Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Tiger Mother and bestsellers

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.


  1. Kelly, when you mentioned this at residency, I couldn't get parenting out of my mind. Kind of like choices in one's writing life. Beat over the head, quit, or trust the journey????

  2. Funny, Because I was thinking about a "parenting" book for older siblings. I have all kinds of great ideas about what to do and not to do from being an oldest child then being a mother. In telling my idea to my husband about "How to give kids a bath and not make them cry"
    2. What to take with you on a trip to the grocery store for catfood?
    3. What to do at the park for the 100th time with a one year old?
    I came upon an endless supply of material and insight, but I never would have read this as a child or thought to enter the nonfiction aisle. Though I did study parenting magazine endlessly until age 18. I think it's more a graphic novel. I have it all laid out by a theme of counting and numbers or articles or even a novel.
    I have books on how to write proposals and books of agents and editors, but I don't really know how to decide the details of a pitch. I have so many hundreds of ideas and can think of them in infinite genres. How do I decide the best form for an idea in order to pitch one when I can see so many possibilities?

  3. I think you just wrote a great proposal! Or a great start. K

  4. Sorry to come late to this.

    Two thoughts: First I smiled when I read Kelly's post because a friend and also a mom of two child musicians (not unlike the Tiger mom's kids) told me, "Well, I heard the tiger's mom's kids don't even PLAY that well!" So much for recognizing the evils of being ultra competitive in NYC. She is competitive, but also knows how ridiculous it was to think, nevermind say.

    The second thought is that I just suggested a friend do a parody of the Tiger Mom--maybe the Bonobo Mom or the Sloth Mom. I did this after she sent around the most astute and hilarious PTA reportage from my older son's sixth grade school's PTA meeting. She reported on a conversation about the "ice" problem in the playground saying: "A parent, apparently from a planet in which it is customary to excoriate those not responsible for one's problems, proceeded to verbally rip our principal's head off."

    Her take was priceless and so true. I realized that having sixth graders (as opposed to kindergartners) gives us parents a little distance. While we used to be these parents, now we laugh at their aggression and in many cases, skip PTA meetings.

    At the same time, we all obsess about our kids. I certainly do. (At this moment, my sons are rehearsing Pink Floyd for their rock concert next week on the lower east side. But it's worth it!!)

    As far as parenting books go, though, I think a a parody would be great. I loved these two personal-themed parody books: Bitter With Baggage Seeks Same and Fifty Relatives Worse Than Yours. The latter made me snort.