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"Things My Son Needs to Know about the World”

  • By Fredrik Backman
  • c. 2019, Atria
  • $24, higher in Canada; 193 pages

There are so many things you want to leave your children. Heirlooms will someday be theirs, obviously, but your gifts won’t be objects. You want to leave them reminders of you, memories to make them laugh, advice to make them think, words they’ll take to heart. You want to leave good people as your legacy, and you might start with “Things My Son Needs to Know about the World” by Fredrik Backman.

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As the father of a son, Backman knows that there are things that every dad wants to tell his son. The first is that when you have a boy-child, it’s inevitable that you’ll embarrass him at some point, either by bringing up something he did once that was enormously cute or by something you’ll wear or say or do. To you, your son will “always be the tiny one-year-old boy standing naked in the hallway … ” and he needs to understand that.

He also needs to know that you did your best. Because, well, you’ll do something wrong because you “didn’t know,” just like every parent for centuries “didn’t know” everything there was to know. Even though you have the internet, you’re going to mess up, but you have the best intentions and isn’t that the point?

A good father gives advice on the big things, but he doesn’t ignore the insignificant: like, how to act at big stores, for instance, and how to furnish your first home. He should learn about sports so he can fit in, even if he never actually plays. He should watch for the day when he realizes that he’s got too much “stuff,” and that goes double with a baby in the house.

Remind him that his dad will someday be like his granddad and forgive him for it. Tell him to listen to his mother because she’s smart; always be a gentleman, which he can do when he’s also treating a woman as an equal; and know that “words matter. Be better.”

Here’s what you need to understand before going further: if you are a fan of author Fredrik Backman’s novels and that’s what you’re expecting here, this book is a big, fat “nope.” That’s because “Things My Son Needs to Know about the World” is not a novel.

However, if you can forget about wanting a fictional tale, what you’ll find instead is a sometimes-sweet, sometimes-bumbling, sometimes-funny love letter from father to son and husband to wife. Now, keep in mind that Backman is amusing but he’s no comedian: “poop” plays way too big a part in this book, and the humor can feel forced. And yet, you know you can’t resist a story that opens its heart like this one does, to tell a tale of love, and giving in to get more of it.

For parents, this’ll be a sweetly welcome respite when you need something light on the subject of childraising. If that, then “Things My Son Needs to Know about the World” is your book. If you want a novel, though, alas … leave it.

“Becoming a Veterinarian”

  • By Boris Kachka
  • c. 2019, Simon & Schuster
  • $18, $25 Canada; 176 pages

The minute the doctor walked into the room, you felt a sense of relief. Soon, the pain will be gone and you might finally get some rest. You could even have a name for the illness causing all these problems. Soon, your ailing pet will feel better, life will return to normal and in “Becoming a Veterinarian” by Boris Kachka, you’ll see what goes into the making of an animal doctor.

More: Bookworm: Loss and the price of life

Who wouldn’t want to cuddle puppies and kittens for work? Who could resist watching the birth of a calf or a litter of piglets? Not you, so you’ve been considering becoming a veterinarian but first, forget those sugary images. Says Boris Kachka, being a vet means “years of training, high debt, relatively low pay, [and] frequent euthanasia … ” It also means long hours and, though you might think you’ll spend all your time with animals, there are people involved, too.  

To find out what real veterinarians think of their jobs, Kachka visited with vets from around the country. The first thing he learned is that today’s “typical” veterinarian is a woman who graduated with the same amount of debt as a “human doctor,” but she’ll make a fraction of an M.D.’s salary. She may be a general veterinarian who cares for all sizes and types of animals, or she could specialize in any number of ways. Her workplace might be in a traditional clinic with rotating on-call status, or she may work at a large-city ER or a site within a retail store. She might also be an entrepreneur with her own office; a mobile clinic; or a battered, well-stocked pickup truck.

“Veterinarians,” says Kachka, “are as varied as the animals they rescue … ”

Each of those above situations has benefits and flexibility, but there are downsides: aside from fierce competition for college acceptance, one study showed that veterinarians suffered exceedingly high rates of burnout, suicide, and depression.

So, is becoming a veterinarian worth all that? Most of Kachka’s subjects thought so, but they also mentioned cautions …

All your life, you’ve had animals around. You love puppies and kittens, horses and llamas. But are you ready for the good and the bad of working with them?  Find out by reading “Becoming a Veterinarian.”

Beware, though, that this book may reveal that you don’t have what it takes.  Indeed, author Boris Kachka gives readers plenty of chances to talk themselves out of taking a path that’s long and arduous but rewarding, and he does it through interviews gotten during hours of surgery, field calls, and clinic appointments. These case studies read like quick-paced fiction (although very un-Herriot-like), and appear to be well-representative of the field, although Kachka is sometimes unforgiving of his subjects’ habits.

Still, this books’ true-life tales should thrill the right student-to-be – whether she’s 16 and heading to college for the first time; or he’s 40 and craving a career change. For the pet lover, “Becoming a Veterinarian” is an enjoyable read but for a future vet, its honesty may offer a sense of relief.

More: Bookworm: Kids and death; friends and murder

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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