Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart

Title:  The Mask of Motherhood: How becoming a mother changes our lives and why we never talk about it
Author:  Susan Maushart
Pages:  247
Publisher:  Penguin Books
Genre:  Nonfiction
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Personal copy (Book Outlet)


Susan Maushart explores the vast range of emotions that come along with motherhood, and why many women are afraid to speak honestly about the low moments for fear of being viewed as bad mothers.  Maushart is a sociologist and mother of three.  She writes about how motherhood affects marriage, friendship, self-esteem, and sex.  She writes about lactation, being a mom who works outside the home, being a stay-at-home mom, juggling the many jobs associated with motherhood, and about how becoming a mother changes your life.  Most importantly, by writing about these things, Maushart is letting women know that they are not alone.

Motherhood is certainly rewarding, but it's not always an easy walk in the park, a point that not many women talk about openly.  Maushart is examining this mask that many women wear to conceal the realities of motherhood, looking at what lies beneath and asking why it's being worn in the first place.


I found this book quite interesting.  Personally, I find the women in my life to be fairly open about pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.  I'm lucky to have friends with whom there is nothing held back, even when it's unpleasant or difficult (I'm looking at you, Andrea!).  The Mask of Motherhood was published in 1999, and I think that in some ways the mask has been removed with access and outlets to real talk about childbirth and child rearing.  In other ways, the mask is more in place than it ever was.

The Internet has certainly provided an outlet for women to share the nitty gritty about pregnancy, giving birth, and caring for a baby.  Women are able to access information like never before, and especially with sites like Scary Mommy (for example), read some candid pieces about what it means to be a mother.  There may be a humorous spin, but the sentiment is there - caring for a small human is not as straightforward as one may think.

I do, however, see certain aspects of the mask present itself even more forcefully in 2016.  Fueled by social media, it can be hard to not be under the impression that all the other mothers have it all together.  I can scroll through their instagram and see pictures of smiling children, nutritious lunches with veggies cut into fun little shapes, everything captioned with #soblessed.  It's not real life.  But I think there's pressure to present yourself as a mother who has her shit together.  If we're having an "off" day and we end up inside on a beautiful fall afternoon, I can scroll through facebook seeing my friends post pictures of their kids playing in apple orchards and start to feel bad - even though the baby was fussy and the 4-year-old was overtired and a trip to an orchard would have resulted in a slew of meltdowns.  I'd be interested to see an updated version of this book with chapters about the Pinterest moms and mommy bloggers, the desire some women have to make every moment magical and caught on camera, and pressure to feed your kids only gluten free, chemical free, organic snacks.
I found some of the statistics presented in the book to be the most interesting parts.  Of course they're slightly dated, so numbers are no longer exact.  In particular I found it interesting to read about women making the transition into motherhood.  According to Maushart, that transition is harder for women over 30 who have established themselves both as individuals in their personal lives and in their careers.  I found myself nodding my head so hard during this particular chapter.  I remember the stress and the anxiety associated with my first born.  Some of it had nothing to do with my age or making the transition into motherhood.  But in hindsight, some of it did.  I agreed with so much of what Maushart had to say about making this transition - I wish I had read this when I was about 3 weeks postpartum with Dominic.  

Maushart has a great voice, mixing cited factual information with personal stories.  It's a perfect balance.  She provides tremendous insight on many of the unspoken parts of the journey to and through motherhood.  She writes about identity, working, and the roles women play in their families.  Statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, as figures and trends have shifted in the last seventeen years.  

Overall I really enjoyed this book.  If you're pregnant with your first child, if you just gave birth for the first time, or if you're a seasoned parent - there's lots of food for thought here.  I think Maushart presents a lot of ideas about what so many women are thinking or have thought about childbirth and child rearing.  I am guilty of wearing the mask - not necessarily about sharing real information, but in trying to give the impression that I have everything running smoothly.

Highly recommend!  Click here to purchase a copy (and to support Kate's Library)!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Title:  Hex
Author:  Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Translator:  Nancy Forest-Flier
Pages:  380
Publisher:  Tor
Genre:  Horror
Format:  Hardcover
Source:  Personal copy (Barnes & Noble)


In the beautiful town of Black Spring, a seventeenth-century witch roams.  Her eyes and mouth have been sewn shut, and she walks the streets of Black Spring, entering homes at will, where she sometimes stays for days at a time just standing in the living room or a bedroom with her thread-bound eyes and mouth.  For the people of Black Spring, she is a part of their daily lives.  They know that her eyes must never be opened - the consequences would be beyond comprehension.

