54. Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So – Mark Vonnegut
If you went to undergrad where I went to undergrad, you could be essentially excommunicated from the English department if you didn’t love Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The unwavering adoration for his literary genius seems like the kind of thing he wouldn’t have appreciated, but it was the status quo. I never got into any deadly pretentious conversations about Vonnegut, thankfully, and I do love his work, but I do not love most of the people who love his work enough to be important in the English department social scene. And I had no idea until I read this memoir by his son Mark that he couldn’t write for long periods of time (I…didn’t do the supplemental reading…sometimes…) because of depressive bouts. Woo!
One of the major things going for this memoir is that it doesn’t really offer any perfect solutions. There are a lot of mental illness-based memoirs where you read through certain situations and then suddenly the person writing is “fine” because they got married or are in a new relationship and I just can’t really stand those bits. They’re not that helpful. Mark Vonnegut’s strategy involves trying to find a balance that will help him avoid severe episodes and it’s not just “being married” or “working too much,” it’s obvious that many aspects go into recovering and trying to stay functional. He also demonstrates how easy it is for a psychotic break to happen to a successful person – see, you can be successful or creative or both or also a pediatrician or not and bad shit can still take you down, it’s not a personal failure to have mental illness. Vonnegut also makes sure to make it clear that being perfectly mentally well is not really a thing either, and I like that. It takes that whole “aspire to happiness” bullshit down; in my opinion, taking that down is half the battle for maintaining levels of functionality.
“Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a [guinea pig].” – Kurt Vonnegut, “I Love You, Madame Librarian” (inthesetimes.com/article/903)
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.
5. The Zombie Whisperer – Jesse Petersen
Sarah and Dave return to Seattle to conclude the Living with the Dead series. I really enjoyed this entire series. It means a lot to me to see other writers working with horror tropes allowed some damn humor. I see no reason to try to survive in the zombie apocalypse if I’m just supposed to talk about surviving all the time. Recently, I did admit at a Torchy’s Tacos that I do not want to live if the zombie apocalypse were to happen. I think my massive problems with allergies are enough reason to just wait to be eaten. I don’t want to be around when the air conditioning stops working or when everyone who was enjoying some nice Torchy’s Tacos suddenly starts eating each other instead. Not for me. Sarah and Dave survived, they kept their marriage together, they can make survival tacos out of canned black beans and re-populate the world in my imaginary memory if they must. They’ve certainly taken up the torch of sarcasm in the post-apocalypse and for that I salute their story and heartily give up the idea of having my own.
Anyway, as a whole, I’m keen on this series as I said. On its own, The Zombie Whisperer is a bit weak for reasons that seem unfortunate. There’s just a smidge too much crammed into a small amount of space with some scenes that seem like they’re the correct length and others that felt rushed and although it makes sense, the couple-based complications of the last one are a little too on the nose for me. I definitely know that when ending a series things get complicated and I’m glad the action returned to Seattle, a nice full circle works in its favor. There is a bit of a scattered feeling to it for me, and I’m not sure that’s not influenced by the reading it as an ebook in Courier type… I have to say I’m also disappointed in the publishers for not giving the series a proper end in print. Tangential short stories only in eformat? Fine. But the end of a print series should be in print with the same cover style, out of respect for the series and its author if nothing else.
Twiglet knows how important it is to end a series right. It is just as important as knowing how to pose on top of a pumpkin, a skill Twiglet mastered in mere minutes.
13. The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group – Catherine Jinks
The previous novel in this series was excellent – except for the eating of guinea pigs…I’ve tried to make it clear to people that guinea pigs, based on their gestation period alone, are not the best choice for vampires – or the stupid hospital people on The Walking Dead (All the guinea pigs would have been dead already unless there were already some in the constantly air conditioned hospital and no one stressed them out during the initial stages of the zombie apocalypse…unlikely. Rabbits and rats already have wilderness experience, breed way faster, and rabbits are bigger! Ahhh! I will never get over these bad choices!) – partly because of how it altered the perception that vampires are so strong and full of stolen vigor. Jinks’ vampires are creaky and full of sloth, probably because they eat relatively inactive domesticated animals (see photographic evidence provided by Pammy and Twiglet below).
The werewolf sequel does not suffer from a lack of action, and thankfully some of the vampires do show up to slow it down a touch. It’s much more of a kidnapping story than a werewolf story. I’m not entirely sure that it was a good choice to speed the sequel up so much and throw it completely into action-territory as I ended up feeling like I didn’t really know the major characters. I was just following along to see what happened without any real stake in the outcome.
Pammy and Twiglet being relatively inactive. They were champion synchronized nappers and loungers. Eyes on the prize, ladies.
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.
