Thursday, April 30, 2015

Challenge Accepted! April Books

If I was a little let down by only reading four books in March, I'm feeling really let down by my April accomplishments. Only three.

HOWEVER. One of those books was pretty long and dense, so that has to be factored in.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (A book that made you cry)
I recently wrote about this book's personal effect on me, but for the purposes of this post, I'll just give a quick synopsis. 

Historian Lyman Ward, who suffers from a debilitating skeletal disease, embarks upon a project of writing the life story of his grandparents, Susan Burling Ward and Oliver Ward, gathering the majority of his information from the extensive correspondence between Susan and her life long friend Augusta.  Susan, an Eastern genteel, and Oliver, an aspiring engineer with no college degree, marry after a long and unconvincing "courtship" that existed almost entirely in letters, and she joins him in their first homestead in the West in the late 1800s. As far as Susan sees it, this is a temporary settlement while he gets the experience he needs to return to New York and become an engineer in the East.  He, however, thought she understood that an engineer's life was in the West and always would be.  And thus begins a life of disappointments, successes, stalled work, poverty, hope, love, regret, friendships, loneliness, disaster, and exile.  Amidst the stories of Susan and Oliver's erratic and restless lives, Lyman must also wrestle with the reality of his own life - a failed marriage, a failing body, a meddlesome son, a ridiculous secretary, and a faithful but aging friend/nurse.  He is living alone in the very house his grandparents lived in for the last half of their lives, among the same roses his grandfather cultivated, the same roses whose scents hung in the air as heavy as the memories they carried.

This, in my opinion, is an absolutely fantastic book, one of the best I've ever read.  It is dense and rich, and so very cognizant of the human condition.  Stegner goes right down into the thick of what it is to be married and the cracks and craigs that can develop so very easily.  Even though the majority of the book is based over a century ago, Stegner also manages to draw the reader right into the Victorian era, forgetting our modern philosophies and beliefs about equality and the Women's Lib, and relive life the way it was then with no distaste for their archaic values.  In fact, we become almost nostalgic for it.  

I have read this book three times now, and every single time it has reduced me to tears.  And not just stingy-eye-tears, but full-on sobs, fat plops smearing the ink of the pages, bright red puffy eyes, dripping nose, the works.  I re-read it this time because our book club chose it as our next book. (We all submitted titles and chose one at random. Can you guess who submitted this one?!)  I truly hope the rest of Book Club will love it as much as I do, and I eagerly await our discussion!

Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman (A book based on or turned into a TV show)
If you haven't already watched Seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, perhaps consider reading the book first. I wish I had.

The book is a memoir, the true story of Piper Kerman's year in a women's prison. It is heartfelt and compassionate and nothing at all like the TV series.  It is not over dramatic, we do not witness any fights or lesbian sex scenes, and the Piper "character" is not as troubled as they portray her on the show. Also - SPOILER ALERT -Larry is faithful.The book re-humanizes the women behind bars that we so often dehumanize because of their crimes.  It reminds us that punishment without rehabilitation is only cruelty.  It highlights the serious ineptitude of America's prison systems, as well as the disservice it does to society, when it perpetuates the cycle of violence and incarceration.  Until America realizes that pure punishment alone does not solve the problem, we will always have people cycling in and out of prison, unable to cope with life "on the outs".  Prisons must do a better job of rehabilitation if we want to see these people living productive and non-criminal lives. (And it should never have become a profitable "business".)

The TV show is great entertainment, but other than some of the characters and scenarios, it is not the same as the book.  Which is better? It depends on what you call "better".  If you ask me, the Netflix Original Series is more exciting, but the book touches your heart and engages your empathy.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (A banned book)
Again, another book with a movie-based-on-a-book.  I saw the movie first and read the book second. I gotta stop doing that.

I chose this as my "banned book". I chose it over several other more classical and well-known banned books, because I love the movie so much.  I figured I knew why the book would be banned in many high schools across the state - it deals with drugs and sexuality - but I wanted to know just how "bad" those concepts are in the book.