The Black Spring elders have basically quarintined the town.  They monitor outsiders and the Black Rock Witch by using a surveillance system with the accronym HEX.  It is essential that the Witch remain the business - and the burden - of Black Spring.  Once you become an official Black Spring resident, you can never leave.  The Witch and the power she has over Black Spring makes it impossible to travel far or to travel for long before being forced back.

A group of the town's teenagers are fed up with the lockdown and decide to take matters into their own hands.  Violating the town's strict regulations, the boys wish to go viral with the haunting.  Their actions send the town spraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past.


I thought Hex was fantastic.  I was in the mood for a creepy read and this fit the bill.  There were a few times I decided I couldn't read this book while feeding my newborn at 2am in the dark by myself.  Certain things really give me the creeps - the thought of this witch just appearing and standing in your home, her whispering something and the stitches on her mouth pulling on her old dead looking flesh.  The book was deeply unsettling.  I feel this way about Stephen King as well.  It's not gore and blood and guts on every page (although there was some gore for sure), but rather an overall chilling quality to the story.  I loved it.

The setting is great.  I read the Acknowlegements in the back of the book and found out that Thomas Olde Heuvelt is actually a Dutch author and when working on the English translation of this book he took the opportunity to change a few things.  He reset the story to the Hudson River Valley, and changed the ending a bit.  So if you're Dutch, please drop me an email and tell me the original ending, okay?  Anyway, the setting and set-up of the town and the people living there captured small-town New England (I know the Hudson River Valley is in NY and not technically New England).  It gave it a Salem witch trial feel that worked beautifully with the story.

The chapters are told from alternate perspectives, each having a distinct feeling and voice.  Wonderful writing.  If you're looking for a spooky read, look no further.  And in case you feel like you missed the boat because Halloween is past (which is nuts because it's always a good time for something creepy!) you'll be happy to know much of the story takes place in November!  So now is the perfect time!

Click here to get yourself a copy (and support Kate's Library)!  And click here if you're interested in seeing the book trailer.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Baby Zach

If you follow me on social media (and if you don't, please do!), you've probably figured out that I've recently had a baby!  We welcomed Zachary Bruce to the world on September 21.  He tipped the scales at 8 pounds, 9 ounces.  He's a delightful baby, and I'm enjoying the 12 weeks I get to stay at home before returning to work.

My four-year-old son, Dominic, was born at 36 and a half weeks - almost a month early.  You can imagine my surprise when Zachary was overdue and I had to be induced.

Everything about this baby is different than Dominic - down to labor and deliver.  Dominic was unexpected - my water broke and I was having no contractions.  We hung out at the hospital, watched the Olympics and ate chicken fingers until they finally to give me Pitocin.  I got an epidural early on because at that point it was really late at night and the anesthesiologist was about to be occupied with another patient for an unforeseeable length of time.  I pushed for a couple of hours.  We were joking around between pushes.  Dominic was a peanut - 6 pounds, 3 ounces.

I was expecting Zachary to be a bigger baby because he was in the oven an extra month.  I scheduled my induction and they got me going on Pitocin.  Contractions escalated quickly, and with each contraction, Zach's heart rate was dropping.  They experimented with Pitocin levels, and turned it off for awhile before turning it back on again.  The only position they could get me where his heart rate stayed normal was laying far over on my right side.  Those contractions sucked because I couldn't move around.  Our doctor was dealing with an emergency, so it took longer than I expected to get the epidural - which was fine... I was thankful we weren't the emergency he was dealing with.  When it came time to push it was super painful, even with the epidural.  We found out afterward this was because Zach turned around in there and was born "sunny side up", or face up.  Apparently, this makes for a really difficult labor and delivery because the plates in the skull that are supposed to be able to squish together are on the wrong side.  The entire top of his head was bruised!

Our doctor is amazing.  The nurses are amazing.  I think that having a child is a humbling experience in so many ways.  And one of those ways is the care you receive by the doctor and nurses.  We felt this way after Dominic was born as well.  We feel like we chose our OB/GYN office and hospital well!

