Quantcast

Friday, May 29, 2020

Book Review: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker, narrated by Sean Pratt

Wow. Twelve kids. Six of them with schizophrenia.

The Galvin family seemed like the epitome of the Baby Boom generation. The twelve kids were born between 1945 and 1965, perfectly spanning that entire generation from beginning to end. And the boys who started to lose it, well, that doesn't surface until the last babies were being born. No one knows exactly why but schizophrenia tends to show itself in the late teens or early twenties. They were a good Catholic, military family living in Colorado Springs, And Mimi and Don (especially Mimi) were determined to prop up that facade until well past the time when everyone could see the reality of the situation.

As tragic as this family's story is, it also is an amazing opportunity for medical researchers. Schizophrenia has remained highly elusive in the years since the mapping of the human genome, with no one or even dozen genes showing responsibility for the illness. Treatments are also stubbornly antiquated. But a family with twelve children, half of whom are mentally ill, and half of whom are not, is a gold mine for science. Even though we've moved past blaming the mother and the nature/nurture battles of the last half-century, we haven't improved in either figuring out who is susceptible and any way of early intervention, or in treatment after symptoms have arisen. The Galvins can really help, at least with the first of those problems.

This was a riveting book, which I listened to in just a couple of days. It was long, but nothing seemed unnecessary. There is an early diversion about falconry, but that is something Don pursued most of his adult life, as did many of the kids, so it proved much more important than I realized at the time. Don was most likely the person to suggest The Falcons as the mascot for the burgeoning Air Force Academy he was helping to get off the ground. I do wish there was a little more information about the well adult children now, aside from the two daughters who seemed both to do the most in helping out, but also probably provided the bulk of the information to the author. One complaint they all had about their mother was that she spent all her time and effort on the sick boys at the expense of the well children, and this book did echo that to a degree. A couple of the well boys did not participate much as adults, which is one of the typical reactions to growing up with mentally ill siblings, and I wish that had been further explored. But that wasn't the focus of this book, and the information we do get about that dynamic is a bonus I shouldn't overlook.

I thank the Galvin family for participating in the research studies, and I hope this book both provides information for those who don't understand the illness and also might convince other families to engage with scientific research where they can, especially if it's as simple as giving some blood and doing a survey.

A harrowing and eye-opening story of a family with unprecedented battles to fight, simply in their everyday lives.

I borrowed this digital eaudiobook from the library via Overdrive/Libby.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 51-60: Historical Fiction!

On Facebook I started recommending a book a day for those stuck inside and looking for something good to read. I'm alternating between books published by Macmillan (my employer) and not (actually for this category only 1 was from Macmillan). (Simply, because the vast majority of my reading is Macmillan books, it's really hard for me to not have this unbalance in any list I put together.) And I thought I'd pull together those recommendations every 10 days here, for people who I'm not Facebook friends with. These 10 books are all mysteries, as requested!

Please buy books from independent bookstores! You can find your nearby indies here, or you can buy from bookshop.org or you can get audiobooks from Libro.fm. Those last two you either can get to through the website of an indie, and have part of your purchase go to that indie directly, or if you really don't know of one, any purchases made on those sites, even unaffiliated ones, will indirectly support independent bookstores. Bookstores are really struggling right now, from chains on down to the little guys, and right now, you have a lot of time to read! Seems like two great things that go great together.

Now, on with the list! While these are numbered, they are not ranked. I've starred the non-Macmillan books, and if I reviewed them, I'll link to the review. Every one of these books got a 5-star rating from me! Memoirs are my favorite genre! Hope you find some delights in here.

51. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute*

52. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan*

53. Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin *

54. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro*

55. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks*

56. Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin

57. Maud's Line by Margaret Verble*

58. Jim the Boy by Tony Earley*

59. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín*

60. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann*


      

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Review: Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman (audiobook)

I read an article based on the opening chapter of this book a few years ago and it stuck with me. Eilene went to check on her ex husband who had been sick for a long time, after her kids couldn't reach him for several days. She found him dead in his house. She was utterly shocked when it turned out to be a drug-related death, and she was so saddened when she discovered the very last thing he did before he died was call in to a work conference call.