Spoiler - not bad at all. Aside - don't ban books because they deal with actual human dilemmas, particularly teen ones.

Charlie, a lonely high school freshman, whose close friend shot himself the year before, meets two seniors, Sam and Patrick, who take him in and show him genuine friendship, in spite of his quirks (and tendency to cry a lot).   It quietly and honestly tells Charlie's story through letters he writes to a "friend".  (Charlie needs an anonymous and understanding person to talk to. We know nothing about this friend, and this friend actually does not know Charlie.)  He talks about his first time getting high, his first kiss, his first girlfriend, his love of books and desire to become a writer, and true love and friendship.  The book is warm, but has an undercurrent of something unsettling. We get the sense of foreboding but cannot be sure why.

I liked this book, but again, it's a little different from the movie.  Obviously.  Movies must dramatize everything to keep the viewer constantly holding his breath.  The book does not feel the need to do so. It plays everything down, with Charlie telling anecdotes to his "friend" with a mixture of youthful naivety and insight beyond his years.  It made me glad I'm not sixteen anymore. It made me frown and sigh at the thought of anyone ever having to be sixteen.

It should not be a banned book. (Should any book?)  Kids need to be able to read this stuff. Kids, more than anyone, need to know they are not alone in their struggles.  This will be required reading for my little ones when they start to become a lot less little.

To see what else I have read this year:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Plant a Tree For Earth Day

Today, we planted a tree in my mom's front yard.

We wanted to give them a Dogwood, but we couldn't find one, so we went with a Redbud.

We all did our part (except for Scott, who was still at work). But the kids did the majority of the digging.

Some of us even did our tree-planting in style. I'm talking skinny jeans and heels.

We would have loved to have planted a tree in our own yard, but alas, we rent, and we didn't want to worry with all the fuss of getting permission from the landlord to plant a tree.

At least now my mom and stepdad have a little memento of us, for when we eventually move on to "greener pastures".

Saying that, I'd love to make tree-planting our little family's Earth Day tradition. Give back to the earth a little of what we take so much of.

Teach the children a little about sustainability.

And get in touch a little more with nature.

Happy Earth Day!

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Do you have a book that digs so deeply into your heart that it pains you to read, yet you can't stop reading it because it reveals truths to you that even you did not realize - or want to accept - were inside you?

That book is Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose for me.

I have just finished it. It's actually the third time I've read it. The first time was over ten years ago for an online book club while I was engaged to Scott. I did not know what marriage would be like, and I didn't know my soon-to-be husband the way I do now, but even then, every word of the novel was a warning: Don't underestimate him. Don't try to change him. Don't betray his trust. A quiet man is not an unfeeling man; don't confuse the two.

The second time I read it was while pregnant with Baby Jaguar. Once again, I was struck by how similar my husband is to the novel's Oliver. Once again, I heeded (and was thankful) for the warnings: Do not stand in his way for selfish reasons. Do not wish him to be anything other than what he is. Appreciate his strengths, though they are different to yours, and forgive him his weaknesses (for you have your own). Defend him against criticism. Do not hold him at arm's length.

This time I found myself thanking the book wholeheartedly for all those warnings. For this time I saw in myself how like Susan I am. As little as I'd like to admit it, I too am proud, a little snobbish, a little over-concerned with appearances. Every time I have read this book, I have noted how too close the story cuts, how in an alternate universe, this could have been us. Without those warnings, with less magnanimity, with less careful effort, we could have been doomed to the same fate - the same discontent woman, the same stubborn man, with such promise but too many mistakes.

I have wanted to review this novel a hundred times, but I am unable. It is too close, it is too revealing. I recognize in it how lucky we have been - no, not lucky. Careful. Hardworking. Fair. Open and honest. Aware. We have not, we shall not end up the same as Susan and Oliver Ward, living the rest of their lives at the angle of repose, after a downward tumbling life eventually settled near the bottom of the ravine. We shall have our ups and downs. We shall have our adventures. We will not settle for living happily-unhappily ever after.

