Book Review: The Way of Boys by Anthony Rao

AuthorAnthony Rao
Title: The way of boys : raising healthy boys in a challenging and complex world
Publication Info: New York : William Morrow, c2009.
ISBN: 9780061707827

Summary/Review: I read this book as part of the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  As a parent of a boy I found it interesting to see a book written from the perspective of child development in boys.  I bristled some at some of the assumptions that seemed to be based on gender roles, but Rao did a good job of explicating the actual developmental differences between boys and girls.   These differences unfortunately are leading a lot of boys to be labeled as ADD or Aspergery where Rao contends that they are perfectly fine.  Rao’s writing contains a lot of comforting suggestions and tips for activities and life skills for parents to help boys navigate through childhood.  I recommend reading it if are raising a boy of your own.

Favorite Passages:

Sensing the emotions of others is a kind of listening.  The little boy who is careening through the house, hungry for things to touch and take apart, isn’t listening to your words or watching your nonverbal cues.  His strong emotions are ringing so loudly in his own head that he doesn’t notice yours.  To the extent that he can sense your anger, he  might see it as something to play with or test.  For him to register your anger, it usually has to be off the charts, and no one likes to be that kind of parent. – p. 95

Let them cheat.  It’s a good thing, in fact, for boys (or girls) this age to gain self-esteem from winning.  They still have plenty of time to learn about strict rules and turn taking later.  At these ages, the point is that they are gaining a sense of mastery, having fun, and spending time with others. – p. 110

Recommended Books: The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp

Rating: ***1/2

The Best Dam Walking Tour in Boston

I promote a lot of tours on this blog, but if there’s one tour you must take this summer it’s the Exploring the Charles River Basin tour offered by Boston By Foot guides (including myself).  The tour steps off at 2 pm on Sunday, June 27th from Nashua Street Park just opposite the exit from the Science Park MBTA station (exit to the right, not toward the Museum of Science).  Admission for this tour is $15/person and $5 for card-carrying members of Boston By Foot.  A great excuse for getting a membership now!

Not to frighten anyone off but this tour covers about two-miles of some-times rough ground with little protection from the elements.  So come prepared with appropriate clothing and fresh liquids.  The tour lasts approximately 2 hours but you can duck out pretty easily at the 90-minute mark if you need to.

While Exploring the Charles River Basin,  you will:

  • discover three brand-new parks that most people don’t know exist.
  • history of the Charles River and its ever-encroaching banks
  • hear mellifluous words like bascule, freshet, and sluiceway and find out what they mean too
  • cross not one but two dams
  • see the only city jail with a waterfront view and a park across the street
  • ponder our litigious society
  • find what remains of Miller’s River
  • get a new perspective on the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge
  • and without fail you’ll see all manner of transportation, roads, railways, bridges, and waterways

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Book Reviews: The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle

Author: Roddy Doyle
Title: The Dead Republic
Publication Info: New York : Viking, c2010.
ISBN: 9780670021772

By the same author:

  • Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
  • A Star Called Henry
  • The Woman Who Walked into Doors
  • The Commitments
  • The Snapper
  • The Van
  • Oh, Play That Thing
  • Paula Spencer
  • The Deportees: and Other Stories

Summary/Review: Doyle completes The Last Roundup trilogy, a story of Ireland and the Irish in the 20th century through the lens of one everyman – Henry Smart.    The first book in this series A Star Called Henry is one of my favorite novels of all time.  The sequel which follows Henry to America in the Roaring Twenties – Oh, Play That Thing –  starts of brilliantly but then collapses due to some poor narrative choices.  The final installment brings Henry back to Ireland and is a return to form albeit still failing to approach the brilliance of the first novel.

Henry accompanies John Ford to make a film based on his own life which Ford turns into The Quiet Man.  Escaping Ford’s green-tinted lens view of Ireland, Henry settles into working as a janitor at a school in a modern Dublin suburb where he may or may not be reacquainted with his long-lost wife.  Henry gets caught in the 17 May 1974 terrorist bombings in Dublin (coincidentally the second book this month I’ve read where these bombings play a crucial role after Let the Great World Spin) and his true identity is revealed.  He’s hailed as a hero of the rebellion and called back into action by the modern IRA.  Yet, Henry soon comes to realize that the IRA’s vision of Ireland is as false and idealistic as Fords.

Overall, Doyle does a great job in this series at taking on modern Irish history – warts and all – through the lens of this fascinating (if not always likable) character.  I highly recommend reading all three books even if you have to slog through the second half of Oh, Play That Thing.

Rating: ****

FREE Tour of Jamaica Pond on Saturday!

Saturday June 19th at 11 am, meet at the Jamaica Pond Bandstand near the intersection of Pond Street and Jamaicaway for a 90-minute tour around Jamaica Pond.   Yours truly will be one of the guides for this Jamaica Plain Historical Society walking tour.