From her horrific discovery, we jump back to their meeting right after college, the years they were just friends, when that crossed over, their long-distance relationships and Eilene moving for Peter repeatedly, their marriage, kids, house, disintegrating relationship, divorce, and then this.

Most people have no idea how many addicts they know. Particularly in white collar, upper class communities. My husband is a substance abuse counselor and I've heard hair-raising stories. Drug abuse and drug use disorders are pervasive across all classes--it's just that it's easier to hide when you have more money, and when you don't look like what our society stereotypes as a "drug addict." Eilene thought at first that her ex-husband had died from exhaustion, maybe a heart attack brought on by his stressful job as a high-priced lawyer, but she later learned he'd been phoning it in at work for a couple of years. And what I know from my husband's studies and work is that work is usually the very last thing to go. Both the addicts themselves and their loved ones use that as a justification--it can't be all that bad because he still has a good job. Peter's cautionary story certainly proves that horribly wrong.

Eilene wants to tell her story so that others are aware of the commonness of drug use disorders in white middle class families, as often it's so far off one's radar that it never occurs to the user's friends and family that it's even a possibility. It didn't occur to anyone in Peter's life. Yes, she was desperately trying to figure out what was wrong with him--googling symptoms of schizoaffective disorders and other mental and physical illnesses that she thought might account for his health problems and his increasingly bizarre and troubling behavior. But this never crossed her mind. Or Peter's kids or his boss or colleagues or anyone. Yet, through research Eilene did after his death, she discovered how common substance use and abuse is in the legal profession, how many lawyers suffer from depression and anxiety and self-medicate, how the field makes people more negative which leads to emotional and relationship problems that aren't easily solved--and how a simple solution of a pill instead of months or years of counseling seems like the better option when working 80-120 hour weeks.

It turns out this is a major issue that no one is discussing. Addiction doesn't discriminate. Eilene's harrowing retelling of Peter's story is one everyone should read so we're all more aware. Yes, she couldn't have saved Peter, but had anyone ever broached the subject with him, he might have had a better chance to save himself. I couldn't put this riveting book down and listened to the whole thing in just two days.

I borrowed this eaudiobook from the library via Libby/Overdrive.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

I first joined The Jane Austen Society in my senior year old college. I knew it had a long history, but I never thought about its founding. This is a highly, highly fictionalized story about that (in fact, it's completely made up. Nothing is based on real people or anything.) And it's delightful.

A group of unrelated and unlikely Jane Austen fans meet in Chawton, England. They get together multiple times. The last Austen relative is childless and funds have been dwindling and she's going to lose the estate to developers. The library, which might have important information about Austen hidden in it, will go along with the house. A movie star has bought a couple of pieces of Austen memorabilia. A local doctor and a housemaid are also drawn in to the group. They band together, and in order to collect Jane Austen's things before it's too late and they're all gone, and also to try to save her house, they form a society to raise money and have ownership.

Naturally along the way there are some romances, misunderstandings, monetary problems, and other twists and turns. It's a fun story about a beloved author and the beginnings of our understanding of her as one of the all-time greatest authors in history, and how preserving her life and letters and home can help us come to a greater understanding of why she is so important to so many of us.

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Book Review: Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom by Adam Chandler (audiobook)

So is everyone eating only drive-through and take-out right now? Good. Is the world outside making you crave comfort food? Me too. Isn't the Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Wendy's the best fast food item out there? You're wrong, yes it is.