All I can say in review is a quick synopsis:

Historian Lyman Ward, the grandson of Oliver and Susan Ward, much to ignore the effects of his debilitating skeletal disease, takes to his grandmother's letters to her dearest lifelong friend Augusta to write about her and her husband's life developing the West in the late 1800s. She, an Eastern genteel and he, an aspiring engineer with no college degree, marry after a long and unconvincing "courtship" that existed only in correspondence, and she joins him in their first homestead in the West. In her mind, it is a temporary settlement while he gets the experience he needs to return to New York and became an Eastern engineer. He understands that an engineer's life is in the West and will always be. And thus they begin a life of disappointment, successes, stalled work, poverty, hope, love, regret, friendships, loneliness, disaster, and exile. Amidst the stories of Susan and Oliver's erratic and restless lives, Lyman must also wrestle with the reality of his own life - a failed marriage, a failing body, a meddlesome son, a ridiculous secretary, and a faithful but aging friend/nurse. He is living in the very house his grandparents lived in for the last half of their lives, among the same roses his grandfather cultivated, the same roses whose scents hung in the air as heavy as the memories they carried from a life lived happily-unhappily ever after.

It's a long book. It's a hard book; not word-wise, but emotionally, at least for me. It could have been me. It could have been Scott. I am imperfect, I am not the best wife for a quiet, intelligent, deep man... or am I? Was Susan? Maybe she was, and maybe I am. It is possibly our choices in life that make us perfect or not perfect for someone, not simply our temperaments. All I know is that I have read this book three times, and all three times I have found myself not merely tearing up, but quite literally sobbing throughout and especially at the end, not only over the plot line but the truths it has revealed. It is without question my favorite book. It is heartbreaking. It is real, it is honest.

I could never write a full review of it, for to do that would be to write a full review of the worst versions of my possible self, the versions that could have been me, that in an alternate universe might actually be me. I can never reveal those flaws of which I am too acutely aware my capacity of exposing. I'd rather keep those revelations securely bound between the covers of this remarkable book.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ways In Which Arkansas Wants To KILL You

With a severe weather warning season firmly upon us and after shooing a red wasp out of my car yesterday AND a suspiciously bulbous black spider with a violin on its back (red or white, which one is in under contract with Satan?), I decided it's time to make a list of some of the reasons I need to leave Arkansas.

Because Arkansas wants to KILL you.

1. Black Widows. It's like, it's not enough to just be a spider; it has to be an ugly, deadly one.
2. Brown Recluses. One that will destroy your flesh. Then kill you.
3. Red Wasps. So they may not kill you, but they will build their nests on your front porch and then attack you and sting the crap out of you. If they could talk, they'd have little collective demon voices.
4. Scorpions. So far, haven't seen one. But they are out there, and they are mean little bastards.
5. Ticks. Lyme Disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. And they will leave their heads inside your flesh if you aren't careful. WTF?
6. Rattlesnakes. Deadly AND have that creepy Western movie prelude playing in the background. Cue tumbleweed. Then death.
7. Copperheads. Seriously, these guys THRIVE in my neighborhood. Domesticity doesn't phase them one bit.
8. Baby copperheads. These little buggers are even meaner than their mamas.  Like little Children of the Corn, but snakes.
9. High heat indexes. If all of the above doesn't kill you first, the 110°F in the middle of July and August ought to finish you off.  And if even that can't take you down...
10. Tornadoes. No, seriously. Not being funny. I am terrified.

I'm actually not sure how I survived my first twenty-two years of my life living in this state and now the last almost two. Living in Arkansas is like playing a never-ending game of Russian roulette, and surely my luck is going to run out soon.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

New Ink: Into the Looking Glass

A few weeks ago, my main squeeze and I went on a date, where we ate bison burgers and sweet potato fries dipped in marshmallow sauce, and got ourselves inked.

