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"So it goes."

Ella Mc's book blog. Brand new 2018

Currently reading

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
Jill Leovy
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive
Tom Malmquist, Henning Koch
House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski

Dear Martin -- my best YA read in recent memory

Dear Martin - Nic Stone





This is what I imagine Justyce, the MC, would do if asked to hold a sign about race early on.


There has been a stream of books about race and police brutality in the last few years. One could read nothing but books on the topic and still not keep up with the books available. What a great problem to have: too many books on important topics. Now if only these books were useless because the problem had been solved.


If one can "enjoy" a book like this, then I enjoyed Nic Stone's telling of tragedy story more than I've enjoyed almost any other. There are obvious comparisons both in other recent books but also to real cases in real America. Nic Stone writes for the young reader in a simple way that never is dumbed down or too basic. She has all the nuances and difficulties of her subject matter under command as she writes the story of Justyce and his friend Manny, two black kids at a liberal, elite school and the ways they handle casual, subtle, daily racialization, microaggressions, as well as the more obvious and deadly type.


The POV shifts between third person storytelling to Justyce's interior life to second-person letters/journaling to "Dear Martin" (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Nic Stone makes excellent use of the "safe place" classroom, where the white students do all the talking on race while the black students sit uncomfortably or angrily by, but certainly don't feel "safe" on the topic of race, despite having a black teacher. There is confusion by the bundle for our protagonist, in the way his friends behave, the racial issues involved in dating, the always-difficult world of being a teenager. He takes refuge in writing honest letters to MLK, and it's here that he feels safe enough to say what he thinks. But can even Dr. King help Justyce when the world caves in?


This is, ultimately, an uplifting story with characters who grow in the face of extreme circumstances and stereotypes that threaten to keep them stuck. Well worth anyone's time.


The Chalk Man -- Yay, a good 2018 mystery!

The Chalk Man: A Novel - C.J. Tudor

This is pretty dazzling debut, especially given all the clunky "just OK" mysteries that litter my house, library history, recommendations and my Read piles. I'll take a mystery no matter what, but it's very nice to get a good one.


As I read this, I was reminded repeatedly of less successful (in my eyes) books I've read recently. It does the back and forth from A Time Before to Present Day and back again, which is what apparently must be done in every book written since 2016, but it didn't irk me the way many others have. Even when we jumped time, the storyline continued through. The past had a lot to do with the present. It wasn't just some device. Or if it was, it was well handled.


I also noted that All the Missing Girls has a fair number of surface similarities - both set in small insular towns, involving a circle of friends who have known each other since childhood, cue the lifelong crush, and then there's the biggie -- two murders decades apart. The similarities end there though. First of all, the characters are all original in this book. People we would be led to feel sorry for in other books are strong in this one. People we would like in other books are unlikable in this one. Everyone is very human. Nobody is a cardboard cutout. And there are some nice twisty bits that require actual attention because you haven't read them a thousand times before.


Every time I thought I was onto a clue, I was dead wrong. Twist after twist, we're kept slightly off balance by a narrator who drinks too much and is a bit of a curmudgeon in everyman clothes. Maybe because I woke up early and read in the dark, but the whole book feels spooky and yet on the surface it all seems so normal. It's never good when things seem normal. I know this, so maybe I added to the spooky factor.


I can't tell you the plot. If I tell it, I'll give something away. Again, this is not a book anyone MUST read. But if you're looking for a good mystery that was released recently, this is the best "everyone's talking about it" book I've read in a while.


Freshwater -- A new perspective on mental health and trauma

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is a new, wonderfully fresh, voice to add to the many memoirs of living with C-PTSD (psychobabble below review) and surviving a traumatic childhood. Most go in rote portrayal through X happened, Y is the dysfunctional way we (identity states) dealt with it, Z is the (usually much healthier) way we learned to cope and the place we landed by the writing of the memoir/book.


