THE ISOBEL JOURNAL is the art journal of an eighteen-year-old hipster girl, filled with photographs, drawings, and little bon mots in a scrapbook style. It kind of reads like a one-woman POST-SECRET meets AMELIA's NOTEBOOK. Sometimes the confessions are relatable, sometimes bizarre, and sometimes, really uncomfortable.
The art style is a little weird, but it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the book. I think Isobel is better at drawing objects and animals than people. Somehow, she manages to make everyone look forty-years-old. When she was describing people, I had a really hard time telling them apart. Especially since her style kept changing. >_>
This is a memoir of a woman in the porn industry. I did not know this when I applied for the book, since I was looking mostly at the pretty Asian lady on the cover done in water colors. But as I was reading the book, it quickly (i.e. immediately) became apparent that I had gotten into more than I'd initially bargained for.
Asa Akira is probably the most famous Asian porn star ever, and she's also apparently well known for doing anal scenes. I wouldn't know, I've never watched any porn (I haven't!), but I did Google her and...um, yeah, interestiiiiing pictures. NSFW. Eep.
Porn is a tricky thing. A lot of people talk shit about porn actresses and actors, and how scuzzy they are, which is ironic considering that porn is probably the #1 thing people use the internet for on average. There are a lot of consumers of pornography, and yet the suppliers of it are not respected.
In INSATIABLE, Akira talks about her work in porn, how she got there, her brief flirtation with prostitution, her delinquent childhood with shoplifting that even resulted in jail, and drug addiction. Akira has no shame about any of this and talks with a candid forthrightness that I'm sure many people will find off-putting. For example, during one of her shoots, she gets chlamydia. She also dates a man who turns out to be gay, so there's a lot of talk about strapons. At one point, she gets an abortion and there's a description of this, too. She talks about double-anal-penetration, blowbangs (giving eleven men blowjobs at once!!!! AHHHHH!!!), the trouble with dating while doing porno, scat, fetishism, cystic acne treatments, and so much more. TMI Tuesday? How about TMI 24/7.
Even though there were things in this book that upset me, or even offended me, I really respect Akira for writing this book. It's interesting to learn about the lives of people who have esoteric jobs like pornography. Especially since so many of these NA books flirt with it, and make it sound like something one is forced into after being abused by their step-dad or whatever. Akira came from a loving home, and her traditional parents had a hard time coming to terms with their daughter going into The Business, but they learned to deal with it because it made her happy.
I think that's one of the things I found so fascinating about this book. In an age where virgin heroines are put on pedestals and slut-shaming runs rampant, Akira loves sex, and has no shame talking about sex or doing it, in public, in private, whatever. She uses her sexuality to get out of traffic tickets (driving around without a license, she keeps her videos on the passenger seat), she's knows she looks good, and she's adventurous and always willing to try something new or different. It's empowering; because, hey--why not? Why should a woman enjoying sex be a bad thing? Or a shameful thing?
I don't like pornography, and I would never pursue this life for myself, but I think it's really interesting that Akira does. Good for her.
Each chapter opens up with a PSA-type letter reminiscent of Ted L. Nancy's Letters from a Nut series. I loved these letters; they made me smile with their blunt satire of American culture.
It is then followed by a funny anecdote that is pretty typical as far as comedic female memoirs go, except with a distinctly Korean flavor which sets it apart and keeps it from being too bland. She writes out her mother and father's accents phonetically & I could almost hear their voices in my head.
I'm not sure why this book has such a low rating. I found Choi's anecdotes both funny and charming. She's pretty much a Korean version of me. I got to drool over dried cuttlefish, reminisce over family trips without air conditioning gone horribly, horribly wrong, and laugh over parental expectations regarding a) college, b) career paths, c) marriage, and d) children.
It takes a lot of talent to be able to turn the ordinary into laugh-out-loud extraordinary. Fans of Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, and the like will probably really enjoy SHUT UP, YOU'RE WELCOME. I certainly did!
HOW THE WORLD WAS is a quietly nostalgic graphic-novel-slash-memoir that talks a...moreYou can read more reviews, faster, at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
HOW THE WORLD WAS is a quietly nostalgic graphic-novel-slash-memoir that talks about one man's pre-WWII childhood in Southern California. It's amazing, really, how much it has changed over the last hundred years. I've been to some of the places he was describing and had trouble picturing it!
This isn't one of those crazy memoirs that's so vogue right now, where the focus is on living in a Country of Interest riddled by political unrest, or Fun with Child Abuse, or Doing Drugs and Pissing Off All Your Friends and Family While Adding to the Stigma of Mental Illness. It's a very bittersweet look back at a childhood long past, with snippets of stories from his parents and his grandfather and various other family members.
I think it's the mark of a good storyteller when you can take something ordinary and still make it good because you tell the story with heart.
Some of the stories in here are so sweet, and made me think fondly on my own childhood. Others are really sad. There's a scene in here about his mother that almost made me cry. Little details like these take the polish off the nostalgia and make us realize just how much our society has improved.
(At least, technology-wise.)
The simplistic art really complemented the story. It's pseudo-realistic but minimalist and really works well to keep the story rolling without distracting the reader from the words.
I really enjoyed HOW THE WORLD WAS. Graphic-novels like these are especially refreshing in a genre overrun with superheroes and pulp fiction, but this one stands on its own.
At one point of this memoir, Wortmann says he is embarrassed to have Woody...moreYou can read more of my reviews, faster, at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
At one point of this memoir, Wortmann says he is embarrassed to have Woody Allen as the posterchild of OCD. Well, all I've got to say to that is, "Be that as it may, Wortmann makes for a pretty shitty poster, too."
The first 100 pages were pretty good and even though I couldn't really relate to Wortmann's experiences very well -- they differed so much from my own experiences with mental illness -- I could be sympathetic.
But there were many things about this memoir that left a sour taste in my mouth. His pretentious style of writing, for example. It reads like a college freshman's first attempt at a philosophy paper, full of thesaurus-issued words and navel gazing, and casual swearing that, I imagine, is meant to be ironic and self-effacing. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.
