Depression & Other Magic Tricks (CBR10 #41)

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I have said many times that reading Poetry is not my jam. I have mostly gotten over my entrance issues with science fiction and graphic novels/comics but Poetry still often trips me up. The funny part? I’ve been known to write it, but reading a collection can be too much, and I think that’s the real problem – a collection of poetry, of really good poetry is likely going to feel like too much.

At times, Sabrina Benaim’s first published collection Depression & Other Magic Tricks did feel like too much, and I think I might finally understand that is really a good thing.

As I mentioned in my review of No Matter the Wreckage, I am a fan of spoken word and Benaim is one of the most-viewed performance poets of all time. Her poem “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” has over 7,000,000 views. I’m not sure what writing to perform does to the structure of poetry, I leave that to you who study mechanics and craft to tell me, but whatever it is, it works.

This wasn’t a perfect collection for me, but it may be for you. I did however feel seen, felt as though the person writing these poems, or at least many of them, knew the world the way I did and was able to get that knowledge out of themselves and back out into the universe, where it belongs so we can know that we aren’t alone. It is one of the best magic tricks I know.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

#stickingittocancer #onebookatatime

Furiously Happy (CBR9 #9)

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I am not 100% sure how to rate or review this book so prepare yourselves for a bit of a ramble. I also don’t know why I decided to read Jenny Lawson’s second book before her first, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. But, I had added Furiously Happy to my to read list, someone suggested the author narrated version since it has a bonus chapter, I have an audible subscription, and here we are.

I have depression, and usually I keep it on the ropes with skills I’ve accrued over the years at therapy and learning how my system works. One of the best ways to keep the monster at bay is to be honest about what is happening in your brain and finding community that can help you cope, and that’s how Cannonball Read has given me another way to battle back the monster: Jenny Lawson’s twitter feed. Most people who find themselves as one of Lawson’s weirdos read her blog, I am not good about remembering to go there but her twitter works for me in a big way.

Accordingly, while trying to decide what to read in February I remembered that I had picked up the audio version of Furiously Happy and decided to jump in even though I haven’t yet read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. What I did not know was that Lawson is apparently much more open about her crazy in this book than she was in her first and I can only say – thank goodness she is so honest. I’ve wondered for a few years if I have some undiagnosed anxiety issues running around my system because some of my personality traits go beyond simple introvert status. With Lawson, I felt seen, heard, and supported: and she was just telling me about her life in funny ways.

Lawson battles the beast by living her life as furiously happy as she can to fight the other side of the pendulum. It’s a lifesaving idea for many and I’m thankful for the side benefits.

As a head’s up her next book, You Are Here: an Owner’s Manual for a Dangerous Mind comes out March 7, 2017.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Come have a look, there’s something for everyone.

My Heart and Other Black Holes (CBR8 #16)

My Heart and Other Black Holes is the debut novel from Jasmine Warga from last year. It is a YA novel that deals with two depressed protagonists in some of the truest descriptions of being a teenager with depression that I have ever read. This is a good book, but probably not for everyone.

I was alerted to this book’s existence by the five star review from Annie for Cannonball Read 7. While she and I agree on some points, I only rated this book at 3.5 stars. My Heart and Other Black Holes is the story of sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel. Aysel (rhymes with gazelle) is severely depressed and suicidal since her father’s violent crime rocked her small town a few years ago. She is friendless, and a stranger in her own home. Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness. There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But a website with a section called Suicide Partners provides her solution: a teenager a few towns over is haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner of his own.  Even though Aysel and Roman have seemingly nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to die, and if she can bear to let Roman end his life.

Spoilery discussions from this point on.

My biggest concern with this book, one that I read quickly and was enraptured with most of the time, was the seeming hijacking of Aysel’s story by Roman’s at the end. Instead of the reader following Aysel‘s path to get the closure she’s been desperately craving, we instead get Aysel worried over Roman and his suicide attempt. It was… less than I hoped. But part of that is the limited structure of Warga’s work. By focusing on the immediacy of the days leading up to their agreed upon suicide date Warga infuses the writing with the appropriate stakes. But, by stopping her work on that date, she also leaves many plot threads up in the air. Is Aysel going to pursue physics? Is she going to go to therapy? Is her family going to deal with their own dysfunction? Will she visit her father? Will that help or hurt? What about Roman? Will he also begin the journey towards and through therapy? Should he (and she) be on medication? What about college? What about his parents own issues with guilt and trust? There is so much more to the story, and while it’s a nice YA bow to have these two committed to being there for each other and fighting their depressions, it felt like not enough.