This was Scott's first tattoo, and it was a big deal. He got this:

(We've been kind of amazed at how few people have been able to figure out what it is.)

Me, this was my fourth tat, so not quite such a big deal.

As a reminder, I have a tattoo trio already of faith, hope, and love, all in Arabic calligraphy. And yes, I know enough Arabic to know that they all say exactly what I think they say. I may not remember much from my year of studying Arabic, but I still know enough. Enough to read something to you but not have a clue what it says.

I considered going a totally new direction for this fourth tattoo, leaving behind the Arabic calligraphy theme. I also considered seamlessly continuing with the Arabic calligraphy theme by getting the word peace in Arabic. But I kept turning around this other idea in my mind... a slightly cheesy, somewhat embarrassing idea, but one that really meant something to me.


It's a beautiful design. (I'm sorry I can't give credit to the person who designed it though, because she seems to have removed it from the web. I'm glad I downloaded it before she took it down. I wonder, does tattooing yourself compromise intellectual property rights?) This is also Arabic calligraphy. The idea of getting illusion tattooed on my skin did seem cheesy and possibly misleading, but at the last minute, it's the one I chose to go with.

I love it. However, the inevitable question has since popped up repeatedly: "What does it mean?"

An old friend once cautioned me never to get a tattoo that didn't mean anything, because you'd spend the rest of your life shrugging when asked that inevitable question. Those three squares on his arm mean nothing.

The word in Arabic, وهم (pronounced "wa-HEM-a") specifically means "illusion" but can be loosely translated in other ways. I've been finding it easier to loosely translate it as "imagination" for the average person on the street, rather than explain what "illusion" means to me.

But I'll explain it here.

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a fat girl. There, I said it.

The word "fat" is supposedly banned in our house. It's our family's f-word (and is way worse than the other one). I am so very against body shaming, so supportive of positive body image and loving your body... for everyone else but myself. I still look at myself and see a mess. Even though I'm now at a healthy weight and have a pretty healthy lifestyle (let's not discuss the Easter chocolate though, please), I still have very poor body image. It probably wouldn't matter if I lost yet another 30 lbs, I'd probably still see someone twice my actual size in my reflection.

I have to tell myself consciously, explicitly, daily, that this is an illusion.

What I see in the mirror is illusory. It's something my brain invents to tempt me to do all sorts of stupid things. I have to constantly tell my brain, You're wrong. I'm beautiful. I'm healthy. I love my body.

This tattoo now stares back at me in the mirror too. It tells me the same thing. I am healthy. I exercise regularly. I *generally* eat well. I am beautiful. Anything I believe about myself otherwise is an illusion.

It is الوهم.

But if I pass you on the street, and you ask me what it means, I'll probably just say "imagination". Because that's easier to admit.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Limited Time Only!

For all my faithful readers, I have a little treat for you.

My eBook of poetry, Meatloaf and a Rosary, is now FREE on Smashwords for a limited time only!

To get everyone excited about my upcoming book, I'm offering this free gift to my loyal readers (and anyone else who stumbles across the book too, I guess). It's very different from my new book; I published this while I was still a Christian and many of the poems in this book have been rewritten (and some will feature in my new book as chapter headings in their rewritten form). It's also poetry, which makes it, of course, different from my memoir.

Now I know, I know. Poetry isn't everyone's cup of tea... However, I highly recommend taking advantage of this free offer; you never know, poetry may actually grab you in ways you never expected! Simply click on the link provided above (or the image below) and download to whatever you have - a Kindle, an iPhone or just your PC. Vote with your, erm, download, to show me you're looking forward to my new book!

Remember- this is a limited time offer only. So go now. Go, go, go!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Church Signs To Make Your Skin Crawl

There's a church just down the road from me that needs my help.


They change their signs weekly. I really, really wish I'd been photographing these slogans, but as soon as they are up, they are back down again. From now on, I make the commitment to photograph. Because it's just so sad.

They CANNOT spell.