He is also incredibly, ruthlessly judgmental. Not just to his parents, whom he blames for his illness, but also to popular kids as a whole, jocks, fraternity boys, emo kids, geeks, and, eventually, even his fellow inpatients at the psychiatric facility. It took away a lot of my sympathy to see him speak so condescendingly about just about everyone else in this novel.
Finally, at some point he talks about his suicidal tendencies, essentially saying that negative reviews might just make him want to kill himself again. What the actual fuck is that. First of all, as a person who has experienced clinical depression, and known others who have struggled with the disorder as well, firsthand, I was completely disgusted. Asshole statements like these are precisely why we get labeled as "melodramatic" or "overreacting" and I resent him for saying such a blase thing.
Second of all, even if it was meant to be humorous, what with all the BBA activity that has happened as of late, I find this as far from funny as one can get. Don't blame others for your illness. Take some responsibility. Make your illness yours. And before you accuse me of being unsympathetic -- I've had social anxiety, depression, and OCD, all at some point of my life, in various manifestations. I know what I'm talking about. And I know that while you can never be completely "cured", you can (with some grave and tragic exceptions, I admit that some people are incapable mentally and emotionally of taking ownership, and they are absolved from this statement) take some ownership or you can choose to wallow in your diagnosis.
Persepolis is often discussed in the same breath as Maus, and now that I'v...moreYou can read more of my reviews, faster, at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
Persepolis is often discussed in the same breath as Maus, and now that I've read both I think that this is an appropriate comparison. Maus is an autobiographical comic book that tells an almost fantastical portrayal of the holocaust by using mice for the Jews and cats as the Nazis. Rather than taking away from the seriousness of the situation, the fantasy element makes the chains of events more striking.
Persepolis, on the other hand, is an autobiographical comic book about a young girl growing up during the Islamic revolution in Iran. She is very young, and precocious, so there is an element of fantasy here, too, as what one might expect to see through the eyes of the child. When the movie theater was burned down with the people alive inside, the drawing of the people blended with the flames, like ghosts of fire, haunted me, and stayed with me. A lot of the violence and horror was like that, all the more frightening by what was missing.
Marji is a very likable protagonist. She's like one of those annoying but endearing children who always have to ask, "Why?" I loved her parents, and how open and honest they were with her. Before the Islamic revolution, Iran was one of the more liberal Muslim countries. Marji attended a French school with boys and she and the women in her family did not have to wear veils.
After the revolution, all of that changed. The people in Marji's family were persecuted - and even executed - for their communist sentiments. Friends and their relatives were thrown into jail. Women were threatened with rape on the streets for not being properly garbed in a chador. This happened to Marji's mother, and she came home in tears, absolutely frightened out of her mind. There was an air-raid in Tehran by Iraqi soldiers firing SCUD missiles, and one of them hit the house next door to Marji and her family, killing their Jewish neighbors. We are treated to another horrifying scene- Marji sees her friend's turquoise bracelet in the rubble, around a bloody piece of flesh.
This is not an easy read. My heart hurt nonstop throughout this journey, and I cannot even attempt to imagine what it must have been like to grow up in a war zone. I cried several times, especially at the end. It is truly terrible what goes on in other parts of the world. Anyone who thinks we ought to go to war or bomb Iran needs to read this book. It's easy to reduce a country to an abstract, but we need to remember that innocent civilians are caught in the crossfire, too. People like Marji, and her family.
Initially I was really intrigued by the premise of this memoir. It's about...moreYou can read more of my reviews, faster, at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
Initially I was really intrigued by the premise of this memoir. It's about this guy who decides to post a fake status update saying that he's quitting his job and going on a Chris McCandless-esque journey. The idea was so crazy, I figured the guy had to be out of his mind. What on earth would cause someone to do something like that?
I guess Mr. Cicirelli was getting annoyed by the superficial nature of Facebook. People you aren't even really friends with add you as friends because - reasons. He points out that the disconnect is so great that you have to take their achievements at face value, and that's what spurred on this imaginary adventure of his.
At first, I was pretty interested...but the premise wore of pretty thin.
There are several reasons this book didn't work for me. If you do not agree with these reasons, this book might work for you. But if you think I'm onto something here, best give it a miss. :/
He's kind of a jerk. When he's peddling this idea to his friends and even a potential date, he comes off as incredibly pedantic and nasty. You have to wonder what kind of person would get so worked up over "Fakebook." I mean, whose fault is it for adding people who you don't want to be friends with in the first place? You don't have to accept just anyone. He keeps bragging about how good his photoshop skills are, but the pictures he shared from his exploits were pretty amateurishly done. You could tell they were fake. The way he condescended to his friends was disgusting. He got angry when they wouldn't fall for his stupid joke, but then he mocked them when they did. *sigh* He's twenty-six years old, and pulling stunts like this. When he goes out on a date with a twenty-two year-old and she doesn't understand what the purpose of his joke is, he calls her immature. He complains about hipsters, but it's pretty obvious that he is one. Overall, this was just a total miss. I found him unlikable and thought the stunt was stupid and exploitative - just another Joe Six-Pack doing something dumb so he could write a book about it later. No thanks.
Sometimes I feel sad, and when you are sad the best thing to know is knowing that you are...moreYou can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
Sometimes I feel sad, and when you are sad the best thing to know is knowing that you are not alone.
Today I felt really sad.
Then I saw this book peeking out from behind my bookshelf.
I opened it up...
And I read some of the secrets...
And realized that other people in the world are feeling sad right now, too.
That didn't make me feel 100% better, but it made me remember that I'm not the only one feeling down.
Sometimes I feel sad, and when I feel sad I either write or paste pictures in my scrapbook. This book comes with a page of stickers, and I used one of them in today's entry. By the time I finished working, I felt a little less sad and I had something pretty to look at.
Now I feel better.
Everyone feels sad sometimes, and this book is like hot cocoa or a hug for your brain. It won't fix what's wrong, but it'll make you feel like someone cares. <3
Who doesn't love a big, fat, juicy conspiracy theory that you can worry ar...moreYou can read more of my reviews, faster, at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
Who doesn't love a big, fat, juicy conspiracy theory that you can worry around in your brain like a piece of mental steak? Sarah Vowell plays the chef in Assassination Vacation to provide us lookyloos with our schadenfreude special of the day -- presidential assassinations.
