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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontèˆ

This came onto my list because someone (I think [livejournal.com profile] mirabehn?) mentioned they were re-reading it or listening to an audiobook or something over on Facebook, and gave enough of the plot that I thought it sounded worth reading (especially after Villette). Well, I was right. It's a tale of what happens when girls aren't given enough education to spot potentially problematic relationship issues from very early on, and how one woman's strength of character enables her to conquer her situation rather than be conquered by it. There are other issues at stake as well, of course, not least of all the problems of a society that allows young men to grow into the shape that they do without any censure, and the problematic labelling of behaviour as 'manly' that is in fact dangerous and unhealthy. But I read through it and shuddered, frankly, at quite a lot of it because there were things going on there which one would now happily label emotional abuse and which the young heroine steps into without realising the heffalump trap. Her growing awareness of the problems and flaws is, at least, balanced by a 'well, I'm not having this' approach rather than damp acceptance and endurance, which is (I think) what makes the novel particularly powerful - rather than wet acquiescence, she's actually happy to pull her finger out and be proactive for the sake of her son, despite the difficulties that course of action will pose for her.

A powerful piece of writing, and definitely worth picking up. Nobody is simple; everyone is given their own responsibility for the situation as it unfolds; and the growing dramatic tensions and challenges throughout of trying to live the best life possible despite one's earlier errors is gripping.

40,001 best baby names - Diane Stafford

Mainly noted to say how bloody useless it was. Avoid. None of the names are particularly nice and the etymology is downright questionable. (G in particular had some very choice comments to make.) The name choices are also really bloody weird, particularly ones which appear to be completely made up and are thus justified by the note 'American' next to them.

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters - Rick Riordan

The second of the Percy Jackson series - equally readable and fairly inoffensive. A plot arc is definitely starting to make itself felt here (hello nemesis). This one is based broadly on the story of the Odyssey with a few tweaks of order, mainly in order to allow poor Grover the satyr to be a Penelope figure for Polyphemus whilst also allowing the introduction of another Cyclops into the tale, but it means we get Circe as well (hurrah!), and the sirens - only it's Annabeth who gets tempted by the Sirens, not Percy, which is in and of itself quite an interesting change in the usual mythic structure and one I shall have to think about a bit more. I did like the idea of Circe changing her men victims into guinea pigs instead of actual pigs, and of poor Chiron having to put up with his party-animal centaur family (something rang rather true there...). So again, some problems with a writing style that I think will date, but some interesting and innovative twists on the mythology for the purposes of reworking.

Murder Must Advertise - Dorothy L. Sayers

I don't think I've ever read this, although I'm sure I've heard the Radio 4 Extra adaptation, so I figured the book was worth a shot. It was, because as well as being a jolly good murder mystery (full of intrigue, blackmail, loose living, drug trafficking, secret signals and whatnot), it's also a fairly biting satire on the advertising industry as a whole. Sayers is extremely happy to eviscerate the industry at the same time as letting Lord Peter work out whodunit, and as such it makes an enjoyable read on two fronts.

Lord Peter Views the Body - Dorothy L. Sayers

A collection of short stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, some of which are harder to guess than others, but all of which were lightly pleasant reading. There's one based on a crossword which I haven't tried to solve yet, but must photocopy for G before returning the book. All of the others are pretty straightforward twists, some of which I managed to solve, and one or two of which showed clear seeds of novels that would develop elsewhere, but there's nowt wrong with that.

Hypnobirthing - Marie F. Mongan

Being in the part of the world and socio-economic bracket that we are, hypnobirthing is definitely A Thing around here. I had absolutely no interest in taking a class, given that the publicity I'd seen for this sort of thing seemed - well, a bit cultish, if I'm honest, and I figured antenatal yoga was much more my style in terms of alternative approaches that I like and feel comfortable with. That said, from what various people had been saying, it seemed like getting the book out of the library and having a read-through wouldn't hurt. So I did, and there are a couple of helpful things in there, mainly some breathing exercises and some useful affirmations that I'm going to photocopy. I'm not going to photocopy the visualisation stuff, because that doesn't feel helpful to me, but that's OK. Also OK is the alternative language stuff, which draws on a very 1960s 'language is violence' position to point out that talking in medicalised terms creates unnecessary fear, and so you should use non-fear-provoking language to de-condition yourself from the expectation that labour - sorry, birthing will involve pain. Some of this is sensible (I'm particularly on-board with 'guess date' rather than 'due date'), and the rest is at least inoffensive. And I like the emphasis on the fact that you're not in a hurry, so if things take their own time and nobody involved is showing any signs of distress, that's absolutely fine.

Far more irritating, however, are the -isms. There's blatant fetishisation of the working class (look at all these poor people who this doctor in the 1920s observed having babies without any pain!), similar magical negro racism (isn't amazing that all these black people in Africa just lean up against trees and have babies without any intervention at all!) and worryingly-close-to-prosperity gospel magical thinking (just think of good things and they will happen, just like rich people think rich and poor people think poor, and there is no structural inequality between these two groups whatsoever!). These attitudes alone, I think, would have put me Right Off any formal training in this particular discipline, but even just reading about them actively repulses me, as there isn't any need for them to underpin the kind of approach that the system is trying to promote. Just... ugh. But I'll steal their deep breathing techniques.

Also very interesting is the fact that a lot of the sorts of things that are recommended are things that we've been doing anyway (bonding with Marmoset prior to birth, for instance). The sorts of things that Mongan advises her mothers to watch out for in hospitals just... aren't happening in UK hospitals. There's been some rewriting of the book for a UK audience, clearly to make it a bit more relevant, and with considerable praise for birthing units that are sensitive to this sort of thing. But this is clearly a strong reaction to the medicalization of 'normal' birth in the US (one of the reasons that I'm not having a child there), and given that context, it's not that surprising that the pendulum swings so far the other way.

The Social Baby - Lynne Murray

This was mentioned in one of the NCT classes and I wanted to have a look at it. I think I have one of the original copies, from about 2000, and gosh, how book production has moved on since, but that's by the by. The main attraction of this book is that it shows how from the very moment of birth, babies are capable of engaging with other humans and developing routines of play and communication. The biggest 'wow' for me was that babies can only really do black and white to start with, and that a black and white high contrast book will actually serve to calm the baby down as an engagement activity at about three months. I was also quite interested to learn about the shift in three months from mimicking/conversation play to being able to cope with games that have rules (like 'round and round the garden', for instance), where some of the pleasure comes from knowing the structure of the game and how it is going to finish. Also useful were some of the possible cues for telling that your baby is getting overstimulated, and the information that too much bright light can be a trigger for a meltdown, particularly early on. (This makes total sense, given the lack of windows in the womb, but having it pointed out helps.) So, yes. I shan't be investing in my own copy, but a couple of handy pointers absorbed that I am sure I will forget the moment that Marmoset actually turns up and demonstrates an individual personality. Although I think I will be keeping my eye out for black and white books.
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