A few weeks ago, the sign said "FORBIDEN FRUIT CREATES MANY JAMES!" I wanted desperately to remove the extra E and add a D. Then again, maybe it was a political statement. Maybe it was saying, "For Biden, fruit creates many, James!" Or something. I don't know. They've had spacing problems before.

Like a few weeks ago when they posted, "COME IN! GOD IS EXPECTING YOU!" But the spacing was all wrong and all I saw was "Come in! God i sexpecting you!" which of course, led some anonymous riff-raff to go and take away the first E and the I, making it "COM IN! GOD SEXPECTING YOU!" Sigh.

Today, the sign says:

"A FAMILY ALTAR CAN ALTAR FAMIY!" I get what they are doing here, I really do. But altar is different from alter. The first is a noun, the second a verb. If you want to be clever, you've just really got to spell like you're clever.

Also, did they run out of Ls or is that just another oopsie?

The other side is either another error, or just a really weird phrase.

We've all heard "Jesus loves me, this I know." But "Jesus knows me, this I know"? I don't get it. Maybe they are trying to turn a phrase. Or maybe they just got mixed up. Either way...

This church needs someone to review their signs before displaying. I'd do it for them for free. It's just gone well past humorous into cringe-worthy.

My heart actually hurts for their signs.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Challenge Accepted! March Books

Another month down!

Last month, even being a short twenty-eight day one, I got in seven books. This month wasn't quite as ambitious, but I have good reason for it. I spent the first half of the month finishing my own book.  Which, incidentally, I figure checks off one of the categories of the reading challenge: A book that takes place in your hometown.

My hometown is Nowheresville. If there was ever a book set in my hometown, I don't think I'd even want to read it. Except... my book in set in my hometown and I think you should read it so... I take that back.

Regardless, I was never going to find such a book, so I'm ticking off my own book for that category.  After all, I've read it a gazillion times now, it ought to count.

So.... the first of four:.

The Last Petal Falling by Lori Arnold McFarlane (A book that takes place in your hometown)
This book is, for lack of a better word, a memoir.  It takes you through my most formative religious experiences, starting from elementary school gospel sharing at the community pool to my spiritual revival at The Grove in college to the Day That Jesus Didn't Return. I've written the book in a sensitive and non-confrontational way, even as I describe the anger and disillusionment I experienced during my early post-Christian days, for my aim is not and never will be to needlessly attack believers of any faith, however much we may disagree. It's just to tell my own story and show others with similar ones that they are not alone.

If it's possible to be diplomatic and unbiased towards my own book (it's not), and if you'll spare thinking me a narcissist (I'm really not), this book is a book to read if:
A) you've BTDT (been there done that)
B) you've never been religious and don't understand how religious people can believe things so unbelievable or
C) you are a Christian and want to understand how a devout Christian could ever possibly turn away from the faith.

I was always in the latter category, believing that those who turned away "were never saved to begin with". I'd like to think this book, at the very least, will push that envelope, if only just a little. Clearly there will be a plethora of responses to dismiss my "salvation" or to reason away my experience by pointing at all my foibles and follies, and I fully expect that, it's the nature of the business of bearing your soul to the masses.  I just hope it will at least open eyes just a little wider to the reality that so many comfortable religious people face when life gets real.

*Once I've completed the publishing stages - I'm going to self publish - I'll include a link from which you can all go purchase it! Likely it will be e-book only to start (gah, I hate e-books), but I'm looking into Print On Demand options as well.

The rest of the books I read in March all followed a theme.  In February, a theme of hell and loss of faith emerged, but this time I found myself drawn to books about mental health.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg (A book from your childhood)
I read this book in high school as one of my additional reading requirements for AP English.  We had to choose from a list a certain number of extra books to read and take simple quizzes on, and I being the go-getter I was always chose the shortest, easiest books on the list. This one was relatively short but it was not easy, and it impacted me deeply as a teenager. Ever since then, I've thought of this book often and considered finding a copy of it to re-read but never did. Until now. And I'm so glad I did.

