MADNESS

RACE AND INSANITY IN A JIM CROW ASYLUM

An excellent work of journalism and a strong contribution to the literature of both mental health care and civil rights.

A thoroughgoing, often shocking exposé of segregation in the treatment (or nontreatment) of mental illness.

NBC News reporter Hylton documents the history of Crownsville Hospital in Maryland, founded in 1911 as the Hospital for the Negro Insane. Getting to the story was not easy: The archives were incomplete because “the state had destroyed or lost most of the files preceding the year 1960, and others they had allowed to become contaminated with asbestos.” Unsurprisingly, the more controversial the past episode, such as the murder of a patient or systematic abuse, the likelier the documents were to have disappeared. Even so, in digging into the archives and seeking out those with firsthand or secondhand memories of the place, the author uncovered profoundly unsettling stories. One concerns an educator who, upon entering Crownsville after a case of typhoid fever had affected his mental health, “was just another inmate.” He was also effectively enslaved, and though Maryland was not in the Confederacy, it did permit slavery until 1864. In the Jim Crow era, Crownsville’s population swelled, its inmates growing tobacco and food crops under the supervision of white overseers; inside the walls of Crownsville, whites also governed the lives of Black people who were less treated than incarcerated. “Crownsville’s founding took vestiges of chattel slavery—from the style of the rolls to the financial recordkeeping format used on plantations—and translated them to a clinical setting,” writes Hylton, and the administration of the hospital remained remarkably consistent even after Maryland ordered the desegregation of state mental hospitals in 1962. Meaningfully, Hylton closes by examining the racialized discrepancies in mental health care today as they played out in the New York subway murder of Jordan Neely in 2023.

An excellent work of journalism and a strong contribution to the literature of both mental health care and civil rights.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2024

ISBN: 9781538723692

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Legacy Lit/Hachette

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2023

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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