Customer Reviews: Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice
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VINE VOICEon December 22, 2005
Need to set up a home birthing center, but all you've got on hand are a stack of newspapers and a packet of sterile vulva pads? Or maybe your baby's already arrived, but his ears are annoyingly prominent? Perhaps you're not sure how long you have to boil milk to tame its indigestible curds. Let James Lileks lead you through some of the sage parenting advice our forbears listened to in the olden days, back when "most of Mom's time was spent boiling bottles, dads were curious grumpy stubbled things that appeared in the house for no discernible reason, car seats resembled launching pads, and the children were spanked with hairbrushes for the sin of Constipation."

In his beautifully illustrated Mommy Knows Worst Lileks reproduces scores of old ads and newspaper columns offering their often questionable advice about raising children. (Hint: whatever you do, DON'T PICK UP JUNIOR! You might land him in an insane asylum.) But better than the ads themselves is Lileks's snarky commentary on them, which will have you laughing aloud sometimes several times a page.

["The nursing mother should cleanse her nipples before and after each feeding with boric acid solution."]

"There's nothing wrong with boric acid, except for the acid part; no matter how mild the stuff may be, this passage still seems to suggest that nursing mothers should plunge their teats into something one associates with the innards of automotive batteries."

Not quite as amusing in the second half (on fatherhood, clothes and accessories) as the first, but the section early on in the book on health and hygiene (Tuesday is Diaper Boiling Day!) is alone worth the price of admission.

Reviewed by Debra Hamel, author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece
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on October 28, 2005
I may send this book to all my childen--several of whom now have kids of their own--just to give them a glimpse of the world into which I was born in the early 1950s.

Fortunately, my own mother was (a) a registered nurse, (b) highly intelligent and (c) tough as nails, so she didn't pay attention to most of this rather scary advice. Also, I was the 5th of 6 kids, so she had already perfected her approach on them. (Of course, whether or not she was ready for _me_ is another question entirely; it is telling that even now when our family gets togther, they tend to tell "Bruce" stories from several decades ago.)

Anyway, this is Lileks' best book to date--it came today and I read it cover-to-cover this evening, suffering several near-pulmonary-arrest fits of laughter in the process. My only complaint: it's far too short. I'm sure there is far more material out there for Lileks to skewer. Heck, I suspect even Dr. Spock's original (1946) _Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care_ would have produced a few gems.

As Lileks says, it seems a wonder how we all survived--though I think the creeping nannyism of our current society has swung too far in the other direction. That said, I'm definitely giving away copies of this book for Christmas this year. ..bruce..
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on April 10, 2006
I am 45 years old and recently told my kids that in my day, infants didn't have car seats or booster seats (or even seat belts!) They asked in disbelief, where did you go in the car? I said, Nana and Pop just laid me on the floor of the car. This book proved to my kids that I was telling the truth about the dangers kids and babies lived through back then--and all the jaw-droppingly unbelievably bad advice mothers were given.

My 12-year-old son loved the product that allowed parents in apartments to get fresh air and sunshine for an infant by hanging the baby out the window in some sort of box contraption. My 16-year-old daughter is reading it from cover to cover and getting a bigger kick out of it than I did.

It was a nice day in Missouri here today, and I had the doors and windows open. I was laughing so hard while I read this book in one sitting (I could not wait to see what was next--oh, spanking children with hairbrushes for not having had a bowel movement that day, that'll teach 'em!) I was surprised the neighbors didn't call someone from the looney bin to pick me up. This book is a scream, literally!
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on November 13, 2005
Columnist and blogger James Lileks is making a third career out of dredging up ludicrous adverts and articles from times past and mercilessly ragging on them. Someday the copyright police will catch on to all the unattributed and unauthorized repurposing and slam Lileks in jail, but until then I'll keep buying them.

In "Mommy Knows Worst" he takes on the dark past's hair-raising notions of scientific child care. There's a lot here, and I wish there was more. He could probably have done a whole second volume on educational fads and kiddie snack foods.

In terms of editing and layout "Mommy Knows Worst" is the best of Lilek's snark volumes. In terms of laughs, it doesn't quite reach the brilliant heights of "The Gallery of Regrettable Foods." However, there is plenty here to like, and I imagine parents befuddled by today's parenting advice and marketing campaigns will find it especially funny.

I've ordered a short stack of copies for Xmas gifts.
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Do your kid's ears stick out annoyingly? In this, his third book (I think), James Lileks presents some of the most screamingly funny parenting advice of all time - things like ads for a "net" that will pull your child's ears in to a more pleasing, streamlined configuration. :-)

Like his other books, each of the pieces Lileks has collected here - ads, articles, quotes - could be seen as a serious part of a sociological analysis of the culture of its era - or just the product of temporary societal insanity.

Will today's parenting advice seem as ludicrous in the future as some early 1900s manuals instructing parents to strap 6-month-olds to the potty?

