Tag Archives: Memoir

[Judge Perd is not a judge.]

3. An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison

“A Memoir of Moods and Madness” and a stone cold classic for anyone interested in mental health, An Unquiet Mind is also an engaging read. Jamison’s experience with manic behavior was extremely interesting to me – her description of running rather endlessly around a parking lot during the process of earning her degree and using “we’re psych students” as the reason when questioned stood out in particular. It sort of suits the trope of going into psychiatry because one has psychological issues, but, that doesn’t have to be true. It’s very possible to ignore your own symptoms regardless of what you’re learning about or what level of professional development you’ve achieved. Brains are tricksy.

One thing to remember while reading An Unquiet Mind is that, especially if you don’t have anyone to catch you or clean up the giant mess you may have made while manic, this is definitely not an instructional manual for what to do if you are also experiencing manic or depressive episodes. It’s a memoir, and it has helpful examples, but it is not a self-help manual. You may recognize yourself, you may end up being a little envious of some of the things Jamison has gotten to do, you may not even care about getting to stay in England for long periods of time to write (I miss it). It always amuses me that I know the struggle to publish as an academic writer exists, but when you read material from people who have ended up with published work, when they discuss writing their proposals it’s just like a given that it’s going to happen- of course it did, but, somebody should write in one of their failed projects too, give the folks at home something to relate to on the other side because there’s a lot of failed academics out there who probably assumed their work was going to get published too… (Full disclosure, I am not an academic writer. I’ve just seen a lot of stressed out academics as a librarian and I’m guessing not all of them had a streamlined path to publish their research. And I’ve read or skimmed a crapload of extremely dry articles, so I wonder if the academic writers with stronger writing voices are getting shafted.)

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.


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One thing I know will stay true for the next four years: Guinea pigs will still be cute.

63. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson

Last year ended for me under a dark cloud, this year started under one, and frankly I’ve been debating a lot about what to say or to post this year. I was tempted to just cover nothing but horror novels, and they might heavily feature in my posts, but I have a hard time with that because it isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be to find horror novels by female authors that appeal to me and I like to try to be balanced in my review coverage, especially when things don’t appear to be getting any easier for so many people. We are living in a time when people think feelings matter more than facts, being reactionary is somehow applauded, and being an elected official is losing its true focus – public service – when it comes to the highest office in the U.S. because of endless tweets and indignities. When your brain already tries to trick you into thinking nothing is going to get better, it just doesn’t help to watch someone light the match to make the world burn. It’s a lot to fight against both internally and externally.

However, I also appreciate a little escapism as much as the next person who can’t believe this is reality and that’s a little bit of what I’ve been providing content-wise here for several years. So, now I’ll let you gentle readers in on another little cloud that prevented me from posting – Miss Peregrine, queen to my herd, made it clear that she had ovarian cysts and had to be spayed; her surgery took place one week ago. I have never lost a pig to surgery and I know that’s unusual because I’ve had about sixteen pigs all together and several have had surgeries. Every time I’ve noticed and researched symptoms that would lead to surgery I’ve seen accounts of people who have lost their pigs that way. I also lost Danger Crumples last January, so January and anesthesia and I are not necessarily on non-terrified terms. Peregrine made it through, I’ve spent a lot of time hand feeding and staring at her and asking her to tell me how she feels to very little interpretable response, and she is doing well now.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn't need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn’t need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

To bring in a book, as would be tradition, I read Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson two years ago, but it surely will be helpful to people now and in the dim future. One of Lawson’s methods for dealing with depression involves a bit of funny extremism in that she will not strive to be happy, she will strive to be “furiously happy.” My version of that is being able to say “I’m actually a depressed person! I’m not just sad! I sometimes have very little will to live! Spring break!” to people who mention they’re “depressed” when their brain is not currently trying to tell them the world would be better off without them. Not that I do say those exclamations out loud – I’d never use that many exclamation points unironically. For shame, spring break, for shame. Many people are actually just temporarily sad, which is fine, but it’s not the same and should never be equivocated with depression. There are a lot of ways to be temporarily depressed, but they’re not all in need of medication or therapy and it’s not nice to equate things that will definitely alleviate with true depressive symptoms because it does tend to make people who need more significant help feel ye old stigma. Nobody needs that. Everyone’s sadness counts. Everyone’s sadness will not alleviate and you should be happy if yours does. Furiously happy.

