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EllaMc

"So it goes."

Ella Mc's book blog. Brand new 2018

Currently reading

The Sky is Yours
Chandler Klang Smith
Progress: 50/464 pages
I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough"
Brené Brown
Progress: 50/336 pages

Not a book -- an experience

Peach - Emma Glass

Nb: the quotes may be off a bit in punctuation etc. I went from memory.

 

Peach is a seemingly normal young woman. She's a "good girl" by her mother's estimation, a college student with a steady boyfriend who lives with her oddly sexual parents and her baby brother whom she adores. She's even a vegetarian. But the reader never meets that Peach. She meets Peach staggering home -- perseverating, incoherent, bloody, vomiting and in horrible pain.

This entire slim novel is present tense, stream-of-consciousness, and told to us by an extremely traumatized girl who sounds a lot like James Joyce (the author notes this herself at the end.) Joycean or no, it's a good portrayal of the way human brains deal with interpersonal trauma. Getting through the mundane "Get dressed, socks first...push swing door open, hear it swing shut -- swoosh", noticing the weather: "cold" -- detached from everything -- in complete survival mode, telling herself she will just "forget this" and move on.

 

I found her playing with sounds and repetitions of words interestingly poetic, though it's really just another way someone copes with an overloaded brain-body connection. It's much better than, say - muteness, for a book. and not unrealistic. The brain is a majestic thing that will do whatever it takes to get us through things nobody should have to live through.

 

"I want to say things but I don't know how to order the words. Sentences slither around my brain. Scattered words, scatterbrain, scattered semantics, scattered seeds..."

 

Peach denies herself any help - even medical, and we witness a young woman spiraling: instantly distant from her parents and boyfriend; uncomfortable with even the touch of her pet at times, then overwhelmed with love for these same beings she can't share her pain with. She lies to cover for her physical injuries; wishes she could tell her boyfriend Green, but can't get the words out; holds in bile, fakes having fun, tries to make her face look like it "should," goes through the motions of normal life while holding herself together literally and figuratively.

 
The damage doesn't end there. Her perpetrator, Lincoln, is not finished with Peach. He stalks her, professing his "love" in letters cut from tabloid papers. He feels completely entitled to come to her home, insist on his love for her, demand she not run away, remind her that he's watching, lingering outside her classes, barrage her with creepy letters and much worse. She starts to see him everywhere, but is this post-traumatic stress, or is he real? Peach imagines him as a greasy sausage, smells his putrid odor in the air, sees his greasy slime lingering in the air, on surfaces, windows and feels this greasy meaty mess invading her senses and body. She wonders if others can see what she sees, if her boyfriend hears her heart banging against her ribs?
 
She begins to see everyone as food stuffs (her very kind professor shakes his face, "showering the first row with splatters of custard" and proceeds to tell the class he's not "set yet." He is the only person who is sweet enough -- my word -- to notice she's in some sort of trouble, but she lets the opening slip past.) Her friend Sandy also notices something is wrong, but she's busy berating herself and wondering why he doesn't see her as she now does. She somaticizes her pain into an ever-distending stomach makes her instantly "fat" and never stops growing. She physically feels the sniggers of her classmates, she chokes on smells, she can't look at her teacher because he's "bright yellow and very shiny" custard. She's constantly being assaulted by her senses - another very real portrayal of trauma. Even the weather is constantly changing and unreliable.
 
Traumatic process is the entirety of this book, and it leaves the reader as discombobulated as the narrator. It's an extremely effective method to show how shock throws the mind into a complete tornado, despite outwardly being so "normal" that nobody else notices. Because she is acutely post-trauma, we are never sure how reliable this narrator is. We only have her word for what she is experiencing. This is especially true at the end of the novel. It feels like pure fantasy that Peach has devolved into, but since she's telling it, we know she believes it is true. And if it is, it's mighty macabre.
 