I do feel it's imperative to provide a disclaimer, though. Kennedy is not mentioned. At best, he gets a sentence or two in passing. Poor Kennedy. No, the focus of this book is on Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley.
"Wait," you're saying, "I'm pretty sure that middle guy wasn't a president."
Wrong, Gentle Reader. He is. Or was, anyway. And he, and his assassin, have both been lost to the ages -- which is a right shame, because it's a gloriously convoluted tale of sex and scandal.
Sarah Vowell might just be my new favorite nonfiction writer, and not just because she plays the voice of Violet Parr in the Incredibles (which I need to rewatch, bee-tee-dubs), but also because she shares my fascination with things that society tends to give you the stink-eye for. Things that aren't -- how you say -- subjects for the dinner-table. Also, she's afraid of driving. There! You see? I'm not the only one! Ha!
Her passion for history is really great. It's a shame she's not a teacher, because I think she'd make a great guest lecturer at a university. Can't you imagine it? Offings through the Ages: Assassinations in History. Oh my gosh, I would totally sign up for that class, although I bet it'd have a waiting list a mile long. Which just goes to show you that as judgmental as people are in public, they really can't help themselves. When they see an accident, they grab a folding chair and start pushing and shoving to get the best seat.
How else would you find out that John Wilkes Booth's brother, Edwin Booth, had totally opposite ideology from his brother, and lived under that dark cloud of shame for the rest of his life? He tried to repair the Booth rep, even performing Hamlet (his brother's famous role) to standing ovation. He also created the Players Club in Gramercy Park back when playacting had about as much honor as being a prostitute.
You might also be interested to know that you can look at the fragments of Lincoln's skull, as well as the bullet that killed him, on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. If you're more fascinated with Booth, you can find pieces of him pickled in a jar at the Mütter Museum.
Or let's get back to the sex and scandal behind the assassination of that long-forgotten president James Garfield. He was offed by a member of a polyamorous sex cult called Oneida -- a cult that was the subject of much furor because of their anti-love sentiments. They were stealing the town virgins, having old men disillusion the girls of romantic fantasies, and having old post-menopausal women play cougar to the inexperienced boyfolk in order to cure them of preejaculation. Other men wanted their share of virgins, too! (The women probably did as well, but women couldn't vote yet, so their opinions obviously didn't count.)
One of those men who wanted his share was Charles Guiteau. The difference between him and the other guys though, was that he was actually a member of Oneida. None of the other members would sleep with him, though! (Sex in Oneida had to be consensual.) The poor man couldn't get laid. Is it any wonder that his thoughts began turning murderous? Of course, he was crazy to begin with, causing everyone at his trial to bust a gut laughing -- and right before he was hung, he sang a tune called "I'm Going to See the Lordy."
Incidentally, you can see Guiteau's brain on display at the Mütter Museum, as well.
And let's not forget McKinley and his assassin, Leon Czolgosz, a depressed and impoverished lower-class worker who was out of job as well as out of mind. Their story is not quite as entertaining, although you may be interested to know that a statue of McKinley constructed in Arcata, California is the subject of much controversy, and at one point the statue's head and ears were stuffed with smelly cheese!
There's plenty of grist for the gossip-mill's grindstone in this book -- and the best part of all is, it's educational. Which means it's totally okay for you to enjoy it. Just you know, expect those weird stares.
My senior year of high school, I had a science teacher. It was basically remedial science...moreYou can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
My senior year of high school, I had a science teacher. It was basically remedial science for people who were too dumb to take chemistry or physics. Basically, it was a cop-out. But the teacher was a really good teacher, and I learned a lot in that class about a lot of things, from biology to astronomy to skepticism.
There were some smart people in that class, but there were also some dumb people too. Some of those dumb people happened to be douchebags. They were always giving our teacher a hard time, asking him about his religion, how much money he made, where he worked his second job. The teacher did not answer any of these questions, because he took his job very seriously and had very strict ideas about what was professional and one was not. But one day, when one of the douchebags asked him, "What do you believe, Mr. _______?" he said something interesting.
He said, "I believe that we are all made of stardust."
The douchebag's response to this was, "That's gay."
The teacher went on to talk about Big Bang Theory and how the universe all began with one giant explosion. Supermasses formed and then broke apart, and those tiny pieces swam together to form the stars and planets that we know today.
Then he said something even more interesting. "Everything is a part of everything else. There are atoms from dinosaurs inside of you. Whenever you drink water, you are drinking dinosaur pee."
Jesus fucking christ! I thought. I'm made out of dinosaur piss and starshit? Now that's something I can believe in.
I don't usually like self-help books, and I find it incredibly irritating when famous people suddenly decide that they are qualified to pass on their knowledge to others as if they were somehow the exception to the rule that governs the rest of humanity.
I approached this book expecting it to be remedial self-help, and instead came away with more than I expected.
Augusten Burroughs is one of those people with whom I have a love-hate relationship. He can be quite funny and, indeed, I giggled several times throughout this book, but he can also be quite pretentious and full of himself. Other times, he can be very mean. Sometimes he is mean and funny and you laugh, but then you feel bad, but sometimes he is just mean and you flinch mentally and think, "Who the fuck does this guy think he is?"
Augusten fucking Burroughs. That's who.
But this book really does contain some good advice.
I guess part of this can be chalked up to the sheer number of therapy sessions and groups he went to, taught or headed by psychologists from a wide variety of schools (from what I remember from his other books, everything from psychoanalysis to positive psychology to CBT to AA). If you go to enough groups, just as if you experience enough of anything else, you can usually get a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.
One thing you will quickly learn about Mr. Burroughs is that he has no patience for bullshit, well-meaning or otherwise. Especially if it's well-meaning, because who the fuck do you think you are?
Not Augusten fucking Burroughs. That's who.
I think one of the best things I learned from this book is that chanting self-affirming mantras if you have low self-esteem only makes you feel like a tool chanting self-affirming mantras in front of a mirror while looking like a tool. I have low self-esteem, and people have often told me to just get over it or think happy thoughts. It totally does not work like that and there is proof! It only works on people who already have high self-esteem.