Instead Emezi gives protagonist Ada and her self-states their own music and more importantly, own heritage, in telling a magical, spiritual, semi-autobiographical story of how the many came to be and worked their way through life to become the person they are now. They are distinctly Nigerian, and all of that Western psychobabble below is inadequate for anyone who hasn't sprung forth directly from a textbook - even for a person who grew up in the West. Imagine how absurd it is to anyone whose background is infused with spiritual aspects, beliefs and legends the West does not allow for.


An ogbanje is an Igbo spirit born into a human body, and this is how Emezi sees her young protagonist's system of being. There is a body and the body plays host to a number of gods and people, each running the whole system from time to time, weaving in and out to deal with the situation. When you think about it, we all have parts of ourselves that take over for certain situations. You at work are not the same you that crawls into bed with a partner at night or the same you who studied hard in university or the same you who did something you may not be so proud of. Everyone's identity works on a sort of continuum.


What Emezi has done so specially is tell her protagonist's story including all of the possibilities. Yes traumatic things happened, but perhaps she was born primed to be more than just one. Perhaps the ogbanje were there, just waiting for a chance to assert themselves. Others are born along the way. We do follow the general arc of birth to present, but the path is gorgeously written, spiritual and magical.


I could either quote the whole book or tell you what happens at every step, but I won't. I will tell you that like many lives, hers is not easy. They are different; Ada's life has more scary places than others. Parts of her react dysfunctionally, she goes "mad." Hard things happen, but they take on significance for the unique way the many who live within the body called Ada cope with each new horror, wonder or challenge.


The prose is lyrical and beautiful even when the events described are not. While it's fantastical, it's also very truthful. Perhaps this much truth can only be safely told by spirits, gods and a little bit of magic. The end is uplifting. If we are going to read "DID Memoirs" or stories of difference - be they about race, states of being, health, illness, whatever, let this be one you read.



 -- And as promised, psychobabble:


Complex Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is the newest Western nomenclature for what we used to call Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) - which itself is the name used since 1994 for something formerly called "Multiple Personality Disorder" - a very misleading and much maligned term/diagnosis. C-PTSD et al are not a personality disorder, but rather the lack of a unified self-state or identity. The identities act as centers of information processing.


The term "personality" means "characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, moods and behaviors of the whole individual," while for a person with C-PTSD, the switches between identities and behavior patterns is the personality. So it's just a different way to process the world and oneself. It's not Sybil or the Three Faces of Eve or even very strange. It's called C-PTSD because it usually stems from a trauma so long-lasting or severe that the child creates a complex way to cope.


Glad we cleared that up.


The Buddha in the Attic - Tight & Smart, until it's not

The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka

This is one of those novels you know the critics will adore. It's written in a different way, there is no main character, it's almost a book of linked sentences (though all books are that. I have no idea how to describe the writing.) Everything is a statement. Every sentence is structured the same way *for most of the book.* And that's where I dropped a star.


The group of Japanese women who narrate in a third-person "god's eye" sort of way for most of the book are the main characters of this book. They are young and naive when the book opens, all on the lower decks of a ship bringing them to America - these "picture brides." Idealistic, if conflicted, they believe their lives will be better in the US, despite their fears and concerns about loud, giant, hairy, smelly Americans. They're on the way to live with the Japanese men who have built the American dream in San Francisco early in the 20th century. When they get here, those men aren't all they represented themselves to be.


The women go from young brides to farm laborers to house maids to mothers, and then the tone shifts and we no longer hear the story from the group of Japanese women. Instead a nameless white woman (or women?) takes up their tale. She explains that they've disappeared, and for a while they think about these Japanese workers who were just here, until they don't anymore.


When the women become mothers, the structure starts to change. Sentences get longer and there are no more statement followed by statement lists. By the time the white women start to tell the story, it's no longer that tight, rigid and entrancing structure. Instead it becomes more like regular prose. I didn't like that change. And with our main "character" gone, I felt like a door had been slammed.


Now, all of that could mean that the author did exactly what she meant to do. These people were lost when they were imprisoned during the war. They couldn't speak for themselves, and apparently nobody cared to speak for them, plus white women don't speak like Japanese women in this book, this place or this era. Perhaps the nameless white women taking up the story or lack thereof represented exactly what it was supposed to. I don't know. I just know that it felt abrupt (like the move into the camps itself) and cold (again, like the actual history.) Then it ended, which isn't like history.