A lot of whimsical descriptions of taxidermy appear in Furiously Happy, as does a Republican husband. I wonder about the current status of both of these, and Lawson does have a blog. It’s very popular, which is still not enough to cure depression. And if whimsical taxidermy did, I’d probably still be scared of most of it.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That's what queens do.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That’s what queens do.

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Misadventures in Memorial Library

72. Shoot the Damn Dog – Sally Brampton

I was hunting down a book that most likely was mis-shelved some time in the mid-1990s when this title gave me pause. In many academic libraries, the dust jackets do not make it to the shelves, the budget for mylar is very low… anyway, without their dust jackets, there’s no blurb to read and no illustration that could have told me that, hey, she didn’t mean just any dog and the book wasn’t about being very insensitive to pets. It took me a bit to realize that the dog referenced by the title is Winston Churchill’s black dog, the one that symbolizes his depression. That’s the long way round of explaining that this snappy title came back with me, unfortunately, the book I was hunting did not – and that is kind of rare. Technically. Book hunting is one of my best skills. I have learned from reading Shoot the Damn Dog that nicknaming my own depression or choosing a symbol for it, does not fall under any of my best skills.

Sally Brampton lives in London, bonus for her, and relates her very strenuous struggle with depression, and then alcoholism to treat the depression, and then depression again plus the knowledge that alcohol is very ineffective at treating depression, and what actually helped in her case. Hers manifested itself in her throat and so she called it her “throat monster.” I’m actually very disappointed in my depression for not even bothering to manifest in a specific area or take on a recognizable animal personality. I’ve always thought it was just part of my personality- any dogs or monsters would have a hard time convincing me otherwise, and I’ve recently done some reading about the connections between chronic respiratory illnesses and depressive symptoms and that makes more sense in relation to how my depression ebbs and flows than any specific manifestation. I can say that although the lack of animal personality disappoints me, reading about how others have survived their depression and how they experience their symptoms is very helpful. And when you have depression, seeking help is the main thing you should do. Especially if you can give yours a nickname, that’s significant.

Duncan was blacker than the blackest black times infinity, plus a giraffe nose and a couple of dark red rings, but she’s a symbol of cuteness and snippy guinea pig kind. Snippy guinea pigs help me find reasons to keep living through my depressive periods.

Duncan was blacker than the blackest black times infinity, plus a giraffe nose and a couple of dark red rings, but she’s a symbol of cuteness and snippy guinea pig kind. Snippy guinea pigs help me find reasons to keep living through my depressive periods.

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The word of the day is “disappointed.” Scream accordingly.

44. I Know I Am, But What Are You? – Samantha Bee

Samantha Bee has always been one of the correspondents I enjoyed most on The Daily Show so I was happy when I saw that she had written an autobiography. It seemed like a good way to find out more about her own sense of humor for longer than a Daily Show segment. I cannot say that I really enjoyed the experience of reading this though, there were parts of it that were pretty messed up and I can’t really sympathize with her short crime spree. I definitely cringed inside more than I snickered at anything that happened and it left me feeling uncomfortable as a human. Definitely not what I expected, but I guess I should have inferred that the reading experience might be cringeworthy based on the fact that the title isn’t capitalized on the cover of the hardback edition. What are you trying to tell me with that?

Twiglet, nearly napping in protest of the proper nouns that remain lowercase in the title.

Twiglet, nearly napping in protest of the proper nouns that remain lowercase in the title.