Sometimes the things that Mr. Burroughs says are quite insensitive, at least at first, and I wonder now if that just shows how ingrained some of our tentativeness and abject fear is when it comes to chaos in society. Especially enabling or willful blindness. Either humor the other person or ignore it and hope that it will resolve itself. What kind of a way is that to deal? And yet it is what we do.
I also think that there is quite a bit of "look how awesome I am for going through all this stuff and still being awesome; you have nothing on me, I'm Augusten fucking Burroughs, and therefore you have no excuse to be miserable trololololo~" going on. Not enough to be annoying, but just enough to cement the opinion of him that I already have: he is a very entertaining man, but I am not sure I could stand to be around him for very long.
But this book made me want to like him as a person. Almost.
Just remember. You're made out of dinosaur piss and starshit, and you are you fucking you!
For a brief period during my stint as a college student, I was a Philosophy minor. Not be...moreYou can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
For a brief period during my stint as a college student, I was a Philosophy minor. Not because I had any real interest in the subject but because I was led to believe that I would have to have a minor in order to graduate. It's a long story, filled with cursing, unwilling suspension of disbelief, more cursing, unleashing hideous acts of violence upon copies of Hume, and sentences beginning like, "But science says..." or "That's not practical...", but in the end, Philosophy and I learned that we were not meant to be. Ever. Especially not within 200 yards of one another.
However, if there was one useful thing I took away from Philosophy, it was the idea of qualia (actually I also really like utilitarianism, existentialism, determinism, and Turing tests, but I digress). Qualia is basically the idea that there are properties about things that you cannot understand unless you experience them. It is the property of "what something is like."
Qualia is what came to mind while reading Still Life with Oyster and Lemon, as Doty talks about how subjective art is, and how so much of our appreciation of art comes from reading between the lines. His definition of art- and poetry- is that art is self-contained, an aesthetic lowest-common-denominator; you cannot reduce art without losing some vital component. Meaning is lost. Apparently Doty is a poet. I have no difficulty believing this; the way he plays with words is nothing short of remarkable. I had to keep putting the book down because I was like, "That toy looks fun! I want to play too!"
A large portion of the book is focused around a specific Dutch painting: the eponymous Still Life with Oyster and Lemon. Doty launches into an artist's critique of the painting, followed by a short but fascinating history of Dutch painting and the making of paint, and then anecdotes from his own childhood, and then the sad moment in his life when his boyfriend was slowly wasting away and how even as his medical equipment pushed out other furnishings, he always made room for art.
In retrospect, Doty covers a rather bizarre assortment of subjects, but he ties them together so neatly that I didn't even really notice. Which is rather like a still life in and of itself- a still life painting has several objects that have nothing to do with each other at all until they are immortalized on canvas, as part of a visceral collection implying- but not showing- human life.
After reading this book (I read short stories like these while working out because it is gross to be holding some epic mega-tome while your hands are all sweaty), I poured myself a glass of ice water. Then I ate some of the ornamental plums from our backyard. Most ornamental plums are really sour because they're bred for looks and not taste, but ours are sweet and taste like a cross between a cherry and a plum. (I jokingly suggested to my mom that we open up a roadside stand and market them as "chums." She pointed out that people might not find that appealing, especially since the plum juice is rather squickily similar in color to blood and, therefore, fish guts. LOL.) The qualia of eating fresh-picked, tree-ripened fruit is not often experienced nowadays, since most people don't have the time to grow a tree and then wait for the fruit to be in season.
In a way, the same is true of art. We have gone from oral histories to books to movies to two-minute Youtube videos. Few people have time to go to museums, and when they do it's usually some Olympic event that goes something like, "Okay, we have just enough time to see the Mona Lisa and then let's go see the Byzantine pottery real quick so we can say that we saw what's on that postcard we sent to your Aunt Gladys." Still Life with Oyster and Lemon shows, in less than one hundred pages, that aesthetics are a necessary part of life, and one that cannot be rushed.
After I ate my plums, I ate some dates. And I realized that while it had taken me two hours to work off the candy bar I'd eaten, I hadn't gotten anywhere near the same satisfaction as I had from the naturally sweet dates that took far more time to eat, and satisfied that hunger far better than the 3 Musketeers Bar had. Fast and efficient may be convenient, but sometimes slow and steady really does win the race.
women's rights have come a long way over the last century, but i still get frustrated whe...moreyou can read more reviews at my blog, the armchair librarian.
women's rights have come a long way over the last century, but i still get frustrated when people tell me things are totally equal now between the sexes because that simply isn't true. jen kirkman points that out in this hilarious but tragically accurate memoir about the pressures of being...childless.
jen kirkman is childless by choice for a variety of reasons: she loves her career and doesn't want to give it up for diaper-changing and endless sleepless nights; she doesn't have patience for or particularly like kids; and she's grossed out by the idea of pregnancy. these are all good reasons for not wanting kids.
other people, however, don't see it this way. women are supposed to procreate, dammit. that's all they're good for. them and those fallopian tubes. random strangers go to her shows and then corner her in the bathroom and tell her that one day she'll come to her senses and give up comedy for the joys of motherhood. a nail stylist tells her that in her country, jen's choices would be an embarrassment and a dishonor upon her family. she gets called "selfish," or told that she'll "change her mind" or that she's going to "die alone." since when did it become public right to criticize perfect strangers about their family choices?
this sounds too horrific to be true, but it really is. i've had people tell me since i was about eleven-years-old that i would be a great mom just because i love kids. i love being around kids, teaching them and playing with them, but there are many other aspects of it that just don't appeal to me. in some ways, i'm a bit of a kid myself, and the idea of being responsible for a small fragile creature that seems determined to put itself in harm's way is terrifying.
personally, i think there is nothing more selfish than having a child you aren't ready for, or aren't 100% sure you want. having a child because you think that it's what society expects will only cause you to harbor resentment against your kid, or try to live out your dreams through it vicariously like those poor little girls on the toddlers and tiaras show. that's wrong. on so many levels.
i found this really amusing. at first i was afraid (i was petrified) that this was going to be another one of those memoirs about spoiled women who do really reckless and irresponsible things, and act like men (or the stereotype of men, anyway) in the name of feminism. like, you know, sex and the city. apparently she's a friend of chelsea handler; i think she's actually funnier than chelsea.
definitely a must for fans of female comedy, or for women who are well familiar with the pressure of starting a family you aren't ready for.
