The dollars and sense of the new American family The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers Are Going Broke (With Surprising Solutions That Will Change Our Children's Futures), by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, Basic Books, 2003, $26.
This book is long on title and just as long on information. It is a must-read for legislators who want to do more than talk about being family friendly. And it should be a comfort to parents who are sick of being told it is their own fault their families are struggling financially.
Here, finally, is another interpretation of the data, one that says we're going broke not because we over-spend on things we don't need but because we're good parents.
As good parents we want the best schools and neighborhoods for our children. So we pay whatever it takes to buy a house in the highest-quality school districts. That bids up the costs of housing for everyone and pretty soon we're trapped in a financial quagmire that requires both parents' income just to keep ahead of the bill collectors.
According to the mother-daughter writing team, our middle-class financial status is precarious and getting worse. Consider these startling statistics: Today's two-income families earn 75 percent more than than their single-income counterparts a generation ago but actually have less money to spend; having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will suffer a financial collapse; more children now live through their parents' bankruptcy than their parents' divorce.
But this book is more than a depressing recitation of statistics. It is a sound policy document. Some of the authors' suggestions are decidedly conservative-stop taxing any form of savings to encourage American families to save more money; provide universal, fully funded school vouchers so families no longer have to move into high-cost neighborhoods to get their children into high-quality schools. Others are much more liberal-freeze state college tuition rates at current levels and provide free childcare for all single parents.
Whether you agree with its suggestions or not, The Two-Income Trap offers plenty of food for thought and a welcome break from the guilt that comes with each month's efforts to keep up with the mounting bills. Cindy Richards
Enough Mikes and Sarahs, parents find new names 40,001 Best Baby Names, by Diane Stafford, 2003, Sourcebooks Inc., $8.95
You may be asking yourself why a college student is so interested in a book of baby names. No, I didn't suffer from the 0.3 percent chance of contraceptive failure. Even the idea of being responsible for baby is more than I can handle right now (I already consider myself responsible for my roommate). But the possibility of reading into everyone's personality by defining their names was too good to pass up.
This book keeps the opinion to a minimum and the information to a maximum. The author gives 10 good tips to get parents started and then sets them loose to the 40,001 names (curious as I was to count them, I'll take her word on it). For each name the author provides a meaning, an origin and alternative similar names. There is also a small section of personal accounts of people and what their name means to them. As touching as the stories are it might have been more helpful to include stories about how parents choose the name for their child.
The author's 75 categorized lists are where the real humor lies. Names for different careers, different personalities and different ethnic groups can be easily found. Although some lists are a bit more politically correct than others. "Boys and Girls Names for Children of Lesbians and Gays" struck me as being just plain narrow-minded rather than useful.
Don't limit this book's usefulness to just picking a future child's name. Be inventive and find a way to use the plethora of name information. Is there a new guy at work? Is his name on the list of "Bad-to-the-Bone, Death-Row Names for Boys?" Better keep a close eye on him. Pull the book out at the next dinner party and go around the room defining each person's name and see if the shoe fits the foot. If your child is having trouble loving the name you painstakingly chose for him or her then you need this book. Open it up and show your son or daughter that you chose the name because it means sea god or masculine or beautiful princess. Whether it's a gag gift, a wife's surprise or a planned purchase, just about anyone could have fun with this book. Graham Johnston
Come on coach, just let them have some fun Surviving Little League: For Players, Parents and Coaches, by Les and Mike Edgerton, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004, $14.95 In baseball, and especially in Little League, disappointing moments can occur: a dropped ball, a called strike or an embarrassing grounder between the legs. Such instances are trivial and forgotten either once the game is over or adulthood hits, but ignorant coaches and deranged teammates can have a lifelong effect.
Les Edgerton and his 13-year-old son Mike wrote this book "for those kids who have bad experiences to get the last laugh." Les states in the introduction and the closing paragraphs that Mike was the book's true creator who describes in bitter and biting detail the different characteristics of coaches and teammates a Little Leaguer may encounter.
From one 13-year-old to another this is the quintessential self-help book meant to quell the anxiety organized youth baseball can at times rustle up. For anyone else, it's a sophomoric compilation of ridicule with no practical advice or purpose.
By reading about the different coaches and coaching styles, a giddy Little Leaguer can get a heads-up on what to expect when it's time to take the field. The advice on how to confront such motley characters as the "Blusterer," a self-proclaimed Marine sergeant of a coach, or the "Expert," the over analytical coach boldly described as "the third-shift maintenance guy down at the ice cream factory" with a master's degree in biochemistry.
The "Manager-Dad" is probably the most common coach described. "You know this guy, the only reason he's coaching is so his son can play shortstop or pitch."
The advice for a player stumped in this situation is to become friends with the son of the coach. Not exactly a profound suggestion but this book never insinuates it's meant to provide professional and feasible advice.
This kind of slapstick maligning goes on for another eight chapters, before we get to the "Perfect Coach." The perfect coach, the author states shrewdly, is himself, yet with nary a concise mention of how or why he's the perfect coach.
Parents, buy this book for your 13-year-old baseball player. He/she needs to know what to look for next season. Coaches, steer clear of this book or you're in for 80 pages of character assassination. Brad Spencer