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Self-Help

TV talk; miracles of meditation

The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid
By Ellen Currey-Wilson
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 352 pp., $23.95

White’s Rules: Saving Our Youth One Kid at a Time
By Paul D. White with Ron Arias
Broadway, 240 pp., $19.95

How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy
By Susan Piver
St. Martin’s, 224 pp., $19.95

I should know by now: Never judge a book by its cover -- just head inside.

On the jacket of "The Big Turnoff" there are photographs of two TVs; the bottom one displays Mom, the top her son, hands over eyes. It's a book about going cold turkey. The drug is TV. And Ellen Currey-Wilson is an avowed addict. She decides that getting clean is something she has to do for her son, and herself.

TV viewing is a hot-button topic these days and , not surprisingly, there are a host of opinions about how much TV is too much. Some parents are willing to let their kids watch anything they deem age appropriate. Others refuse to let Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network into the house, though they still rent carefully screened movies and videos. Then there are those, like Currey-Wilson, who are convinced that the boob tube is really a devil in bunny - eared disguise.

This book purports to explain why. Frankly, I was hoping for an argument that showed the benefits of a life lived without "American Idol" and "Sesame Street." Currey-Wilson tries, but her persona gets in the way of her philosophy. Unfortunately, she's an extremely unlikable narrator, one who obsessively needs to justify her own decision.

Here's an example of her take on one of her many tube-friendly friends: "Peggy's kids are usually watching TV downstairs when I come over, but she's quick to say, 'They just got back from soccer and piano lessons.' In other words, there's no reason to feel bad about our kids' TV watching as long as they have structured extra-curricular activities the rest of the time. It reminds me of the character Shirley Mac Laine played in 'Postcards From the Edge.' She makes this really healthy-looking smoothie and then pours hard liquor into it." TV is like hard liquor? "Postcards From the Edge" is the story of what? And letting your kid watch "Dora the Explorer" is the same as pouring her a drink? I'm sorry, but have I missed something?

It also doesn't help when Currey-Wilson opines that her child's apparent academic brilliance in kindergarten stems from his TV-free childhood. First she's judgmental, then superior, and finally simply annoying. Toward the end of the book she begins to soften her stance, but by then it's too late. This warts-and-all parenting guide proves to be far more irritating than instructive.

Speaking of instruction, Paul White, author of "White's Rules," is a high school principal. The book's jacket shows photos of groomed students with captions that indicate their positive transformation. A "Gang Leader" has opted for a "Career Track," a former "Addict" is now a "College Student," and a "Dropout" has become a "Graduate." All these miracles have been achieved by following 10 rules. They're simple enough: show up, dress right and speak right, work, tell the truth, respect people and property, live clean and sober, live with courage, care, learn from everything, and make a difference.

White strikes me as a concerned educator. His basic formula, which he applies to troubled kids at his Canoga Park , Calif., school, is remarkably straightforward. And I'm sure he's had ample success with a policy that is based on setting limits and fostering self-respect. However, the portraits of his former students are one-dimensional. This is a major flaw in a book that's designed to convince educators and parents to adopt his program. I would have liked more evidence, more life stories, and less self-help lingo, particularly repetitive self-help lingo. In the end White's rules seem more simplistic than intriguing.

So I picked up "How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life," by Susan Piver, with some trepidation. The jacket shows the author smiling serenely. I was positive this book would be yet another tedious self-help guide to finding the inner you. I couldn't have been more mistaken.

Piver's book is terrific. Written in clear, intelligent, insightful prose, this guide to meditation made me into an instant convert. I highly recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in the subject.

Piver talks honestly about her decision to become a Buddhist, how she began to meditate, and why she chose to deepen her commitment to this "practice." She is passionate about meditation and disarmingly straightforward. She also makes some excellent arguments for pursuing the route she's taken. Scientific studies have proven that meditation has a salutary effect. Anyone can learn how to meditate. This book can show you how. You don't need a prescription or a doctor's referral to start.

Indeed, I found myself using Piver's suggestions. I started to focus on my breathing when I was tense, or stressed out, or wanted to kill the driver in front of me who was going 20 in a 40-mile-an-hour zone. I am planning to put aside time to meditate. Well, true, I haven't yet, but I will. I swear I will. Piver has sold me. For her, becoming a Buddhist and meditating have offered a way to truly live in the moment. "I can live my life thoroughly," she writes. "I can have the confidence to fearlessly engage with everything, even though I know I'm going to die." Living a fully realized life -- it certainly sounds like a plan.

Naomi Rand is the author of "It's Raining Men."

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