I am incredibly impressed with this sad tale. I just wish it had stayed in that format or given me more to hang onto through what was, in many ways, the most crucial point in the book: the end. Why could we no longer hear from the Japanese women? I know they disappeared, but we heard their private thoughts before that. Anyway, it's interesting and very short. Worth a read, if only so you can tell me why I'm wrong.


Ready Player One = Nostalgic Fun

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
She had raven hair, styled Joan-of-Arc short...Overall, she seemed to be going for a sort of mid-’80s post apocalyptic cyberpunk girl-next-door look. And it was working for me, in a big way. In a word: hot.

This is light, easy, full of '80s nostalgia and fun. An eighteen year old kid living in rough conditions IRL has essentially retreated completely into an MMG in the US in year 2045. He finds himself in a deathmatch with a huge evil multinational, falling in love, and fighting battles we can only dream of. He's conveniently brilliant, and we feel for him because he's charming despite himself. I once spent an inordinate amount of time playing an online text adventure game called "Kingdom of Loathing" - which is not at all like OASIS, but also very much like OASIS in that it lives on pop-culture nostalgia. That's where I first learned about this book.

Nevermind that. There's nothing amazing about this one beyond pure pleasure. I do wonder, if you're too young to have seen Monty Python or played on your Atari (I played Pong for hours on end b/c my father said we couldn't afford more games) or booted up a Commodore 64, would the book be as interesting or funny? I dunno. I really enjoyed this. It was like taking a bath in my younger life.

If you want to read this, treat yourself to Will Wheaton's performance. It's worth it alone to hear him say the following lines when it's time for the elections:

It was also time to elect the president and VP of the OASIS User Council, but that was a no-brainer. Like most gunters, I voted to reelect Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton (again). There were no term limits, and those two geezers had been doing a kick-ass job of protecting user rights for over a decade.

That made me giggle so hard - at work, while running statistics. Normally not a funny task.

While this book tries to broach some larger topics, it's probably best to leave those aside. It won't change your life, it won't make you think super hard. It may, however, delight you.

House of Leaves group read with Mark Z. Danielewski - open & free

House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski

I know everyone's busy these days, but I just stumbled over something I find exciting. 


House of Leaves group read on facebook (sadly facebook, but....)


The leader is Mark Z. Danielewski!


It just started. So I'm going to take this chance to read it with the author over the next months.



HOL Group Read w/ MZD on FB




Want to take part? Still early days, despite the official start date, they've only done the covers & front matter.)




Click Join and they'll approve you as soon as he or his assistant is online. Huge group, but already a ton of materials available, etc. Page one started yesterday, so we're not behind at all.



nb. I have nothing to do with this beyond having just joined the read myself.



All the Pretty Horses -- Cormac McCarthy rawks

All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy

This is ostensibly a Western. I, ostensibly, do not like Westerns. I've never made it through any western film unless you count Native American stories, and I don't. I'll grant you that it's set in the Southwest. But this is no normal Western. While reading it, it actually feels like a saga, the word "sweeping" comes to mind. The boys ride wide open terrain, wild animals are always nearby; the weather is harsh, life can be harsher. It is so quintessentially American I can imagine some politician using it for his (yes, his) campaign. (Of course that politician and nobody on his staff would realize that many things about this book clash with their proposed platform.) It's deceptively simple and mind-bendingly complex. Characters speak in short simple sentences (save Alejandra's grandmother,) the meanings layer themselves one on top of another and before you know it, it's slipped from our grasp.


I could tell you the plot, but that's almost beside the point.


Riddled with death and grim reality, it retains a sense of purity and near-innocence. Our main character, John Grady, is moral, stoic and honest to a fault, a criminal and a man-child. On one level the book is violent and gritty, but if you flip it over it's a spiritual fairy tale of sorts. Is it a metaphor, a myth, a prayer, or as the writing would suggest, a lullaby? Do the characters make their own choices, or are they simply puppets played by the strings of fate? Think of every contradiction and this book could probably fit most.


