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Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Pinto’

Maybe it was the fact that a few of our friends spent this autumn struggling with mental health issues, or maybe because one of us works in healthcare and October was National Mental Health Awareness Month in the USA, but very unintentionally it appears many of the books we have read recently contain a mental illness theme. And please, before you stop reading because you think our picks will be depressing and “who needs that in November (or what some Vermonters call ‘stick season’)?”, please know that these books are amazing and thought provoking. Plus, we could argue many great characters in great literature exhibited mental illnesses, we just don’t think of the books they were in as about illness (think Hamlet, Mrs. Dalloway, Holden Caulfield).

Perhaps mental illnesses are specifically labeled in these more recent books because the societal taboo around discussing mental illnesses is thawing a bit, and authors find themselves able to address mental illness in ways they could not have tried previously. Or, perhaps not, but whatever these authors’ rationales, we are glad for at least a few reasons. One, we truly hope it means that the world in general is more aware of and ideally accepting of people with mental illnesses. And two, it means some great new books are out there for all of us to read. While we have read many books that could work in today’s post, we limited ourselves to two recently published fiction choices and two slightly older memoirs.

We hope you will read them, even if mental illness makes you sad or uncomfortable, because they are all really good books.

Two TRULY AMAZING works of fiction

Shock of the FallThe Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – Wow, I cried at the end of this one. I completely understand why this novel was the COSTA book of the year for 2013 (awarded to fiction written by writers in Ireland and the UK). Told in a completely engaging manner in the first person by the main character Matthew (although you don’t know his name for awhile), this FIRST novel by Mr. Filer explores mental illness, what triggers it, how people help and hurt the patient’s prognosis, what mental health hospitals try to accomplish, how funding for services for mental health is precarious, and how the mentally ill function so well for so long, until they don’t. Mr. Filer is a mental health nurse (and I would add outstanding novelist) and his compassion for his patients comes through throughout this novel. The narration is brilliant; and, the situation is heart-breaking, unbelievably moving, bittersweet, and above all compelling. As London’s Daily Mail says, “you’re going to love it.” (This novel is currently available in Europe, and will be available in the USA in January 2015. You can pre-order it in the States; and for now, we link this pick to the Waterstones web site.) ~ Lisa Christie

Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012) – In a little over 200 pages, this author charmed me with a narrative of a son trying to figure out his unusual family. A family orbiting the ups and downs of his mother and the manifestations of her bipolar disease. Uniquely and beautifully infused with compassion, grace, lots of humor, insight and love, this gem of a book is a must read for anyone looking for a good story or anyone whose lives are touched by mental illness. (Note: This would make a great Book Club book — well-written, short, and on many levels profound.) ~ Lisa Christie

Two insightful memoirs

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron (1992) – The author of Sophie’s Choice struggled with depression for years.  Years ago, a friend of mine, whose father also struggles mightily with depression, told me that his father stated this brief memoir by Styron came the closest he had ever read to describing what living with a mental illness feels like. He also said his dad recommends it to anyone living with someone suffering from depression. While admittedly sounding completely bleak, this book has been described as conveying “the full terror of depression’s psychic landscape, as well as the illuminating path to recovery”, and my memory of reading it years ago would second this assessment. ~ Lisa Christie

Blue Nights by Joan Didion (2012) – Written to help make sense of the death of her daughter, this book is full of moving and poetic prose, profound thoughts and insight into life with long undiagnosed mental illness, as well as the author’s own process of aging. While Ms. Didion is frustratingly very vague about the exact nature of her daughter’s illness and even the cause of her death, she refers throughout this lyrical memoir to the “signs” all along the way that something was troubling her daughter, and that in retrospect maybe help could have arrived in time. I am so glad I picked this up thinking I could use a good memoir, never knowing it would be a perfect companion pick for today’s post. ~ Lisa Christie (Lisa Cadow also supports any Didion selection)

This post is dedicated to Dr. Jerry M. Wiener, a psychiatrist who spent a significant portion of his career trying to lift the stigmas surrounding mental illnesses, and to his tremendous partner Louise Wiener whose professional life has been dedicated to educating children and their families.

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Happy last days of summer. We enjoyed many great books over the summer months, and are slightly sad to see the longer days fade. That said, we are truly looking forward to all the good books being published for autumn and the holidays.

We start our 2014-15 posting season (yes, we Lisas still tend to adhere to the rhythm of an academic year) with two picks from our “gone reading” hiatus. Many of the other books we read in August will appear in later posts around various themes. But, for now, our two picks for your last week of official summer.

Free Closed Beach-umbrellas At The End Of The Season Royalty Free Stock Photos - 3183408Free The End Of The Summer Royalty Free Stock Photo - 6567055Free End Of Season Royalty Free Stock Images - 9314569Free Summer S End Royalty Free Stock Images - 6121089Free Sunbeds Stock Photography - 493652

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly (2013) – It seems only appropriate to include this title in a post celebrating the last days of summer; this novel is set in that very season in Welfleet, Massachusetts in 1972. I was drawn to this book for its blue-blooded oceanfront Cape Cod setting but ended up appreciating it for it’s complex characters, unexpected twists and turns of plot, and the voice of its twelve-year-old narrator Riddle who unwittingly witnesses a terrible crime in her neighbor’s horse barn. As she tries to make sense of what happened that June day, she simultaneously navigates adolescence, her parent’s fraught relationship, and her father’s political campaign for Senate. It is all at once a mystery, the tale of a dysfunctional family, a coming-of-age story, and a look back at the summer traditions and politics of a different (pre-twitter) era. If you appreciate this book and the smart way it sets itself apart from being just another beach read, you might also enjoy Wise Men by Stuart Nadler also set on the Cape but in the summer of 1952 (reviewed on the Book Jam, July 23, 2013). ~ Lisa Cadow

Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012) – In a little over 200 pages, this author charmed me with his narrative of a son trying to understand his unusual family — a family of four orbiting the manifestations of his mother’s bipolar disease. Uniquely and beautifully infused with compassion, grace, humor, insight and love, this gem of a book is a must read for anyone looking for a good story, and/or anyone whose lives are touched by mental illness. Along the way, it also provides a look at life in Bombay. (Note: This would make a great Book Club book; it is well-written, short, and on many levels profound.) ~ Lisa Christie

And a bonus pick — One of the many books read with with my 6th grader this summer. He proclaimed it “the best book ever” (with The Wednesday Wars by the same author the “next best”). Mr. Schmidt, the author, has an amazing descriptive voice, ear for dialog, and ability to capture middle school angst and humor.  You don’t need to take our word for it, School Library Journal raved as well.

OK For Now by Gary Schmidt (2011) – Even though I had read this before and knew what was coming, I still cried while reading this with my son. Douglas Swieteck, a character from The Wednesday Wars, has many tough situations to overcome in this novel. His family just moved. His father is abusive and up to no good. His mother is trying to hold it together. And, his oldest brother returns from Vietnam with limbs missing, as well as seen and unseen scars. Along the way a superb librarian, some drawing lessons, an Audubon portfolio, and a few grown-ups willing to take a chance on a kid from the wrong side of the tracks provide much-needed help. But perhaps even more importantly, Doug manages to improve some grown-ups along the way. Please read this book and then share it with your favorite pre-teen. ~ Lisa Christie

And now, farewell summer 2014 …

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