First of all, I don't know how much of the book I possibly could have really understood in high school. Maybe I was more intuitive and empathetic than I remember, but the book is so full of complex and difficult concepts, I just wonder if I really understood it the way I do now.

One thing I know for sure: I can relate to it better this time around.

The story revolves around Deborah, a seventeen year old schizophrenic in a mental hospital.  She lives in between two worlds - Yr, the land in her mind, and Earth - and the constant coming and going is agonizing. She wants to be fully Yri but the other world keeps pulling her back without her consent. Her greatest battle in the hospital is sharing Yri secrets with her therapist, whom she grows to love and trust,and is possibly the first person she's ever loved or trusted, and the horrible backlash from the Yri gods that this betrayal earns her. It's a beautifully complex and delicate book.  I absolutely loved it again upon this second read and highly recommend it.

The book deals a lot with mental illness versus mental health.  It's a great novel even if you just read it for the plot, but the themes are really thought-provoking too. I'll just share one of them that spoke most powerfully to me.

The girls on the ward naturally despise certain nurses and are naturally drawn to others. While the aides themselves don't know what motivates these seemingly random responses, Deborah does. The nurses and aides that are the easiest targets are the ones the girls recognize as afraid. Not only afraid of the girls in the ward but afraid of themselves. They are the ones who fear they too could end up as crazy as these lunatics, and they clutch their keys tightly in their fists as proof that they are not stuck on the inside like the nuts but are still living on the outside, still "normal".  The other aides, however, the ones the girls felt protective of, were the ones who knew they were only a few steps away from crazy and were comfortable with this fact. These attendants didn't hover in suspicious groups or exercise their authority with violence or clutch their jingling rings of proof in their pockets. They smiled, shook their heads, told the girls off, maintained control (as best they could) and earned rather than demanded respect. They knew they weren't all that different, but they did have a job to do, and they were going to do it right.

I get this. I totally do. I'm not sure if I realized this as a sixteen year old, but as a thirty-three year old, I recognize that I'm really just one or two breakdowns away from crazy myself.  It could happen at any time. In fact, isn't depression a mental illness? Isn't body dysmorphia?  If I have mild cases of both, I must realize that all it would take to put me over the edge is a nosedive into either or both of those trenches.  At the moment, the only thing keeping me from either is the decision (which is remade regularly) to choose health over illness.

This is the other really powerful insight the book offers. Deborah's therapist tells her that once Deborah has experienced both mental illness AND health, she will have a choice. She can choose Yr but will likely want to choose Earth. For now, she has never experienced health, so has no frame of reference for wanting to choose it. Yr is familiar and safe; the world is mean and terrifying; that's all she knows. But once she has experienced both, the therapist is confident that Deborah will choose health.  It will be the hardest choice she'll ever make, and one she'll make over and over and over again, but she will finally for the first time have an actual choice.

I think that's profound.

There is nothing simple about choosing health. It's not as easy as choosing baked chicken over pizza. It not only feels unreachable, it feels undoable. For one experiencing mental illness (and who has at least known what it was like to be well at some other point in life), be it depressive or psychotic or what have you, the choice may be visible far off in the distance but unreachable.  To make all the efforts and take all the steps that it would require to start the slow, difficult journey towards that unreachable goal seems impossible. Once you are in the throes of mental illness, it is a painful, seemingly impossible uphill climb to get out of it.  It's much less exhausting to remain sick.  At least that's my own experience.

However, once you've made that climb, however you managed it, it's important to daily make the choice to stay on top.  I've felt myself slipping so many times, yet reading this book, and now thinking of it as a choice (again, not an easy, flippant choice) has had a huge impact on me. It's far more worth it to fight slipping into depression, even though it takes so much out of me, than to effortlessly glide right back down into it (it's so easy to glide) and find myself at the bottom again looking up in desperation with no idea how to get out.

I'm going to post more on this later. I might get a lot of negative feedback on my interpretation of this, and disagreements are welcome! I recognize that my experiences are mild compared to so many others and value other opinions and comments.

