Commercial nonfiction has always been a foreign animal to me. For one thing, I wonder why books about banal topics, like a woman’s move from house to house, should be reviewed in all of the major newspapers and magazines (Aren’t there other books? Could it be connections?). For another, I am slightly annoyed that such books sell more than mine.
My husband has a knack for detecting the next big thing in books, so I should have known when he e-mailed me The Wall St. Journal article about the Tiger Mother that I was not hearing the last of her. I’m not sure if he was musing as a family therapist or giving me pointers, but it was mid-residency, so I quickly read and dismissed the article, then watched as the dialogue and controversy (death threats?) blossomed. No doubt the book will become a “best seller.”
Aside from thinking jealously about Ms. Chua’s promotional abilities, I considered the role of timing in relation to cultural phenomena. Americans are obsessive, escapist, and mass thinkers. After days of national grief over the senseless murder of six people (and the ensuing dialogue about gun control and the treatment of psychosis), fixating on parenting formulas must have offered relief in the same way that “Leave it to Beaver” and Doris Day romps did after World War II (Never mind that Doris Day’s husband cleaned out her bank accounts, and that her son was the actual target of the Mansons. In those movies, she rode off into the sunset with Rock Hudson). As a culture, we seemed to need then, not reality, but a sugary dreamscape upon which to cast our anxieties and fears.
Just after the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother article, author Ayelet Waldman, gave a comical Jewish Mom’s response. She said, for example, that she allows her kids to quit the violin or piano just before the recital so she won’t have to listen to the “hackneyed pieces of the juvenile repertoire” of the other children. Ayelet Waldman is no stranger to the literary scene. She is the author of two books and half of a literary couple; Michael Chabon is the other half. It was a very witty piece: more riding a wave, then bumming a ride. And I have no doubt that by now Ms. Waldman is sifting through offers from publishers. No kidding.
What is your parenting slant? Get out your keyboards and start typing those book proposals before the topic cools like this year’s winter.