Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

BookWe all want what is best for our children. Often the center of our world, we want to believe that our children are perfect, little versions of ourselves. We see them as reflections of ourselves, and thus, their behavior reveals a great deal about us and our parenting. One of the many joys of parenthood is reliving some of the happiest moments of our own childhood, but this time through their eyes. What happens, however, when our seemingly innocent children resent and plot against us?!

Hanna adores her father, who only knows and sees her sweet and angelic side. While he is away at work, Hanna unleashes a strategic, vengeful side that is out to make her mother disappear, quite literally. Suzette loves her daughter, but after falling victim to a number of Hanna’s malicious tricks, suspects that there is something grievously wrong, questioning her daughter’s sanity and her own.

With alternating chapters from Hanna and Suzette’s perspectives, readers get a taste of what goes through the mind of each, as the actions that strain this unnerving mother-daughter relationship. Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage is a suspenseful, psychological thriller that make you question what people are truly capable of. Readers will find this gripping read difficult, wrangling with themes of child psychopathology, family dynamics, and unconditional love. 

NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman

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Book – Odd and unusual behaviors do not in and of themselves constitute a disorder unless they are related to a manifestation or, to a series of dysfunctions within an individual.  Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs one’s ability to communicate and interact with others.  This is often characterized by restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, intellectual deficits, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. Those with Autism can vary highly in their symptoms.  Current diagnostic material now includes Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, and Childhood Disintegration Disorder, which were at one time utilized apart from one another.

NeuroTribes is a must-read for anyone in the field of education neuropsychology. The book dives into the developmental history of our understanding of Autism and its implications for those living with the condition, their families, researchers, and the media.  Growing up alongside a family member on the spectrum of Autism and working with children who have special needs, NeuroTribes gave me significant insight into the drastic changes differential diagnoses and treatment of those with disabilities, has made over the decades.

Few would argue that a parent’s sole responsibility is to care for one’s child. Desperate to affect the course of a child’s plight, we need not wonder why parents of children with Autism unceasingly seek out answers to the behaviors associated with Autism & are willing to try new therapies, diets, and approaches — all in the hope of finding a cure.

Attempting various alternatives to give children with Autism the best possible interventions available, parents and aides alike will find comfort in knowing that efforts in helping loved one manage daily hardships, is an undertaking which numerous people share. Neurodiversity is not wrong, simply – different. Although countless difficulties abound in the lives of those with Autism, we can and should, embrace the way in which persons with Autism think and perceive the world.

NeuroTribes is also available on Hoopla and Overdrive.

Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton

Book – Like many writers, Cary Tennis had a project he just couldn’t finish: a sprawling novel he’d started writing while commuting to a detested corporate job. He struggled with it for years before coming up with the Finishing School, a method for constructing a writing group that was about support, not mutual criticism, and gentle accountability. And yes, he finished the novel.

What makes Finishing School the book unique (in my experience of writing-advice books, of which I’ve read many) is the authors’ understanding that writing, and especially projects we’ve been procrastinating on for years, can bring up big emotions, and it’s those emotions, not the writing itself, that frequently gets in the way. Finishing School, the method, is about making some space for those emotions, which in turn makes some space in your head for getting the work done.

I think this method could be expanded to help you deal with any project you want to get done but don’t have a firm deadline for. (Discussed in the book are several writers who had writing-adjacent projects they needed to finish, like cleaning out the study that had been used as a storage room for too many years.) In addition to sympathy, the book lays out the method for you to use as a two-person buddy system or as a large group like a class. I’m looking forward to recruiting a buddy to help me get started on a couple of projects of my own.

A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley

mind for numbersBook – I read this book as a companion to the Coursera course “Learning How to Learn,” which is taught by the author and is, in fact, nearly identical to the book. But for once I wouldn’t brush it off as unnecessarily repetitive; in fact, I’d recommend both the video lecture-based course and the book together. Reading the book really helped drive home some of the key points from the lectures by actually putting them into practice. Spaced repetition and recall – reviewing material some time after you’ve learned it – are easy to do when the book and lectures are covering the exact same material, but you’re a little behind in the book where you are in the lectures, and vice versa. Oakley also recommends trying to recall the material in a different setting than you originally learned it, to build flexibility into your understanding – easy to do when I was watching the lectures at home on my computer and reading the book at work over lunch.

I’m not in school any more, but I’ve been trying to improve my math skills (I got good grades in school by avoiding math wherever possible), and this book & course have offered me some useful techniques for learning, partially just by making it clear what I was already doing instinctively to learn things that come easily to me. Now that I know what those things are, it should be easier to apply them in situations where I have to stretch myself a little more.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

Book – I admit it, I have watched Hoarders. It’s fascinating and horrifying all at once, and even while I felt like a bad person for watching these people’s lives splashed all over TV, I couldn’t look away. But what’s really going on when someone hoards? What are they thinking, and when they’re putting themselves in danger, how can we help them? Randy Frost is one of the few psychologists studying hoarding and its treatments – most therapists and psychiatrists say that it can’t be treated at all – and Stuff is his explanation, for a popular audience, of exactly what’s going on here.

According to Frost, hoarding happens on a spectrum, and a lot of things that are pathological in hoarders are things we all do – using our things as a way to express our identity, for instance, or using our things as a kind of security blanket. This is a little unsettling to read, to be honest, because you can see just how short the distance is from “I am most comfortable when surrounded by my own things” to “I can’t cope with my things going away.” He explains why dramatic clean-outs like they do on TV almost never work, and why they’re sometimes dangerous. I found the whole thing fascinating, and it certainly prompted me to re-think of my own relationship to my stuff.

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

madnessBook – Jon Ronson started out investigating a hoax being played on a group of neurologists, but ends up exploring the depths of what he calls the “madness industry.” A top psychologist teaches him how to recognize the signs of psychopathy in others, and he sets out to explore his new knowledge in the corridors of power.

This a was fun, funny, casual read.  And therein lies the problem: I felt that the fun, funny parts of the book were distracting severely from the actual serious parts of the book. While the implications of psychopathy as a category (that is, deciding it’s a real thing and treating psychopaths as people different from the rest of humanity) range from interesting to downright scary, Ronson kind of mentions this in passing and then goes on to spend quite a lot of time with the weirdest people possible, from the criminal who insists he can’t be a psychopath to the psychiatrist who insists that that insistence proves that he is. (Confused yet?)

Maybe I’m just weird in not liking nonfiction that doesn’t seem to teach you anything. But Ronson seems to me to have caught the “objective journalism” disease – he doesn’t give away any opinions on anything. No opinions other than “these guys are weird,” that is, which is pretty much the only opinion I don’t like my authors to have. Okay, they’re weird, but nobody ever thinks of themselves as irredeemably weird, so what else is going on here? Ronson never gets to the what else.