A Math Thing

You know that terrible feeling that you’re aware of a wide swath of problems but you can’t do anything about them? And that’s really difficult, because the problems in question are real and immediate and affect the health and well-being of people and, let’s say, the planet?

What if you could focus on problems that were, instead, interesting? That didn’t have life-or-death solutions? And how about if you could talk about these problems with your kids?

Which is a VERY long-winded way of saying that maybe you want to check out Mage Merlin’s Unsolved Mathematical Mysteries. Especially if you happen to have a person at home who is, perhaps, online learning for some reason. It’s got pictures! Stories! Something to take you away from all this!

I had a book like this as a kid and I still think about the puzzles in it (though, no, I didn’t break through and solve any of them, but maybe you or your kid will!).

This is like the reading version of the Lost Chord (did anyone else have to play this as a kid? Did anyone else spend an embarrassing amount of time trying to find it? Just me?).

PS: If you do solve any of these, or find the lost chord, let us know! We will be delighted.

Is It Me? The Book? Or the #@*&! Pandemic?

I’m guessing I am not the only one who’s experienced a weird new inability to stay engrossed in a book. Or maybe I am? In any case, I can never quite tell if it’s me, the book, the situation. I know that the level of stress the whole pandemic is putting everyone under feels like it’s steadily eroding my higher functions, and I am not sure how to manage it. To me, falling deeply into a book is one of the best things there is, and I miss it.

Some things work: like with exercise, I guess, starting really light. I mean really light, a very frothy silliness. But that’s not foolproof. Going with something really good can help (thanks, The Glass Hotel!), but I don’t think that means it always works. Because I don’t really think it’s the book’s fault—it’s not you, Mexican Gothic, it’s me.

It’s a weird and scary feeling, how I imagine the beginning of losing any skill feels. Something like, Wait—I can’t throw a baseball anymore? (Note: I never could throw a baseball. Or football. Or anything.)

I’m wondering if something drastic is needed. A purge, a fast, a feast—something. Does anyone have any brilliant ideas?

Sick Books

Chestnut has strep throat. This used to happen all the time. One, or both, would be sick. It would start mid-October with school and colder weather, and then intensify through the winter—colds! Flus! Ear infections! One year, when they were both small, we went something like 49 days straight with at least one person sick enough to stay home every single day.

They are not little anymore. Chestnut is 16, Diana is 18, and children's literature has been pretty much absent from our house for a long while. But when people are sick, especially when they feel very terrible, comfort is essential.

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This is what gave Chestnut comfort today. It was, as she said, an almost perfect sick book, with sentences a person could glide through, a thrilling and playful momentum. She read it after the first dose of antibiotics and before the second, and then she said, "Do we have another book like that? One that's perfect to read when you're sick? I mean, no book could be as perfect for when you're sick as Shining Through."


That book, she believes, is the perfect book to read when you're sick: comforting and exciting and dreamy all at once. Me, I love to read Rich Men, Single Women. And I did post once on my belief that there is a book for every psychic ailment

But once she was done with Hill House, I was stuck. Somehow I couldn't think of the next one to offer—the perfect thing to get a person through until the antibiotics kick in. So I have to ask: what do you guys do?

How Magic Works*

We are still on some poor publicist's list of "hey, blogs might help marketing books!" list from 2008, and so we get a steady drip drip drip of books that…I would not have predicted we would get. A lot of them seem to be from a Christian imprint within HarperCollins, though that only shows up on the box? More copies than I can quite believe of Stick Dog, Stick Cat, Stick Whatever. The occasional adorable picture book. And, quite recently, this:


And, on the same day, this:


As happens nowadays, Chestnut read them both pretty much before I had my coat off. And then, she wanted me to read them. "Read them both," she said. "Together. They're kind of about the same thing, they're both about anxiety."

Well, we here at The Diamond in the Window know a thing or two about anxiety. So I promised.

But first I had to finish rereading a few other books, coincidentally also about anxiety (IT and The Handmaid's Tale), and then there was some stuff to take care of, and then I was busy—.

"READ THEM," Chestnut said. So I did.

And here's the weird thing. They are both about anxiety, at least a bit. They are both about a friendship between two girls. They are both about important summers. But even with all that, they are very different books—Bad Ideas is funny and romantic and silly, while Swing Sideways is more sad and dramatic. (Warning to those it may be an issue before: Swing Sideways also contains cancer and death.)

But the strangest thing about reading two different books so close together is that you get an up close and personal view of the weird magic that is reading. Because for me, the heroine of The Summer of Bad Ideas came to life—easily, clearly, no matter what was going on in the book. When she saw the cute boy, he seemed cute. When she got confused and overwhelmed, I felt it. I was there with her in that instantaneous and (sorry) magical way that books can make happen. And when I was reading You Make My Heart Swing Sideways—it didn't work that way.

Why is that? Is it the writing? The story? Is it even true for all readers? Probably not. But it was inescapable, and it made me think about it all over again—something I already think about quite a bit. Why does some fiction, why do some characters, spring to living breathing reality, making the words disappear and a new world open up and let you in? How exactly does that work?

I am not sure. But I would tell you, if you're looking for something for someone who is looking for a book to read, something fun and silly but also sweet and nerdy, you might consider getting that person The Summer of Bad Ideas—especially if that person happened to be a bit nervous about snakes, for instance (like myself). And in a small and interesting side note, there is a brief brush on special needs kids, and selective mutism, which is kind of great, I think.

And bear in mind that the greatest book on anxiety ever is, and always will be, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. Just so you know.


*I don't actually know how magic works.

Half-baked riddle: Which Mythic Greek Figure Is Like Your Mother? Or Maybe Your Father?

Here's the thing(s): I know my children. Also, I have read a fair number of books. I am fond of matching books to people, in the hopes that the book will bring the person in question joy.

However, I long ago reached the point at which any book I recommended was rejected out of hand by my children. Of course.

The same is true, also of course, with any knowledge, information, or advice I might be trying to offer them. Anything from "Oh, I think that charger cord doesn't work" to "I think finding someone to help you with your organization skills might help." Rejected!

Granted: These are annoying things to hear. I know that. I annoy myself when I say them. And they are always, always either ignored or more actively contested. My response, even internally, is understanding and acceptance. Because it is my fate, I realize, to be ignored/defied/shrugged off.

Which is when I realized who else is like that. That's right, Cassandra, baby. Fated to see the future, and have no one ever believe her. Do you know what Cassandra sounds like? She sounds like someone's mother. 

Problems With This Theory:

  1. It is possible that book recommendations for my kids are not the exact same as the gift of true prophecy.
  2. As far as I know, my (and every other parent's that I know) inability to be believed does not (probably) result from denying Apollo the pleasure of sex.

However, it is really, really annoying to try to (subtly!) foist a book (or belief system) on my child, only to be denied and denied and denied, until some other person comes along and toss off "Hey, have you checked this out?" upon which my child falls upon it hungrily.

Petty? Of course. Childish? You betcha. Inevitable? Apparently. And all of it makes me thing that Aeschylus was for sure writing about either his parents, or being one. Of course he was! He knew! He wrote like someone who knew the feeling, did he not?

And the bitter irony here, of course, is that no one will believe this.