And that leads us to...

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (A popular author's first book)
While Sylvia Plath published books of poetry prior to The Bell Jar, this was her first "novel", so I'm going to use that definition to check off this category.

This wasn't at all what I expected it to be. I'm still not sure how to interpret it.  It's basically a vaguely fictionalized autobiography, so I don't doubt anything in it. I'm just surprised by how, well, normal she was. In fact, maybe I'm even impressed. After reading I Never Promised You... above, a book where mental illness was explicit and strange, reading about a depressed, suicidal girl who "had it all" and, on the surface of it and in the eyes of others, had "no reason" to break down, was unexpected. But it plays into the same idea that any of us are just a few feet away from crazy.  She broke down, and not over any particular traumatic event, but simply from mental and emotional overload - or underload - or who even knows what.  She just happened to walk those extra steps that you or I haven't walked yet... but could. At any time.

I didn't love this one nearly as much as I Never Promised You... but I did really like it for its own worth. The most disturbing - and eye-opening - aspect of this book to me was her relationship with suicide.  We sometimes tend to think of suicide victims as morose and wearing lots of black or perhaps as social outcasts who cry alone all day in bed.  I'm not saying this doesn't accurately portray some suicidal people, but it doesn't cover the hidden majority.  In reality, studies have shown that those who actually go through with committing suicide tend to be very detached from the idea of death. They buy their bus tickets in the morning even though they plan to die that night.  They fill the fridge with groceries, all the while planning their deaths in very pragmatic terms. It's a matter of practicality. It's frightening.  It's life in the bell jar.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (A memoir)
All these books about mental illness brought to mind the movie Girl, Interrupted with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. I was pretty sure it was a novel first, so I searched for it, and found it, on Amazon.  I did not realize it was a memoir! I had assumed it was fiction. Being Susanna Kaysen's actual story (complete with hospital notes) made it far more interesting.

It doesn't read like a story. There is no narrative threading the story together.  I didn't even really feel there was an arc or climax, and at the end, she just sort of "got better".  No real discussion of how or why.  She just kind of did.  Instead, each chapter is either a vignette, a bit of commentary on a subject or a combination.  The little stories are colorful (and are what make up the plot for the movie), and the commentary is relatively interesting. Considering "borderline personality disorder" is such a vague diagnosis, she admits she finds it hard to discuss, for either she feels she is defending her diagnosis and trying to "prove" she was crazy or she ends up playing it down as nothing, which she knows wasn't true at all. All she knows is she wasn't well, and she did have some episodes of "crazy", but "borderline personality disorder" doesn't explain much of anything at all, which she laments.

I didn't enjoy this one as much as I Never Promised You... or even The Bell Jar, but I could relate.  I sometimes feel when discussing my own issues with depression or body dysmorphia or my relationship with eating, I am stuck between apologizing for not really having that big of a problem (when I know that's not true) or feeling like I'm defending my problems and making them appear bigger than they are in order to prove that they are valid and worthy of comment.  I heard an interview on NPR's Fresh Air with a journalist who suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after witnessing an assault on a woman. (She wrote a book about it.) The media tore her apart, claiming she had no right to suffer PTSD after merely witnessing an assault, when others had been through so much worse. She explains that it's not a contest, and people with PTSD do not discount other sufferers' trauma just because one experience was more violent or horrific than another. Suffering is suffering, to whatever degree and whatever the reason.  I think that's what Kaysen is getting at in this book. Her crazy looked different from another person's crazy which looked different from yet another person's, but at the end of the day, it's all real and it's all valid and it's all worthy of recognition.

And that, my friends, takes me down to 35 books to go!

P.S. I'm also trying to finish The Restaurant At the End of the Universe, the second book in the Hitchhiker's Guide series by Douglas Adams.  But since the rest of the series doesn't tick off any boxes, I probably won't review them. But I'm still reading them!

To see what else I have read this year: