Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

With the impending birth of my son (due in a mere 3 days!), I am open to suggestions on what child rearing methods are effective for a happy baby. I'm pretty sure my "figure it out as I go, trial and error" method could use some fine-tuning. Luckily (?) for me, there is no shortage of "experts" out there offering their advice and opinions on the subject. From popular books like Baby Wise (which I haven't read but keep hearing about), to Time magazine's provocative issue on breastfeeding, to not-so celebrity endorsements of attachment parenting, there is a wide spectrum of advice and views on parenting. Dr. Karp's book addresses the specific issue of how to calm a crying child. (I guess there are more productive methods than pleading, begging, crying myself, and bribery.)

Dr. Karp's method is the "cuddle cure." This consists of 5 steps to calming a child who can't be calmed with basic methods like feeding, rocking, and well, whatever else people do to calm crying children. The five steps to the "cure" are swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking. In addition to explaining each step in full detail, Dr. Karp talks about why each step is important. He discusses the idea of a "fourth trimester" and focuses on a child's first three months when using his method. His theory is that children are born a trimester too early and each of his 5 steps helps recreate the sensation of being in the womb. He gives examples of why each step is important and effective, using lessons from other cultures and history to back up his points. Speaking of children being born too early, does it annoy anyone else that other mammals are born with the ability to walk, climb, and do other really useful things, while children are completely helpless for YEARS? And kids need all kinds of crap...their own strollers, seats, food, and on and on and on. But I digress.

There is no shortage of advice out there on what is effective for taking care of a child, so you can take this book or leave it. But I am an eager proponent of having as many tools in my arsenal as possible. And I feel like his advice made sense and is easy enough to implement. And fortunately for me, it doesn't make me want to throw up in my mouth (thank you, Alicia Silverstone). The best thing about this book, however, is that there are numerous youtube videos of Dr. Karp demonstrating the "cure" on fussy babies. These videos are pretty hilarious and you really get a sense that Dr. Karp is a kind of baby whisperer. They are also a good companion to understanding what he is actually describing in the book. But if you just want to be entertained, they serve that purpose as well.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Blindness by Jose Saramago

I was in Portland on business and heard that one of Portland's treasures is Powell's books. So I checked it out. If you haven't been there or heard of it, Powell's is a new and used bookstore that literally takes up an entire city block. Each room has a genre, labeled by a certain color (Want a mystery book? Head to the gold room. Children's? That's rose). There's also the rare book room, whose hours, if you're only visiting for a few days, seem just as rare as the books inside. And there are other little treasures hidden within as well. If you want to take a book and read for awhile, you're welcome to go to the coffee shop and relax. And I discovered my new favorite book "Go the Fuck to Sleep." (If you are one of the last people, like me, to hear about this little treasure, I'll review it next.)

I say all that to say this...there was a Nobel Prize section that featured several books by Portuguese author Jose Saramago. I had read his book, Death with Interruptions, last year, and selected it as one of my top five. So I was excited to see what else I could pick up. I saw what appeared to be several histories, like The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and The History of the Siege of Lisbon. I figured Saramago had a boring side to him, but I should have known better. Apparently the former is a highly controversial book about the fictional retelling of the life of Jesus. It won him critical acclaim but also instant disapproval with the Roman Catholic Church (among others). But hey, cut the guy some slack. How many atheists do you know that would even give JC another thought?

And the latter is a book about "Raimundo Silva, assigned to correct a book entitled The History of the Siege of Lisbon by his publishing house. Silva decides to alter the meaning of a crucial sentence by inserting the word 'not' in the text, so that the book now claims that the Crusaders did not come to the aid of the Portuguese king in taking Lisbon from the Moors." (thank you wikipedia).

What I like about Saramago is his out of the box, creative, and some would say, dangerous thinking. Each one of his books has some strange twist. If you really want to dig deep, you can talk about modern parables and allegories and whatever other literary devices people who KNOW throw out. But it's simple for me. He's interesting. You just have to get past his style...

Saramago has a thing about punctuation, especially commas and quotation marks. His characters engage in dialogue, but besides using a capital letter with each new speaker, he doesn't differentiate between speakers. He also writes from a third person, narrative perspective. So I feel disconnected from the characters. But I have to say this book was loads easier to read than Death with Interruptions. I don't think that's because it's actually written in an easier to read style, it's because you can get used to Saramago's style. And it was easier for my mind to adjust, having been conditioned by his first novel. I guess.

So on to the actual review...Blindness is about a country that is struck with a mysterious disease, only described as the white blindness, where (surprise surprise) people are instantly and seemingly randomly struck blind. Saramago begins with patient zero and those who shortly follow. The government decides to quarantine the blind and those who have been exposed to the blind. The first half of the book is about the quarantine. At first dozens, and then hundreds of people occupy a hospital, which is guarded by the military. Unable to organize, and with no one to guide them, the living conditions in the hospital degrade exponentially. To make matters worse, a group of internees withhold food from the rest of the wards. It's almost like Lord of the Flies meets World War Z.


The second half of the book involves the release of the quarantined after the sickness strikes the entire country. Here's where comparisons to a zombie apocalypse really become evident. Saramago follows a small group from the hospital as they try to survive, looking for food, housing, and their families.


It took me awhile to get into the book, probably because I was stumbling through it at first. But as I got used to the writing style, and the story developed, I became more interested.

In comparison to Death with Interruptions, I felt Blindness was a heavier book. Death with Interruptions, despite the subject matter, had a playful, light feel to it. Blindness, on the other hand, had a couple of disturbing scenes and emphasized the worst in humanity during the quarantine. But that's part of what makes the book interesting. And without telling you the title of the next book (possible spoiler as well)...there is a short snippet from Saramago's sequel to Blindness at the end.

So a solid recommend if you're up to the challenge!