A compassionate, intelligent, and transformative book about trauma. As an aspiring clinical psychologist and writer, I look up to Bessel van der KolkA compassionate, intelligent, and transformative book about trauma. As an aspiring clinical psychologist and writer, I look up to Bessel van der Kolk a lot. In The Body Keeps the Score, he infuses empirical, innovative research with hands-on clinical experience to explain trauma in a clear, authentic way. I loved his emphasis on incorporating both biology and social relationships into our understanding of trauma, as awful events affect both the body as well as the actual life of a struggling individual. He clarifies many misconceptions by stressing how many victims of child abuse often go ignored when compared to war veterans, and he argues with much logic that we cannot just use drugs to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental illnesses. We must treat the whole person.
Dr. van der Kolk steers this book in a hopeful direction by discussing many treatment strategies for PTSD. He includes descriptions and research studies to support a gamut of methodologies, ranging from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy (EMDR) to Neurofeedback, and more. In particular I enjoyed reading about the Internal Family System approach (IFS), a mode of psychotherapy I had never heard of, which I found enlightening and holistic. Dr. van der Kolk emphasizes the importance of getting back in touch with our emotions and our bodies after trauma, and he gives many practical ways to do so, like talk therapy and yoga, just to name a few.
Dr. van der Kolk's genuine heart elevates this book above others. His vulnerability with his own story models a message for all of us to live by: only by confronting and accepting the past can we learn to live in the present. He writes about the importance of de-stigmatizing PTSD and mental illness, and he relates the issue of trauma to several societal factors, like the prolific amount of gun violence in the United States and the lack of socioemotional education given to our kids. Dr. van der Kolk, with great humility and insight, details his admiration for each of his clients - because they have overcome such devastating hardship, and they have had the courage to share their stories with him, and in some cases, others as well.
A stellar book I would recommend to anyone interested in trauma, mental health, or science in general. I noted so many well-written passages and cannot wait to reference this book in the future. I hope more people read The Body Keeps the Score - it would improve our society a lot....more
A cerebral and abstract homage to the art of personal narrative. Vivian Gornick skips over the fundamental techniques of creative nonfiction3.5 stars
A cerebral and abstract homage to the art of personal narrative. Vivian Gornick skips over the fundamental techniques of creative nonfiction to address the craft's deeper issues: the importance of empathy, the construction of the self, and how this style differs from fiction and poetry. She spends a large portion of the book analyzing other writers' work and dissects how they use their "selves" to separate the situation and the story. As a creative nonfiction fanboy, quite a few passages made me sigh in pleasure. One quote I enjoyed about the fashioning of a persona through nonfiction narrative:
"To fashion a persona out of one's own undisguised self is no easy thing. A novel or a poem provides invented characters or speaking voices that act as surrogates for the writer. Into those surrogates will be poured all that the writer cannot address directly - inappropriate longings, defensive embarrassments, anti-social desires - but must address to achieve felt reality. The persona in a nonfiction narrative is an unsurrogated one... The unsurrogated narrator has the monumental task of transforming low-level self-interest into the kind of detached empathy required of a piece of writing that is to be of value to the disinterested reader."
Overall, a thoughtful and thorough examination of the essay and the memoir. Those who want more direct instruction may feel disappointed with this one, because Gornick shares a few gems about writing and then applies them to a gamut of work. Still, her years of experience and deep appreciation of the craft shine in The Situation and the Story. Would recommend for those who want to get serious with writing personal narrative. A couple more quotes I loved from the book to end this review:
"In all imaginative writing sympathy for the subject is necessary not because it is the politically correct or morally decent posture to adopt but because an absence of sympathy shuts down the mind: engagement fails, the flow of association dries up, and the work narrows. What I mean by sympathy is simply that level of empathic understanding that endows the subject with dimension... For the drama to deepen, we must see the loneliness of the monster and the cunning of the innocent. Above all, it is the narrator who must complicate in order that the subject be given life."
"The idea of the self - the one that controls the memoir - is almost always served through a single piece of awareness that clarifies only slowly in the writer, gaining strength and definition as the narrative progresses. In a bad memoir, the line of clarification remains muddy, uncertain indistinct. In a good one, it becomes the organizing principle - the thing that lends shape and texture to the writing, drives the narrative forward, provides direction and unity of purpose. The question clearly being asked in an exemplary memoir is 'Who am I'? Who exactly is this 'I' upon whom turns the significance of this story-taken-directly-from-life? On that question the writer of memoir must deliver. Not with an answer but with depth of inquiry."...more
Touch me, taste me. Hear me, smell me, see me. Our senses form our most intimate connections. Even using them in writing evokes a sense of nearness, oTouch me, taste me. Hear me, smell me, see me. Our senses form our most intimate connections. Even using them in writing evokes a sense of nearness, of vulnerability. In her book A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman explores each of our senses with rich, resplendent prose. Reading this increased my awareness of the physical sensations within and around me in a thorough and authentic way, so I would recommend it to any aspiring writer or anyone interested in mindfulness.
Not only does Ackerman each sense in a real and vibrant way, she also delves into the science and history behind each one. Ranging from the complexities of the nervous system underlying our skin cells to how the olfactory nerves that contribute to smell also affect taste, Ackerman proves the extensive nature of her research while still writing in clear, readable prose. She also explores how each sense affected cultures and societies in years past. The diversity of this book and how Ackerman discussed senses in a variety of axes deepened her already impressive, thoughtful writing.
Ackerman has experience with poetry, and you can tell from her lush use of language. While her thorough prose and long paragraphs may come across as off-putting at times, her control as a writer and as a researcher make A Natural History of the Senses well worth the read. Overall, I would suggest giving this one a shot if you want to get more int ouch with your physical world, or if you want a great example of how to articulate our senses - connections many of us have yet take for granted....more
As someone who aspires to write a memoir of his own one day, I found The Art of Memoir both engaging and encouraging. Writing a memoir requires more tAs someone who aspires to write a memoir of his own one day, I found The Art of Memoir both engaging and encouraging. Writing a memoir requires more than just journaling memories onto a page. The practice forces you to punch yourself in the gut multiple times as you uncover the ugliest and most personal truths about yourself. Mary Karr offers several sage pieces of advice on how to do just that, ranging from the importance of remaining truthful to the skill of always addressing your target audience. She uses a gamut of memoirs, including her own, to use as case studies for her arguments.
On a deeper level, I enjoyed Karr's emphasis on voice. Therapy and memoir-writing differ in that the latter pushes you to scrutinize yourself with unrelenting, often-painful precision, all so you can cultivate a style to call your own - the compassion can come later. Memoir may appear simple because it originates from the self. But the amount and intensity of self-exploration required to pen a solid memoir highlights the genre's complexity: you must search yourself, over and over again, for the truth. Then you must meld it into its most honest, readable form. One quote from Karr's book that captures this process:
"Carnality may determine whether a memoir's any good, but interiority - that kingdom the camera never captures - makes a book rereadable. By rereadable, translate: great. Your connection to most authors usually rests in how you identify with them. Mainly, the better memoirist organizes a life story around that aforementioned inner enemy - a psychic struggle against herself that works like a thread or plot engine."
Overall, a wonderful book I would recommend to anyone who likes reading memoirs or may want to write one of their own some day. Though some parts dragged a bit, Karr does an excellent job of dispensing advice while honoring her own unique voice....more