Saturday, January 22, 2011

Amy Chua aka "Tiger Mom" Book Tour Review

Elliot Bay Book Store 1-21-11

The short version: The hottest author/lawyer/tiger mom/ in the United States comes to Seattle to defend her work.

I have been to a hundred author readings and have devoted a Blog to the subject of trying to sort out if an author is worth people’s time to see. I have never been to anything like this. Back in October, when Elliot Bay Book store’s scheduled this reading, they had no clue the fire storm created by author Amy Chua and her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” The crowd was so big they should have had this in Town Hall (860 seats) or better yet Quest Field (67,000). My God you would have thought the Rolling Stones were in town. One woman even passed out from the heat in the basement.

Raw meat that is what you feed Tiger Mom’s and that is what the crowd came to see. Half were from Seattle’s large Asian population (including India) while others were curious American’s (read white people)drawn by the curiosity of this author. I talked to several Chinese American’s this night. Some expected to laugh, having experienced that kind of parenting. The author admitted that she saw the humor in the harsh way she was raised and believed it carried through the book. One older Chinese American immigrant man, however, told me he came in support of Ms. Chua and to see how "American's" (again read white people) in his town would judge the Chinese way.

Maybe that is why Ms. Chua is getting such a backlash from some national writers in the Asian community. There is a real fear among Americans that they have lost their status as the world’s great power. Having seen America’s reaction to the way immigrants are treated after 9/11, Pearl Harbor and Mexican Immigration, it’s understandable that the American Chinese might not wish to be the next xenophobic target.

I doubt anyone; including Ms. Chua would have expected the reaction her book has created. Despite the fact the book has started a national conversation; it is not a parenting book. “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother“ is a peek into a specific sub culture and the timing for book sales could not have been better since the President of China has arrived to visit the United States, reminding us that his country owns a majority of American IOU’s

I don’t like to categorize people into such lables as “Western” and “Chinese” but that way but that is how Ms. Chua describes America in her talk tonight.

Yes, she grew up a strong independent American even keeping her maiden name (her husband’s name is Rubenfeld), dresses like a college girl and distracts the hell out of you while constantly playing with her hair as she answers questions. Yet close your eyes and her northern California accent gives no clue that Ms. Chua is of proud Chinese heritage.

She is a second generation immigrant. Like so many in that classification, she torn between American culture and the ways that their family brought from the old country. So I can understand why she identifies with herself as Chinese despite growing up and educated in U.S. public schools, among American culture, speaking better English that many “real Americans” and to some she should be considered as American as the President. (Insert your own “Birther” joke here)

Even the thorniest rose, however, can have its flowers plucked and it is obvious the last ten days since the books release have taken a toll on Ms. Chua. She is understandably defensive. Do people have so much hate in their hearts as to wish harm on her daughters?

Let’s not forget for one minute that Ms. Chua is a lawyer and a teacher. The stage is where she is most comfortable and here she is impressive. She takes control in a public forum and it is in the court of public opinion where she frames her message more effective, than a three minute spot on the Today show. If the “Tiger Mom” is a control freak at home and the national media is beyond her reach then it is during appearences like these where she will conquer America.

I came to watch people hate her, but instead I believe the majority of the audience came to an understanding.

The Reading:

Let’s just get to the bullet points Ms. Chua made during this reading. Brackets are my commentary.

-This was not a book about parenting.
-She is NOT nor ever claims to be an expert/ just tells the truth of how she inserted her upbringing into children's life
-The Wall Street Journal excerpt was here words, but Ms. Chua is adamant that she had nothing to do with the articles title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” and that the headline did damage to her books message. (She never mentions the boost in book sales)
-By reading the book, readers will find that it is the story of a family and how Ms. Chua comes to terms with how she was raised will not work for her own daughter. (No more violin)
-“Chinese parenting” is love not abuse. It does in fact make more self responsible people. It teaches children to own thier mistakes and teach personal responsibility.
-Chinese love their children, no different than the enabling “helicopter parent” who hovers over their child’s every move into adulthood. (Parents do not have to move to college with junior.)
-She downplays the idea that she believes that Chinese parenting is superior to “Western”methods. She does not explain those methods much.
- She emphasizes how her Chinese upbringing is no different than other second generation children from Europe. (This helps Ms. Chua reach out to a readership beyond the Asian community in the rest of America's with common experiences)
-She defends the idea that striving for excellence is a bad thing. “A 96% on a test is a good thing, but let’s just examine those other four percentage points “
-She has regrets, but that has been well documented, and her pat answers make for boring questions.
- In trying to relate to the audience, she claims that her husband is from a “Western background” (I know some Jewish people who would argue that one)
-Sleepovers are not bad, it’s just that in an age of Mean girls’ exclusion, and kids committing suicide based on what is said about them on Face book, a little protection from potential bullies to preserve self esteem is not a bad thing. (I agree)