It's fun to read all sorts of books. I see no reason for shame about a beach read or a comic book or a "genre" read like a western. But when it comes down to it, the reason I read is not simply to entertain or to distract myself but rather to find something between the pages that helps me understand and delve further into the state of being human in this oftentimes cruel and confusing world. That could be a particularly good YA novel or a book about a baseball game. All the Pretty Horses is one of those books - a book that defines the reason I read.

The Rules of Magic -- Yummy, fun, made me happy

— feeling happy
The Rules of Magic: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

"I think we're going to like it here."


I really liked this book. I've not read anything by Alice Hoffman before, and this was the most easily accessible from the library, so I grabbed it with zero knowledge of what I was grabbing.


It's the story, starting in the 1960s, of the Owen family - mostly Frannie, Jet and Vincent, three teenagers in New York City, growing up under the watchful eye of their parents. They've been given strict rules about messing around with any sort of magic. Because of that, as children do, they gravitate toward ouija boards (getting babysitters fired in the process) and their mother's fancy and mysterious soap. Before their parents can do much, they've discovered that there is something different about them, and this is the saga of their family, culminating with the girls being old ladies, living in the family house in Connecticut and welcoming Vincent's grandchildren into their home.


It's realistic fantasy, which is the type I seem most suited for, I am learning. There were some weird things (like why can't they just make someone invisible, or avoid the family curse through magic, or any number of other things I wondered. However, I don't know magic, so maybe there's more to it than I can comprehend.) None of it was enough to deny me enjoyment. It is not the great American novel, but it was a really nice read. Nothing annoying, always interesting, both characters and plot were satisfying. I will certainly be finding more of Ms. Hoffman's writing very soon. 


"I think we're going to like it here," says one of the little girls arriving in Connecticut to their aunts' house after a tragedy. I agree with them, so I will pick up Practical Magic soon and happily follow the rest of the story.

What the F -- loads of fun for the whole office

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves - Benjamin K. Bergen

I've always wondered why giving someone "the bird" in England requires two fingers and in the US only one. I worry that someday I'll accidentally make a peace sign in the wrong country, so I keep my hands out of it. Now I can be a tad less worried because I know how to swear in quite a few countries both with my mouth and my hands! This book has been a great highlight of my office over the last few weeks -- so much so that I renewed it from the library so we could continue our studies. We may be boring old science types, but we can curse with the best of 'em.


Which word is most offensive? In various studies, it's always the same. (You'll have to look it up.) He not only reminds us the Pope swore during his weekly address but points out the double bind this lands the Church in. It's juicy: either the Pope is fallible, or he meant to say "in this f-ing..." As great as an admission of fallibility would be, it's even better to imagine that he meant to swear. And does anyone know my grade school principal, Sister Maria Virginia? Because she owes me back some detention hours either way.


We all know swearing has been around, so instead of history he gives us specific cases including Jacques Lordat, a French neuroscientist born in the 1700s. Lordat was the precursor to Jill Bolte Taylor (My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey.) He wrote of his own stroke and went on to greatly further the field by dedicating his life to the study of brain injury. Lordat brings us the rather tragic case of a parish priest who also had a stroke but was able to say only two words after. One of those words started with an F and was a word so scandalous it wasn't included in dictionaries or Lordat's report. (Not the English F-word. This can get very confusing.)


He dares to bring up the precious children everyone is always protecting and a whole host of ideas, science and thoughts about language and the way swearing affects each of us and society overall. A good and fun, if not mandatory or clean, read.


Of Mice and Men -- buddy read with a young man

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

I just reread this with my nephew - a buddy read. I was reminded how much I loved this book years ago. It's a short and somewhat simple story that leaves me aching and questioning myself about ethics and morals and what, exactly, does "right or wrong" mean? Lenny is one of the most endearing figures I've ever read. George can seem so brilliant in comparison, but he is also just a simple guy, doing his level best to figure out what is right in a difficult situation. Both men steal my heart.