Lileks himself brings up the "back or front?" debate for baby's sleeping position as a reminder - to me at least - that we may indeed do well to look at current parenting fads and trends through the harsh light of future eras...

Baby sunglasses? Baby legwarmers? All those ugly Bugaboo strollers? I think in today's parenting culture, Lileks - or his descendents - will certainly find enough material for a sequel in 50 years' time.

In the meantime, enjoy. This book is a *fabulous* gift item for anyone expecting their first baby as a reminder to not take any parenting advice - or parenting itself - too seriously. Trust yourself, trust your baby and have FUN as a parent!
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on November 1, 2005
It really is quite the miracle, judging from what James Lileks has culled from the pages of government pamphlets, advertisements, and articles of yesteryear.

From leaving babies to sleep face down to warning parents not to engage in too much physical contact with their children, Mr. Lileks presents a steady display of the "advice" given our parents and grandparents. All with some of the most scathing and witty sidebar comments which leave the reader in stitches.
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on March 31, 2006
James Lileks makes me laugh like a hyena on nitrous oxide. Parts of this book were so true that they brought back vividly horrible memories, particularly of being chased down the block by my mother who, because i was bound up like a geisha's feet, had whipped out the old red rubber enema bag and the castille soap...

Mr. Lilek's brilliant descriptions and explanations of back- in- the- day activities of daily living will make any reader cringe and wonder how children of that era survived into puberty, much less adulthood. For those readers who loved The Gallery of Regrettable Food, this book will not disappoint.
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on October 7, 2006
I absolutely loved James Lileks' two previous books and found them achingly funny, but like several other reviewers, I found "Mommy Knows Worst" to be tinged with sadness at times. Yes, it was very funny, but on the other hand I ended up feeling so sorry for mothers that actually followed this kind of advice (like my mother) and kids who were subjected to it (like me) that it tempered my enjoyment somewhat.

I can remember looking at my mother's baby care book in the early '60s, and the illustrations on how to prepare formula -- sterilize the entire house while you're at it, why don't you? -- were so daunting that I'm amazed anyone actually wanted to have children. Wait, maybe they didn't. Perhaps a chapter on reliable birth control, or lack thereof, would have been a funny addition to MKW. At any rate, I'm still glad I bought the book but will re-read Lileks' "The Gallery of Regrettable Food" when I want a belly laugh (pun intended).
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on June 6, 2009
Mommy Knows Worst / 1-4000-8228-5

I'm a long time fan of Lileks and his Institute of Official Cheer material. I loved The Gallery of Regrettable Food and Interior Desecrations, and thoroughly enjoyed Gastroanomalies. However, it's an old adage that it's difficult to be funny all of the time, and "Mommy Knows Worst" seems to be an example of this.

"Mommy Knows Worst" suffers, if from nothing else, from a problem of format and material. Whereas the pictures of food and furniture from Lileks' other books were colorful and instantly evocative (or "evacuative", for readers with sensitive stomachs!), the majority of the pictures in "Mommy" are black-and-white photos of child sketches, plastic nipple diagrams, and organizational photos of what, precisely, needs to be in the room before giving birth or milk feeding. This means that there are far fewer hoots of "Look at THIS!" (elicited by such things as a chicken leg with pearls and a garter on it for no apparent reason) from the reader and far more frowning at baby sketches and musing quietly on how even the most terrible shaders could still, apparently, find work. In other words, it's funny, but it's not the usual gasping-for-breath funny that Official Cheer usually elicits.

Along the same lines, the copy accompanying the pictures has a different timbre. Where the food recipes had upbeat, perky, and easily mockable instructions and exhortations ("You CAN cook with 7-Up!!"), the stilted monotone of "Into a pint of boiling water stir flaxseed, also known as linseed, until it forms a paste just thick enough to flow from a spoon," just isn't highly amusing in itself. Lileks dishes out the best mockery he can under the circumstances ("Is this good? Or bad? ... It's hard to say, since this book gives no indication what the poultice is for."), but it's just not the same. Even Lileks seems to realize this, as the commentary feels largely tired, flagging, and lacking the usual Lileks energy and verve.

"Mommy Knows Worst" is amusing and - properly enshrined on your coffee table - will elicit the occasional chuckle from family and friends. Just don't be surprised to find yourself turning back to the old "Gallery" for the laughs and guffaws that "Mommy" just can't quite supply.

~ Ana Mardoll
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VINE VOICEon January 24, 2007
Humor columnist James Lileks is the author of one of the funniest websites I know, where he focuses a keen satirical eye on the recent past. This offering looks at parenting of the early 20th century (up to late-mid), drawing primarily from advertisements, informative tracts and magazine articles. It is side-splittingly funny stuff. Sometimes it's funny on its own merits, but sometimes just because Lilek's presents it that way. The "Care of Milk" instructions he reproduces, for instance, are more interesting as a curiosity in our supermarket age than actually amusing. Nevertheless, I can't recommend this highly enough. It's a quick read--it took me a matter of hours--but a rewarding one, and it's even more fun to share.
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