Official description of the tour from the JPHS website:

Once a gathering point for Boston’s elite, the Pond had previously been put to   industrial use as tons of ice were harvested there each winter. Learn about the movers and shakers such as Francis Parkman who made their homes on the Pond’s shores. Discover how the Pond was transformed from private estates and warehouses into the parkland we know today.
Leaves from the Bandstand, Pond Street and Jamaicaway.

Come join us for a fun and informative tour.  Last year I lead this tour for 27 people and 4 dogs.  It should be a nice escape on a hot day.  Don’t forget that the price of this tour is FREE, although you may want to sign up for a JPHS membership starting at $15.

Book Review: I’jaam by Sinan Antoon

Author: Sinan Antoon
Title: I’jaam : an Iraqi rhapsody
Publication Info: San Francisco : City Lights, c2007.
ISBN: 9780872864573

Summary/Review: This short book is set in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and purports to be the memoir of a student who ends up as a political prisoner.  The conceit of the novel is that the i’jaam – dots added to Arabic script – have been left off leading to ambiguous (and presumably comical) meanings to some of the words, but even the author gets tired of this after a while.  I wasn’t too impressed by this book as it seemed to be trying to be too avant guarde without really delivering.

Recommended books: A Sky So Close: A Novel by Betool Khedairi
Rating: **

Book Review: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Author: Colum McCann
Title: Let the Great World Spin
Publication Info:


I can’t say enough good things about this novel.  Each chapter tells the story of one person in New York on and around the day that Phillipe Petit crosses the gap between the Twin Towers on a wire.  McCann really brings the voices and stories and the personal drama of their everyday lives to life.  At the end of each chapter I was sad to see that characters story gone and have to read about someone else, but McCann won me over again and again.  McCann also does a good job of showing how these very different people are connected to one another in ways both profound and tentative.  This will definitely go on my best books of the year list.

Recommended books: New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg by Marshall Berman and Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
Rating:  *****

The Swinger (via Music Machinery)

Trying out the new WordPress reblog feature. This is a fun post in which several popular songs have been modified to have a swing beat. I especially like “White Rabbit.”

 One of my favorite hacks at last weekend's Music Hack Day is Tristan's Swinger.  The Swinger is a bit of python code that takes any song and makes it swing.  It does this be taking each beat and time-stretching the first half of each beat while time-shrinking the second half.  It has quite a magical effect.  Some examples: Every Breath You Take [soundcloud url=" More

via Music Machinery

Book Review: Pedal Power by J. Harry Wray

Author: J. Harry Wray
Title: Pedal power : the quiet rise of the bicycle in American public life
Publication Info: Boulder, Colo. : Paradigm Publishers, c2008.
ISBN: 9781594514623


Wray writes in a dry, professorial tone about bicycle culture in the United States through a political science approach.  While not the best written book it does have a lot of interesting facts and ideas about American cyclists.  I think this book is best summarized with a little bit about each chapter

  1. Contrasting Visions – Wray introduces his political science method and explains that he will be writing about the political importance of bicycling.
  2. Biking in Amsterdam – A visit to the bike friendly city delves into the history of how bicycle accommodations were created and what effect they have on that city’s politics and culture.
  3. Culture Storm – Examining the way that Americans self-identify as “individualists” and how this identity appears to clash with bike culture.
  4. Biking Eccentrics – The stories of a people Wray knows in Chicago who have committed themselves to a bicycle-based lifestyle.
  5. Building the Case – Political advocates such as the League of American Bicyclists and Chicago Bicycle Federation.
  6. Pushing the Envelope – Organizations and leaderless movements on the cutting edge of bicycling including Critical Mass, SHIFT, ChiTown Cruisers, and The Rat Patrol.
  7. Politicians Who Matter – Portraits of a few elected leaders who have bicycle-lifestyles and are leaders of bicycle-friendly legislation.
  8. Metapolitics, Minibikes – The political effect of bicycling in reaction to environmental degradation and global warming.

All in all this is a good introductory look at the important political issues of the day relating to bicycling.

Recommended books: Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do by Tom Vanderbilt, Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back by Jane Holtz Kay
Rating:  ***

Book Review: Treason’s Harbor by Patrick O’Brian

Author: Patrick O’Brian
Title: Treason’s Harbor
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audiobooks, 2005.
ISBN: 0786137215

Summary/Review: The nautical adventures of Aubrey and Maturin continue.  This is an average story that includes some interesting spying intrigue, Stephen Maturin in a diving bell, a mission to Egypt, and a blessedly complete absence of Diana Villiers.  Other than that it’s a bit bland and feels like it’s there to connect to the next novel more than anything else.

Rating: ** 1/2