Book Review: All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

All new parents are familiar with the plethora of parenting books on the market. From the moment of announcing a pregnancy, family and friends will recommend, or even present you with, the "best" books on the subject. You may buy some yourself. You may even read them. And you will find yourself following some set of rules set out by a highly qualified professional only to discover that they don't quite apply to your child or your family or that some other highly qualified professional disagrees with everything you're doing. And that's small, compared to the judgments of family members, friends, strangers, and yourself on your parenting choices.

What I love about All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, by Jennifer Senior, is that it is not a book about how to parent - it is about what it means to be a parent. It is about all of that pressure we put on ourselves and that we find in our culture, from books, blogs, news programs, talk shows, and the people around us. It is about the effects of parenthood on a generation of people who have started families later in life than their parents and grandparents and therefore find the sudden disruption in their lives all the more jarring. It is about the uncertain nature of being a parent in a culture in which we are expected to excel both at work and at home (and this applies to both women and men), without any societal support or historical model for accomplishing this. It is about how parenthood changes your marriage and how men and women can find themselves at odds over raising their children and managing their household.

This might all sound like All Joy and No Fun paints a bleak picture of parenthood, which is not accurate. Throughout this book, you will find evidence and reminders of the incredible joys that do come with children. However, the truth is that there are tremendous challenges that come along with those joys. Sometimes, those challenges are overwhelming and even isolating. If I could recommend this book with only one line, it would be this: This book will reassure you that you are not alone in your experiences.

Jennifer Senior is a parent herself, but she rarely brings in her personal experiences, instead drawing on numerous studies and books, as well as several in-depth observations and interviews she conducted with other parents during her research. Far from making the book less personal, her compassion for the people she meets is apparent. One excerpt, in particular - from the chapter on marriage - has stuck with me:

"...Clint, who works at a desk, says he finds work more challenging. 'I had to learn how to be a manager,' he says. 'I'm held to someone else's standard. Whereas here at home, I am the standard. I feel like I do it the way it should be done.'
Angie, meanwhile, says she never knows if she's doing things the way they ought to be done. When asked if she's a good mother, her answer is one word: 'Sometimes.'
She's wrong. Angie's a great mother. If she could just say, 'I am the standard,' maybe she would breathe."

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, published by Ecco, is available in hardcover for $26.99.


Staff Picks Highlighted : Brett's Shelf


Summer is a great time to read!  Winter is nice beside the woodstove, but there’s also nothing like reading after a vigorous day in the garden or swimming in a spring-fed lake.  Akhil Sharma’s Family Life is hands-down one of the best novels I’ve read in years.  Utterly unsentimental, written in beautiful and economic prose, this novel is a gem nine years in the writing.  

Jeffrey Lent’s In the Fall remains one of my favorite novels, and certainly what I would call the quintessential Vermont novel.  Steeped in history, love of landscape, and deftly written, this novel has depth and beauty like few others.  I would love to read this novel for the first time again.  

Nathaniel Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick inspired me to read Moby-Dick again.  Philbrick, of Mayflower fame, has written a little book to accompany a very large book, and whether you read the large book or not, Philbrick’s little one is a pleasure for any lover of literature.  On the subject of classics, I’d like to put in a plug for our growing shelf of classic literature in the fiction section.  Many of this novels – Grapes of Wrath, Jane Eyre, Lolita – have already generated so much discussion in the bookstore.  Of particular interest to me was the Bronte versus Austen debate.

Don’t let this pristine and lovely summer pass by without reading poetry.  Vermont’s David Budbill writes,
Summer’s here and we can hike the peaks again,
have lunch on the mountaintops, look down

on the backs of circling hawks and laze away
the afternoon watching blue-hazy, distant hills.
Budbill’s poems capture the grit and beauty of living in these mountains.  While We’ve Still Got Feet is one of a number of Budbill’s books in the Galaxy.  Janisse Ray’s A House of Branches is a fine book of poetry, but I especially want to point readers to her last poem in the collection, “Courage,” with a loon metaphor.  

Last, let me put in a word for various works of literature well-worth the read:  for fiction, Laxness’s Icelandic novel Independent People, True Grit, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Road, and Catch-22. For non-fiction aficionados, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Brain on Fire.  My fifteen-year-old daughter is reading Twelve Years a Slave and my nine-year-old daughter Roald Dahl.  How’s that for diversity?  Come in and share your own favorites.  We’re always happy to hear what people are reading!


Em and the Big Hoom

The Galaxy gals who have read this book have loved this book.  You might, too.

From the inside jacket:  "Meet Imelda and Augustine, or—as our young narrator calls his unusual parents—Em and the Big Hoom. Most of the time, Em smokes endless beedis and sings her way through life. She is the sun around which everyone else orbits. But as enchanting and high-spirited as she can be, when Em’s bipolar disorder seizes her she becomes monstrous, sometimes with calamitous consequences for herself and others. This accomplished debut is graceful and urgent, with a one-of-a-kind voice that will stay with readers long after the last page."

