Books read 2019 #6-10

#6 Beth O’Leary The flat share

Another Mumsnet recommendation which I got from the library. I thought this one would be firmly in the chicklit category but it’s actually more than that. For a start, the heroine actually doesn’t need to be rescued by the lovely bloke. There is a lovely bloke, but she rescues herself. There is a storyline of coercive control, which is well done and believable (and a bit scary because of that). She’s believably ditsy, rather than silly ditsy and I think I’d have liked to meet her. The plot revolves around a woman struggling to afford to live in London (again, very believable!) and how she solves the problem by renting a flat which she sleeps in overnight, whilst the owner of the flat, who works night shifts, sleeps there during the day. I also enjoyed all the references to craft, especially knitting, which I hadn’t been expecting. A really enjoyable book which I couldn’t wait to pick up each evening.

#7 Emily Oster Cribsheet

I really really wish I’d read this one when pregnant. This was physically impossible as it’s only just been published! Oster is an economist who actually looks up the data for many of those parenting decisions you need to make and analyses it. It’s a great way of cutting through all the myths and guilt and the really?! of trying to work out how to make parenting work. The emphasis is on looking at the whole family, as well as the data, and basing your decisions on that (eg decisions about whether to work/stay at home or what sort of childcare to use are heavily dependent on family circumstances and what works for one family won’t work for another). Very sensible, very reassuring, and also highly readable. Very highly recommended 🙂

#8 Emily Oster Expecting better: why the conventional pregnancy wisdom is wrong and what you really need to know

A slightly bonkers thing to read now since I’m neither pregnant nor planning to be, but, having read Emily Oster’s later book (see #7 above) I thought I’d have a look at this one too so picked it up at the library. Wow, I REALLY wish I had read this one when pregnant. She looks at all those questions that come up during pregnancy and investigates the actual data, and, crucially, the quality of that data, about each one, which then would really help with making the right decision for your family. It’s very even-handed, unlike quite a few pregnancy books, so there isn’t any push towards trying to have a particular type of birth etc, it just talks about the actual pros and cons of different pain relief options and birth locations (some adjustment necessary for the UK) and then leaves you to make up your own mind. The same with other decisions during pregnancy, such as what and what not to eat, what to avoid doing, what antenatal testing to do. It’s divided up into sections for the different stages of pregnancy, which I would have found really helpful at the time, as it was very hard to get a handle on the risks at each stage. As someone who ended up with gestational diabetes, the book would have been really really helpful, as it was quite hard to get much actual info from HCPs about what to expect in terms of management of the condition and birth and the implications for both me and the baby.

#9 Atul Gawande Being mortal: medicine and what matters in the end

And from birth to… the other end of life! I saw this on a display at work intended to encourage students to read beyond their course requirements and thought it looked interesting so picked it up. Gawande is an American surgeon writing about his explorations into end of life care after he realised that healthcare was putting more and more effort into prolonging life without looking at the quality of that life. He uses case studies throughout, including his own father’s, several of which had me in tears. It feels like the situation is different in the UK, where hospice and palliative care seem more established and known about (this may just be my own experience though – but certainly the two people close to me that have died had excellent palliative care, one in hospice and one using hospice at home, and there wasn’t an imperative about survival at all costs). He is excellent at explaining how the options aren’t always clear-cut, and provides examples of how he learnt to get better at having conversations with patients to find out what they really wanted. Very thought-provoking and I’ve learnt many things from this book.

#10 Sarah Knott Mother: an unconventional history

Another one sourced from a Guardian review, this time alongside Childless voices, which I read in my first batch of books for this year. Knott, a historian, had begun to look for women’s voices exploring pregnancy and maternity during her first pregnancy. She tells the story of this pregnancy, birth and subsequent months, followed by second pregnancy, interwoven with historical accounts pieced together from very fragmentary evidence. There are often tantalising glimpses into women’s experience, often lacking bits of information or in the background as a brief mention in a letter. She explores both UK and US history, including accounts of settlers, servants, slaves and native people, which provides fascinating counterpoints. What really struck home for me was how vulnerable women and children were, something that is easy to forget now with our (UK!) access to excellent medical care. Accounts of miscarriage and child-loss are common, especially in the more inhospitable reaches of frontier territory. Another stand out point was how women through the ages have juggled work with childcare – often taking the child(ren) along whilst they performed a multitude of paid and unpaid tasks. The whole thing is beautifully written.

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