So everyone I know claims to spurn fast food and only eat organic. You're all lying and you know it and I know it but that's okay. I'll see you in line at Popeye's and we'll pretend we never saw each other. Meanwhile, you should read this really fun book! It's the complete opposite of Fast Food Nation. Mr. Chandler appreciates fast food. He doesn't say it's healthy or that we should eat it daily, but he doesn't deny its appeal.

He goes back in time to the beginnings when White Castle was the first successful national chain. He progresses through McDonalds and Ray Kroc, up through KFC's Twitter feed (KFC follows exactly 11 people on Twitter--6 random guys named Herb and the 5 Spice Girls. Hysterical.)

If you have opinions on which chain has the best french fries and whether or not meat-substitutes will ever be able to work in the fast food world, you'll appreciate this book. With 20 minutes left, I had to turn into Wendy's. Especially because it was one of the fancy new ones with wood paneling and a fireplace! Mmmm, Frosty. Are you with me?

This book is published by Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 41-50: Memoirs!

On Facebook I started recommending a book a day for those stuck inside and looking for something good to read. I'm alternating between books published by Macmillan (my employer) and not. (Simply, because the vast majority of my reading is Macmillan books, it's really hard for me to not have this unbalance in any list I put together.) And I thought I'd pull together those recommendations every 10 days here, for people who I'm not Facebook friends with. These 10 books are all mysteries, as requested!

Please buy books from independent bookstores! You can find your nearby indies here, or you can buy from bookshop.org or you can get audiobooks from Libro.fm. Those last two you either can get to through the website of an indie, and have part of your purchase go to that indie directly, or if you really don't know of one, any purchases made on those sites, even unaffiliated ones, will indirectly support independent bookstores. Bookstores are really struggling right now, from chains on down to the little guys, and right now, you have a lot of time to read! Seems like two great things that go great together.

Now, on with the list! While these are numbered, they are not ranked. I've starred the non-Macmillan books, and if I reviewed them, I'll link to the review. Every one of these books got a 5-star rating from me! Memoirs are my favorite genre! Hope you find some delights in here.

41. Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer's Search for Wonder in the Natural World by Leigh Ann Henion*

42. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

43. Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe*

44. Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children by Sara Zaske

45. Red-tails in Love: Pale Male's Story—A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn*

46. Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon

47. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman*

48. Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter

49. My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese*

50. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
   

   

 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Book Review: Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television's Groundbreaking Sitcoms by Marc Freeman

Man, what a great sitcom. It was so buzzy the first season that I resisted. Plus, it began just at the end of a terrible run of sitcoms. They were all crass, lowbrow, and also just terrible. And it had that fake-documentary style that was so fresh with The Office but now felt very also-ran. And then it won like all the Emmys, and I decided to stop being an idiot and start watching. And it has been appointment viewing for me ever since!

And I love an oral history. It's really great to get the unvarnished direct words of all the important people involved. The most fascinating thing was how the two creators/producers really hated each other after making the pilot, and then each of them took the helm of every other episode. And yet, I never noticed. Did you? No unevenness. No ping-ponging. If anything, it may have kept the show more balanced as they had different focuses, and different approaches. That way you didn't have a bunch of Very Special episodes in a row, or a bunch that were rather slapsticky. It was more balanced.

The perspective of the kids was great. I had no idea that Ariel and Nolan are the same age, and goofy Nolan who plays the rather dense youngest kid is actually a member of MENSA who graduated from high school several years early in order to be able to focus more on work. It was fun to hear about Sofia's changing and variable accent and how they used that for jokes. And the poor twin babies who were so miserable playing Lily the first two years. And how desperate Julie Bowen was to get the role--despite being enormously pregnant with twins when they filmed the pilot.

This show managed to be both groundbreaking and yet homey and safe at the same time. And it's true--this is how modern families look today. As someone with multiple step-families, a half-brother, and ex-step-in laws, this felt very real to me. The only part that didn't resonate was all of them living in the same city as adults, but that might be particular to me.

With so much uncertainty and angst these days, it's a perfect time to revisit the show and be comforted.

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.