38. Stranger With My Face – Lois Duncan
I’ve made it no secret that I love Lois Duncan’s books, especially Locked in Time, and Stranger With My Face is no exception. I’m not in the mood to double check myself before I wreck myself, but I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that this one is Lois Duncan’s favorite of her own books – and it’s awesome, so, not my favorite, but Lois the excellent writer can clearly be trusted to choose wisely. She should be sent after the grail. I mean, she can deftly weave in some supernatural elements, realistic characters, and is a real master of actual teenager suspense – plus, I find the literal end of the story funny- so, she’d get it. I don’t think she would even need the Henry Jones’ diary for help, and she’s certainly not going to Marcus Brody on anyone and get lost in her own museum. There should be a Lois Duncan museum. Thus ends my super helpful “review” of Stranger With My Face.
Which is Twiglet and which is Pammy? I know. I’m not sure that everyone who encountered them could tell me which is which though.
1. “Freedom Run” – Kyuss
2. “She’s My Witch” – Kip Tyler
3. “Body Electric” – Sisters of Mercy
4. “Cheree” – Suicide
5. “A Little Soul” – Pulp
6. “Ride a White Swan” – T Rex
7. “How Heavy This Axe” – The Sword
8. “Over and Over Again” – Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats
9. “Man for All Seasons” – The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster
10. “I’m a Demon” – The Wildbunch
11. “Endless Night” – Graveyard
12. “Fire” – Torche
13. “The Dark Age” – Widowspeak
14. “Sugar Baby” – The Kills
15. “What the Stars Have Eaten” – Deadboy & the Elephantmen
16. “Let It Go” – The Black Ryder
17. “The Suburbs” – The Arcade Fire
18. In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers – Caitlin R. Kiernan
This novella was my introduction to Caitlin R. Kiernan. She’s been recommended to me before and I’ve now read a few of her books, although I haven’t read Threshold, the novel directly related to this novella. In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers read like a sketch for a possible novel to me, like she was experimenting with side characters instead of trying to tell a complete story. It is a novella, but that doesn’t mean that fragmented ideas are going to tell the story for you; it really reminded me of seeing Hellraiser for the first time – I was interested, but I couldn’t quite figure the story out (mostly why I’d want anyone to escape Pinhead), was the point that mistakes were made? That puzzles will ruin your life? Why would anyone want to marry Julia?
Kiernan seems very much like a writer who works with impressions, atmosphere, and feelings rather than making her characters full as life, which is fine, but not really my cup of tea as a reader anymore. That sort of writing does seem to work best in short form, as I found when I read Kiernan’s The Red Tree. I’m hoping that reading Threshold will help this novella become more of a complete story to me.
Pammy and Twiglet cuddle for comfort against the outside of Twiglet’s home, soft flannel sheep sheets and bits of Timothy hay caress the pads of their little feet, they look the same but they are not.
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.
I’ve made Twiglet’s catchphrase “Snorecery” for a reason. It fits this situation.
6. The Sentinel – Jeffrey Konvitz
There’s this model – I pictured Katharine Ross because I thought I was reading the book version of that movie with the cat head coming out of a hand on the cover (The Legacy) but The Sentinel has its own film version – and she moves in to this brownstone. She has issues with both her religion and her father and her father died and she left Indiana for New York City and now she has this boyfriend who vacillates between creepily invested in her issues and avoidant and she wanted to move out so she found the apartment in the brownstone. Some super creepy people live in the building and she spends a lot of time fixing the apartment to her liking and ragging on the paintings the owner or previous tenants had chosen (this was very odd to me, but no one really loves anyone else’s decor). It reminded me that it doesn’t seem like the altering and the “this is not to my liking in this tiny space owned by not me, have it painted” happens as much now – it’s kind of take it or leave it in the finding an apartment game these days- at least for me. I hate apartments but current finances and space availability won’t allow me and the pigs to have our own house; I would especially hate living in a building where people often came to my door, to me neighborly=spooky and if main character not-Katharine Ross aka Allison the model was like me, maybe things would have gone differently for her.
Anyway, Allison the model has headaches and dizzy spells and she gets stuck in that fun loop of “this is happening/oh no, that’s not really happening you must be nuts” that happens in horror stories. I thought she had been previously possessed and that’s why she didn’t want to tell her boyfriend about her childhood trauma because this book clearly links religion and horror and when I think adolescent religious horror, I think possession. Plus she keeps messing with her cross necklace and her boyfriend asks her why she’s wearing it and constantly badgers her about what happened with her father. I was wrong, but I wasn’t on board with the resolution to this story either. In theory, everyone wins, but also no one wins.
Apparently this was a bestselling novel. It also has one of the creepiest covers I’ve ever seen.
Twiglet is hiding from the uber-creepy priest image on the cover of The Sentinel. It was a good choice not to use that same image as the movie poster and it really surprises me that something with that cover was a bestseller.
Filed under Books, Review