Summer reads, served up family style
Summer is finally upon us, and for me (and maybe you) that means hiding inside from the evil sun with a good book or ten. These are just a few suggestions for your summer reading list if you’re looking for books with a family slant.
Summer is finally upon us, and for me (and maybe you) that means hiding inside from the evil sun with a good book or ten. These are just a few suggestions for your summer reading list if you’re looking for books with a family slant–but don’t worry, a list of What to Expect books this is not!
In fact, the first book I want to mention is all about planning to create that family (or, your “baby family”–that is, your brand new family, not a family in which there is a physical baby). A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration by Meg Keene is all about planning a wedding practically, and it also spends a good deal of time reflecting on marriage itself. I started reading author Keene’s blog back before she launched apracticalwedding.com as her business, and I’m still following it three years and some change after my wedding. Lest you think I’m nutty, it’s because Keane’s advice and insight doesn’t just extend to the wedding but modern marriage itself through its “Reclaiming Wife” section, which is sort of the whole point of a wedding (something that can be hard to remember when it comes to perusing Pinterest, which thankfully wasn’t around when I was planning my wedding). In addition to etiquette, common sense stuff, and relationship realities, APW gives solid advice about stuff like those chiavari chairs (spoiler alert: it’s okay to say eff the chairs). I highly advise readers to come for the wedding advice, and stay for the marriage advice…and the open-thread online Friday Happy Hours which are pretty great to boot.
Next up, how about some babies? You may be thinking, OK, first come love and marriage, now on to the baby carriage books all about the new-parent experience!
Well, right, kind of. I mean, there are babies in this next book, but this particular baby book is actually about catching them, rather than having them or raising them after they make their debut. Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent is a book all about Vincent’s experience as a midwife, and it’s highly enjoyable whether or not you have (or heck, even want) kids. Regardless of whether you’ve got an opinion/care about home vs. hospital birth, this book is an extremely enjoyable read, with its various birth adventures (including a rather harrowing houseboat birth!). Not everything is sunshine and daffodils, which makes it a realistic read, as well as an informative one, as she goes into detail about the business and politics of midwifery.
And since I’m on the topic of unconventional baby-having, NPR’s Scott Simon authored a book called Baby, We Were Meant For Each Other: In Praise of Adoption. This isn’t a deep academic work, but it is enjoyable, and while it touches on hard topics, it neither dismisses them, nor dwells on them too much. For someone pondering adoption, it’s a simple, good bit of encouragement. This was one of the first of many adoption books I’ve been reading lately, and for this suggestion, I’m providing a quote that set it apart from some of the more academic works I’ve read so far:
I know that there are deep intangible factors at work. The drive to bear children–to feel a child grow inside and give birth–is profound for many women (I won’t attempt any New Age contortions to convince anyone that such an instinct also beats strongly in sensitive men). Medical technology can assist couples in bringing about this happy result. My wife and I tried. I would never suggest that adoption improves on such a marvel. But bringing children into your life, loving them completely, and committing yourself to their happiness and future is a miracle, too.
I also know that there is exaltation in seeing yourself, and your loved one, in your child’s face. There is an instinct to see your children as inheritors and carriers of your family’s lineage, history, and traits. Of course it would be wonderful to have children who directly reflect my wife’s great wit, graciousness, and beauty. And so we do: our daughters. My wife is revealed in their expressions, their humor, and their laughter. She is visible in all the critical and distinctive little characteristics that we cherish as we fall in love.
For those interested in the academic side of having kids, Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti may be the right pick. Valenti writes about why having kids is both a) considered to be what’s expected to make life fulfilling and b) why so many people feel unfulfilled. What’s particularly interesting is Valenti’s insights about those who strive for egalitarian parenting styles and how that plays out for them long-term. She also writes about how we judge mothers in the binary “good/bad” way, and the part choices available to mothers plays in how these women will ultimately be judged by society.
Lest you think I’m leaving fathers out here, I also wanted to mention the book Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood, edited by Tomas Moniz. Alert: when this book says “rad” they really do mean it–this collection of very short essays from predominantly anarchist dads may not appeal to everyone. However, I think it’s interesting to read about very different ways of raising kids from the offbeat guy’s perspective. For example, Ian MacKaye writes:
…for some reason, there seems to be a sort of denigration of parenthood. When you tell some people that you’re gonna have a kid, they say things along the lines of, ‘See you in eighteen years’ or ‘Well, you won’t be sleeping anytime soon.’ My favorite one is, ‘Things are really gonna change.’ Well, of course they’re going to fucking change! That’s the whole point! You don’t want life to be a static experience. Change is the idea. That’s why we’re here.
So far, then, we have the wedding/marriage guide, the midwife, the adoptive parent, the academic mom, the anarchist dad…and to round things out, how about a book by a new grandmother? In Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son by Anne Lamott, she tackles her new role in her specifically Lamott-ian way. Anne Lamott is, as always, a wildly self-deprecating and smirkingly facetiously flawed human (“It is funny”, she writes, “how no one seems to want my always excellent advice”). In this book about her transition to grandma status, the first year of her grandson Jax’s life is rife with the ups and downs of life–young parents trying to figure themselves out, a grandmother wanting the baby all to herself as is her right OF COURSE, life, death, and the search for peace. As I close out this small list of various types of family reads, I think Lamott says it best:
When they came over, Sam and Amy were not getting along; Sam was being a poophead, nagging, napping, and then going out to use his cell phone, and Amy was frustrated and stuck with Jax, who lay on the couch in perfection and slept, while I watched a little TV with her and made snacks…This family business can be stressful–difficult, damaged people showing up to spend time with other difficult, damaged people, time that might be better used elsewhere–yet out of that, some accidental closeness, laughter, some pieced-together joy.
However you define your family and wherever you are on the wonderfully wide spectrum of what the word encompasses, I hope that this summer brings you that “accidental closeness, laughter, some pieced-together joy” indeed.
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