Wednesday, April 3, 2024

An Open Book: March 2024 Reads

Christ is risen! 

I hope that you all are having a beautiful Easter season so far. I personally am enjoying the chance to bask in the glory of Easter after the intensity of Holy Week :) With the start of another month, it's time to link up with An Open Book! In March, I did not get much done in the way of writing, but I read a lot. It was a really fantastic lineup of books, so let's dive in! 


Remedies for Sorrow, by Megan Nix

In this memoir, Nix walks through the early months of life after the birth of her second daughter. After having a mostly uneventful pregnancy, she was shocked when her full-term daughter was tiny and kept failing hearing tests. A doctor eventually discovered that her baby tested positive for CMV, a virus that Nix had never heard of, but which is a leading cause for disabilities and developmental delays. In this incredible memoir (seriously, the writing is gorgeous), Nix uncovers what it's like when motherhood is not how you anticipated, as well her frustration at the lack of education on CMV. Not only was this a compelling and beautifully written story, but I was fascinated to learn about her life in Alaska, and how she navigates medical care for her daughter while living in a small, remote town.  Also, I loved how the author's faith was gently interwoven throughout this story. Her background includes Roman Catholicism, Byzantine Catholicism, and Russian Orthodoxy, and it was beautiful to see how she brought them into the book. I thoroughly loved reading this memoir, even if it did make me break down and cry five times. I highly recommend it! 


Pantaloons and Power, by Gayle V. Fischer

I started this book because it featured a section on my favorite fake prophet, James Strang, and I'm so glad I read it! This book is a historical overview and discussion of the role of pants for women in 19th century America. The author draws from lots of research into different religious sects and communes, and the book reaffirmed my belief that American culture right now is strikingly similar to what it was 200 years ago (the section on the New Harmony commune in the 1820s was particularly interesting). I didn't totally agree with all of the author's conclusions at the end of the book, and parts of the text moved a little slowly for me, but overall, I really enjoyed this one! I recommend it to people who, like me, are fascinated with 19th century American religious movements and/or fashion. 


Creativity: A short and cheerful guide, by John Cleese

This was a fun, short reflection on creativity by a famous scriptwriter and performer. Cleese works under the assumption that anyone can be creative, and he discusses the brain's role, as well. He also dives into the importance of rest and of having time and space dedicated to simply playing and being creative. There wasn't a ton of new ground covered in this small volume, but this book was delightful, and it provided a nice little burst of encouragement. 


The Test: Why are schools are obsessed with standardized testing--but you don't have to be, by Anya Kamenetz

As an education reporter for NPR, Kamenetz was already interested in learning about education. However, when she became a mom, she noticed a strange phenomenon: her daughter, as a toddler, was encouraged to grow and develop at her own pace, as doctors recognized that kids reach certain milestones at varying rates. However, once a child reaches elementary school age, this flexibility is no longer considered good or beneficial for kids. With this in mind, Kamenetz does a deep dive into the culture of standardized testing in America (although she briefly touches on the role of standardized testing in other countries). She talks about the historical development of standardized testing, and I was shocked to learn how our modern standardized testing is pretty deeply rooted in the eugenics movement. The author goes into a lot of research about the effectiveness of standardized tests, the modern reasons for them, and ways that parents and teachers can help students avoid some of the negative impacts of standardized tests. I thought the author did a fairly good job with her research and mostly staying nonpartisan in her approach, but some transitions in this book felt very abrupt. This book's copyright was about 9 years ago, so it would be interesting to learn if any of the information has changed. Going into this, I wasn't a huge fan of standardized testing, but now I have even more reservations about it! I recommend this one for parents and anyone involved in education. 


The Mystery of the Transfiguration, by Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. (translated by Marsha Daigle-Williamson, PH.D)

I gradually read through this book for Lent; I figured that a meditation on the Transfiguration, by the preacher to the papal household, would be perfect for that season. It really was! This book was fantastic. In a way, it's what I expected: there were some beautiful meditations on the Transfiguration, and it drew me deeper into prayer regarding that mystery. However, this book was so much more. Cantalamessa also dives into discussions on Christology-in one chapter, he explores both the Alexandrian view and the Antiochene view of Christology, which was fascinating-and he does it in such a beautiful way. He brings together thoughts and quotations from a variety of saints and sources, from both East and West. I'd read a quote from St. Augustine, soon after that, I'd stumble across a passage from the Philokalia, and soon after that, there'd be an excerpt from a Vatican II document. It was exactly the approach that I love. This was a great book, and I think it'll be a good one to revisit as time goes on. 