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I took her to a supermarket, I don’t know why, But I had to start it somewhere …

1o. Misadventures – Sylvia Smith

There are a lot of things to consider about this book in a larger context. Reading it was a bit maddening for me because all the chapters were so short that I was compelled to keep reading but the story itself was so flat that I spent time wondering why I continued and what I was missing (I’ve loved all my time spent in London and I enjoy dry humor and I kept thinking I’ve lost the inner translator I picked up while I lived in England. 42.). I pretty much never give up on reading anything, I can think of one book that I gave up on reading and eventually I’ll suck it up and get through the rest of the church and flower descriptions in Anne Rice’s memoir… However, not unlike Gillian Flynn’s novels, I see it a bit differently in terms of what it accomplishes. It’s an everyday woman story and it is always going to be important to document life and culture from all perspectives – not just those of the very adventurous or very wealthy or very addicted (there are reality shows for those things), even if the execution bores you to tears.

Belvedere studied sculpture at St. Martin’s College.

Belvedere studied sculpture at St. Martin’s College.

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Why am I sticky?

74. Just Checking – Emily Colas

Guinea pigs and I have several things in common – we cannot produce our own vitamin C, we have hair rather than fur, and we are at our best with a consistent routine. I came to this book hoping for some kind of insight into whether or not my personal tics that have occasionally made me seem a bit too particular in situations where I’m apparently not supposed to be so concerned about whether I sit in the exact same chair every time or the fact that someone put some kind of drizzle all over the plate underneath my sandwich when I specifically ordered a sandwich because I didn’t want to use a fork and there shouldn’t be anything sticky underneath a sandwich for fuck’s sake and now I have to leave because my brain is short circuiting are actually OCD. I have decided that they are not, but not based on this book.

I’m basing my “I don’t have full on OCD” armchair-self-diagnosis mostly on the True Life episode about OCD, that one David Sedaris essay where he wants to lick the light switch and has to rock a certain number of times before he goes to sleep, and a mild viewing of an A&E show that I can’t remember the title of. I’ve decided I just have anxiety, which I do, about many things. Don’t drizzle underneath sandwiches. That seems like it should be obvious unless you’re trying to force someone into a meltdown – why would anyone want anything sticky on their hands from underneath the sandwich?! I have eczema, I do not choose things that will deliberately force me to be sticky. That one nearly caused a public scene, and I had no idea it was coming or would seem as bad as it did in person, so it is stuck in my mental craw forever.

Just Checking for me was not an insightful reading experience. It felt like a slice of life with no purpose, no through line, nothing beyond the robotic reciting of events. The praise on the jacket promised much more, but perhaps those reviewers had the same specific concerns that Colas did. I found her to be a mite on the insufferable side even though I have some similar concerns. Really the whole thing disappointed me, because there are so many dude memoirs where their issues are meant to be funny or relatable, and I “just check” and worry about things all the time, but I couldn’t find any common ground here.

Pammy had a lot of beautiful little habits like not eating the parsley until the stalks were placed by her mouth – damn those messy leaves! - and eating celery stalks in little rows like she’s doing in this picture; I believe these were the result of being a pig who perhaps received too many treats and became accustomed to a different level of personal service...not my fault at all.

Pammy had a lot of beautiful little habits like not eating the parsley until the stalks were placed by her mouth – damn those messy leaves! – and eating celery stalks in little rows like she’s doing in this picture; I believe these were the result of being a pig who perhaps received too many treats and became accustomed to a different level of personal service…not my fault at all.

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I’m pretty sure Jez from Peep Show is Jason Mulgrew’s English equivalent. Jez might not finish his memoir though, unless Mark helps him.