It's not a simple book, not by a long shot. It just reads simply. The implications are huge. Amazing how Steinbeck could bring up so many questions in a two-hour read.


I've made up my mind about this book, but it's one everyone should deal with on their own.

The Fact of a Body: Writers gonna write

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir - Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

“Yes,” I say. “I can defend a child molester.”

Except, no. She can't. She doesn't. She doesn't even continue law school, where she had wanted to be since childhood. This is the memoir of a woman finding out about herself using a (dead) child's story to do so.


Interestingly, the book is being marketed as a mystery and the author believes there was a mystery. See this Goodreads question:

Q) What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?


A) Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich: This question made me laugh, because, well-- the one in THE FACT OF A BODY!


But there is no mystery. There is no actual trial. She opens boxes, goes on trips and searches for evidence, but she finds nothing pertinent. Moreover, she has always known about the abuse she frames as her own "mystery," whether she chose to deal with it or not. The murder is long-solved, the confession came very swiftly after Jeremy Guillory's murder, and the trial for his murder, like every single thing involved in the book ended long before the first chapter starts.


Her main point seems to be that people aren't all good or all bad, and we all bring our own lenses to every human interaction. "He’ll never be all one thing or the other. Only a story can be that. Never a person." These are very valid points, if not new or bookworthy. This was a cathartic experience for the author. She is a writer, so she uses her strength for her own healing. Everyone has the right to write their story. But as someone recently reminded me, once it's out there and I've paid for it, I don't owe any author a good review. Moreover, as a therapist and a fellow abuse survivor, I'm over these "love my book because I'm brave enough to tell you about abuse." Well, the statistic is startling. If we all wrote books, we'd have run out of trees soon after the printing press was invented.


What we have are many stories she attempts to weave into a coherent narrative. The author's story is the main focus. It's the memoir of an abused child coming to grips with her past. Very straightforward. The catalyst for her finally deciding to deal with her past is the man who confessed to murdering Jeremy Guillory. Either story would have done better on its own. I felt like she drew all sorts of connections where none exist.


I'm all for using whatever device one needs to use to begin to heal after trauma. Writers gonna write. The bells and whistles got in the way, and sadly many of them are human beings. Poor Jeremy Guillory gets short shrift in this memoir. He is a murdered child used as writing device. We know nearly nothing about that child at the end of the book. We know only sad little facts about his dead body.


At times the prose gets precariously close to purple, but it's not the writing that bothered me as much as us never getting to truly know the memoirist or anyone else. She deals with facts like a lawyer, and it creates distance in a story that cannot afford any. More difficult to overlook is creating a story for public consumption and doing self-therapy all at once, using a dead child and his family to make it seem like so much more than it is.

Bandi's Accusation - I wasn't prepared for how excellent every single story is.

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea - Deborah Smith, Bandi

Finally this came out in the US, then it came out in paperback (my preferred way to own books) and then I waited over two months to actually read it. There is an incredibly interesting and important story surrounding this publication. I'll be honest - that's the reason I wanted to read it. I sort of discarded much of the hype because it's an historical book, and that was what a lot of reviews stressed.

I wasn't prepared for how excellent every single story is. This is really good, nuanced, realistic fiction. There's a broad range of stories here from a wide variety of characters. Politics yes, but also parenting/grand-parenting/being parented, love, betrayal, family, honor, farm life to the big city - it's all here in these stories.

I don't read Korean, so I can't compare, but in terms of coming across as an original voice without making it bland or overstuffing it with words to remind us that this started in another language, this is one of the best translations I've read in a long time too.

Usually when I read collected short stories, I have a favorite. I honestly can't pick here. There are stories that will touch you no matter who you are or whether or not you care about politics. While the DPRK is a main player in some stories, it serves only as a specter shaping the rest, like any world in any fiction. These are human stories more than North Korean, and in the end that's what makes this such a terrific read.

I still lack the foundational fluency promised

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry - Neil deGrasse Tyson

As much as I liked this and learned from this, I can't imagine I'll remember much in even a week or two unless I buy a copy and decide to study astrophysics, which I don't plan on doing. So while I was promised a "foundational fluency," I don't really think I got the fluency part of it from one listen followed by one read of this short book.

