Monthly Archives: August 2010

Ring Around the Rosie, My Little Pony, and That Deep Dark Feeling of Doom

In this Sunday’s issue of The New York Times Magazine, I have an article about preschool depression. The questions I ask are, first off, Is there such a thing as clinical depression in preschoolers? If so, how can you diagnosis such a disorder when three- and four year olds are generally unable to articulate their emotions with any degree of sophistication?

I worked on this story for almost a year, trying to show both sides — really, ALL sides because it’s such a complicated issue — of the story. Some readers may say, off the bat, that it’s impossible for young children to have a mental disorder. That the problem is parents or overreaching buy xanax professionals or the pharmaceutical industry. Others will be appalled that the question of early onset depression can even be in doubt. Many of those readers will probably have experienced or witnessed familial depression in their own lives. I hoped to fairly represent both points of views, and the many nuanced views that lie in between.

So far, the story seems to be generating a good response, and their are lots of comments on Facebook as well as on Tara Parker-Pope’s Well blog. I’d love to hear from other readers here about what you think of the story and of the issue in general.

Who Will Be the Smallest Kid in Kindergarten?

I have a story that ran in the New York Times Sunday Style section yesterday about how the widespread practice of redshirting is affecting parents, children, and kindergarten classes nationwide. While I was not surprised, as a parent, but the amount of angst this causes parents (whether to redshirt, what happens if you don’t, what’s more important — academic or social/emotional readiness, etc.), many aspects of the story were news to me. For one thing, the economic gap between those who can afford to redshirt and those who can’t — and the long-term consequences is concerning. I was also intrigued by a political angle: That the earlier a state sets its cutoff date, the better its students do on standardized testing and the more likely the state is to win federal funds. Also, the more likely the students are to get into competitive colleges. Or so the theory goes. The story has generated 201 comments on The New York Times website, and counting. I’d love to hear from more parents and educators about what they think of redshirting and their own personal experiences.

Liberal at Heart?

My latest Studied column for The New York Times Sunday Styles section is available online now, looking at whether self-professed liberals are actually as liberal as they think. The column looks at a new study out of England, which analyzes data from the World Values Survey. According to the study’s author, James Rockey, an economist at the University of Leicester, people who self-identify as left-wing are actually more likely to believe in efficiency of the market than in equalizing the distribution of wealth. Sounds like good fodder for conservatives, who generally see liberals as misguided, confused, or yet-to-be-mugged. But a professor from Stanford, Jonathan Rodden, made some interesting points about the study’s limitations. Do you think Rockey or Rodden is right? Or neither?

How Not To Look (That) Old

In yesterday’s Sunday Styles section of The New York Times, I wrote a profile of Stephanie Dolgoff, author of the forthcoming book, Formerly Hot: Dispatches from Just This Side of Young. The book is hilarious and the author is completely charming. I found the comments about the article to be very interesting — many people seemed to react to the fact that Ms. Dolgoff cares about the way she looks to mean that she only cares about the way she looks.

This is a phenomenon that I encounter frequently when I write, whether it’s an article or a book. Let’s take some of my writing about sexuality: If I write an article about a particular study, readers will ask, Why didn’t you write about this other study? If I write a book about heterosexual pornography, people ask, why didn’t you write about homosexual pornography? If I write an article about a lesbian couple’s struggle to adopt a child in West Virginia, people ask, why didn’t you write about the difficulties of gay adoption in Florida?

These are all valid questions, but the limitation of any story or book is that you can only write so much — that as journalists and authors, we have to draw the line somewhere, or we’d end up with 10,000 word articles all the time (which we, as writers, would love but readers probably wouldn’t) and with 500-page books (which we, as writers, would hate and readers would too — not that there’s anything wrong with 500 page books, but I’ll leave that to Robert Caro and Robert K. Massie).

In this case, I wrote about Ms. Dolgoff’s interest in the implications of aging (but not aging that much) on what you wear and how you look. It’s an interesting issue, and one I think Ms. Dolgoff addresses interestingly — and hilariously — in her book.

Easy Readers

I have an essay in this week’s issue of The New York Times Book Review on grownups who love to read children’s books. Yes, I include myself among them. Everything about this essay was a pleasure. First of all, what fun to write about something you love, and I’ll give anything to devote more brainspace to The Hunger Games, at least until I can get my hands on Mockingjay, the third installment in Suzanne’s Collins’ amazing dystopian trilogy. But it was also wonderful to get to talk to so many amazing authors, agents, and editors about why they love young adult literature too. Several of the people I talked to were friends, like the always inspiring Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and four other fantastic books. But others were people I didn’t know before but have long admired, like Amanda Foreman.

I truly had so much good material and got to learn so much about the wonderful kids’ books that people like that it was one of the hardest times I’ve had keeping a story to one page. One of the interesting discussions that didn’t make it into the final piece, but I’ll bring up here, is what makes a book YA to begin with?  Is “To Kill a Mockingbird” for children because it’s about children or has it somehow acquired its de facto designation by high school curricula arbiters nationwide? Should “Wuthering Heights,” with its abusive behavior and sordid breakdowns, be considered a child’s tale? My friend Jennifer Joel, an agent at ICM, insists that all true YA are coming-of-age novels. “Every good YA book is about what it’s like to become an adult. Whether it’s first love or first loss it feels like the whole world is at stake,” she explains. But then, young protagonists also exist in very grownup books. What do you think? What makes a book recommended reading for teenagers? And what are your favorite YA books?