Far From the Tree

After reviewing my Books Read 2012 list, I told myself that in 2013 I would read more non-fiction. I love non-fiction – history, biographies, culture – I love it all. But for some reason, there wasn’t a lot of it in 2012 (for me).

Nearly 2 months into 2013 and I’m off to a good start: Onward, Lady Almina and At Home have already been added to my Books Read 2013 list.

But the one I was most looking forward to reading was Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.

I first read about this book on the Huffington Post’s Book section. When I was next in the bookstore I made a point of searching it out, read the first 2 lines and knew I had to have it. But it was Christmas time and any book hoarder will know, you can’t buy yourself books at that time of year. Far too risky. So I waited.

Good things come to those who wait – I got a whole bunch of book gift cards for Christmas and Far From the Tree was the first book I ran out to buy.

Andrew Solomon started writing this book as a way to work through his own complicated relationship with his parents. He is gay and it was always something that separated him from his parents in a negative way, something that he struggled with for a very long time. As a way of working through this relationship he decided to research how otherness affects the relationship between parents and children. He interviewed families of children who are deaf, dwarfs, have Down syndrome, are Autistic, Schizophrenic, commit crimes, are a product of rape, have severe mental and physical disabilities, or are Transgendered.

The central theme of his research seemed to be the decisions surrounding acceptance or trying to find a cure. For example people that have Down syndrome and a lot of their families, don’t think of Down syndrome as something that needs a cure – it is just a different way of being. Other families wish that there was a cure, or are very open about the fact that had they known before, they would have terminated the pregnancy. Each in their own way struggle with the acceptance of difference and/or the wish that things were different.

This book is heavy and if you read it in public, be warned that there is a high possibility of you crying in front of strangers. The chapter about children conceived in rape was particularly difficult to get through. But there are also lots of stories that are inspiring, like the parents that embrace their transgendered children despite the fact that in a lot of communities this is actually a very dangerous thing to do (what’s that about anyway? They are children).

I loved this book. I’ve been telling a lot of people about it and I know at least one person that has bought it for herself and I’m working on a second person. She won’t be a hard sell I don’t think.

I think that this book is an eye opener. A reminder to celebrate our differences, even the ones that terrify us.


Jonathan Franzen Had A Point

Evidently the other day Jonathan Franzen caused quite a stir on the interwebs when he said that he hated e-readers. You can read this Huffington Post article here to get the full story. I was reading some of the twitter ire and one thing became clear: people love their e-readers!

I went to my book club the other night and the topic of e-readers came up. I think out of the whole group (there are 8 of us) only 3 of us didn’t already have an e-reader. Of the three of us that didn’t have one, one wanted to get one. Only 2 of us were holding out against e-readers! And you can bet that we were treated to the full sales pitch.

Some of the things that I learned about e-readers:

1.       You can share your books. One person can purchase books on their account and then share them up to a certain amount of times, which admittedly is pretty cool.

2.       If something happens to your device, you won’t lose all your books.

3.       Libraries are all over the e-books thing.

But then there was the whole stance on reading in bed with a book vs. an e-reader.

Apparently, reading in bed is easier with an e-reader. You don’t have to deal with that whole pesky, sweat inducing page turning motion, you just press a button and voila, new page. Since an e-reader is so light, you are also freed of having to expend energy holding up a heavy book.

I’ve heard a lot of really messed up reasons for running out and getting an e-reader. My favourite has to be the glare from the sun that makes it hard to read paper and ink. Or how you get sunscreen all over proper books which makes them grungy. Because I’m sure that your sunscreeny fingers actually polish your e-reader and the sun’s glare magically turns to a fine water mist to cool you off when you read something on an e-reader.

I will concede that the idea of traveling with 10 books on an e-reader appeals to me more than lugging 10 books around the world with me. But since I don’t travel that often these days, I’m more than content to keep carrying one or 2 volumes with me.

Because at the end of the day, my Agatha Christie volume will never malfunction on me on a long, cold bus ride home. I will not have to open and close my well worn copy of Pride and Prejudice because my page has frozen. I can tuck my soaking wet umbrella next to my Game of Thrones and the worst that will happen is some water damage, that will dry and leave the pages delightfully crinkly.

Also? At the end of my long work day I like to look around the bus and see what other people are reading! It brings out some weird feeling of bus camaraderie that I don’t normally feel. It can be an excellent breeding ground for new read ideas or it can make me smile when I see someone else evidently enjoying one of my favourites.

An e-reader may seduce you with its crisp design or the many sleek case options that show case your personality. But can you stack your e-readers in all manner of delightful configurations? Can your e-reader be passed along to your children or grandchildren to ensure future generations of readers can enjoy the miracle of Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables? Do e-readers give off that  most intoxicating old book smell?

Exactly. Which is why this reader will not be indulging in anything more than the time tested and true paper, ink and binding.