“What are the best books for my daughter?” “What kinds of extra curricular programs should my son be enrolled in?”
You send so many emails asking, “How do I encourage my child to pursue science?” It’s a noble endeavor, and of course, there’s no end to possible responses. Much depends on what each individual is interested in from marine science to space. While I welcome these inquiries, here’s the best suggestion I can offer: Rather than science specifically, focus on critical thinking!
No matter how advanced a student’s math skills or laboratory technique, it will be her ability to work through problems and develop creative solutions that sets her apart from peers. In other words, parents should do more than going through the motions for standardized test preparation, and begin early. Foster her natural curiosity about the world. Perhaps most importantly, she needs to believe in herself and recognize what she is capable of.
Sure, it sounds a bit cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. More than ever before, our culture poses formidable social obstacles to success. Joe’s is right that “It’s okay to be Smart,” but “smart” doesn’t always seem adequate. Kids are bombarded with billboards, music videos, television shows, advertisements, and films telling them that they also have to look and act a certain way to be accepted. A cultural firestorm of unrealistic expectations damages self-esteem and, in turn, academic performance. Of course there’s no simple way to counter these harmful false messages, but building confidence is the place to begin.
So that’s what I hope moms and dads will continue to emphasize. And if you’re still seeking a good book to start with, my vote for elementary schoolers goes to Free To Be You And Me. (DVD and audio are even better!). For young adults, books like Tracy Kidder’s outstanding Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer will help them recognize how one individual can have a tremendous positive impact on the world.
One of my favorite things to do is wander around used bookstores, filtering through the collections that have their own mysterious stories to tell. In the age of electronic literature, I’m beginning to feel as outdated as some of the centuries old memoirs in these shops. Students on campus purchase ebooks and ‘vooks,’ and yet I sense that all this new technology looses something in translation–or rather digitization. I love the smell of an old book, the way the corners of the pages crinkle, the feel of its weight in my hand. But paramount, it’s these tangible books that turn authors into old friends in a way I just cannot imagine an online text could. My oldest and dearest such friend is Kurt Vonnegut Jr. You probably know him too.
Now I only allow myself one of his stories a year. I will be terribly disappointed when I’ve read every one and will probably begin again when the time comes. He weaves a special magic between an otherwise ordinary jacket using simple words to convey something profound. He turns ideas over and creates characters that are both ordinary and extraordinary. Put simply, my love of Vonnegut will endure as long as I do. So it goes.
Together, we shared the past weekend on Cold Mountain (yes, there is such a place). It was my first time away from work in I don’t know how long. Under the October sky, he told me the story of Howard W. Campbell Jr. in Mother Night. There is perhaps no greater pleasure in the world than getting lost in the pages of a good book. Real pages. The kind that turn and bend, fold and tear. Those that envelop you into the story. I hope such books persist. For as long as they survive, the old friends who composed them live on as well.
This morning I interviewed artist Kate Kretz who has a cameo in my next book. After a very interesting discussion on topic, our conversation shifted to motherhood. Kate’s a new mom and as I recently mentioned here, many of my friends are now pregnant and/or first time parents. I’m always looking for great reading recommendations to pass along.
Kate suggested The Mask Of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It by Susan Maushart. I haven’t read it, but here is Amazon’s review:
Everything changes when a woman becomes a mother, but society–particularly women themselves–often colludes to deny this simple truism. In The Mask of Motherhood, author Susan Maushart (a nationally syndicated columnist in Australia and the mother of three children) explores the effect childbearing has upon women. In the process, she removes the veils of serenity and satisfaction to reveal what she holds to be the truth: the early years of motherhood are physically difficult and can be emotionally devastating. New mothers increasingly enter full-scale identity crises, few women have sufficient information about child-rearing realities, and, as Maushart writes, “the realities of parenthood and especially motherhood are kept carefully shrouded in silence, misinformation, and outright lies.” The book comprises seven essay-style chapters. In “Falling: The Experience of Pregnancy,” Maushart discusses wrongful notions about morning sickness, the mixed messages about pregnancy weight gain, and the “mask” of stoicism pregnant women feel compelled to wear. In “Laboring Under Delusions,” Maushart exposes the changes 30 years have brought in childbirth, and the contemporary woman’s need for self-control in all things, including birth. In “Superwoman and Stuporman,” Maushart disabuses readers of the myth of what she calls, “pseudo-egalitarian family life.” The Mask of Motherhood is extensively researched, convincing, and deeply insightful. –Ericka Lutz
Does sound interesting and I’m curious if readers have come across the title. Further, what else might you recommend in terms of terrific books for first time parents? Let’s get a list going. Comment thread is open to your suggestions…
When in Long Beach earlier this month, I had the pleasure of hanging out with Wolf Berger; Professor of Oceanography Emeritus and Research Professor at
Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Wolf has a terrific new book out called Ocean: Reflections on a Century of Exploration which covers, well… nearly everything! From biodiversity and oceanography to marine geology and ocean history, if you’re interested in oceans, this book’s got it. Berger covers corals reefs, climate change, plate tectonics, ocean currents, and so much more. Here’s the description at Amazon:
The past one hundred years of ocean science have been distinguished by dramatic milestones, remarkable discoveries, and major revelations. This book is a clear and lively survey of many of these amazing findings. Beginning with a brief review of the elements that define what the ocean is and how it works–from plate tectonics to the thermocline and the life within it–Wolf H. Berger places current understanding in the context of history. Essays treat such topics as beach processes and coral reefs, the great ocean currents off the East and West Coasts, the productivity of the sea, and the geologic revolution that changed all knowledge of the earth in the twentieth century.
Ocean is a good companion for marine students or anyone interested in a detailed account of what’s going on beneath the surface. And for our youngest readers who are budding marine scientists–or perhaps their parents–Wolf also has a very cute and informative children’s book called Feed Me! The Story of Penny the Penguin Chick.
I’m off to the city for a panel in recognition of International Women’s Day. Given the theme, I’d like to point readers to a recent piece from The Guardian asking ‘Where are the books by women with big ideas?‘
Books like Freakonomics, defining significant cultural or economic trends with a punchy title, never seem to be produced by women. But why?
As you can imagine, I have much to say on the topic coming soon, but am first interested in your reaction to the article. Here’s an excerpt to get us started:
Julia Cheiffetz, blogging at publishing website HarperStudio, dubs the genre “big think” books – making serious non-fiction subjects accessible and popular. “The point is, all of them promise access to a club whose sole activity is the exchange of ideas; all of them promise, however covertly, to make us feel smarter. And all of them are written by men,” she writes, also singling out The World is Flat by Thomas L Friedman, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki and Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.
“It is hard to know whether women are better at telling stories than propagating ideas (I’m thinking of Susan Orlean, Mary Roach, Karen Abbott), or whether the intellectual audacity required to sell our hypotheses about the world simply isn’t in our genetic makeup.”
So where are the women with BIG ideas? Before I dissect this one, let’s hear from readers…