Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success attempts to use spelling bees as a mode of inquiry into Generation Z kids, and it does not go well. The description of the bees and participants are told lovingly and were, to me, the most accomplished part of the book.
The rest seemed both repetitive and shallow, somehow. Why is it important to justify spelling bees as a “sport”? It’s not a sport, anymore than chess is a sport, but why should all children participate in sports? And yes, the winners are good at self-direction, and self-promotion, skills that will be useful to them later on. The winners of competitive endeavors are self-motivated. And the author tries so hard to portray the parents as not pushy that it’s a little suspicious. Surely, like in any other field, there are parents who step above the line, right? But I think you will enjoy the descriptions of the bees and the training methods used by the contestants. They certainly know a lot about how the English language came together.
The authors of Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids are fathers and economists, and they have patiently compiled information on how parents choose to be parents in the first place, and how they decide how much to intervene in the decisions their children make, based on the economic climate, the amount of income inequality, and whether the society rewards education or other goods. It turns out that parents are remarkably rational and for the most part, guide their children to success in the societies where they live–or where they expect their children to live. For Americans, the basic conclusion is that, in a society that is quite unequal and where education can pay off nicely, parents push, hard, but they stop short of dictating junior’s career path, because it will yield the best results.
I particularly liked the anecdotes provided by both (European-born) authors on the various surprises they encountered while raising their children in various countries, showing that cultural differences matter a great deal (and match economic differences very exactly).
The heroine of Everything Under grew up on a houseboat with an unstable and likely mentally ill mother who eventually abandoned her. Decades later, her mother reappears and she revisits her surprisingly hazy memories, including what I found to be a very tiresome retelling of the Oedipus story, drowning in fog and rain.
Rebellious stepdaughter picks the one act sure to infuriate both her hated stepfather and her over-protective mother: she has sex with her stepbrother. Trouble ensues.
Why one would want to read about the barely coherent feelings and decisions of that teenager is unclear. Hence, I do not recommend The Awkward Age.
Note to the author of a novel awash with physicians: there is no school of medicine at MIT. Plenty of others to choose from in Boston, though!
I was a little leery of the precocious Nenny’s voice in Every Other Weekend — plus, can the ordinary life of the daughter of divorced parent be really that interesting? Well, yes! As we follow her to her parochial school, through her wildly devastating nightmares, and along her complex relationships with her silent, though, but secretly sweet stepfather, we fall in love with her world and her vision of it. Even without the eventual tragedy, she takes us into the universe of third graders, and it’s not quite as simple as we might think. Don’t give up before you read at least 100 pages!
I never quite know what to do with novels that are obviously fantasies: who could believe that a nine-year old child (the Frank of Be Frank With Me) dresses in morning coats, speaks in high falutin language, and has an extensive knowledge of classic movies — or that a book editor would send a round-the-clock nanny and housekeeper on an open-ended stay to help an author finish a book. But, on the other hand, many details such as the cruel school principal or the flaky handyman ring very true. Less drama and more detail would make the book much more enjoyable.
I have enjoyed Knausgaard rough memoirs, and Autumn is very different: a series of essays and letters to his unborn daughter. The sweetness is surprising at first, but there are plenty of darker corners as the author tackles buttons, lice, tin cans, children frightened by thunder, and the embarrassment of trying to get rid of a large wad of gum at his editor’s house. Nothing escapes his critical gaze.
Best read in small doses, and while some of the essays are just brilliant, others are less so.