Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cracked-James Davies

Cracked-James Davies

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 372
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2014
non fiction-mental health, social crit

In an effort to enlighten a new generation about its growing reliance on psychiatry, Crackedinvestigates why psychiatry has become the fastest-growing medical field in history; why psychiatric drugs are now more widely prescribed than ever before; and why psychiatry keeps expanding the number of mental disorders it believes to exist.

Let's be upfront here, I've always been on the side that says society is over-medicalising...everything. I think it natural to assume that if big business is involved in something that profit becomes the rule at the expense of what is best for the individual no matter the industry. So as such, Davies' scorching chapter by chapter criticism of biopsychiatry and corporate pharmacology was not exactly a game changer for my world view. But even though he was preaching to the choir in my case, the extent of the abuses left me reeling.

Davies has conducted numbers of interviews and received (shockingly) honest answers that contribute to his point by point criticism (encompassing the myth of chemical imbalances as well as the devious marketing strategies at play). One can read this as a (skewed) overview of the debate since I could not think of a stone Davies left unturned. I know there's a bit of self-confirming bias at play but I garnered so much more ammunition from this book that strengthened my own vague, hazy criticisms. His research feels meticulous and I enjoyed his trans-Atlantic research (as an American, I had no idea that the British had their own manual).


I have two points of contention. One, though written in easily accessible prose with clear structure, there was a bit of a lack of clarity about the primary terms that the general public may struggle with. I, myself, only vaguely remember the difference between psychiatrists, psychologists, and the various other professionals working within the industry and I took AP Psych a mere 8 years ago (oh god). I worry that it'd be easy to read this entire book and not end up clear exactly which, out of the 487643987 approaches to mental health, this criticism is aimed at (despite the subtitle). The other is somewhat related. Alternatives are not really discussed. So, okay, here we are, convinced pills are not the answer, the DSM is a made-up manual, now what? We've set up this system-who do I now turn to?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells-Sebastian Faulks

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells-Sebastian Faulks

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 243
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel

Bertie, nursing a bit of heartbreak over the recent engagement of one Georgina Meadowes to someone not named Wooster, agrees to “help” his old friend Peregrine “Woody” Beeching, whose own romance is foundering. That this means an outing to Dorset, away from an impending visit from Aunt Agatha, is merely an extra benefit. Almost immediately, things go awry and the simple plan quickly becomes complicated. 

This is not high brow literary fiction but it is highly entertaining. It is a light hearted romp with loads of plot to keep you going. The switcheroo plot embroils Bertie into a web of interpersonal relationships that is, objectively, tricky to get out of (and arguably in, as well but no matter). The pacing charmingly transparent. The prose is written irreverently and self-referentially and it all added up to something quite charming. And I surprised myself by actually liking the characters involved.


I had always assumed the Jeeves series was not really for me. I mean, hearty British gentlemen reinforcing hierarchical class systems? Oh please, I lived in the North where the gentlemen are hardier but also rougher so those genteel types with stahff really get on my tits. So, I'm not entirely sure why I requested this homage on netgalley but I know I'm glad I did. I'm now in full intention of picking up one of the Wodehouse originals. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I Will Repay-Countess Emmuska Orczy

I Will Repay-Countess Emmuska Orczy

the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 281
gender: F
nationality: Hungary
year: 1906
novel

 set during some of French Revolution's bloodiest days. Being the first sequel to The Scarlet Pimpernel, it is story which is full of intrigue and high romance. The main theme of this work is falling in love with the one individual in the whole wide world who you have sworn to destroy.

As someone who has read none other of the Scarlet Pimpernel series, I was unsurprised at his bit part-this is actually a romance. A fantastical and slightly unbelievable romance torn apart by what very modern me sees as insane and dangerous illogical 'vows of duty/honor'. Yes, this has all the characteristics of a melodramatic romance. The plot itself, let's be honest, passed me by. It was like, all the cliches one could want in a romance-one of my least favorite genres. Add to that, I just hated the heroine. Oh, she was just...her only true virtue was that she was beautiful and pure. EURGH.


Why is there still an up arrow despite my scathing ending to the paragraph above? Well, Orczy really captured the oppressive (ironically) and volatile environment of the French Revolution. There is, hanging upon every word, a sense of claustrophobia and anxiety which makes this a rather scorching indictment of the French Revolution. Her prose is really well-pitched and effective throughout-full of passion for her subjects. So despite that I despised her heroine for existing and seethed at the weak stereotyping of women, I ended up actually enjoying it despite myself. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Lie-Helen Dunmore

The Lie-Helen Dunmore

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 304
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel

Cornwall, 1920. Daniel Branwell has survived the First World War and returned to the small fishing town where he was born. Behind him lie the trenches and the most intense relationship of his life. As he works on the land, struggling to make a living in the aftermath of war, he is drawn deeper and deeper into the traumas of the past and memories of his dearest friend and his first love. Above all, as the drama unfolds, Daniel is haunted by the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie. Set in France during the First World War and in post-war Cornwall, this is a deeply moving and mesmerizing story of the “men who marched away”.


