I’m not sure how many copies of The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke (Basic Books, $19.99) I’ve bought over the last ten years. It’s a book I keep lending to people, and sometimes it comes back to me and sometimes it doesn’t, so if I buy two copies at a time I always have one to pass on to someone else. I’m happy to do so, and I hope the copies I give people get passed along to someone else, because I think every woman in America should read this book. Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi explain what changed in America economically between the 1970s and the 2000s, what it’s doing to family economics, and why the rules that our parents taught us simply don’t apply any more. Bankruptcy laws have changed since 2003, but the basic trends that Warren and Tyagi identify are even more firmly established than they were when the book was written.
The same goes for The Gift of Fear (Dell, $16), Gavin de Becker’s how-to-deal guide that has “This book can save your life” splashed across the front of it. I generally detest books that are targeted to women on the assumption that everyone in the world is out to get us, just as I refuse to read the parenting magazine articles that insist my child is in danger of developing a rare disease because I’ve fed him too many goldfish crackers. But I can’t give everyone I know the life experiences I’ve had dealing with too-friendly strangers, a high school teacher who praised me way too much (and for the wrong things) in an after-school elective, the gang that tried to rob the cash box at a sorority fundraiser dance, and a long list of creepy dates. Somewhere along the line between taking the city bus in third grade and college freshman orientation in south central Los Angeles during the height of Bloods vs. Crips violence, I learned that the way I walk, the way I respond to people, and refusing to engage in weird situations are things that (generally) keep me safe. Assertiveness and a willingness to swear loudly in public help, too. I passed this book on to a friend a few weeks ago when someone started stalking her, I gave it to my sister when one of her friends had an abusive boyfriend, and I recommend it to anyone who has felt unsafe. Ever.
My oldest daughter just turned eight, so (after the husband and I did a thorough perusal and found it good) I handed her The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls (American Girl, $12.99). It has everything I want her to know as she heads toward puberty but I know she’ll be too embarrassed to ask me: how to deal with zits, cliques, eating, leg hair, boobs (or the lack thereof), emotions, her period, exercise, body shape, and the fact that what she’s going through is totally normal. Basically, it’s the most supportive, positive, informational, non-body-shaming guide to being a tween girl that I’ve ever seen. I just wish it had been around when I was her age. I haven’t yet gone through The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls (American Girl, $12.99), but I’ll bet it’s just as good.
While we’re on the subject of kids, I should mention that mine are biologically and environmentally destined for nerddom, which is why I bought Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid’s Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World (Berkley Trade, $14) by Washington Times columnist Marybeth Hicks. It turns out that she isn’t talking about raising kids with geeky tendencies; she’s proposing that we all intentionally raise our kids to be geeky. Her reason: kids who have the most access to popular media are the ones most likely to engage in risky behaviors of all sorts. The research is solid, which is also true of another parenting book I keep recommending to friends despite its bizarre title: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children (Twelve, $16). Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have compiled some fascinating studies that explain why the first class in high school should start late in the morning, why it’s a bad idea to think kids should grow up race-blind, that siblings fight because they want to be better friends, and that we shouldn’t tell our kids they’re smart. A lot of this is counter-intuitive for me, but after reading the book I’m convinced.
I’m slanting mommy-centric, and I admit it: this list should probably be titled “Books Every (American) Woman (Who Has Children) Should Read.” One last parenting recommendation, from fellow blogger Spunky: Kids Are Worth It! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99). Spunky explains,
Written by Barbara Coloroso, a former nun turned wife/mom/academic, her book reads like a PowerPoint lecture with a lot of supporting quotes, so the style annoyed me slightly. But. The concepts in the book flipped me around and have helped me really have fun being a mother, and be a better mother. It is not directed at adoptive parents, which I also appreciate (adoptive parents are often treated like inhumane dimwits and often have content that is well-intended, but destructive). Her academic background is teaching teachers, which I also liked because the focus is not on “mothers” or “women with children.” (a title and concept that I am still not comfortable with). She abhors sticker charts and is all about developing a child’s sense of ethics without giving the child constant rewards.
The child inside of you–and the child you know who is already bored with summer vacation–really needs to read R. J. Palacio’s award-winning Wonder (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15.99). We all suck at treating everyone around us the same way, and Auggie Pullman knows it better than most. By the way, so does Aibilene Clark, one of the heroines of Kathryn Stockett’s smug, politically-correct-but-historically-unlikely novel about a group of Southern women combating racism in the 1960s. I obviously have some issues with the book, but if you haven’t yet read The Help (Berkley Trade, $16), dive in now.
This is a pretty short list. What books do YOU think everyone should read, and why?