Sunday, April 7, 2013

2013 Reading, Books 31-33

31) The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, by Thomas Ricks.

I caught part of an author interview on NPR and determined to read this book, even though in general the second half of the 20th century isn't a corner of history that holds much interest for me. (Part of that is because it doesn't really seem like history--I was born in 1971, so I remember world events from, oh, 1979 or so on pretty clearly, albeit with the skewed perspective of having been a kid and therefore having absorbed unquestioningly my family and community's beliefs until I left home at 18.)

I'm glad I made the effort to read it. I feel like I have a much better understanding of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, which I've never much studied, and even of the First and Second Gulf Wars and the war in Afghanistan, which I lived through as an adult but focused on the politics rather than how effective the military was and what caused its weaknesses.

To sum up very succinctly, the WWII US Army was about as effective as an army could be, largely due to the leadership of Marshall and Eisenhower. But it imploded quickly, with the nadir of Vietnam, largely because of failures of leadership--the Army tended to award organization men who knew how to go along to get along rather than thoughtful, assertive leaders who understood strategy and where each war fit into national and world interest, and they failed to quickly relieve generals who couldn't hack it. After Vietnam the Army recovered tactically, such that the enlisted personnel and lower-ranking officers are excellent, but the system is still largely failing to produce gifted strategists to fill the rank of general.

Definitely a worthwhile read for anyone interested in military history or who wants to look at the last 60-70 years from another angle.

32) The Midwife, by Carolyn Davidson. My April read for Wendy the Super Librarian's 2013 TBR challenge. More detail to come April 17.

33) Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate, by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic.

I'm a recovering picky eater. As a child, I practically lived on Campbell's Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup, fried chicken (only I mostly ate the crust and left the meat behind), black-eyed peas (but all other legumes, especially lima beans, were GROSS), white bread wadded up into a ball (WHY, child me, WHY?), biscuits, chocolate milk, and a very narrow range of other foods. I still can't figure out how I managed to grow up 5'7" (average for a woman in my family), intelligent, and healthy rather than stunted, dull, and brittle-boned. Who knows? Maybe I was meant to be 6'0", have Nobel-prize-winner brains, and never to suffer from mild asthma. Or maybe the human body is more resilient than we generally think.

Now if anything I'm a foodie, though I still have some aversions I'm fighting to overcome--e.g. to me most fish has an off-puttingly squishy texture and tastes like a beach town smells on a hot, windless day--and I've decided I'm really not missing anything by avoiding brussel sprouts, asparagus, and desserts with raisins in them. I've never been tested for it, but given my dislike of coffee and beer (seriously, how can anyone stand anything that bitter?) I suspect I'm a supertaster. But within those constraints I'm an adventurous eater who'll try just about any cuisine, spice, or flavor combination.

And now I'm raising a picky 9-year-old. She's better than I was with fruits and vegetables--as long as they're raw and plain--but I worry how little protein she eats. She barely eats meat and doesn't like beans, which leaves her with peanut butter, yogurt, and milk. I want her to eat more variety so it'll be easier to feed her and take her to restaurants, and so she'll enjoy the pleasures of the table--and also because despite the fact she's tall for her age, has only had to stay home sick once this year, and just tested into the gifted program, I'm still afraid she'll turn up stunted, dull, and brittle-boned. I parent, therefore I worry.

This is more a light, quick read than an in-depth study with step-by-step recommendations for overcoming your own and your child's pickiness, but I liked its emphasis on never treating pickiness--your own or others'--as a character flaw. I mean, it's not like I find fish squishy and smelly on purpose, it just IS for me. I didn't choose my taste buds and my sense of smell any more than I chose to have brown eyes, straight hair, or astigmatism. It also made me realize how much of Miss Fraser's pickiness seems to be about control, so I'm going to phase out our one-bite rule, because she always and only takes one bite of ANYTHING not on her narrow preferred list. Even if she thinks it's OK, she never eats more. So I think that's control--we can make her eat one bite, but she won't let us convince her to LIKE cheese or steak or cooked broccoli or whatever. I think from now on we just put new foods on her plate along with at least one food we know she'll eat, even if that's just a slice of wheat bread or a handful of cherry tomatoes, and talk about the meal, how it was cooked, and how it tastes to us. When she's ready, she'll try more. If health becomes an issue, that's a different story, but for now her picky diet seems to be enough to keep her growing, and slightly on the slim side but not unhealthily thin, so I should probably worry less. (Heh. Yeah, right.)

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