Tag Archives: peanut allergy

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Join A Book Club

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve been thinking a lot about book clubs lately.

It started when I read this vaguely dismissive piece in the New York Times about why reading has become “too social” and should remain a fundamentally private experience.

Then I read Kristen’s post over on Motherese yesterday about the sheer variety of book club experiences out there and her uncertainty as to what she’s meant to get out of them anyway.

I can relate to both points of view. I’ve been in several book clubs over the course of my adult life and they’ve all been quite different from one another. At times, I’ve been quite frustrated by these clubs, whether because people came to the meeting not having finished the book (gasp) or because they chose titles that I thought were too…cheesy. (For a great spoof on the potential shallowness of book clubs, see this New Yorker piece.)

I’ve since reformed my ways and come to see that you go to book clubs for lots of different reasons, and it’s best to just chill out and lower your expectations.

And so, as a reformed book club snob (Yes, Katy, that’s my definition!), let me offer five reasons that I think it’s a good idea to join a book club:

1. You meet interesting people. IMHO, the trick is not to join a book club full of your best friends. Some people do that and absolutely love it. But I find book clubs more interesting when none of my close friends are in them. After all, I’ll probably end up talking about books with my close friends anyway. But I’ll learn more from drawing upon a wider range of individuals. My current book club is composed of a bunch of women I almost never see (except occasionally on the street) and that’s precisely why I like it. It features – among others – a midwife, an entrepreneur, a SAHM and an urban planner. These ladies hail from all over the world. So in addition to gaining their quite distinct takes on the book at hand, I also gain a window into their lives, which are so very different from my own.

2. You read things that you wouldn’t otherwise read. Which ties to point #1, because people who are outside of your immediate circle of friends are more likely to have literary tastes that differ from your own. For example, I just read Stieg Larson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It’s a thriller set in Sweden with loads of sex and violence and family sagas. Though I’m still not convinced that it’s a great “book group” book (see point #3), it was a terrific read and I absolutely devoured it. But I never would have gone near it with a ten foot pole had it not been for book club.

3. Some books need to be discussed. This gets back to the New York Times article and the idea that reading should (arguably) remain a private pursuit (although, to be fair, the author of that article acknowledges that some particularly difficult books demand discussion.) A case in point: José Saramago’s Blindness, which I also just read in my book club. Wow! What an amazing novel. It totally changed the way that I think about fiction. But what was it about? Clearly, it was an allegory of some sort. But for what? Authoritarian rule? Religion? Capitalism? All of the above? We all had different ideas about what this great book “meant” and I felt like I understood it so much better having talked about it.

4. You eat great food. Most book groups entail some sort of snack alongside them, and usually – let’s be honest – some alcohol. I had grown accustomed to the standard wine/cheese/grapes fare at my old book club in Chicago, and that suited me fine. But, boy did they up the ante when we moved to London. One of my hostesses is Swedish, and she regularly prepares Swedish mulled wine – appropriately named Glögg – as well as Swedish apple tarts whenever we meet at her home. Yum!

5. Sometimes it’s fun just to chat. Finally – all book clubs – no matter how serious, entail some chit chat. And that’s just how it should be. Whether or not you’re in one that’s all-women – as seems to be the norm – or contains “the male element” (as someone ominously referred to men recently…yikes! sounds contagious!) we all thrive on friendship as we grow older. And book clubs are a great excuse to make and keep friends.

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I was delighted to get this shout-out on the fabulous Alpha Mummy blog in London today for my recent piece on peanut allergies.

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I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com today talking about why I think Nicaragua’s abortion ban is inhumane and backward. (But other than that, I think it’s really great…) Have a look.

Image: My Book Group Met At A Knit Shop by ellenmac11 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Mammograms and PSA Tests: Yes, We've Reached that Age..

I was reading the newspaper this morning and came across this article suggesting that the P.S.A. blood test, the popular screening test for prostate cancer, saves few if any lives and exposes large numbers of men to risky and unnecessary treatment.

Only a few years ago, my eyes would have glazed over at the very mention of the word “prostate” (and I’d have moved directly onto this very clever and funny op-ed about the vagaries of airport security when you’re a female, Harvard-educated Muslim lawyer).

But the reason that my eyes didn’t glaze over this time was that the article reminded me of my own quite recent – and similar – experience with mammograms. It was two years ago and I’d just moved to the U.K. When I went to my G.P. to inquire about getting my (first) mammogram, I was shocked to discover that mammograms weren’t mandatory for women over forty…of a certain, ahem, age. In fact, routine screenings don’t start until you’re 50 in the U.K., and then occur only every three years (vs. the once a year, beginning-when-you’re-40 recommendation in the U.S.)

At first, like the good, loud opinionated American that I am, I was outraged. “This is ridiculous!” I thought. “Just one more example of where national health care really fails you!” But then I took the added step of going on the computer to see whether I could come up with any research to suggest that either approach was more valid. But I couldn’t find anything conclusive, except a lot of things like this study which suggests that despite more frequent screening in the USA, there are no substantial differences in the rates of detection of large cancers across the two countries (although this, more recent study suggests that breast cancer mortality may be higher in the UK).

Unsure of what to do, I finally broke down and asked a friend of mine who’s a health economist in the United States for guidance, and she asked a friend of hers who conducts research on precisely this issue. This woman said that, in fact, it isn’t entirely clear from the research that you need to screen every year from 40. This was subsequently confirmed by another G.P. in my practice who argued that – as the above article on prostate screening suggests – if you begin screening too early, you get way too many false positives, which not only create more expense, but potentially bad health side effects (i.e. unnecessary cancer treatments that make you ill, etc.)

I’m sure the research is way more nuanced than what I’ve presented here. I’m also rather risk-averse, so I tend to incline towards screening as a general rule. I also know several women who failed to screen for breast cancer until it was too late. We all do.

But I guess what I find fascinating in all of this vis-a-vis adulthood is two-fold. First, how important all this stuff becomes once you hit a certain age, if for no other reason than routine screenings of this sort become…well…routine. And second, how, as we grow up, medicine itself becomes less sacrosanct and more open to questioning. When you’re a kid, you do what the doctor tells you and you accept it as gospel. But as we grow older, we increasingly see that medicine – just like everything else – is a changing, evolving body of expertise with trends and conventional wisdoms and theories, all of which can and will be debunked.

How about you? Where do you fall on the screening issue?

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As a relevant sidebar, let me point those of you who are interested to the following study which also appeared in the New York Times earlier this week and has a similar flavor. It suggests that the best way to deal with life-threatening nut allergies may be exposure to the nut in question, rather than avoidance. I’m the mother of a child with peanut allergies, so I follow this stuff with particular interest.

OK, enough studies for one day!

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