At first I didn't like the distance, then it just "clicked" -- oh, we're experiencing the same off-kilter perception/reality horror that happens to almost anyone who has just been shaken to their very core. Not everyone will have the same exact experience as Peach, but everyone will have their own unique experience. After I cottoned on to this, I was impressed with the way Emma Glass was able to sneak that past me. Lots of reviews have been unforgiving of this novel. I can see how it might seem contrived, but it feels very realistic to me, even if the events aren't "real" at all.
 
I'd imagine, if the novel had continued, what we'd see is some sort of eventual collapse, hospitalization and years of therapy. Maybe after all of that, we'd know what was real, but I doubt it, and frankly, I don't want to read all of that. This book is not really a book -- it's an experience.

A Memoir that maybe should have waited

The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir Reprint edition by Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2009) Paperback - Ta-Nehisi Coates
I had high expectations. Perhaps audio wasn't the way to "read" this. Perhaps I waited too long, after reading all of Coates' journalism and his beautiful Between the World and Me. It just didn't wow me the way I'd hoped. What it DID do is make me want him to wait a decade and write another memoir. Perhaps I'll come back to this after letting it digest, or perhaps I'll pick up the written word and read it properly someday.
 
Being a Baltimorean who lived in and knows the neighborhoods, it was easy to imagine everything he mentions. He's also very close to my age. Both of these things make it hard for me to understand why I wasn't more affected by this book.

 

Memoir-ish

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman - Lindy West

It seems like every woman I know has read this book, which automatically made me suspicious. (I still haven't forgiven my fellow females for The Bridges of Madison County.) I finally trundled forth on my own.

 

I'm glad I did. It just took me a while to get there. I wasn't sure what I was headed into. I figured "feminist, fat-positive, intersectionality" and that's all true. But are these essays? Not exactly. What was I reading? I finally settled on memoir-ish. It took me a while to finish this because I ended up with a ton of notes scribbled on my notebook, and I spent a lot of time reading about the surrounding circumstances. I honestly didn't have to. She explained these things well and even quotes huge chunks of some pieces. (One thing I learned: Leonard Nimoy is a photographer!)

 

The reason I'm going on about this is that the beginning of the book is witty. It's written like essays, even if it's about being a child, a fat child, a fantasist child... This doesn't feel like a true memoir until the very final few chapters, and those are beautiful chapters -- written with a vulnerability that I found very relatable and touching. There is true wisdom in the final handful of chapters that don't feel like I'm being Taught A Lesson because she shows us her experience and her vulnerability as she learns.

 

Earlier chapters are hilarious. The end of the book still has laugh aloud moments, but it's on a much deeper level. She's finally let the reader in. I wish she could've found a way to let me in earlier. Much of the fat-positive stuff felt very defensive. (Full disclosure: I, too, am overweight, and I can attest to the different way society at large treats fat people because I was pretty thin until I hit 40.) Despite my sympathetic ear, it still came off to me as defensive. The "lessons" she tries to impart early about the way we treat fat people finally get an "aha" moment in the latter chapters when she describes her marriage and the circumstances around her engagement. Here, she's open and honest. We get to see behind the activist into the real woman.

 

Interestingly, I found something at odds between her feminism and her fat positivity in these latter chapters. It's not glaring, and I certainly don't fault her for wanting to be desirable to her husband and show the world that he desires her, but the tension of being a woman shows up here. It brings up an even deeper set of issues for women that she doesn't touch. I don't fault her at all for that -- this is not an academic study.

 

It's hard being a woman. I know this. And I don't even have an army of trolls attacking me on a daily basis (see https://jezebel.com/if-comedy-has-no-lady-problem-why-am-i-getting-so-many-511214385 )

 

I'm slightly older than Lindy West. I grew up a decade or so before her. When I was growing up, it was assumed that because the world now said the "right" things, all was now fine, much like the "post-racial" nonsense that went around in 2008. It's bullshit, but I believed it as a girl, and that's brought me some real anger in adulthood. It's made me a pretty ardent feminist. This is where I've learned from women like Lindy West - how to be unapologetic about my feminism, including my anger.