A novel about outsiders, trauma, loss and survivor's guilt. Evoked through lush evocative prose, the West Cornish landscape comes alive. I just didn't get into it. I found the characters, the main one in particular, so passive and unemotional. I know it was 'shell shock' or PTSD that made him so unemotional and opaque but it meant I failed to understand anything about the post-war events. There just wasn't enough included for me to understand why the village would turn on him or why he accepted the 'inevitable'. And I ended up not caring at all about any of the characters.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dirty Book Murder-Thomas Shawver

Dirty Book Murder-Thomas Shawver

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 220
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

Book merchant Michael Bevan arrives at the Kansas City auction house hoping to uncover some hidden literary gold. Though the auction ad had mentioned erotica, Michael is amazed to find lovely Japanese Shunga scrolls and a first edition of a novel by French author Colette with an inscription by Ernest Hemingway. This one item alone could fetch a small fortune in the right market. As Michael and fellow dealer Gareth Hughes are warming up for battle, a stranger comes out of nowhere and outbids them—to the tune of sixty grand. But Gareth is unwilling to leave the auction house empty-handed, so he steals two volumes, including the Colette novel. When Gareth is found dead the next day, Michael quickly becomes the prime suspect: Not only had the pair been tossed out of a bar mid-fistfight the night before, but there is evidence from Michael’s shop at the crime scene. 

Wow. I was not prepared for how gritty this was. And it was gritty. There's a lot of death. Really violent death described in a lot of detail and with a lot of erotic overtones. And it sneaks up on you. The synopsis is the beginning-a mystery that you want to resolve and then the book descends into pure evil. If you have any hang ups about bondage, torture for sexual pleasure, or power play in sex, avoid this book.


Ok, whoa. So moving on, Bevan is an excellent character-his former life has crashed and he has to make a new way in life. Antiquarian books and a second hand bookshop are his second chance and yet his former life catches up to him. Shawver writes really well (which is what makes the book horrifying), evoking what he needs to and pacing the thriller and mystery well. I particularly liked his setting. Kansas City comes to life in a way that I actually kind of wanted to visit.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Dreaming Rodin-John M. Flynn

Dreaming Rodin-John M. Flynn

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 192
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2013
short stories

Thoughtful, hopeful, at times gritty and comical, this short story collection delights in examining the lives of humble characters in oddball but everyday circumstances. 


Gritty. A series of short, concise stories that don't shy away from the seamy side of life. These are characters trying to be better, trying to change, and not always succeeding. Each story could have been longer and felt a little more finished but Flynn's prose is expert. He evokes this excellent cast of characters lending a different voice per character. This is a distinctive way of writing that tends to draw you into each story a few pages in each time. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Death Comes to the Archbishop-Willa Cather

Death Comes to the Archbishop-Willa Cather

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 297
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 1927
novel

 It concerns the attempts of a Catholic bishop and a priest to establish a diocese in New Mexico Territory.

This is my first Willa Cather and it won't be the last. This prose is gorgeous. I feel like no one told me about her descriptive abilities. I almost didn't care about what the story was about-her steady and calm prose described everything using each word deliberately. This is my favorite thing about The Great Gatsby and it is my favorite thing about Death Comes to the Archbishop-every word belongs. The landscape is as much of a character as the priests.

I didn't mind the theology-the main characters, the priests, Latour and Vaillant are imperfect human beings. They struggle with themselves and with those they seek to convert. I never identified with them but I also never actively disliked them. I admired some aspects of their characters and found others downright distasteful but once again, Cather's prose comes to the rescue with meditations that over the course of reading book won me over to them. There is just a sense of purity about the novel that makes it somewhat of an epic without many of the elements of an epic.

The only thing really that bothered me about the novel was the noble savage rhetoric. The Native Americans and Mexicans are archetypes which was particularly saddening considering how many clerical stereotypes Cather was dismantling. Her prose was breathtaking when describing the arroyo with its hard life but all of the Native American characters are...noble savages. I have to keep reminding myself, she's writing in 1920s, it was progressive enough considering them human beings.


But then, I realize this is the type of book I'd reread. A chronicle of a life that is filled of the everyday and the slow pace of the lived reality so that everything happens without you being aware of it couched in the most gorgeous prose I've read in awhile.