Baby Zach is wonderful.  He is an easy baby compared to Dominic.  He figured out how to nurse from the get go, he gets up in the night (of course), but he isn't up screaming.  He's pretty chill and just wants to cuddle.  And we know he's our last, so I'm trying to soak up those cuddles and not wish these early moments away.  I have another post about this brewing in my brain, but for now I'll say that it's been wonderful to actually get to enjoy maternity leave instead of spending the first 2/3 of it feeling completely overwhelmed and barely above water.  We're having fun.

Dominic loves being a big brother.  He kisses Zach's head and says he's his best friend.  After a somewhat difficult week where he was acting out (sharing mom and dad's attention is hard), he's settled down and eager to be a big helper.  I think he's watched and assisted with every diaper change thus far.  Dennis is a super dad.  Zach loves to sleep on his chest.  To make Dominic feel special, Dennis is taking lots of time to make sure he gets to do big boy stuff.  He's taking him on special trips to the store, to the park, to indoor play parks.  It's been so appreciated.

For the most part, I feel wonderful.  I'm getting plenty of sleep if you count the hours, but it's interrupted.  So I'm tired but not miserable.  When Zachary wants to pull up a seat at the milk bar I have been occupying myself with lots of reading and podcast listening.  My alone time is limited, I haven't been back to the gym yet, and we're eating more take-out and/or meals that are pre-made than usual.  But I have some perspective and I know that I'll be back to yoga soon enough and will eventually have time to cook more complicated and healthy meals.  I've come to realize that having this perspective is everything.  I'm quite aware at just how fleeting these moments are.

My maternity leave adventures and lots of cute baby pics are flooding my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Feel free to follow on one or all three!  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Title:  Sleeping Giants
Author:  Sylvain Neuvel
Pages:  304
Publisher:  Del Rey
Genre:  Science Fiction
Format:  Hardcover
Source:  Book of the Month Club


A young girl named Rose is riding her bike in the woods.  She falls into the earth, waking up at the bottom of a large hole.  When firemen come to rescue her, they see a giant metal hand at the bottom of the hole, cradling Rose in its palm.

Fast-forward seventeen years.  This metal hand is still a mystery.  Carbon dating doesn't seem plausible.  Little Rose is now a physicist and she's on a team trying to figure out the purpose of this giant hand.  Why does it exist?  Who made it?  How did it get here?  As pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, decisions will have to be made about how this discovery will be used - an instrument of peace, or weapon of mass destruction?


I really enjoyed Sleeping Giants.  The entire story is told through interviews, reports, and journal entries.  I've spoken with a few people who didn't enjoy this format, but I really liked it.  It was a change from what I usually read, and it was refreshing for me.  The interviews are all conducted by the same person.  We don't learn his name, or any details about his involvement in the project - but we get to know him as a character.  I loved how Neuvel was able to make the reader get to know a character with such limited information and detail.  He's not directly involved in the action, but he's still very involved in the project.

Sleeping Giants is such an interesting premise.  Something is discovered, it's massive in scale, and it's pretty obvious that it wasn't created by human hands, or even on earth.  How do you figure out the purpose of such a thing when you have absolutely no information to go on?

In addition to being an intersting story, Sleeping Giants asks what would we, as human beings, do in this situation.  When stumbling across something so mysterious and massive, there are really two types of people - folks who will try to use the information to advance humanity, and those who will want to exploit the discovery for power and intimidation.  Seeing this moral dilema unfold was just as interesting as piecing together the project itself.

I don't read a lot of science fiction, but I really enjoyed this book.  Here's an indication of how good it is - I have been up at 2am nursing a newborn, this newborn falls asleep in my arms, and instead of rushing back to bed, I keep my eyes open to finish the chapter.  If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is!

Click here to purchase Sleeping Giants through my Amazon Affiliates link and support Kate's Library!  

Friday, August 26, 2016

Audiobook Associations

Anyone who opened my iTunes may think I'm insane.

For me, music has always been firmly attached to a certain time of year.  I have a fall playlist, a Christmas playlist, winter playlist, spring playlist, and summer playlist.  Also, each of these seasons has a corresponding "working playlist" that consists of instrumental songs that I associate with that particular season.  Songs get sorted with my own sorting hat - it has nothing to do with when the song was released, or when it got a ton of radio play.  It's all about where it "feels right" for me, or when I was listening to it at a certain time in my life.  