My Brother's Keeper, by Tim Powers

One day, Emily Bronte helps a wounded man who has collapsed on the moor near a pagan shrine-and her life is changed forever. The whole Bronte family is thrown into a chaotic adventure that involves werewolves, a pagan goddess, and blood oaths. The setting was vivid, the story kept me on the edge of my seat, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't know that I needed a novel about the Bronte sisters fighting werewolves, but apparently I did, and I'm so glad I stumbled across this one. 


Lawns into Meadows: Growing a regenerative landscape, by Owen Wormser

I saw this displayed at the library and it looked interesting, so I picked it up. This book was a fairly quick read, and it was pretty fascinating. The author discusses the negative impact that a lot of lawn care has on the environment, and he offers an alternative: to cultivate meadows that are good for pollinators and nurture the Earth. He shares different meadow projects that he's done for college campuses, museums, cities, and private homes, and he provides pictures. He also includes a handy guide with different plants that are good, the pros and cons of using seeds vs. plugs, and various considerations people should have when creating a meadow. I don't have a particular desire to turn our lawn into a meadow (the author mentions that meadows aren't particularly good for kids to play in, since they are tall and often carry ticks), but this book did encourage me to look into plants that attract pollinators. It also motivated me to continue my current "do nothing" approach when it comes to our lawn (which is mostly overgrown with weeds and clover) haha! 


Miraculous II: More Catholic Mysteries for kids, by Kathryn Griffin Swegart

In this delightful book, Swegart shares ten stories of miracles and mysteries within the Church’s history. These stories were a fun and engaging way for me to enter into the setting and learn about the different ways that God has worked throughout the centuries. My second grader and I both enjoyed it! You can check out my full review at Catholicmom.com. 


The Inner Game of Tennis: The classic guide to the mental side of peak performance, by W. Timothy Gallwey

My husband asked me to get this book so he could read it, and after hearing him talk about how good it was, I knew I needed to read it. In this volume, Gallwey focuses on the mental aspect of playing tennis, but he does so much more than that--which is good, since I don't play tennis. He talks about education and parenthood (lots of focus on natural learning!) and mindset in general. He provides a variety of stories from his experiences teaching tennis to illustrate the points he makes. A lot of this book really resonated with me, especially his discussion on Self 1 (the critical, judgmental part of ourselves) and Self 2 (the instinctive, more physical part of ourselves); and how Self 1 often takes the lead to the extent that Self 2 cannot function well. I really enjoyed this book! 


Mapmaking with Children: Sense of place and education for the elementary years, by David Sobel

In this book, Sobel explores the value of mapmaking in a child's education. Citing Maria Montessori's "sensitive periods," he discusses the importance of teaching mapmaking and geography according to the specific developmental needs of children. Although Sobel writes as an educator in the public schools, he's not afraid to point out the ways in which curricula don't meet the child's needs, like when teachers give young children assignments about global issues instead of focusing on the child's home environment. The author walks through different mapmaking projects that he has conducted with children across the world, and it was really interesting to see the amazing work so many students did! Parts of this book moved slowly for me, but I still enjoyed reading it and I loved learning about how I can better present this topic to my own children. 

2 comments:

  1. My husband and son were listening to a podcast with an extensive Jimmy Akin interview, and he talked about Tim Powers. I see my son adding his books to his to-read list. I thought I'd read something of his, but if so, I kept no record of it. There are certainly a lot of his books that sound interesting.

    My daughter really liked the first Miraculous book, though she may have grown out of the age range now. I found the stories interesting though as an adult, so maybe not.

    I was shocked to find out that due to "teaching to the test," a local public school district has stopped teaching English grammar or reading books in their entirety. The read and analyze short passages because that's what's on the state tests. My daughter's friend transferred from this district to our parish school in 8th grade, and it was a struggle for her to catch up because she had no grammar education. Our English Language Arts teacher couldn't believe they were no longer teaching that. It's so shortsighted and disheartening.

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    1. Carolyn, I listened to that same interview (I think it took me a full week to listen to all six hours)-it's the reason I picked up a Tim Powers book! (it had been a year or two since I had read his stuff). He's a great author.

      Oh my goodness, it is so sad to hear that a local school district stopped teaching grammar and reading books! That's awful and absolutely horrific. Especially when you consider that some communities (like my own) have high adult illiteracy rates, taking complete books out of the curriculum seems like a terrible idea.

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