I was easily able to keep up with things I already had some basis for, which turned out to be more of the mathematical side than the cosmology side. I learned some interesting facts about naming, history, some theories that I thought had more foundation than they do (multiverse.) I like the idea of just being a computer simulation. That would explain a lot.

Once we got into the Department of (more) Exotic Happenings, despite listening then reading intently, I was not really able to hold tightly to the concepts. I was once more impressed with Einstein for somehow knowing about the cosmological constant, despite jettisoning it and calling it the biggest blunder of his life. I really did stop to think about how smart he was to figure out, then put aside for lack of proof, something that would only have more evidence in 1998.

So while this was interesting, and it was told like a story (some of which is drawn from other Tyson essays or speeches I'd heard before,) it's not going to be easy to remember, and without careful study, I still lack that foundational fluency in astrophysics and cosmology.

The Diary of A Young Girl is exactly that and much more

The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Mirjam Pressler, Susan Massotty, Otto Frank, Anne Frank

I reread this for the Catch-up Book Club on Goodreads, and I'm glad I did. The last time I read Anne's diary I was younger than she was while writing it, and again, I'm annoyed at myself for being such a dumb kid. Also, it's changed since my initial read. There's more and we get more background in the newest editions.

I hate using stars to "rate" a journal that itself says how boring, juvenile, tawdry, silly and personal it is repeatedly, but I'm going to if only to keep the rating I gave it earlier and reinforce it.

As an older reader I felt for Anne's parents early in the book. She is oblivious to the many goings-on in preparation to go into hiding. She's living a child's life with her new birthday diary, while her parents have moved the family more than once to avoid Hitler only to get stuck in Holland. Nonetheless, they prepare for hiding by taking things piece by piece to the annex and preparing as much as possible before being forced to flee. I was impressed by her father Otto's ability to allow her as much carefree childhood as he could during what must have been incredibly terrifying days.

Anne's earliest entries show she's a child with a keen understanding that many people only show masks to the rest of us. This observation repeats itself through the journal, and her torment with others being less genuine than she would like is, in itself, heart wrenching. An historical document, a life in hiding with its mundanity and extraordinary qualities equally prevalent, this diary shows both extreme fear and incredible boredom. She goes from child to philosopher repeatedly.

Interested in a huge variety of things, Anne keeps herself busy writing not just in her diary but also short stories, genealogical studies, poetry, etc. She's got thoughts and ideals on feminism, love, God, war and peace, the culpability of regular people, families, self, discrimination, motherhood, pain, poverty, medical science, finance, the war machine, religion... This is not an idle idiot scrawling nonsense. She is very capable of growth, and we see it within the diary. She allows for her own earlier "childish" writing, yet leaves it included with some additional notes. While she was supposedly editing this for after the war, she remarks more than once that this diary is just for her, that it surely won't be worthwhile to anyone else ever. How wrong you were, Anne Frank.

Anne practices multiple languages, learns history and other subjects, reads voraciously and really only stops in to write in her diary occasionally once she and her family are in hiding. She also stays abreast of her schoolwork, always planning and even trying to expect freedom just around the corner. She's up on the war, keeps an eye on the Allied Forces and fully expects them to succeed. She knows she's being optimistic. She says she's doing it purposely. She watches the squabbles around her, getting annoyed at other people's annoyance, and only occasionally allows herself to wish for things she can't have. Instead, she simply plans for "after" the war.

One moment really stood out to me. While discussing the war, Anne notes that despite nationality, she believes that after the war "We can never be just Dutch or just English or whatever, we will be Jews as well." This is, to me, a remarkable statement. While Zionism had already begun, it becomes very clear that Anne - isolated and sheltered from the worst thus far - has figured out something absolutely vital about the world post WWII and about identity when someone is part of a marginalized group in a larger society. Much earlier she had started wrestling between her German identity and her Jewish identity and she will begin to include her Dutch identity too.

The Diary of A Young Girl is exactly that and so much more.

