Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Baby We Were Meant for Each Other by Scott Simon

Many thanks to the friends and family who heard the myriad of interviews that Scott Simon did for NPR and alerted me to his new book.  Memoir reader and adoptive parent that I am, I had the book ordered before it was even available for purchase.  I have read so many stories about adoption from China that I was eager to note how he could put a different spin on the story than had already been done.

Jiangxi Province
Simon simply told his own story as a backdrop to tell other adoption stories and make a case for the importance and naturalness of adoption.  He gives a short history of adoption and then interviews and tells stories of friends who were either adopted themselves or adopted children as adults.  Although all the stories were compelling, none were as weepy and lovely as his own.  Perhaps I am a bit biased since we share a very similar story.  His daughters both came from the same province as our lovely girl and we both spent a rainy morning traipsing to the Chinese Bureau for Adoption Affairs in Nanchang, China.

The most interesting part of the book is the  discussion of the ultimate contradiction in my life:  how do I celebrate the culture of my lovely Chinese daugher, but also recognize that it is her culture, because of thier policies and beliefs, that left her on the doorstep of the Yiyang Social Welfare Institute one morning in May?  Simon discusses this part with such passion that I was left breathless.  One day, when she is old enough to understand, I will read her from this book.  By then, we can only hope, the the world's attitudes towards girls will have changed and the orphanges in China are only a footnote in history books. If you are interested in the issue of gendercide, Scott Simon does not reveal anything new, but he states his truth quite eloquently. 

So dear readers, the book was wonderful.  I have written to Mr. Simon and asked him questions about how I can know what is true or not in the vast army of things I hear and am told about China and my daughter.  Since he is a journalist, I hope he has a good sense of the trustworthiness of sources.  I'll let you know if I hear from him.

If you are interested in this topic, the book is a worthwhile Sunday afternoon read.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why I don't like e-books

  • When you accidentally leave your e-book on the plane, you loose a $200 device and your entire library.
  •  All e-books look the same.  I do judge books by their cover and the glossy picture on the front of the screen doesn’t do it for me.
  • You can’t lend or borrow an e-book.
  • You don’t know what others are reading, which means you can’t start conversations about a book, or find commonalities with other humans over books.   All our reading is suddenly done anonymously.  One of the pleasures of reading is sharing what you read.  I bought my husband a book for his birthday only to find out he had already downloaded it and was reading it. 
  • Books look great lined up on shelves.  They have a feel and a smell and a place.  E-books are just pixels on screens. 
  • Curling up with a good e-book doesn’t even sound like fun.
  • When e-books take over we will loose the most important public gathering place: the public library. 
  • When I drop my books, I pick them up.  If I drop a book reader, I have a pile of glass. 
  •   Academics have a harder time citing passages from e-books since page numbers in e-books are all relative.
  • What will happen to book fairs and book sales and book stores? 
  • E-books don’t have a smell or a feel or carry nostalgia.  When my books are lined up on the shelves I can peruse them and remember where I was and who I was with at each one.  When I was 24 I backpacked through Europe and carried one book: a volume of women's travel adventures.  It lasted me most of the trip and started up several conversations with fellow female travelers.  I still have the book and I think of my adventure often when I see the book on my shelf.
  • What about children's books like pop-ups and touchy-feely books and board books?  I'm not letting my toddler run around with a reading device in her hands.
  • Everyone talks about the environment.  Does an e-book reader recycle?

 (I’ll grant you e-books are great for travelers, and for people with eyesight problems who can’t read small print, or people with small spaces who can’t have a huge library.  Sometimes I feel like one of those musty old writers who still write on typewriters and can’t see the benefit of a word processor.)  

Please comment and tell me about your vision of our book future.  Are they destined to end up only in resale shops like LPs?  Why do you like or not like the e-book reader?  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Some reading from the NY Times

Dear Readers,

The heat has officially worn me down and I haven't been able to focus too much on the reading life.  I am expecting a new book from the ER program, and I have started reading about a dozen books which are laying around my house collecting dust and overdue fines.  I have read two very good (and long articles) in the NY Times that I'd like to share. These are by a writer named Daphne Merkin.  The first was out last year and was about depression.  A friend who suffers sent it to me to help me understand.   The other I stumbled across a few weeks ago and found fascinating.  I do know people who have been seeing therapists for many years, and I wonder how they can function living so closely under the mirror.



Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Artistic Crime of the Century

Man on Wire won an Academy Award in 2007 for best documentary. The subject was Philippe Petit who stretched a cable from World Trade Center building one to World Trade Center building two and did a high wire act--110 stories up in the air.  I can't comment on the artistic merits of the movie.  I am sure it was fine.  But I can never stop thinking about this extraordinary crime (Petit was arrested afterwards!) and feat of daring.  I find it difficult to describe with superlatives because it seems impossible.  On the morning of August 7, 1974  Petit and his accomplices strung a cable from building to building and Petit danced and hopped and laid down on the cable.  For 45 minutes he performed for the crowd below.  This was before CNN and videocameras on cell phones and well before 9/11.  When I think about what it must have taken to perform so high in the air, I absolutely shiver.  I do not believe anyone else could ever do this.

It is against this amazing story that Colum McCann sets his fabulous novel Let the Great World Spin. Philippe Petit is a minor character performing high in the air and 9 other characters tales are woven into this historic high wire walk in strange and beautiful ways.  What is even more magical about the story telling is that all the stories finally weave together into a heartbreaking, jaw dropping, yet redemptive tale set on a hot summer August day in 1974.

In addition to some great characters and fabulous stories (McCann can really get into the hearts and minds of many different types of people.) he evokes the 70's and makes it feel more magical than I remember it being.   I felt nostalgia for 1974.

One critic I read wrote that this is the only good novel written in tribute to the World Trade Centers and 9/11. When I read that I realized that this was the true beauty of this novel:  it never lets you forget these stunning buildings that are no longer dotting the NYC skyline.  

After you have read the book, check out the documentary. Let me know how you would describe this man's walk on the wire.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A letter to Mei-Ling Hopgood

Dear  Ms. Hopgood,

I was at a party recently and a guest, who was admiring my recently adopted daughter from China, asked if I hoped to find her birth family someday.  I told the guest I did not think that would ever be possible given the situation for girls in the People's Republic of China.  "Oh yes," she replied. "I just read this great book about that. It's called Lucky GIrl."

Because of my recent trip and adoption I have a huge interest in memoir and China adoption story, and so I did not hesitate to pick up a copy.  I loved it all, and I wept copiously over many parts.  Specifically the part where you met your biological family for the first time in Taiwan, the part where you forgave your family for their attitudes rather then dwell on them, and when you imagined the boy baby brother, starving as he lay alone.  Last, the birth of your own daughter felt like a miracle.

As the mother of a girl from China, I marvel every day at the seemingly random circumstances that brought us together.  I think about the birth mother every day and imagine that somehow she has gotten word that Xiaojian is okay and healthy and happy and will have this amazing life in America.  I especially loved the part where you discussed some women's obsession with birth mothers.

You really gave me a wonderful gift.  Although I know my daughter will have her own set of feelings and emotions about her country of origin, it gave me great solace to know your story.  

People frequently call her a lucky girl.  I always respond that I feel like the luck is all mine.

My best to you,
Amy Cornell