42. Everything Is Wrong With Me – Jason Mulgrew

Ah, a memoir written by a guy who doth protest too much…I believe there are several of these. I’ve read two, that seems like enough. When someone spends a lot of time telling me that they did not spend very much time writing the book I’m currently reading because they were squandering their advance on bullshit and it shows, I get a bit tired. Don’t brag to me about your advance while writing about how much you suck as a person and how you’re a shitty writer and practically had to be forced to finish this memoir, it just makes me wonder how you got your advance to begin with and whether or not you and Cooking Dirty dude hang out and talk about how you just stumbled in to this “writing” thing. Clearly, Mr. Mulgrew did not stumble in if he was taking any kind of class from Steve Almond. Did he use magic to obtain a book contract? Commune with Satan? Blow the right person in the right bathroom? Other things I wouldn’t be caught dead doing? I mean, I understand from the back of the book that dude has a blog and that’s great. I have one too. He also has a family that he grew up with. You don’t say. It seems like some people have those. Said family is more interesting than he is, which isn’t terribly surprising. Honestly, I just wish this had a point. And I mean that in all the potential ways that the end of a rambling blog paragraph about a rambling book could mean.  The last chapter though, my reactions were, “Ew” and “What the hell is he doing using this as the epilogue?”

I can’t necessarily say that this memoir is without merits, I wanted to read it for three reasons: 1. The cover is awesome. 2. The preface about writing is dead on – it’s nice to see others acknowledging that you have to forgo the work you’d most like to do, that you’re inspired to do, in order to feed yourself. 3. There’s a blurb from my fave writing instructor Mr. Steve Almond that’s actually funnier than the entire book about when Mr. Mulgrew was his student.

Twiglet, "Snorecery."

I’ve made Twiglet’s catchphrase “Snorecery” for a reason. It fits this situation.

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35. Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters (2003 version) – John Waters

I love this book for many reasons, however the main thing I love about it is that John Waters included little story lists of things he loves and hates. He hates many little, arbitrary things. Me too. He also has a story about true crime paperbacks, which invaded my consciousness via repeated fixing of the 364.1523 shelves and haven’t left yet. Since I didn’t have to look up that Dewey designation (not initially, although I did double check to make sure I was right), I’m sure they never will.

John Waters is one of my role models, although I haven’t read his book called Role Models to find out what his are (beyond Squeaky, and I just can’t quite get behind that despite the shades of gray surrounding the situation), and I’m sure that watching his films as a young child had a profound effect on how much I enjoy high and low culture simultaneously.  Their influence could also have something to do with my taste for the absurd and morbid, although that’s more likely to have come directly from my borderline lifelong interest in Edward Gorey. If I was writing my own version of this book (which I could, I guess, but no one would care and I would have to do research to make the essays worthwhile…) there would probably be Gorey and Waters chapters interspersed between all the chapters about guinea pigs and other cute little fat things.

I use the Bauhaus title because I'm not dead, but I haven't been posting much. But I'm not dead!

Murderface is so cute….


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Have a Woodland Critter Christmas!

Since it’s the holidays and I’m about to undergo some serious changes at my current employment cave, I’ll be taking a break from writing reviews until January (unless I die unexpectedly or the world ends, but since I’ve mentioned both now neither will happen… ). There is something I would like to discuss, however, and that is search terms. I guess this is my version of breaking a narrative wall because there’s probably someone who wasn’t aware that WordPress totally keeps track of search terms that lead people (or robots) to blogs. I’ve become very fond of some of the ones that lead “people” to me and very afraid of what the searchers were really looking for. Here they are, with reaction shots:
1. The most frequent phrase: your eyes are like space crystals aka your eyes look like space crystals
It goes here: Sleepwalk With Me

Listen to me as I play this song/Cause I’m gonna play it regardless/I’m only playing three chords/So I can make eye contact

Thanks, Mike Birbiglia! I did enjoy your memoir and “Guitar Guy at the Party,” the place where I first heard that phrase. Belvedere’s eyes are way better than space crystals though.

2. Very puzzling edition: build a bear monkey names

I have no idea how that one led to me, but I am not unaware of the value of my naming abilities. But most likely it’s just because of this Jim Knipfel book: These Children Who Come at You With Knives

His name came from a badly translated paper about the movie Inception, it was the best thing I found in that paper.

