Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Motherby Amy Chua is probably the most entertaining book I’ve read this year. I give this book a A+. It’s a very fast and easy read (I read it in one sitting). Perhaps it’s because I can empathize with both Chua and her older daughter. There were certainly a huge amount of criticism for her book when you took quotes out of context:

“… I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have ‘The Little White Donkey’ perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, ‘I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?’ I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”

The fact is, anyone who reads the book will realize the book is a self-deprecating memoir. Much of the time, Chua is making fun of herself and I’m laughing along with her. Many of the Chinese mother traits and habits she addressed were spot on:

  • The immigrant mentality: My parents, like Chua’s, came here as immigrants. It was hammered into my head from a young age that my parents came to the US so I could have a better future. Aka, I better not let them down after their years of hard work. For the better part of my childhood, my parents and I lived in a tiny apartment, surviving off of their $1,000/month income. I loved the smell of stale Chinese food because around 10pm every night, my mom would come home after waitressing at a local Chinese restaurant and give me a kiss goodnight. Caught on her outfit would be a hint of hot-and-sour soup. My mom had a master’s degree in systems engineering, but when she came to the US, she had to start over. From the age of 6, my parents constantly reminded me that they placed the stepping stones and now I had to make use of it to get to pot of gold.
  • The “you owe me” mentality: I completely agree with Chua’s statement about how Chinese parents feel like their kids owe them everything. It was absolutely expected from me from a young age that I would work hard so that I could one day provide for my parents. My parents laughed at the thought of allowances when I suggested it to them because my friends from school received them from their parents for doing chores. “We make you food, put a roof over your head, and provide you with clothing. You should be paying us!”
  • The daily comparisons: Almost every day, my mom would show me an article from a Chinese newspaper talking about an 10-year old piano prodigy. “She’s already playing Beethoven Concertos! Why aren’t you playing that yet?” Like Chua notes, Chinese mothers don’t say this to make their child feel incompetent. Rather, they say this because they believe their kids can be the best. Of course, as a 10 year old, I was furious and sometimes would even cry when my parents compared me to someone who seemed more talented. I look back and I’m actually thankful my parents would tell me about kids my age that were doing incredible things. It expanded my idea of what was possible. I learned to play a Beethoven Concerto two years later at 12.

While I can relate to her daughters in how we were brought up, I also see myself in Chua. I have a 10 year old sister and I treat her like a “tiger mother.” When I visit home in Colorado, my first words are, “Jamie, did you practice piano today? You only practiced 30 minutes?! If you want to get anywhere in piano, you need to practice at least 1 hour. How do you think you’ll pay for college? You need scholarships and if you can’t even get a music scholarship after learning piano all your life, how can you get any other scholarship? Do you know how lucky you are to be playing on the piano you have right now? I learned on an old broken piano and you have a beautiful, new piano. Go practice piano right now.” Yes, in a Chinese family, drilling college plans into a 10 year old is not a moment too soon.

Anyway, Battle Hymn is a delightful read. Even if you don’t believe in the methodology of Chinese parenting, it doesn’t hurt to have some extra ideas on hand for disciplining your kid.

Book Review: God Never Blinks

God Never Blinks

Over the Christmas holiday, I went with my sister and dad on a cruise to Mexico. For anyone who has been on a cruise, you will know that there is a lot of downtime. Because I spent about 5 minutes packing, I forgot to bring a book. As a result, I spent my downtime on the cruise reading the Bible since there was one in each cruise cabin. (My goal for 2011 and 2012 was to finish reading the Old and New Testament. I’m still working on it.) On the second day, I noticed that my dad had a book sitting on his bed. Elated, I asked him where he got the book. He told me his boss, Tim, gave him the book as a Christmas gift.

Tim asked my dad what kind of book my dad likes. My dad responded, “Books about life. Books for middle-aged people.” I chuckled when my dad told me his response. I told my dad that I’ve actually heard of God Never Blinks. To confirm my suspicion, the book cover states that it is a New York Times Bestseller. I started reading the book at about 4pm. I spent the next 4 straight hours reading the entire book, cover to cover.

The book is a collection of 50 lessons that the author, Regina Brett, shares from her experiences in life. Each chapter is a life lesson. These lessons include “When in doubt, just take the next right step” (Lesson 2/Chapter 2), “Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple” (Lesson 23), and “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” (Lesson 48).

Regina wrote many of these lessons as part of a newspaper column. She then saw how popular they became for the readers to share with friends. So, she decided to compile all of them, add a few new lessons in, and create the lessons into a book.

God Never Blinks is a book I’d recommend to anyone, young or old. It’s an easy read-you’ll be flipping through the pages quickly. The title is slightly misleading-it’s not a religious book although the author does include many words about faith in the book. It’s simply a book of little lessons of life that the author had learned in her 50+ years.

What I love about Regina is that she’s not someone with a PhD in psychology from Harvard telling us how best to approach life in order to be happy because she’s done 10 years of research on the topic. She’s not someone who became a millionaire at 23 and is telling us how to lead a successful life. She is a woman who was 1 of 11 kids in her family, who became pregnant at 21, who got married at 40, who got cancer at 41, and who survived to be 50+ years old to publish her first book.

Her stories talk about how she struggled to be a single mother at 21 and making only $7,500 per year. She’s honest with the reader and exposes us to the wounds she has from broken relationships, deaths, and failures. Regina shares the intimate details of her life from celebrating her mothers’ 75th birthday to her first dates with her husband, Bruce.

Several of the chapters are repetitive in what they are trying to teach us, but the anecdotes are unique and keep us interested. The resounding theme of the book is to appreciate what life gives you, even if it is very little. It made me reflect on many of my attitudes towards certain aspects of life including friendships and work. There is one chapter where the author asks us to write out the 20 things in life that we’re most appreciative of. I actually stopped reading, got out my laptop, and jotted down things I am thankful for. Maybe I’ll share them in a future blogpost.

My dad told me that he actually read the book out of order. He browsed through the Table of Contents and picked out the chapters/lessons he wanted to read about. I thought that was really cool since I have a very “must get things done” mentality. If I start something, I have to finish it. There are many pros and cons to that habit.

The book was a great way for me to pause and reflect. That sounds cheesy, but now that I am at the wrinkly old age of 22, it’s time for me to add some wisdom. So, here are some things I am going to change/add in my life because of the book:

  1. Meditate. In Lesson 47, the author talks about a group of women in a Harvard Medical School professor’s research group who thought they were infertile. After several months of meditating daily, these women were able to get pregnant. I’m not planning to have any kids anytime soon, but I realize that the author is telling us that the mind and our mental state have a large impact on our physical wellbeing.
  2. Spend more time with friends. I’ll be sending out Skype invites!
  3. Do the best-today. One of the lessons in the book talks about how writers sometimes save their “good stuff” for another article or work. Instead, the author asks us to use our best material today because it will force you to come up with even better stuff tomorrow. I love that!