A couple weeks ago, I was on a roll reading memoirs about mental health. I started with Susan Cahalan’s Brain on Fire, which pricked my interested, then picked up Madness by Marya Hornbacher, which was absorbing though sometimes unsettling, and moved on to Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson, which was totally hilarious.
“In Furiously Happy, a humor memoir tinged with just enough tragedy and pathos to make it worthwhile, Jenny Lawson examines her own experience with severe depression and a host of other conditions, and explains how it has led her to live life to the fullest.” (Goodreads)
I cut that Goodreads summary short because that’s what the book’s about and all you need to know going in. You don’t even need to read the rest of my review, unless you’re really interested in knowing what I thought of the book, because it’s best to just hop right in. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it.
When Marya Hornbacher published her first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, she did not yet have the piece of shattering knowledge that would finally make sense of the chaos of her life. At age twenty-four, Hornbacher was diagnosed with Type I rapid-cycle bipolar, the most severe form of bipolar disorder.
In Madness, in her trademark wry and utterly self-revealing voice, Hornbacher tells her new story. Through scenes of astonishing visceral and emotional power, she takes us inside her own desperate attempts to counteract violently careening mood swings by self-starvation, substance abuse, numbing sex, and self-mutilation. How Hornbacher fights her way up from a madness that all but destroys her, and what it is like to live in a difficult and sometimes beautiful life and marriage — where bipolar always beckons — is at the center of this brave and heart-stopping memoir.
Madness delivers the revelation that Hornbacher is not alone: millions of people in America today are struggling with a variety of disorders that may disguise their bipolar disease. And Hornbacher’s fiercely self-aware portrait of her own bipolar as early as age four will powerfully change, too, the current debate on whether bipolar in children actually exists. (Goodreads)
“It is only through mystery and madness that the soul is revealed.” – Thomas Moore
I bought Cahalan’s book about two years ago. I’d seen it promoted on various places online but didn’t pay attention to what it’s about. However, curiosity pricked me in December 2015 so when I saw the book in Barnes & Noble, I read a couple pages and was immediately hooked on Cahalan’s story. I knew then I had to buy it.
Fast forward to May 2017 when I again picked up the book because after abandoning it on my shelves for two years, I was finally in the mood to read it. Once again, I was hooked as soon as I started reading. It was as if I was reading one of those medical novels except everything mentioned in Brain on Fire actually happened because it’s Cahalan’s recount of a month she spent hospitalized while doctors scrambled to figure out what was wrong with her.
Lately, it’s been hard to keep up with my reviews or remember what I want to say in them. I was more organized last year because I would jot down my thoughts soon after completing a book in my spiral-bound notebook. But at the beginning of this year, I was so lethargic and sluggish when it came to reading and blogging that I stopped recording my impression of what I read immediately after completing the book.
Most times I’m able to write a decent review despite not having recorded my initial thoughts. I highlight so many passages as I read that once I reread them, I’m able to recall why I highlighted it, how that portion of the book made me feel, and what that particular passage made me think. So a notebook isn’t necessarily needed, but it is helpful in easing the load of thoughts I store in mind as I read more and more books without posting reviews of them.
Such a notebook comes in handy when I read library e-books that disappear after its due date without me having posted a review. That’s what happened with Alyssa Mastromonaco’s memoir Who Thought This Was a Good Idea, which is about how she became the youngest woman to serve as deputy chief of staff at the White House.
A Time Code is the first in a series of books called The Face where a writer pens a short memoir about their face. Ruth Ozeki structures A Time Code using an observation method she found in “The Power of Patience,” an essay by Harvard professor of art history and architecture Jennifer L. Roberts.
In her essay, Roberts says she tries to teach her students immersive attention by sending them to a museum or gallery to spend three full hours observing a piece of art and detailing their observations, questions, and speculations. Likewise, Ozeki details her observations, questions, and speculations about her face while looking at it in a mirror for three full hours.
Sounds difficult, doesn’t it? Ozeki is a Zen Buddhist priest but even she began to get fidgety after a while. She records her thoughts by first stating the time and then jotting down her thoughts. For example:
Shelf Control is a weekly meme created by Lisa at Book Shelf Fantasies where bloggers feature books they own and would like read. It’s a way for readers to take stock of what they own and get excited about the books on their shelves and on their devices.
This week’s book was made into one of my favorite movies. I bought it shortly after reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
My pick for the week:
Title: Under the Tuscan Sun
Author: Frances Mayes
Genre: Nonfiction, travel memoir
Length: 291 pages
Frances Mayes—widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer—opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy. Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book. Doing for Tuscany what M.F.K. Fisher and Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion.
How I got it: Barnes & Noble
When I got it: July 2013
Why I want to read it: I bought it shortly after reading Eat, Pray, Love for the first time because I wanted something similar to Gilbert’s book, another story in which I could experience new places vicariously though the author. When a co-worker told me the Under the Tuscan Sun movie was based on a book “that’s way better than Eat, Pray, Love,” I went to B&N and bought a copy. But when I got home and read the first page, I wasn’t as entranced as I was with Gilbert’s book so I didn’t continue reading. However I’d like to revisit Under the Tuscan Sun to see if I prefer it to the movie.
I tend to stay away from books about death, dying, sickness, leaving, abandonment. I don’t see it as me having a problem with others leaving or the permanence of a person who is gone, but maybe it is.
I grew up on a small island with my extended family. My parents were always away. They would visit or I would visit them; but no matter how long those visits were, they always seemed short to me. I hated saying goodbye and I still do.
Earlier in the year, Paul Kalanithi’s memoir When Breath Becomes Air was one of the most popular books. The buzz caught my interest and made me want to read it, but when I heard it’s about the author’s battle with cancer and that he later died, I procrastinated on picking up the book. Heavy emotions. I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to cry. Life was heavy enough without the fall of my tears adding to it. So I avoided the book.