Freefall to Fly

One bad moment in a book has the potential to put a sour spin on the rest of a good story. ¬†Freefall to Fly has one of those moments. ¬†Rebekah Lyons‚Äô tells her story of how she overcame fear and anxiety, but undercuts that story with one potentially dangerous assertion. ¬†I wanted to like this memoir–but it isn‚Äôt safe.

#31daysofreading

With her husband and three kids, Lyons moves away from the comforts of living close to family and friends in the south to a completely foreign life in busy New York City.  The transition is difficult and she doesn’t handle it well.  She begins having panic attacks and wonders if the move had been a terrible mistake.

Lyons’ story is compelling and her writing interesting.  However, her conclusions about mental illness and how to deal with it run this book off the rails.  Consider the following quotes:

In our frailty, many of us don‚Äôt believe we can be free. ¬†If we start to feel defeat and helplessness creeping in, we medicate, we numb out, we order our lives to escape our pain. ¬†We seek comfort anywhere we can find it. ¬†Our careers, a prescription, a cocktail bar, another person‚Äôs arms (135-136).”

“We are born with a large capacity for coping, especially when aided by human mechanisms. ¬†Each incident we encounter thickens our skins a little more to take the next blow. ¬†The more we medicate, the thicker the skin becomes. ¬†Before we know it, we are staring through pain and tragedy with eyes that don‚Äôt blink, tears that don‚Äôt come, skin so tough we feel nothing (136).

I just don’t even know where to begin.  I think she’s confusing medication for, I don’t know, perhaps depression? These blanket statements about medication are flat-out wrong.  She bases these assertions about using medication to numb out on the experiences of people she knows, and especially the situation of her father who suffered from severe mental illness.  PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Anecdotes are not the same as facts.  Just because some of the people you know used medication as a way to avoid dealing with the problems in their lives does mean everyone uses medication as a way to avoid dealing with problems. Just because you (the author) might use medication to numb out does not mean that everyone who takes medication for depression is numbing out.

Telling readers that by taking medication for depression you are only trying to numb yourself is dangerous and wrong. ¬†Lyons is entitled to her own opinion, but the editor and publisher (Tyndale House, a Christian publisher) who let that stand in the book were irresponsible and negligent. ¬†Those with depression are struggling enough–they don‚Äôt need to be told the lie that medication isn‚Äôt necessary and that they just need to try harder to get better. ¬†Would Lyons‚Äô (and the many others who say medication for depression is an escape) tell someone with a broken leg that they just need to try harder to heal the broken bone? ¬†Would you deprive someone of antibiotics for an infection and tell them that medication will just numb them? ¬†Absolutely not. ¬†Depression is real, and medication for depression can be exactly what someone needs to get on the path to healing.

I won’t tell you not to read this book.  I will tell you that if you do read this book, be discerning.  Once I read her thoughts on medication and mental health, I had a very hard time taking to heart any of her other conclusions.  In fact, I can barely remember anything else about the book.  This book was a disappointment.  


Freefall to Fly, Rebekah Lyons, 1-star, Christian memoir


Freefall to Fly

Difficult Men

When I began my new job, I started spending more time in the car driving to work. ¬†I realized I needed to maximize all possible reading time in order to have a hope of finishing my 100 books in 2014. ¬†The solution? Audiobooks. ¬†Listening to a book on CD is a very different reading experience than visually reading a printed book or e-book. ¬†I can‚Äôt flip ahead, or even get spoiled by accidentally reading further along on the page. I‚Äôm at the mercy of the pace of the narrator, but it’s a great way to challenge my brain to pay attention a little differently.

#31daysofreading

I chose Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin as my first audiobook experiment because it caught my eye on the audiobook cart at the library.  I was going on a drive to Arkansas the next day and I wanted to be prepared for the drive with listening material.  Last year I read Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever, a book on the same topic.  I loved reading the stories behind such popular TV shows, even ones I had never watched (and never plan to watch, like the Sopranos) and was interested to learn more from Difficult Men.

Where The Revolution Was Televised explored the background of a number of tv shows, Difficult Men focused specifically on the male creators and showrunners of tv dramas from what Martin calls the Third Golden Age of television.  Martin writes about the complicated lives of tv writers like David Chase, David Simon, Ed Burns, David Milch, and Alan Ball and the stories they all told through their shows.  Needless to say, a lot of drama went into making all of their dramas.

I really like reading about television.  I also enjoy watching television, just not the television this book talks about.  I haven’t seen The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, or Breaking Bad.  I don’t really plan on watching any of those shows, except maybe The Wire.  I just don’t have the emotional space to watch all those dark, upsetting dramas.  I don’t need to watch hours of those shows to know it would be too much for me.  But reading about those shows and how they were created? That I can do: reading about these shows doesn’t have the same emotional weight and I learn so much about the creative process.  Also, many of these shows have become such pop cultural touchstones that I want to have a rudimentary knowledge of their stories.  Listening to Difficult Men was an excellent way to learn more.