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir - Mark Lukach

I'm torn over this book. On one hand, any new resource is a good one. We have a dire need for more views on mental illness, and this writer husband needed an outlet. Many people in similar situations will gravitate to this in future, because it's one of very few similar books dedicated solely to mental illness. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with illness of a loved one. It's hard, and this man has the ability to just focus on his experience because he doesn't have to deal with the issues that quickly take over in 99.9% of cases in the US - inadequate care, lack of insurance, lack of resources, lack of support systems, huge financial hardship, homelessness...


This book does best early on, when he's furious, scared and confused at the sometimes arbitrary, often misleading and always rigid rules of psychiatric care. I highlighted huge sections of these early encounters with hospitals and staff because despite many feeling feel similarly, in the decades I've been in the field very little has changed beyond some nicer wording. So I cheered him for this.


My discomfort with the book came after that, when suddenly some really naive life choices are being made by a couple who has experienced an upsetting but single psychotic break. I have many questions I would like to ask, but that's not how books work.


Then there's the issue that these seem to be the luckiest two people on earth. Yes, even after the psychiatric diagnosis. Both have parents, family and friends alive, willing and able to drop everything, fly in from other countries and stay to help. There is not a single word in this book about the myriad ways insurance tries and usually succeeds in screwing the mentally ill - this would likely be because they can pay for treatment that isn't covered or because they stayed within an HMO-type system at Kaiser. Kaiser isn't known for cutting-edge mental health care, so perhaps that's why some things seemed strangely unexamined.


When her illness starts, both are able to quit jobs and even travel before they decide to start a family. Through it all they're still living a very nice lifestyle, despite it being far from the one they'd imagined. But that's how any illness works.


By the end, the book covers three episodes and hospitalizations in five years, and it seems like he thinks he's got it all worked out. Five years into severe psychiatric illness is a very short time. I don't even know that his lovely wife actually qualifies as severely mentally ill. She is able to hold down a job between her three episodes and has a between period. Of course it feels painstaking to all involved, but cancer of any stage feels painstaking, yet there are still stages.


Everyone has a right to tell their story. What I hope is that this book will not be anyone's sole resource. I just read another from Patrisse Khan-Cullers in When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir that shows a very different experience with a similar diagnosis in the same state. When it comes down to it, finances play a huge part in one's ability to get any care at all. Jail was the best the state of California could offer to her brother who had a well-documented lifelong case history.


Everyone has a right to tell their story, but this one felt a bit pat in the latter parts, like he has learned what the right things to say are, and he's saying them, but if I had this guy on my therapy couch, I'd be asking some tough questions about the pretty words. He got his feelings out, and that's what I got from this book: his feelings. It's a very one-sided, tiny slice of the beginning of his family's mental health journey. I wish them well, but I can't say I'd recommend this book to many people.

A reference book of a new and helpful kind

So You Want to Talk About Race - Ijeoma Oluo

Starting off light and moving carefully and purposefully through deeper topics, Ijeoma Oluo walks us through the vocabulary of race, questions and issues of race, and commonly-held beliefs. She is patient but firm. She allows for complete failure and even encourages readers to expect it, but she doesn't have time for excuses. She wants us to do the work, and she's laid out a fairly compelling program for doing so.

In addition to race, there is information on intersectionality, LGBTQ, gender and other issues.

If you've done a fair amount of work on race issues, this book may have a lot of retread and feel remedial at times. There are few funny stories to lighten the load (though, I personally found her phone call with her mother who had recently had an "epiphany" about race pretty humorous, in the grim "yeah, been there" sort of way.) It's actually a self-help book, complete with lists and prescriptions.

Even if the explanations are remedial, I wholeheartedly recommend the end of every chapter where she skillfully applies things to do or say in tense situations, from all sides of the equation. If you are black, try X. If you are white, try Y. If you are straight, try thinking Z, etc. There are ways to think about things, lists, very helpful phrases to memorize, and loads of information.

It is probably worth having this book handy for those who care about or encounter racial or other situations of bias. It's a reference book of a new and helpful kind.