"Classical music was the opposite of decline, the opposite of laziness, vulgarity, and spoiledness."
I read books with a pen in hand and mark passages I want to be able to find later. That's the only thing I marked in "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," which I'd read about a third of a few weeks ago and picked up and read to the end yesterday. Those 2 quotes appear on page 22 (of the hardback). As you probably know, the book is a memoir written by a lawprof, Amy Chua, who goes to great lengths driving her 2 daughters to learn to play the piano and violin and portrays this intense venture as Chinese.
You're left on your own in deciding whether to hate her for being so cruel or to worry that you should be (or should have been) a whole lot tougher on your own kids. In the process of making that decision, you've got to face up to or struggle to deny the way you are influenced by the extremely high level of accomplishment the 2 daughters reach. There has to be some degree of admiration or envy pushing you around.
See? She's a lawprof, and, I, a lawprof, see the book as setting up a Socratic inquiry. The lawprof keeps her distance as she gives you something complex to try to pull apart and examine. I can see why I marked the passage I marked and then left the pen capped. There's a very basic goal that is easy to accept in itself: We don't want to raise soft, entitled children. But how do you do that? Here's one example of someone trying to achieve that goal. Now, what have we learned about the goal and how to achieve it?
There's something skeletal about the story Chua tells. The accomplishments of the daughters are documented objectively. There are specific honors that can't be denied. But we can only imagine the cost. Chua presents herself as a cartoon character, and she all but excludes her husband from the picture. I have no idea why these 2 people are married or what their relationship is like. That's one way to write a memoir. I've read other memoirs that deal with ongoing marriages that way. (One is "Dreams From My Father.")
A novelist could find rich material for a brilliant rewrite in "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" (or "Dreams From My Father"). There is so much missing from these stories. Create the flesh that could hang on those bones.