Difficult Men, Brett Martin, 4-stars, tv history


Difficult Men

My Salinger Year

I have never read Catcher in the Rye, nor any other of the works of Salinger. Nevertheless, My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff still caught my eye.  I can’t resist a memoir devoted to a year in someone’s life (see my reading of: A Year of Biblical Womanhood, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, My Year with Eleanor, Orange Is the New Black).  There’s something about that sharp focus on one season of someone’s life that intrigues me.

#31daysofreading

When Joanna Rakoff was 23 in the late 90’s, she took a job as an assistant at a New York literary agency: an agency that just happened to represent famous author J. D. Salinger.  The agency resists the pull of the forthcoming 21st century, refusing to use computers or the internet and sticking to typewriters and Dictaphones.  Throughout this year, Rakoff navigates the idiosyncrasies of her coworkers at the agency, as well as a relationship with an odd boyfriend.  She also becomes responsible for answering Salinger’s fan mail, and her stories about these letters and her responses to them are fascinating.

Publishing,writing, Salinger, life in New York City as a young woman.  These are just a few of the topics I learned more about from reading My Salinger Year.  This is why I read memoir, why I read anything, to learn about what I don’t already know.


My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff, 5-stars, memoir


salinger

Goodnight June

Who doesn‚Äôt love Goodnight Moon? I‚Äôm sure there must be some heartless readers who don‚Äôt enjoy this classic tale by Margaret Wise Brown, but I‚Äôm not sure I want to know those people. Goodnight Moon was one of my favorite books to read to my students–the kids loved to point out their favorite items in the room. ¬†When I saw the book Goodnight June by Sarah Jio on the shelves at the library, I knew I had to try it out. ¬†Goodnight June is a novel that imagines a friendship between Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown and the aunt of the title character, June.

#31daysofreading
June is an uptight business woman who has been ignoring her past and her family. ¬†She answers the call to go home, though, to settle her aunt Ruby‚Äôs estate, which includes Ruby‚Äôs bookstore, opened in the 1940s. ¬†June has to make the difficult decision of whether or not she can keep the store open. ¬†While she’s going through the store, though, she discovers letters written between her aunt Ruby and author Margaret Wise Brown. ¬†Her aunt has left her a scavenger hunt of sorts, asking June to find classic children’s books in the bookstore to find more of the correspondence between Ruby and Margaret. ¬†Through these letters, June learns the story of the friendship between¬†her aunt and Margaret Wise Brown, as well as more about the origins of Brown’s Goodnight Moon.

I don’t read a lot of adult fiction, because much¬†of what I have read has been boring and predictable. ¬†Obviously I don’t pick that well because I know there has to be interesting and exciting adult fiction. ¬†Goodnight June is somewhere in the middle of that continuum–it wasn’t boring, but it was predictable. ¬†It was interesting, but not terribly exciting. ¬†Overall, though, it was a good story that made me want to read more by this author, even without the¬†Goodnight Moon hook.


Goodnight June, Sarah Jio, 4-stars, fiction


goodnight june

#GIRLBOSS

I read #GIRLBOSS one morning in July when I woke up accidentally at 4:45 AM. ¬†My medication woke up my brain before my body wanted to get out of bed so I picked up #GIRLBOSS (yes, the hashtag is included in the title) off the top of the giant stack of books next to my bed. ¬†It’s not a long or difficult read, and I had the book finished by the time my alarm went off at 7 AM to get ready for work.

#31daysofreading

Part memoir, part self-help, part business tale, #GIRLBOSS¬†is Sophia Amoruso’s story of how she grew her business NastyGal. ¬†She started out as a one-woman shop on eBay selling vintage clothes she found in thrift stores and over the course of a few years grew that shop into a multi-million dollar company. ¬†I had never heard of either Amoruso or Nasty Gal, but the book had been recommended by a website I read for young professional women called¬†Levo League.

What I liked most about this book was, as is the case for most memoirs, is Sophia’s story. ¬†She’s honest and open about the mistakes she made in her young adulthood and as she started her business. ¬†Her journey to becoming the CEO of a giant brand was, to say the least, unconventional. ¬†She didn’t go to college, she didn’t attend business school. ¬†Instead, she built her business through trial and error and wasn’t afraid of making mistakes if she could learn from them.

Interspersed through her personal story are tips for the modern young professional women, the #GIRLBOSS. ¬†She has rules like, “Money looks better in the bank than on your feet,” and “Dream big, start small.” ¬†None of these tips or rules are new or earth-shattering, but they are practical reminders that can help young women take charge of their personal and professional lives.