From Kiran Desai, winner of the Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award for The Inheritance of Loss:  "Pinto chases the elusive portrait of a mother who simply said of herself that she was mad.  As I read the novel, that also portrays a very tender marriage and the life of a Goan family in Bombay, it drowned me.  I mean that in the best way.  It plunged me into a world so vivd and capricious, that when I finished, I found something had shifted and changed within myself.  This is a world of magnified and dark emotion.  The anger is a primal force, the sadness wild and raw.  Against this, the jokes are hilarious, reckless, free falling...  This is a rare, brilliant book, one that is wonderfully different from any other that I have read coming out of India."  Or anywhere else I would add.

And finally, from Salman Rushdie:  "A beautiful book... Full of love, pain, and accountably, much wild comedy."


Staff Picks Highlighted: Sandy's Shelf

I think that I was first introduced to the term "weird fiction" through Neil Gaiman's blog, which isn't surprising, as his novels fit right into that category. What's weird fiction? Well, my understanding of the genre is that it helps to classify fiction that has elements of the supernatural and/or of fantasy, sci-fi, or horror, but doesn't fit neatly under any of those labels. Looking over my staff picks shelf recently, I realized that I have a lot of weird fiction in the mix.

Last year, The Golem and the Jinni captured my heart, with its combination of history and fantasy, and I have recommended it to many readers without one being disappointed in this excellent story. The City and the City, by China Mieville is another fascinating read, in which the murder mystery that drives the plot is almost secondary to the world in which two cities are layered, sharing the same space but unable to interact. Neil Gaiman, of course, makes several appearances on my shelf, including my top Gaiman novel, Neverwhere, an Alice in Wonderland styled tale in which an average fellow is drawn into the strange and sometimes darkly magical world of "London Below."

A Tale for the Time Being could be called literary fiction, but some hints of supernatural forces at work place it on the outer edges of weird fiction. Contemplation of Buddhist teachings and meditation give the reader even more to think about in this story of two women separated in time and place but brought together by the pages of a journal that washes ashore on a small Canadian island.

While I don't limit my reading to the fantastical, I definitely lean more toward fiction than non-fiction, and if you ask me to recommend my current favorite novel, I might hand you The Tilted World, which just came out in paperback. This prohibition-era novel brings together great writing, great characters, and a plot that mounts in tension alongside the rising waters of the Mississippi River.

I might also point you toward Amy Falls Down if you're looking for a humorous read, or The Rosie Project for a bit of light reading with some romance for the summer.

And, of course, there are children's books. In addition to having a three year-old at home, I am lucky to be the children's book buyer for the store, and so reading children's books is truly part of my job. The Odd One Out is actually on Diane's shelf, but I love this adorable "spot the difference" picture book for little ones. Ditto Paul Meets Bernadette, a beautiful book in both text and illustrations. For older youth reading, perennial favorites are The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Knife of Never Letting Go, and Eleanor & Park.

Could I keep on listing? Oh, yes, I really could, but instead I'll invite you to come in and take a look at our staff picks for yourself. And while you're here, please share your own favorites!


Awaiting Spring

To all of the skiers: Happy Snow! For the rest of us: Time to get out the gardening books!

We're getting ready for spring by sprucing up all over the store, beginning with the window. The next time you come by, you'll see some of our gardening books on display alongside springtime reading for kids and adults.

People who responded to our survey in February indicated that they would like to see more stationery supplies at the bookshop, and we're starting with some fun new items from Stubby Pencil Studio including cute erasers, Smencils and Snifty Pens in scents from peppermint to chocolate chip cookie, Crayon Rocks, and more. These would look great in an Easter basket!

Come by soon and take a look around - there are plenty of new books to browse, too, including Leland Kinsey's Winter Ready, which he will be here to read from this Tuesday, March 25th, at 7 p.m.


Come on in!

It's nice and toasty warm in the shop and there are lots of good, warm, fresh books in here!  



Eventually it's going to be time to sugar again.  It must be sneaking up on us now, right?  Right?  We have some books on the subject if you are looking for how to boil your own or maybe you'd like to read some stories and lore beside the wood stove before we slip into spring.

Here's an excerpt from the song "Maple Sweet" written by Perrin Batchelder Fiske in 1837. (We used to have a Pete Sutherland cassette tape with this song on it and I remember singing loudly along to it during sugaring season while navigating muddy back roads with the windows down for the first time since the fall before.  Good times.)

Oh you say you don't believe it
Take a saucer and a spoon.
Though you're sourer than a lemon
You'll be sweeter very soon.
'Til everyone you meet
At home or on the street
Will have half a mind to bite you 
For you look so very sweet!