Warning: this is not an easy read. And for obvious reasons, people who are...moreYou can read more of my reviews, faster, at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
Warning: this is not an easy read. And for obvious reasons, people who are sensitive to rape and (sexual) abuse triggers should not read this book, as it is a no-holds barred account of Ms. Hayes's experience being forced into prostitution in Italy and France at the hands of her abusive captor.
From the beginning, I could tell that this was going to be difficult. Sophie's life is never perfect. Her father was emotionally abusive to her and her brothers, and she (insightfully, I thought) attributes this to her difficulties making and maintaining relationships with men later on in life. The way she treated Erion was heartbreaking because he was such a good man, and she just trampled all over his heart. I had to remind myself about the kind of baggage she was dealing with because at times like these it was very difficult to sympathize with her.
Anyway, after she and Erion break up, she gets together with her friend of several years, an Albanian man named Kastriot (Kas).He takes her to Italy on the pretense of a vacation, but once there he confiscates her passport and tells him that she has to go into prostitution to "repay" him and to "prove her love for him" and when that doesn't work, he resorts to threats saying that he will have her two younger brothers tortured or killed if she doesn't comply.
It really is quite sickening, the things she had to go through, and I felt nauseated when I read what her first night was like. Obviously, she survives, because she wrote this memoir, but it was just disgusting, that a man could be so cruel and awful and horrible and monstrous. Trafficking is a real problem, one that I feel many people don't really take seriously, what with all these new romances coming out that romanticize sexual slavery. I definitely think anyone who wants to write a book like that should read one of these memoirs first, to get an idea of how traumatic it is, and how much resilience it takes to survive in conditions like that.
In philosophy, there is something called "The Liar's Paradox." Basically, it involves a s...moreYou can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian!
In philosophy, there is something called "The Liar's Paradox." Basically, it involves a statement that is doomed to be incorrect no matter how you look at it. If a man says, "I am lying," he is either telling the truth, or he is lying. If he is telling the truth, then the statement is false. If he is not telling the truth, then the statement is still false. Paradox, either way, ad infinitum.
While reading Confessions of a Sociopath, the Liar's Paradox kept returning to mind, because sociopaths are by definition manipulative, charming, conscienceless liars by nature. So whenever Ms. Thomas seemed to be making a point to have me warm up to her, either with insecurities or abusive home environments, I could never get past the fact that it was probably a calculated attempt on her part to appear less harmful than she actually was: as if she was consciously thinking, "There, this will show people that sociopaths aren't so bad."
And who knows, maybe she was.
There were parts of this memoir that were engrossing, others that I found utterly repulsive. I was irritated by her attempts to rationalize her behavior through religion and economics. Her repeated claims that the sociopath brain might, in fact, be better than the so-called empath brain had me rolling my eyes. It was quite clear, from her narrative, that she was missing something crucial. As the creepy cover shows all too viscerally, the face looks human but the soul is gone.
While I was posting status updates about this book, I received some interesting comments and took part in some intelligent debate with some people on my friends list about psychopathy and sociopathy. It's a very tricky diagnosis, for the exact reasons that make the sociopath so dangerous: they are adept liars. Therapy doesn't work, because if you send a sociopath off to therapy they tailor their responses to what the therapist wants to hear, and became that much better at faking chagrin or remorse. As of today, there is no successful rehabilitation for sociopaths; quite the contrary: they tend to repeat the same crimes over and over because they have no sense for consequences and learn nothing from punishment.
I feel like this flat, distant way of looking at the world really showed in the narrative. It was chilling, and creepy, and downright unnatural: it was as if I was being followed by one of those portraits with the moving eyes, like in Scooby Doo. The detached curiosity or annoyance by emotional displays, the utter bewilderment by unwritten social codes and mores--it was very alien.
Ironically, while sociopaths may be good at manipulating and faking at being empaths, I think empaths are actually better at projecting themselves into the minds of sociopaths. Because that's the nature of empathy, being able to put yourself in somebody else's shoes and see the situation from their perspective. Thomas sees emotions as weaknesses, but then why would so many people have empathy if it was an evolutionary disadvantage?
Natascha Kampusch was an Austrian girl from a dysfunctional family. Her father let money...moreYou can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
Natascha Kampusch was an Austrian girl from a dysfunctional family. Her father let money slip through his hands like water, and her mother, faced with keeping the family with enough to eat and pay the bills, sometimes took out her frustration on her daughters. Unhappy, Natascha turned to food for comfort, to the point where she became a very overweight little girl. Her life was maybe not the ideal, but at least it fell within the normal spectrum. All that changed when Natascha was ten years old, and kidnapped a white delivery van with tinted windows.
This was not an easy read. Three things make me really make me angry- abuse of children, abuse of animals, and misportrayal of mental illness and physical handicaps. This book had two of those three things. Natascha underwent horrible treatment at the hands of her kidnapper, Wolfgang Priklopil: starvation, beatings, constant observation, psychological torture, sensory deprivation, abuse, possibly sexual abuse, and so much more. This started when she was ten and lasted eight years.
The most frustrating aspect of this book was how close the Austrian police came, several times, to finding Natascha- only to fuck it all up. There were several tip-offs that the police received and then chose to disregard, including one with a description of Wolfgang abducting the girl and a description of the van used. Police actually at one point inspected the van, but for whatever reason, disregarded to do a more thorough search. When these mistakes became apparent, the police chose to terminate the investigation rather than admit to their mistakes.
Natascha ended up setting herself free. Starved and bruised, she told her kidnapper that one of them was going to die, that he should either kill her or let her go, but that if he did choose to let her live then he should kill himself. Which he did, ultimately, by throwing himself in front of a train. Despite years of having the outdoors portrayed to her as an aversive stimulus, and being taught by Priklopil to fear and avoid strangers, she ran until she found someone who would call the police for her.
