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Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy

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This book should be required reading for every adult who has children, interacts with children, or who was a child. Emily Bazelon undertakes an ambitious journey to examine bullying in American culture; her readable narrative weaves tales of bullied youth with perspectives from educators and parents, victims, and, interestingly, from some of the bullies.The book offers some new perspectives on this topic, which gains currency from time to time as a result of highly publicized tragedies attributed to bullying by many reporters and pundits who reflexively reach for simple answers, Bazelon’s treatment is refreshingly balanced, and is updated with discussion of ways in which social media change the landscape for children learning to navigate social norms. The author interviewed school principals and others who have developed meaningful strategies, with documented results, to address and re-channel much of the pent-up aggression which inevitably swirls within groups of middle schoolers and adolescents. A key conclusion is that schools which try to talk the talk -- without making the significant investment of money and time to continue to walk the walk, day after day, month after month, and school year after school year -- are paying lip service to making change while setting themselves, and their students, up for almost certain failure.Bazelon also offers a nuanced viewpoint that not every interaction in life needs to be perfect for every child. To the contrary, she demonstrates that well-adjusted adults are often those who developed their own strategies for coping with adversity and emerged from their experiences more resilient. The writing is crisp, accessible without being dumbed-down. Bazelon provides much food for thought. This book is a mature and thoughtful look into a facet of growing up which messy, scary, but to some degree unavoidable.
The 500: A Novel

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The 500 is a fun read. Matthew Quirk takes us into a world of intrigue, with a plot and setting which has obvious echoes of Grisham’s The Firm, but enough originality and detail to keep his reader turning pages. The plot gets a little thin in places, but not to the point of breaking down. Characters are given enough baggage and backstory to be intriguing. The writing’s pretty good. In the early chapters Quirk relies a little too heavily on metaphor after metaphor to describe persons, places and situations. Mostly, the story advances in workmanlike prose scattered with a few really lovely bits, including this description as the protagonist finds himself living a life he never expected: “I needed the money and I liked the perks, but that’s not what pulled me out of bed every morning at 5:45. It was the ritual of shined shoes and a crisp shirt. It was crossing off eight tasks before 9 AM. It was the soles of my Johnston & Murphy’s [sic] crackling across the marble floor of the Davies Group foyer, and echoing back from the oak panels.”There are plenty of twists and turns as the plot unfolds, some more plausible than others, before Quirk wraps it all up with a fast-paced climax and an ending which is reasonably satisfying and tidy.
With or Without You: A Memoir

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In the hands of a writer less deft, Dominica Ruta’s tale would come off as maudlin, depressing, gloopy. It is none of these things. She unsparingly recounts a childhood which few readers will recognize as normal. Ruta avoids engaging in self-pity, describes her own flaws as openly as those of her family members, and emerges, if not triumphant, then at least surprisingly whole. And she performs the magic trick of telling this fraught story with humor.A very good read, beautifully written, and hard to put down until it’s finished.
Multiple Sclerosis

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As its title suggests, this book is a valuable resource for those newly diagnosed with MS. It’s also a highly readable and informative update for patients who’ve been living with the disease for a longer time. There’s detailed information about advances in treatment, current clinical studies, and the science that underlies those efforts. The authors strike the delicate balance of providing a large volume of technical medical and scientific information in a matter-of-fact way without dumbing it down or seeming to treat the reader with condescension. Unlike many books on this topic, this one provides information about alternative treatments in a relatively non-judgmental way; the risks and unknowns, and evidence of ineffectiveness of some such treatments, are presented for the reader’s consideration. Also unusually useful for a book in this genre is the glossary, which is readable on its own as a tour through the concepts and issues with which a patient must become familiar in learning to effectively navigate a course following the MS diagnosis.
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