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A Christmas list for keeps
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The end of the year is a time for everyone to assemble their “best of” lists.
Last Sunday’s Kansas City Star had a collection of top 100 books of the year. Today, I join the fray — engaging in intellectual exploration for the serious reader. My reading list has two parts – instructive yet interesting books that assist parents raise normal, healthy, happy children and historical non-fiction.
Here are a couple books that I suggest you put on your own list, read, and then share with others.
* “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World,” by Rosalind Wiseman. Discussed here previously, this quick read is a terrific tutorial on raising daughters, particularly in the middle school years. It’s credited with fundamentally changing how parents view their daughters’ friendships and conflicts, and how moms and dads unknowingly contribute to a culture of division and exclusion. Raising daughters requires advice from true professionals, and Weisman qualifies.
* “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction,” by David Sheff. Consider this truism: “Smart people learn from their own mistakes; really smart people learn from other people’s mistakes.” There is a lot to learn from Sheff’s mistakes and his testimonial serves as a shout-from-the-mountain-top lesson on how not to address kids and drugs. Sheff’s transgressions with his son are noted and are instructive. And if you don’t think drugs are all around today’s kids, I hope you are enjoying life on Mars. Just read the Nov. 22 Time magazine cover entitled “The United States of Amerijuana” and regain reality. Sheff’s book is a sometimes depressing, sometimes uplifting cautionary tale about raising kids in contemporary times. There are threads that run throughout the book that every parent will connect with.
* “The Narcissist Epidemic—Living in the Age of Entitlement,” by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell. This is a critically acclaimed account of how our culture has become consumed with an inflated view of the self. An easy read but also a clarion call to how parents can change these trends. Any parent who is struggling with teenagers and Facebook, YouTube, and the endless issues evolving with the Internet should read this. The explicit prophesies pondered by Twenge and Campbell are troubling. But as a parent you can do your share to rein this in. I’ve given this book to five sets of parents and by Christmas that list will double.
* “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl,” by Tim Egan. This may shock you, but I spent most of my days at Great Bend High School staring out the classroom windows. Especially those classrooms on the east side of the building – facing those tanks at the Armory. My daydreaming took another level during American History. So Egan’s work allows me to play catch-up – it’s an  incredibly powerful account of the convergence of three historical events – the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and the settling of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Retold with first-person accounts, it is equal parts unbelievable and inspirational. If you have parents or grandparents over the age of 80, they may have their own accounts of these events. The winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Non Fiction, one reviewer said: “Egan expertly knits unpublished diaries, newspaper archives, official reports and survivor interviews into a jaw-dropping page-turner of narrative that continually commands the question: How could people survive this?”
Google this question – What’s the hottest day in Kansas history? The answer is 121 degrees in the shade on July 24, 1936 in Alton. Good lucking finding shade in North Central Kansas, and same with finding Alton. Its long gone. That entire summer, Kansas literally was an oven. In 1936, Larry was seven and grew up two hours south of Alton, which placed the Seward homestead at the northern edge of the Dust Bowl and smack dab in the furnace. Ask him about growing up in the Dirty 30s and you better have a couple hours set aside. Read “The Worst Hard Time” and you will have a new appreciation for why our parents represent the greatest generation of Americans. Indeed, Egan’s book could have been narrated by many of the readers of this column.
In case your reading is limited to five-minute windows, grab a couple of Erma Bombeck’s classics – “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits,” and “Family-The Ties That Bind...and Gag.” If humor is the best medicine, this is equal to a trip to CVS —without copays. Enjoy.