In the Mail

The Bill from My Father: A Memoir by Bernard Cooper

From Publishers Weekly

Cooper, whose Maps to Anywhere won the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, crafts a brusquely tender elegy to his baffling father, Edward, who died in 2000 (the book’s title refers to an itemized bill of expenses incurred from upbringing and mailed from father to son). Edward was a blustery Los Angeles divorce lawyer with a flair for drama in and out of court. Circling from recent to distant past, Cooper recalls his utter bewilderment at his father’s ill-advised imbroglios, which included an affair with his father’s evangelical nurse and a lawsuit against the phone company. With a sharp scalpel of detail, Cooper dissects his father’s stinging dismissals and unceremonious reconciliations with his sole surviving progeny, laboring to slice away a mystique that “ballooned into myth” in Edward’s sustained absences. Dear old dad never bothered to read his son’s prize-winning work, in which he figures prominently—though it’s clear that father and son share a linguistic legerdemain. Stirring yet never saccharine, this memoir excavates a fraught history without once collapsing into cliché. As much as Cooper seeks truth, he finally grows comfortable in the shadowy depths of his father’s legacy. “By delving into the riddle of him, I hoped to know his mystery by finer degrees.”

Power of Play by David Elkind

From Publishers Weekly

In this fascinating look at the importance of letting kids be kids, Elkind argues that “Play is being silenced.” According to Elkind, a child psychologist and author of All Grown Up and No Place to Go, important, unstructured play is too often replaced in modern times by organized activities, academics or passive leisure activities such as watching television and playing video games. Elkind explains how even toys have changed: “toys once served to socialize children into social roles, vocations, and academic tool skills. Today, they are more likely to encourage brand loyalties, fashion consciousness, and group think.” Elkind acknowledges that technology has its place in the classroom, but debunks computer programs marketed toward babies and preschoolers whose young brains are not yet able to fully comprehend two-dimensional representations. “Parent peer pressure” is often to blame, causing parents to engage in “hyperparenting, overprotection, and overprogramming.” Media-spread fears about everything from kidnapping and molestation to school shootings and SIDS can cause parents to forget that “children can play safely without adult organization; they have done so as long as people have been on earth.” With clarity and insight, Elkind calls for society to bring back long recesses, encourage imagination and let children develop their minds at a natural pace.

The Shadowkiller Matthew Scott Hansen

From Booklist

You’re forgiven if you think this novel is a spoof. Clearly designed to evoke Jaws-type responses, Hansen’s tale of Bigfoot on the rampage features blood, gore, plucky heroes, hapless victims, and a great deal of silliness. First-time novelist Hansen believes in the existence of Bigfoot (although evidently, from his afterword, he does not know that the famous 1967 Patterson Bigfoot footage has been exposed as a hoax), and he really wants us to take the book seriously. Many scenes are well written, but overall the book is more reminiscent of Claws, a murderous-bear movie made a couple of years after Jaws: it has all the same basic ingredients, and it tries to be scary, but you can’t really take it seriously. Although a failure as a serious thriller, the book is a rousing success as a campy, brainless, unintentionally humorous blend of adventure and horror–just the sort of thing that kids of an earlier era used to enjoy at the Saturday matinee.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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