Beware America, the Tiger mom is coming to an Author reading near you. Go see it and judge for yourself.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jerry Gay Book Tour Review

The short version: Socrates with a Nikon.

Photo books can be as provocative and powerful as any written word. Pulitzer Prize winner, Photo author and philosopher Jerry Gay has something to say. His book “Seeing Reality” is the result of a three year journey in search of commonality among people. Suffice to say Mr. Gay is a really, really, nice man and that comes through by being in the room less than five minutes where he reaches out to the individual as well as any author alive. He is a preacher of sorts, (his first subject of study in school before photography) and speaks of people trying to discover the reality of life and how those things we experience place us in a community of men. Everyone together all with common experiences and feelings.

There is, however, a violence that exists in gentle men. The depth of the soul that allows recognition of deep kindness can also has the ability to recognize its polar opposite and this is displayed in much of Mr. Gay’s work. The photos of the discarded waste of man’s existence are evident. The commentary about violations such as a photo of a school bus sign destroyed on the ground by man’s action, or a warning road sign full of bullet holes are presented throughout his work. The best example is the juxtaposition of two photos’s shown during Mr. Gay’s book reading. One was a flawless photo of the Dali Lama, preceded by a disturbing photo’s of serial killer Ted Bundy in leg irons.

Madison Avenue images these are not but nor are they staged props to make a statement. “I take photos of things as they are.” Said Mr. Gay during the Q&A. The contrasting display of both the good and bad of the United States are shown equally, whether it is Mr. Gay capturing the image of a discarded toothbrush lying in the middle of a U.S. highway or three happy children working their lemonade stand. “The trick is this. If you give out energy,” Mr. Gay says. “you get a picture back.”

Like all artistic work, the intentions are sometimes received different than what might be intended. Where some see Mr. Gay’s black and white photos as nothing more than a picture, others could see them as engravings on the country’s condition. What the artist intentions sometimes are of no consequence.

½ hour before the discussion begins, Mr. Gay is there speaking informally to the audience and working the room which always impresses me. The reading starts right on time. He claims that he is new to public speaking but the crowd on a cold raining night is modest and Mr. Gay looks comfortable on stage. Think of the late television artist Bob Ross and his giant Afro painting pictures of landscapes or better yet go to Mr. Gay’s website and listen to the audio. Feel the calm come over you.

Another plus to the evening: Mr. Gay does not spend one moment on explaining the type of camera film or F-stop used when he took each photo. That kind of camera-gear head talk is for photography seminars and magazines not a man trying to sell books.

The pictures are impressive and you would expect so coming from a Pulitzer winning photographer, but it is difficult to make a statement with photography yet Jerry Gay has the talent to capture a millisecond of life that bring out the energy of his subjects and the times. That is not to say all the pictures are worthy of deep reflection but they often result in a response that goes like its author, go deeper than the glossy cover. Mr. Gay comments on each photo with interesting antidotes for the more fascinating pictures. Some images come across the screen and when the author has little to say about them he feels compelled to fill the silent room with an unnecessary caption.

It is at the end of the reading where Mr. Gay returns to his original message that comes across as preachy. He does not invoke God, but rather a Spirituality that places each of us in the same place. Your God, my God and Mr. Gay’s God all have a part in the same world. His message, however, carries too long afterwards even into the Q & A at the end of the presentation. What works in the coffee shops and living rooms of friends does not always translate well into the arena of public speaking. But for that small glitch, Mr. Gay’s talent speaks for itself.