Tag Archives: Ayelet Waldman

Tiger Mom

At Book Club the other night, we spent a fair amount of time talking about the Tiger Mom controversy.  Amy Chua’s new book has, to say the least, got women talking.

Having not birthed babies of my own — at age 31 I became stepmom to Chloe 15 and Austin 9 — I’ve often felt like I had to keep my mouth shut when it comes to motherhood.  Too many real mothers were quick to let me know that my opinion, whatever it was, would be different if I “had my own children.”  It made no difference that my stepkids’ mother was nowhere to be found, that I was the only one mothering them.  When I was lenient, women insisted I’d be more of a hard-ass with my own; if I got tough, they’d assure me that I would be more relaxed and loving if only those children were really mine. By the time I decided that I, too, deserved have my say, my kids were grown and off to college.

While I might not agree with Chua’s extreme parenting, I do appreciate the fact that she’s willing to put herself out there, make her case, and take the heat.  This is the kind of bravery I hope for when I write, the courage to say what I really want to say, regardless of the judgment that may come my way.

The main thing I find puzzling is Chua’s stance in the interviews I’ve seen this week.  She appears to be backing down, saying that readers and interviewers are not getting the sarcastic tone and self-mockery in her story.  Having not read the book, I can’t comment on her tone, but surely she had to know the controversy her book might cause.  If she really believes in this ultra-strict Chinese parenting style, why is she backing off?

The best article I saw in response to the book was this one by Ayelet Waldman in the Wall Street Journal.  The story she tells about her daughter’s dyslexia makes an excellent point about control — parents exerting their will vs. the child learning to make her own choices.  Waldman is the author of BAD MOTHER which also caused quite a stir — in a different way — when it was published.

We mothers (and yes, I consider myself a “real” one, having birthed them or not) can be one hell of a judgmental crowd.  Even my mother-in-law, whom I adore, once said the following to my husband when I insisted my stepkids go away to college:  “If she were a real mother, she wouldn’t want them to leave.”  Everyone’s a critic.

My Favorite Literary Experiences of 2010

(what can I say … it’s the end of the year and I love lists)

#1   Seeing Michael Moore accept the John Steinbeck Award

The award is for artists who capture “the spirit of Steinbeck’s empathy, commitment to democratic values, and belief in the dignity of the common man.”  I had no expectations, and it ended up being so entertaining, so endearing, and so poignant, I felt like I’d cry.  Michael read with such depth of feeling from Cannery Row and The Grapes of Wrath. It was heartbreaking to hear how the passages he chose spoke – sadly – to today’s troubles in the United States.

And if Thomas Steinbeck looked any more like his dad … Wow.

#2   Attending the Aimee Bender reading

Man is she charming.  I’d never read any of her work, but by the time she was finished reading that Potato People short story I was ready to buy her books.  What a quirky mind she has.  I’m looking forward to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which has been waiting on my shelf for at least a month.

#3   Visiting the Robinson Jeffers Home:  Tor House

Admittedly, it was my fourth visit.  But this time it was evening, and I was with non-literary friends.  It was heartwarming to see how fascinated they were with Robin and Una’s life story, as well as his poetry, even though they’d never even heard of him.  If you have a chance to visit this place, don’t pass it up.

#4   Having lunch with Ayelet Waldman

We met at one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants – Betelnut – for lunch.  I’ve appreciated Ayelet’s work – and admired Ayelet as a person – ever since she was raked over the proverbial coals on Oprah (and everywhere, really) in 2005 for that teeny little essay where she said she loved her husband more than her children.  She was absolutely crucified, but she did not back down one bit.  I was so proud of her and I didn’t even know her.

#5   The Tobias Wolff reading

It was a small gathering, and he didn’t talk very long (a disappointment) but all these months later I still think of the short story he read about a man and his dog.  Simple, powerful prose, well-read by the author.  A treat.



Reading Ambition

I should have known.  Should have known I would not make it through 4 books during a one week vacation in Spain.  It’s not like I was lying on the beach for hours and hours a day, whiling away the sun-filled hours with good books and good naps.  No, no, no.  We were in a great city with lots of history and stuff to see.  So ask me what you will about La Sagrada Familia Temple (begun in 1882 and still nowhere close to being finished!) or the Roman Ruins discovered under Barcelona (those Romans were way ahead of their time with their sewage systems and wine making and fish preserving!).  But time to read books?  Not so much.  I only finished one.  But “the one” was a great vacation book:  Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman.  A few thoughts on it:  (1) You can read it in a few days.  And you’ll want to read it.   (2) It opens in tragedy and ends in, well, not-tragedy. I’m not going to ruin the ending for you.  (3) You’ll love the mothers-in-law.  Love them.  (4) You’ll learn all you want to know about violins and their masters.  (5) If you’re not from Maine, you’ll get a good feel for the place in summer.  (6) You’ll cry.  Happily, but you’ll cry.