Call me when they have Build-a-Pig. And not that kind of pig. – Danger Crumples

3.  No, really, what? terms: adult book store New Orleans

I’ve written several reviews of books set in New Orleans [ Pigeons from Hell , A Confederacy of Dunces , Ruined ] because I used to live about an hour and a half away and was a very frequent visitor. It is my official favorite place to go see traveling musical shows and drink on the street. But I haven’t written anything about that kind of book store…hmm.

I got carded going in to Second Skin, but that’s not really a bookstore. Me and Mr. Cheese were looking for the kind of masks that come with zippers, just to see if they were available for impromptu Pulp Fiction jokes. And they weren’t.

Duncan looks away. Away from her tired mistress who was probably at One Eyed Jack’s and Buffa’s the night before.

4. Right on terms: V.C. Andrews adjectives

I’ve only read Flowers in the Attic and that was an achievement unto itself so I feel comfortable saying that V.C. Andrews (and probably Andrew Neiderman, brand caretaker, too) loves adjectives. She adores them with the white hot fury of thousands of brilliantly shiny burning suns.

Andrew Neiderman also wrote Pin. I wonder if it’s minimalist.

She may have loved adjectives more than writing about blonde incestuous people. But the world and darling Murderface may never know.

5. Confusing spelling edition : sordkin day of oprichnir

I’ll admit, Oprichnik is a little on the hard to spell side. Two vowels, fun pronunciation, lots of people aren’t used to reading translations from Russian, it’s not that bad. It was still strange to read in my list of search terms.

In dystopian Russia, they have no memes.

Wait till they read it. – Mortemer endured my befuddled looks while I read Day of the Oprichnik

6. Ha ha, they might not mean Spaced terms: spunk beans

Simon Pegg’s book Nerd Do Well

There’s this cook book they might want to try. I heard about it on the internet and decided it was gross, but it’s available somewhere. And someone tested those recipes. On purpose.

Jar Jar Binks makes the Ewoks look like fuckin’ Shaft!

Seriously, it’s beans and spunk. Listen to Bill Bailey and pay attention with your childlike ears. – Pickles, not having it. Bel better know his Spaced quotes.

There will be two more parts to this saga of search terms. Reading it will feel like opening an incompetently constructed advent calendar.

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Eagles of Death Metal were playing for someone’s birthday that one time, if only I could remember her name…

66. Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown – Ryan Buell & Stefan Petrucha

It is Mr. Cheese’s birthday and he is very important to me so I’m talking about him instead of really bothering to review. I know this will be a shocking digression for anyone who keeps up with my reviewing… Anyway, one of the shows that Mr. Cheese and I used to enjoy together is Paranormal State. It was on A&E and now there are re-runs available on the Biography channel that I cannot see because I do not have that channel….ergh. Mr. Cheese and I find most programming about ghost hunting and documentation to be highly amusing. I’m not really bothered about whether or not it’s fake, because most of what happens would be relatively easy to fake, I like the characters and seeing the areas of the country that are supposed to be haunted. Abandoned asylum? Probably haunted. Condemned prison? Probably haunted. Got a respirator and a pagan ritual or some cleansing prayers? We’re going in. And it can be nice to see people at least pretend to appreciate the lives that have been led by people under duress and attempt to make sense of spooky noises.

Mr. Cheese and I’s favorite aspects of Paranormal State were the random appearances of Chip Coffey, enthusiastic psychic. Or maybe he doesn’t call himself a psychic, anyway, he is awesome. This one time, they were investigating a home that had housed a Nazi sex dungeon in Detroit (yep, Nazi sex dungeon) and when they brought Chip Coffey in, he had a number of loud, highly entertaining reactions. And he wears scarves, I am also quite fond of scarves and so is Mr. Cheese, we aren’t efficiently psychic though. We also enjoyed the underlying tension between Ryan and Serge, we knew there was something more going on and it turns out they own a dog together (I learned something from this book and that was it).

Here’s Mr. Cheese and his bestest guinea pig friend Morty, both trying to take a nap.

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