 

This book didn't change my life, and I doubt it will change anyone else's. Nonetheless, West has a real point about chipping away at the old truisms and making the world a little better with our every interaction.

It's hard to be cold or cruel when you remember it's hard to be a person.

This is a pretty wise young woman, and it'll be great fun to watch her and read her in the future. Rumor has it that she has two more books in the works.

 

I read it for the First Amendment ;-)

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Michael Wolff

I won't lie. This was a hoot; so long as I treated it like pure fiction.

 

It's hard not to fall into the trap of almost enjoying the craziness of this story and its characters, until you remember these people are real and in charge of the largest nuclear arsenal, a powerful military, not to mention our country. Then it's just terrifying, despite the juicy bits. The whole Jarvanka v Bannon subplot is delicious. Jared Kushner comes off like a little boy, with a low IQ. Trump does too of course. Most of them do. Probably because this tale is clearly Steve Bannon's tale, and as such, we should take it with a big dose of salt and probably some Valtrex.

 

It's a fast and easy read showing a horrendous reality -- even only 1/10th of this is true.

Once I picked it up, it was like rubbernecking a traffic accident. It was hard to look away despite the horror. I finished it over a day or so, staying awake far into the night because after reading any of this, sleep is even more impossible than it was before. There's not a ton of new important information here. It's all fairly obvious (no reading, no curiosity, no ability to listen to anyone or think or stay tuned in to anyone but the TV and his own image, defensiveness, anger and bile...)

 

The revealing parts are that everyone around 45 thinks the same things we do.

I'm really torn on this one because if it was fiction, I think I'd feel it was pretty low-brow, absurd yet really funny. I would think it was satire. Since it's not fiction, the whole thing is making me nuts. I wouldn't say it's a "must read" beyond the part where the President of the US is trying to have the book banned. So let's just say I read this for the First Amendment -- yeah, that's the ticket!

 

I do hope that some of the players in this drama will get honest with the country sooner rather than later. I very much doubt that will happen though.

Easy listening on a tough topic

Men, Women & Worthiness: The Experience of Shame and the Power of Being Enough - Brené Brown

I've become a bit of an evangelist for this audio...book? It feels like a personal appearance. Incredibly easy to listen to about a topic that's hard to embrace: shame. There is a lot of research-based information on the differences between men and women here, but the bigger notes for me were the definitions she created for "shame," "love," "guilt" and other words we use constantly and rarely stop to define for ourselves or those we speak with.

 

I cannot repeat often enough: everyone should listen to this. Quick reasons:

 

  • 1) You may not  think shame is a "thing" for you, but it is actually a vital part of being an empathetic human being. You want to feel guilt/shame - the other option is psychopathy.
  • 2) We can develop "shame resilience." It will just take a bit of courage.
  • 3) We don't have to go through massive trauma to feel shame. We all have it. I, personally, felt great relief when the author admitted to having "birthday shame." It made me realize we all feel shame, whether we think our "reason" is "good enough" or not. 
  • 4) There is a way out. It won't take decades of therapy, and this book was a delightful way to learn about the basics.

 

Did I say how easy - even delightful - she is to listen to? I'm not a huge fan of audiobooks, but this is one I'd recommend to everyone I know or don't know.

 

 

Useful

Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse: Psychotherapy for the Interrupted Life - Marylene Cloitre, Karestan C. Koenen, Lisa R. Cohen

Excellent, if seemingly ancient, book with loads of worksheets that are actually useful, information and plans for use in therapy that will actually be helpful... There are things written in this book that anyone in the trauma field should know or does know but somehow have escaped being written down, and I'm thrilled this book was still available when I learned about it. Sadly, the blurbs do it an injustice. It looks very formulaic, but it's meant not to be individualized for each person. I highly recommend this to anyone working with survivors and to survivors themselves. This book won't sit on your shelves holding a retelling of the same tale - it has easily copied worksheets and prompts that will suit a variety of survivors.