My heart broke when she was ultimately rejected by the community for choosing to seek autonomy rather than permit them to treat her like a victim. I can completely understand her choice to not disclose the personal and sexual aspects of her capture- I wouldn't want my most intimate details being released to public scrutiny for their own entertainment But I guess a lot of the people in her country didn't feel that way. She received letters from creepy men offering marriage proposals or sexual favors, and letters from woman offering her positions as a maid or live-in servant. When she refused to say that her captor was Evil with a capital E, people attached to her the label of "Stockholm Syndrome Victim" and even accused her of being Wolfgang's accomplice.
I guess it just goes to show how completely fucked-up we are as a society, that when someone refuses to conform to our mold of what a victim should be like, we immediately resort to victim blaming. Well, good for her, I say. Autonomy is something everyone should strive for, if it is something they are physically and psychologically able to do, and I applaud her for having the courage to take her life head-on.
After eight years of constant observation, I'd probably want some privacy too.
A debonair con-artist who gets all the ladies and then gets let off with a slap on the wr...moreYou can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
A debonair con-artist who gets all the ladies and then gets let off with a slap on the wrist because he's an upper-middle-class white boy? Oh dear. I can just see a bunch of Republicans waving this book around and saying, "See? See this? The liberal news media wants to turn all our kids into criminals by glorifying crime!"
I'm pretty sure my mother gave me a copy of this book when I was fourteen in an attempt to wean me off the Stephen Kingesque books I was reading. And let's face it, a bit of "aww shucks" grifting is far more cheerful than a bunch of evil sewer clowns with killer balloons. True story.
Catch Me If You Can was interesting. A bit unbelievable in the here and now, when you practically have to get a retinal scan just to use your membership card at Safeway. Even as a kid, I gave my book the side-eye and thought, "Really? It's that easy? Oh moo-oo-ooom, I know what I want to be when I grow up!"
But impersonating doctors and pilots? That pushed the line. I mean it's one thing to write a fake check (listen to me here, hahaha) but impersonating people who require special training in order to not kill the people they're providing the service to? Um. That's less Dennis the Menace and more Menace to Society.
Last year I read a book called The King of Sting about this random guy who decided randomly that he was going to get involved with cocaine dealers so he could have the thrill of busting them. Isn't that genius? I can't believe nobody's ever done that before. I wonder why....
*looks at Scarface*
Oh, wait. That's why.
Interestingly, both books showed the same lack of remorse. It was more of a "look how awesome I am! and I did it for the lolz!" outlook on their crimes, rather than a GOP-approved "crime is wrong, I know this because I am now a law-abiding citizen in a heterosexual marriage who goes to church every Sunday" outlook.
I haven't seen the movie, and I doubt I ever will, because Leonardo DiCaprio will forever be branded as 'the man who drew Kate Winslet's boobies on the sinking ship' in my inner eight-year-old's mind, and this makes it extremely difficult to take him seriously.(less)
Give Me Everything You Have chronicles how the life of a professor crumbles after the smo...moreYou can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
Give Me Everything You Have chronicles how the life of a professor crumbles after the smothering idolization and infatuation deteriorates into a suffocatingly intense hatred. James Lasdun was a writing professor at a university who taught workshops. One of his most promising students struck up a correspondence with him on her quest to publish. It seemed like the two were destined for friendship--until the relationship soured.
Stalking is a subject that is of interest to me, both for personal reasons and for the sake of pure intellectual interest. I suspected from the get-go that mental illness was going to play a key role in this memoir; the obsession, the drive, and the sheer intensity of the hatred required to fuel the two aforementioned behaviors, bespeak maladaptive behavior and thought patterns.
I wanted to sympathize with Mr. Lasdun, but he made it extremely difficult to feel pity for him. Not that I blame him entirely for what happened (I don't), or that I think he received his just desserts (I don't), but I do think that his role in the escalation of these events was not as minimal as he might like to believe.
✉ When the emails from his student turned flirtatious and sexual, he should have terminated their correspondence then and there . The fact that he continued to talk to her after this happened several times does not look good for him at all, and I could understand how someone with BPD might believe that he had "led her on". At the very least, his conduct was inadvisable, if not unprofessional.
✉ This wasn't a book about being stalked so much as it was about Jewish history, culture, literature, and an affronted view of how men are basically victims of false cries of rape. I wanted to feel sorry for Mr. Lasdun--and I certainly feel for his wife and children--but he was so unlikable. He analyzed everything to the point where it seemed, as another reviewer pointed out, like navel gazing. He compared himself to Gawain, even to Jesus and Judas, and waxed tirelessly on the brilliance of authors as Tolstoy, Eliot, Lawrence, and Highsmith. Yawn. Yawn. Yawn.
His criticism of Goodreads not having a report option was laughable, especially when he said that that was the only reason an offensive review of his book was still there. I also thought thatpointing out and naming that reviewer as possibly being his student reeked of BBA. What if wasn't his student? I kind of got the sense that Lasdun was encouraging people to seek out his abuser, and abuse her in turn. Indeed, when I checked that review out, it had several extremely abusive comments.
✉ His armchair psychiatry is extremely offensive--and also blatantly wrong. He confuses the definition of mental illness (maladaptive behaviors/thought patterns causing distress, inability or difficulty to function, harm to self and/or others physically, psychologically, or emotionally) with the criminal definition of insanity (being unable to tell the difference from right/wrong and/or recognize potential consequences at the time of committing the criminal act).
He also does not seem to understand what Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is, let alone that his student in question actually has it. The diagnosis was actually suggested by a policeman, who said that his student's obsessively abusive behavior reminded him of his BPD daughter. As a psychology major, I find the hubris of people who attribute their own diagnoses to others sickening and arrogant.
BPD does not mean that the person "chooses" to be sane or crazy as they wish, as Mr. Lasdun apparently believes. That is wrong. So, so, so wrong. Rather, people with BPD tend to have a very black and white view of the world, rife with internal chaos and self-hatred. Anything less than absolute praise is an insult, and their personal relationships tend to fluctuate wildly from absolute love and perfection to total hatred and imperfection. When people cannot live up to their expectations, they become angry and betrayed.
