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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Review: Beginners

 Beginners's subtitle makes zero reference to the most important part of the book, which is that it's actually a book about parenting. The book explores Tom Vanderbilt's urge to engage in the same activities as his daughter. So when his daughter decides to learn to play chess, he enrolls both of them in classes. When his daughter learns to swim, he embarks on vacations with her (and mommy) and engages in wild swimming.

This is such a radical move from the sights you see at all kids activities --- mommies and daddies staring into their phones or laptops doing work, while the kids participates in the learning activity, that I found it remarkable. I can think of countless examples of parents pushing their kids to learn piano and violin, etc., only to discover that the parent himself/herself has never had any urge to learn how to play music or (in the case of this book) learn how to sing!

Singing, like all music education, typically becomes an “elective” after sixth grade. All music participation drops, but particularly singing. Maybe because, unlike violin or piano, parents don’t equate it with academic achievement (for the record, a study at Canada’s Royal Conservatory found that voice students had a higher average IQ than piano students). (kindle loc 1258)

The book does go into stuff Vanderbilt does that has no bearing on parenting. In one example, he learns to draw (which on reflection is something that kids do, but he doesn't compare his results with his daughter's), and in another, he learns to make a wedding ring to replace the one he lost while surfing.

If I had one nit about the book, it's that it reads like a series of magazine articles (which it probably was) than a coherent book, but I enjoyed the variety of new stuff that he gets into, and how he embraces the idea that in many cases, you aren't learning to become an expert (i.e., none of this 10,000 hour stuff), but just to get to a point of competence so you can enjoy doing it, and not to mastery. That's something I think more people could embrace, though in competitive Silicon Valley culture that seems unlikely to happen.

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