A troubling and illuminating collection.

OUTSIDE MENTAL HEALTH

VOICES AND VISIONS OF MADNESS

An expansive set of interviews and essays that offer a unique perspective on mental health.

Hall, a professional therapist, a former psychiatric patient, and the author of Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs (2011), has been interviewing patients and therapists on his Valley Free Radio show, “Madness Radio,” for a decade. This book assembles more than 60 of those interviews with patients, therapists, and mental health activists who share their very personal and often poignant experiences with psychiatric drugs, hospitalization, and the social stigma of mental illness. The collection is broad and inclusive in its subject matter, as evidenced by chapter titles such as “Meaning in Voices,” “Art and Madness,” “Crash Course in Urban Shamanism,” and “Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic.” The variety in this volume is equally notable; readers will learn much about autism, attention deficit disorder, and bipolar disorder and about controversial treatments, such as electroshock therapy. The book also delves into other issues, such as the disturbingly large number of mentally ill prisoners. Hall’s interview questions are sensitive and perceptive, and the answers that he receives are frank and sometimes sobering. If there’s a central theme to the collection, it’s that drugs and hospital confinement may sometimes be employed excessively or unnecessarily. Eleanor Longden, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, observes, “Psychiatric drugs are designed to inhibit emotion. Yet strong emotion can actually be part of the healing process; learning to fully tolerate, experience, and express it.” Activist, writer, and artist Mel Gunasena, a former psychiatric patient, attests, “When I came out of hospital I had to do a complete detox.…I ultimately healed myself mainly through diet, vitamin and mineral supplements, resolving my trauma, and through friends and family support. Not psychiatric intervention.” Hall’s own emotional essay, “Letter to the Mother of a Schizophrenic,” sums up his focus on the humanity of his subjects: “Again and again I am told the ‘severely mentally ill’ are impaired and incapable, not quite human….[W]hen I finally do meet the people carrying that terrible, stigmatizing label of schizophrenia, what do I find? I find a human being.”

A troubling and illuminating collection.

Pub Date: April 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9965143-0-9

Page Count: 402

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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