BPD is frequently accompanied by drug use, promiscuity, and self-harm/violence. It is a tragic disorder, and if you are curious about firsthand experiences of it, the woman who wrote Girl, Interrupted (Susanna Kaysen) was afflicted with BPD. The sad thing about personality disorders is that a) they tend to occur in clusters, or with other mental illnesses like mood disorders, and b) people with personality disorders don't see themselves as having the problem--they see other people as the problem--and are likely to meet suggestions of seeking help with extreme anger.
When Mr. Lasdun and his colleagues sent the student in question the letter inviting her to seek help, I flinched internally, because that was pretty much the worst thing that they could have done to someone with her unfortunate ailment. Had any of them actually bothered to research BPD, it is possible that the situation might not have escalated to this point.
✉ While reading this, I couldn't shake the dawning suspicion that the motives behind this, were, at least in part, meant as a publicity stunt. The nonstop commentary about literary novels, the references to his own works and skills as a professor (including teaching at Princeton), and his vehemence at his student's critiques of his work as being racist and sexist, made me wonder.
This had some interesting insights on stalking, and I have to say it was unique reading from a male victim's perspective about a female perpetrator, but the execution was rather dull and watery, and I had difficulty dredging up much sympathy for the author based on his highhanded sanctimoniousness.
Dwarf was an interesting read. It's the memoir of a woman with a rare variant of dwarfism...moreYou can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
Dwarf was an interesting read. It's the memoir of a woman with a rare variant of dwarfism--one that causes serious problems in the limbs with age. Her arms were so short that she couldn't even reach up to touch her ears or brush her hair! So she got a controversial, highly experimental surgery to lengthen her limbs.
DiDonato does an excellent job conveying the pain of her surgery. To lengthen her bones, they had to be broken, and then she had pins stuck in them which she had to disinfect twice a day. There was a point in her surgery where the pain was so agonizing that she couldn't make it to the bathroom and actually peed herself.
I admire her for being willing to put such details into her memoir. Not only to show how far she came in her surgery and what she was willing to risk, but also because I feel that this memoir will be a valuable tool for people--especially teenagers--undergoing similarly agonizing procedures.
It's nice to know that you aren't alone.
Towards the end, I feel that the memoir started to get a little scattered as she searched for a way to wrap it up. The idealization of the Marine Corps (I'm not a huge fan of military stuff, though I respect what their soldiers do for our country), the fairytale wedding--this was all a bit much. I think my issue with it was precisely because it was so fairytale-like. As if her dwarfism was a curse brought upon her by a wicked witch, and only magic-like surgery and a kiss from a prince broke the spell.
Reading other reviews for Dwarf, I noticed that a lot of people took issue with the Mrs. Hart issue. Mrs. Hart was a teacher who was very cruel to Tiffie in school and Tiffie's mom tried (unsuccessfully) to get her fired. Later on, Tiffie also tried (unsuccessfully) to give her computer a virus and humiliate her. Yes, that wasn't good. And yes, she didn't show regret. But can you blame her?
To me, Mrs. Hart seemed like she became the physical manifestation of all those people who had ever stared at her, insulted her, or made her feel small for being small. It seemed like she had depersonalized Mrs. Hart, turning her into a symbol. And I think that's why she returned to hating Mrs. Hart when her life became difficult again, because she was an easy target already established.
It can be very frustrating trying to convey your problems to people who aren't emotionally equipped to "get it."
Overall, I enjoyed reading Dwarf. It provided insight into a group that is frequently made light of.
I used to believe that the mother in White Oleander was the worst mother in the world. Then I read Chanel Bonfire and realized that, not only does Whi...moreI used to believe that the mother in White Oleander was the worst mother in the world. Then I read Chanel Bonfire and realized that, not only does White Oleander not even begin to tap into the evils that mankind is capable of, but it is also fiction--and reality, as I'm sure we all know, can often be crueler, and a lot stranger, than fiction.
Chanel Bonfire is a sparse and elegant recollection of a miserable childhood spent under the red-polished thumb of a tyrannical Lauren Bacall/Sylvia Plath hybrid who believed herself the star in her own personal melodrama:
"She was an actress in her own life, a Lillian Gish-type character, playing the part of the brave pioneer woman protecting her children from the harshness of the world, putting out the fire with her gunny-sack and raisin' her youngins all alone. Then at the end of a long day on the set, she could take off her calico dress and her bonnet and retire to her luxurious trailer. There she could enjoy a well-earned cocktail and then get dressed to go out at the Mocambo. This was the mirage she saw herself living in"
This book made my heart hurt.
Georgeann Rea was as close to evil as it is possible to be. Later on, she was diagnosed with histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders, which did not surprise me in the least. As Wendy said, "I thought my mother's picture should be there."
Wendy grew up with her sister, Robin, in a nuclear-type family setting. However, their lower middleclass lifestyle didn't appeal to their mother, who longed to stretch her wings and fly with little regard for who happened to get shitted upon on the way. She begins the first in a long series of affairs with a man who would later become their stepfather. Robin almost drowns while Georgeann is busy seducing him, and is saved, ironically, by the woman that their stepfather left.
Chanel Bonfire is filled with heartbreak after heartbreak. When Wendy and Robin like the dolls their father got them more than their mothers cold and expensive soda machine she gets angry, and informs them that ALL their toys and presents (old and new) are to be put into garbage bags to be donated to children who aren't "ungrateful."
When their father gets remarried, their mother, in a fit of petty jealousy and rage, kidnaps the girls and takes them to England. The girls are distraught and of course, they want want to see their kind-hearted father again. Georgeann then tells them that he's got a new family now and never really loved them anyway. She takes that moment to break the news that Robin and Wendy are actually half-sisters, and that Robin is the product of a fling with a handsome Greek man. "You are a child born of love," she tells Robin, adding cruelly, "Wendy isn't."
She dates a variety of men, some older wealthy sugar daddies, others strapping young arm candy. One of them, a lawyer, wanted to have a three-way with Wendy's younger, and at the time under-age, sister. When Wendy confides in her mother about her first crush, the sexy Italian boy who mows their lawn, her mother puts on a slutty outfit, seduces him, and then sleeps with him, and then fires him so Wendy will never see him.
