krauss’s The Backward Day.

But with a bit of effort, I found an adult book at the top of my list: Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories (Random House, $22.95), a collection of personal essays by Nation columnist Katha Pollittt. (Memo to Borders: This does not belong in the “Politics and Government” section but near I Feel Bad About My Neck.) I dove into Pollitt’s essay on the birth of her daughter two decades ago and, in a section about child-rearing experts, found this irresistible passage on the author of Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age 5:

“Penelope Leach, the only famous woman expert, was a dragon, the infant-care equivalent of Margaret Thatcher or Barbara Woodhouse, who had that dog-training show on television (‘No bad dogs – only inexperienced owners!’), and you couldn’t dismiss her as just another man laying down the law. She was a mother herself; a better mother than you, because she never seemed to have a minute in which raising children was not the foremost on thing on her mind. She wrote that you had to talk to your baby when you were pushing the stroller and that not to do so was rude because if the baby was a grown-up you would make conversation. She wrote that if you had a job and the baby was happy you had still done the wrong thing, you had just gotten away with it. Penelope Leach had quite a bit of useful information, which she delivered in a brisk, friendly way, but that was just to cozy you along. Like the men, she obviously thought that if you ignored her advice you’d produce an addict or a killer or a C student – but if that was true the human race would never have survived all those millennia living in mud huts on a diet of lentils and goat milk.”

More on Learning to Drive soon and, in the meantime, you can read about it at www.randomhouse.com and www.kathapollit.blogspot.com.

The Borders store at Madison Square Garden www.bordersstores.com is at 2 Penn Plaza. Among large New York bookstores, it is one of the most convenient for tourists, situated right next to Penn Station and a few minutes’ walk from the Port Authority bus terminal. Unlike most city bookstores of its size, it has a broad plaza in front with lots of places to sit and read (in addition to an in-store cafe).

The way this Borders shelves books can be a little odd. Pollitt is doing appearances all over the city, so why was Learning to Drive buried in the “Politics” section on the second floor? But the service was exceptional. When I couldn’t find the book on the main floor, a staff member directed me to the second floor, then called upstairs to a clerk, who was waiting for me with the book when I got there. I rarely comment on bookstores, but I haven’t had this kind of service at a bookstore of its size anywhere in the world.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 20, 2007

Could This Weekend’s Group Grope of Harry Potter Actually HARM Children? Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:59 pm
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What could possibly be wrong with millions of children lining up to buy and read the same book at the same time? Here’s an answer from Ron Charles of the Washington Post:

“Consider that, with the release of each new volume, Rowling’s readers have been driven not only into greater fits of enthusiasm but into more precise synchronization with one another. Through a marvel of modern publishing, advertising and distribution, millions of people will receive or buy The Deathly Hallows on a single day. There’s something thrilling about that sort of unity, except that it has almost nothing to do with the unique pleasures of reading a novel: that increasingly rare opportunity to step out of sync with the world, to experience something intimate and private, the sense that you and an author are conspiring for a few hours to experience a place by yourselves — without a movie version or a set of action figures. Through no fault of Rowling’s, Potter mania nonetheless trains children and adults to expect the roar of the coliseum, a mass-media experience that no other novel can possibly provide.”

Ron Charles, a senior editor of the Washington Post’s Book World Section, in “Harry Potter and the Death of Reading,” Sunday, July 15, 2007, Page B01. I can’t link directly to this post but you can find it by Googling “Harry Potter and the Death of Reading.”

Comment by Janice Harayda:
I love Charles’s observation that reading a novel offers “that increasingly rare opportunity to step out of sync with the world, to experience something intimate and private, the sense that you and an author are conspiring for a few hours to experience a place by your selves.” This suggests the possible dark side not just of Harry Potter mania but of book clubs and all those campaigns that aim to get all the adults in a town to read the same book.

Could such efforts be a subtle way of co-opting the solitary pleasures of reading? What do you think?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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