In her author’s note Warga talks about her motivations for writing this book, and her personal insights really show through. She has an amazing way with describing the feelings of depression.

Depression is like a heaviness that you can’t ever escape. It crushes down on you, making even the smallest things like tying your shoes or chewing on toast seem like a twenty-mile hike uphill. Depression is a part of you; it’s in your bones and your blood. If I know anything about it, this is what I know: It’s impossible to escape.

I also loved the thematic work she was doing with physics, energy, relativity, and philosophy. There were lovely little layers to unpack and think about. I am looking forward to her second book which is scheduled to be published sometime this year.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Hyperbole and a Half (CBR6 #3)

Here’s the caveat of this review: I was only passingly familiar with Allie Brosh’s blog when I bought the book. I mean, I was aware of it. I had read about the Alots (who do not feature in the book), the helper dog and the simple dog, and about Brosh’s bout with depression. I knew I like her tone, I knew I enjoyed her illustrations, so I felt pretty confident going in that I was going to enjoy this book. So when the raving reviews came rolling in I went ahead and clicked the link and bought myself the book.

And I absolutely did enjoy it, although I didn’t love it. I think I enjoyed it the way I enjoy the blog. Which is to say, I enjoyed it a story or two at a time (which are handily color coded), but not in the same way I would generally fall in love with a book that has an overarching narrative.  I think this is a problem that I have with memoirs of any sort – if there isn’t an overarching theme or narrative device, or a BIG THING that you’re trying to tell me I tend to lose focus and wander away.

Which is probably why it took a little longer to get through reading this book than I was anticipating.

Now that I’m done bellyaching, let’s talk about what you will find when you too, read this book (because you absolutely should).  Allie Brosh is certainly one of the most honest writers and humorists you’re bound to come across. Each of her essays is full of introspection and views the human condition in a way that will simply make you stop momentarily and think “yup, I know that feeling”. There are many, many, many of them. And if you’ve not read her pieces on depression, well – go do that right now. Because the words she writes are true and insightful. And also amusing.

This is a humorous, fun book and I have managed to write an unhumorous review. I apologize. It’s Monday.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Hunger Games (CBR5 #23)

After a two month drought I’m back with one of the most popular books from last year’s cannonball. I put out a plea to friends, loved ones, and tweeps for quick, easy reads to reinvigorate me after a summer of no luck. (I picked up and put down at least 4 books in the past few months and am fighting with another as we speak.) So, two of my colleagues who adore The Hunger Games set me up with the first book.

I read it in two marathon sessions over the course of a week. Drought broken.

The story by now is familiar to almost everyone, particularly with the movie out last year. In the future North America is now the country of Panem with a ruling Capital district and 12 other districts who, after an uprising that was quelled a generation ago, serve the capital. To be reminded of the sins of their forebears each year a Reaping is held and a girl and boy ages 12-18 are selected to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. One victor will be named and he or she will bring pride to their District and money to their family.  Our eyes to this world are Katniss’s. She’s 16 and an outsider. In order to survive following her father’s death in one of District 12’s coal mines Katniss sneaks out to the forest surrounding District 12 to hunt for her family. However, her normal life is thrown to the wind when her sister Prim, just 12, is selected at the Reaping and Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

We spend the second two thirds of the novel with Katniss in the training and actual games. It is at times a bleak read. We are talking about children killing other children. What I found most interesting in the transition to the movie (which I watched within 24 hours of finishing the book, thanks Netflix) is how they both sanitized some of the most horrendous deaths and also took away some of Katniss’ insights and turned them into physical promptings from her mentor, Haymitch. I felt it weakened the character. However, I did enjoy deploying the play by play analysts as our narrators throughout the Games.

But I think why this novel is resonating with non YA audiences is that it dives into some greater themes while leaving plenty of surface action for those who only care for the ‘who wins and how’ story lines. For instance Haymitch, a previous Victor of the Hunger Games who is now in charge of mentoring District 12’s two Tributes each year is depressed and has a serious drinking problem. We are also given a view into the cost of the Games to Katniss and the other combatants, an easy opening for discussions about Post Traumatic Stress.   There is also plenty to unpack in the dialogue between a Capital unable to support itself and instead focused on entertainment and diversion, surely a topic relevant to us today.