Here are some examples.

Carrie Underwood - Blown Away.  This is a Fall song.  I downloaded it shortly after Dominic was born in August, 2012 and listened to it a lot that fall when I was on maternity leave.  

Anything Stone Temple Pilots.  Fall songs.  They just remind me of high school in general, and naturally they belong on a playlist I'd be listening to while going back to school.  

Earth, Wind, & Fire - September.  By the title, you may think this is a Fall song but it's not.  It's a Spring song.  Because I did a unit on music of this genre while teaching my Spring semester Music Appreciation course and it got a lot of play for me in the spring.

My colleague and friend, Matt, likes to find a song on the radio and ask me what season it goes with.  And my answers are always very definitive.  

Anyway, hopefully you're still reading and didn't write me off as a complete nut.  

I was thinking this week about how audiobooks have similar connections in my head.  Not by season necessarily.  Since I'm listening to them mostly in the car, I can vividly remember where I was and what I was doing while listening to certain books.  Print books don't do this for me so much - I think it's because I read way more of them and because I'm not multitasking while reading.   

I wanted to share a few memorable audiobooks feels with you.  

Stephen King - The Tommyknockers.  This was one of the first audiobooks I really dug into after I finished with graduate school and didn't have a little baby anymore.  Dominic was older and I felt less stressed with his age and with the fact that every spare moment wasn't being crammed with school work.  I got hired to play in a string quartet for a wedding waaaay up in the white mountains of NH.  The ride took about 4 hours round trip.  As I said, my son was older and I felt so carefree going up to do this wedding gig.  I wasn't nursing anymore, so I didn't have to juggle anything besides getting there, playing, and going home.  It was a crisp fall afternoon and the foliage was gorgeous the further up in NH I drove.  The wedding was outside and the dark clouds parted shortly before the ceremony.  The time of year paired perfectly with a Stephen King novel.  I'll always remember feeling happy and fortunate to have some time to myself that wasn't being spent thinking about work/child rearing/homework. 

Craig M. Mullaney - The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education.  This is another wedding story.  I got hired to play at a different wedding in the white mountains.  This one was on a hot, summer day.  The wedding was at a camp (the guests all slept in cabins and they had activities planned like hiking and stuff) and the ceremony was on the shore of the lake.  I had recently finished re-watching Band of Brothers, so this book caught my eye.  I remember listening and being completely riveted.  It was one of my first nonfiction audiobooks.  I don't remember ever reading anything else about war or the military and I was surprised at myself that I was really enjoying what Mullaney had to say, and that it kept my interest so intently.    

Max Barry - Lexicon.  I travel to some houses to teach private violin/viola lessons.  I was listening to this fall and early winter.  I absolutely loved it and can vividly remember times when my students were tuning their instruments and I was still processing what was happening in the book.  In some cases, I only had a 10 minute drive between houses but I was consuming the audiobook in those small bits of time because I just didn't want to stop listening.  These nights of teaching (I only do it once a week and it makes for a really long day when you start your regular job at 7:19am) are usually super long and tiring.  I was also going through kind of a rough time personally.  I remember that this book was holding my interest and keeping my mind from wandering.  It took these long evenings and made them great because it was an excuse to spend time with this book!    

Nyomi Novik - Uprooted.  I just finished this one last week but I know it'll be in my memory.  This summer I spent three weeks, 8 months pregnant, working at summer music camp.  It was hot!  My four-year-old was either at daycare or with grandparents for most of the days so I had the commute to myself - 50 miles each way.  This book was long - almost 18 hours - so I started it at camp and finished the week following.  This was one of my favorite audiobooks ever.  Even on the rare days that the temperatures were not upper 90's and humid I chose air conditioning (I'd usually have the windows open) so I could hear the narrator better.  I vividly remember Dominic being at daycare, teaching some music lessons, and listening to this book on my drive home, on my phone speaker on the walk from the car to the house, and immediately putting it on a speaker while in the house.  I didn't want to lose any time on that 30 second walk into the house.  It was that good.  I will also remember being pregnant with our second kid and needing the amazing story to keep me from listening to music, zoning out, and stressing about adding another child to our lives!  

Tell me about yourselves!  Do you listen to music by season like me, or am I completely weird?  Do you have some vivid memories associated with audiobooks or print books?  Leave them in the comments!