As Georgeann got older, and less attractive, she began to see Wendy and Robin as competition and usurpers, and her words and actions became increasingly cruel. Wendy's first boyfriend broke up with her when their relationship was sabotaged by her mother who called his house 10x a day screaming profanity and asking his parents if they knew the two were having sex. She tries to run Wendy over in her car while drunk. She crashes Robin's graduation and causes chaos at the ceremony in her blue nightie. Later, as tension between Georgeann and her daughter increase, she tries to set Robin's room--and Robin herself--on fire with a shirt soaked in gasoline and a Bic lighter.
And then there's these charming sentiments:
"You've ruined my life! ... I wish you'd been abortions!" (119)
"I've begun to think that the best thing for me to do is to kill you and your sister and then myself" (175).
Eventually, Wendy and Robin do manage to escape, and Wendy reunites with her father ten years later, and learns that, as she suspected, everything her mother told her was a cruel lie. That he and their stepmother waited and waited, only to realize that they'd been kidnapped, and were too afraid of her mother's wrath to steal them back.
My psychology teacher used to say that people with personality disorders are responsible for, like, 99% of the stigma against mental illnesses because they're the ones who aren't content to internalize--they need an audience, victims, enablers, you name it.
In the case of the narcissistic, they hate themselves but still believe that they are a level above the lest of the pathetic peons below their feet and God help you if you don't realize their superiority.
"[L]ike a Victorian lady in mourning, [she] took to her bed. Only Mother's version of appropriate mourning attire was her blue Pucci nightgown. And instead of weeping and making bracelets from her departed beloved's hair, she chain-smoked and plotted a murder/suicide that would make the six o' clock news" (129).
Beautifully written, brutally honest. I think I need to go to my happy place.
4.5 to 5 stars!
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. This in no way biased or shaped my reading or opinion of the book. (less)
A normal, happy, healthy woman with a cool job and the perfect boyfriend loses her mind after getting what appear to be two bedbug bites on one of her...moreA normal, happy, healthy woman with a cool job and the perfect boyfriend loses her mind after getting what appear to be two bedbug bites on one of her arms. It sounds like a real-life episode of House M.D., and that's exactly what it is.
Susannah Cahalan flummoxed some of the best neurosurgeons in the country with her deteriorating autonomic system, seizures, and symptoms of psychosis, receiving diagnoses ranging from schizoeffective to bipolar. Especially when neurological tests, blood tests, and EEGs and MRIs all continued to say that she was fine. She wasn't.
Enter a pioneering neurosurgeon from Syria, who started out as a child ridiculed for his poor intellect only to graduate from med school at the top of his class. With a single cognitive test, he is able to determine the cause of Cahalan's perplexing symptoms.
This one: [image error]
Remember this from psychology? The clock drawing test? I bet you sneered. Yeah, don't bother to deny it. We all sneered a little.
Well, this simple, easy-peasy test saved this woman's life, and kept her from being confined into a psychiatric ward.
Susannah Cahalan had a rare, and only recently discovered autoimmune disorder that affects the NDMA receptors in the brain (which are basically involved in thinking and moving). Due to a mix of genetic and environmental factors that still aren't that clear, white blood cells begin targeting and attacking the host organ they should be defending:
In this case, the brain.
Normally I steer away from memoirs about psychological disorders because so many of them are so completely unsympathetic. There are only so many stories I can read about well-adjusted upper-middle-class mothers flushing their pills down the toilet and then drinking away their bourgeois sorrows. Um, yeah. No.
But the concept behind this memoir really intrigued me. I have a love for medical case-studies and had just read a book about prions (The Family That Couldn't Sleep--AMAZING BOOK) so I was in the mood for another book about mysterious brain disorders. When I did a check on the author, I found out that she was a writer for the New York Post.
It shows. Her writing style is beautiful, descriptive without being overwhelming, informative, and elegantly concise. She includes pictures of her journal entries, her drawing of the clock, some photographs, and even some scans of her brain! She inspired pathos without bemoaning her situation at all, and oh my god--her family. What a wonderful, supportive family. Especially her boyfriend and father. Class acts. I wanted to hug everyone in the book by the time I'd finished it.
Especially the writer.
Apparently, her book has saved the lives of many misdiagnosed people suffering from similarly perplexing autoimmune disorders. So kudos to her for not succumbing to the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and sharing her story with the world instead of brushing it under the carpet.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. This in no way biased or shaped my reading or opinion of the book. (less)
while reading this graphic-novel, i kept asking myself what the artist was trying to acco...moreyou can read more reviews at my blog, the armchair librarian.
while reading this graphic-novel, i kept asking myself what the artist was trying to accomplish by portraying all the characters as animals - mice, pigs, cats. in the end, i came to the conclusion that it was because it is just too hard to capture the human suffering of the holocaust survivors in mere artwork. maus simplifies this tragedy, in the tradition of animal farm, to a bite-sized allegory that "normal" people can understand.
i really enjoyed this. maybe "enjoyed" is the wrong word here. maus was really depressing. most books about the holocaust and world war ii are. mr. spiegelman's father, vladek, was a very likable character. his comments and observations made me laugh. at one point, art tells his stepmother that he is concerned that his father is the stereotype of the "miserly jew" and he really is - eric cartman from southpark would have a field day with vladek spiegelman.
and yet, despite the more light-hearted moments, this is still very dark. vladek talks about being forced to fight on the front-lines for the germans. he talks about how the jews betrayed their own in the hopes of saving themselves and their families. he talks about the scarcities, the starvation, the constant fear of being found out and caught. he talks about being forced to sell your family valuables, one by one, to pay for shelter and food. he talks about betrayal.
apparently art's mother committed suicide, because what she endured was just too horrible. after her death, vladek was never the same, and despite remarrying to another woman, mala, he still mourns her, putting his relationship with her on a pedestal that can never be surpassed. art becomes very angry when he finds out that his father burned the journals she kept from the camps.
i can't imagine what it must have been like to be a jew during world war ii. i thank my lucky stars for that. from what i have read, it truly gives credence to the quote by jean-paul sartre: "hell is other people."