Reading notes: There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather

I found this book valuable enough to finish. Valuable enough for me; it's hard to recommend it.

  1. The central message of the book is that, along many dimentions, Sweden is different from, and preferable to, America. You don't have to believe this to benefit from the book, but there might be limits to how much of this you want to read.
  2. The book cover promises "a Scandinavian mom's secrets," but there's less of that than simple reporting of what Scandinavia is like. If I had to choose a genre for this book, I'd pick autoethnography, not advice. The bulk of the book is description and interviews.
  3. "Simple reporting" of parenting cultures I haven't experienced is, however, broadening and valuable. Bringing up Bebe is a favorite parenting book (and in my top 100). I'd like to read more books like this.
  4. There are many references to studies and books, but these are peppered in the text in an unsatisfying way. They're unlikely to convince you if you don't already like McGurk's point of view. (This is standard enough in pop-science and parenting books, but enough hours spent with writers who are better at this--Janet Lansbury, Jamie Glowacki, Emily Oster--will make you expect better.) The discussions of sleep safety and of hygiene-related tradeoffs are two areas where a more rigorous and balanced scientific treatment would have been particularly valuable.
  5. Some passages haunt me. I have spent many hours fussing over the details of baby food composition, environmental tradeoffs in diapering, and so on, but I would complete the prompt "I know exactly what I want for this child" very differently from McGurk:

    I know exactly what I want for this child. Natural childbirth--check. Cloth diapers in gender-neutral diapers--check. Homemade, organic baby food--check.

  6. A valuable complement to McGurk's view of Scandinavian parenting culture is volume six of Knausgaard. But that's also a tough thing to recommend or to expect someone to have read.

So: I have my complaints, but I'm glad I finished this book. If nothing else, I'm more eager to take my kids outside in light rain.

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