#GIRLBOSS, Sophia Amoruso, 4-stars, memoir, business, advice, some swearing


#GIRLBOSS

Dear Committee Members

Months and months ago, Linda Holmes of NPR recommended the book Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher on my favorite podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour.  Alas, at the time she recommended the book, she had read an Advanced Reader Copy and it wasn’t set to be published for months. In September, the book was finally published and since I was at the top of the holds list at the library I was able to start reading Dear Committee Members right away.

#31daysofreading

DCM is¬†a short novel of letters from a professor of English at a small college to many, many people. ¬†Professor Jason Fitger writes biting letters of recommendation for students pursuing jobs and degrees at a wide variety of institutions. ¬†With a few exceptions, these are not positive recommendations. ¬†In¬†most of these letters, he is irritated at the requester or the intended recipient, and is not shy about his irritation. ¬†He tells these committees exactly what he’s thinking, with no filter. ¬†While these kinds of letters would be terrible to receive in real life, they are hilarious to read. ¬†Professor Fitger writes what people actually think, but aren’t brave enough to say.

Mixed in with these letters of recommendation (or rather, un-recommendation) are yet more letters¬†detailing his attempts to help one of his students publish a manuscript. ¬†In each new missive, you discover just a little more about Professor Fitger’s life, relationships, and work. ¬†Epistolary novels¬†are so much fun to read: details are teased out piece by piece and you never know which letter will have a bombshell of new information. ¬†DCM¬†is an especially entertaining example, because it is filled with wit and humor. ¬†If you like to laugh, you should read this book.


Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher, 5-stars, epistolary novel, hilarious, some swearing


Dear Committee Members

31 Days of Reading

I am a lifelong reader and book nerd. ¬†Even though there have been seasons where I didn’t have the time or energy to read as much as I would have liked, books and reading have always been an important part of my life. ¬†I also love sharing about what I’ve read, but I’ve never been very successful at actually writing down and publishing any reviews. When I came upon the idea of #31daysofwriting in October, I knew I had a topic ready-made for this challenge: #31daysofreading. ¬†I’ve read 67 books so far this year (finished an audiobook in the car this morning on the way to work!), so I have plenty of material to review. ¬†For this first day, though, I wanted to write about the tools I use to aid my reading habit, as well as what kinds of books I usually read.

#31daysofreading

While I already own hundreds of books, I also really¬†like reading new shiny books. ¬†Alas, my book budget cannot sustain my new shiny book habit, so it’s a good thing I work at a¬†library. ¬†I’m always hovering around my 50 items checked out limit, and I have over 80 items on hold. ¬†Even though I know I won’t ever read them all, I love having choices and perusing these new shiny books.

One of my biggest partners in my reading adventures is Goodreads. I keep my imaginary bookshelves filled with what I’ve read, what I’m currently reading, what I’ve put in hibernating, what I’ve rejected completely, and what I want to read (the shelf that is ridiculously optimistic). ¬†I can also record¬†my reading progress (page number or percent completed), which is helpful since I tend to read 15-20 books at the same time. ¬†I know many people can’t fathom reading more than one book at a time, but I love jumping from book to book and Goodreads helps me stay on track.

Goodreads also hosts a reading challenge every year, which I have participated in since 2011. ¬†That year, I read 20 books, the next year I read 40, and last year I set a goal of 50 and read 53. ¬†For 2014, I wanted to really challenge myself and decided to attempt to read 100 books. ¬†The reading challenge lets me know how well (or not well) I’m keeping to the pace I need to be reading in order to finish 100 by December 31, and right now I’m 7 books behind the pace.

When I finish a book, I give it a star rating using Goodreads’ system:¬†5-stars: it was amazing;¬†4-stars: really liked it;¬†3-stars: liked it;¬†2-stars: it was ok;¬†1-star: did not like it.¬†¬†Most of my books are rated 5s and 4s, because if I really don’t like it, I don’t normally¬†finish it. ¬†If I give a book 1 star, it generally means I hate-read it, meaning I disliked it so much yet I had to finish it because I hoped it might improve (see my 1-star review of The Magicians).

My favorite genre of books is¬†memoir because¬†I enjoy¬†learning about life from someone else’s personal perspective. ¬†Sometimes I choose a memoir specifically because the writer has¬†lived a life very different than mine and I want to explore that difference. ¬†Other times I choose one because I relate to the author and can place myself in her shoes. ¬†Beyond memoir, you will also find me reading young adult fiction¬†and historical nonfiction, with the occasional adult fiction and graphic novels. ¬†Working at the library is expanding my reading horizons, but I mainly stick to these genres when I’m choosing my reading material.

I’ve read a lot of great books this year, as well as some not-so-great books. ¬†You can see them all¬†on my Goodreads page. ¬†I don’t plan on reviewing every book¬†on my list¬†from this year, so if there’s a book in particular¬†I’ve read that you’d like to see, leave a comment letting me know. ¬†I hope that with my #31daysofreading you’ll discover new books to enjoy.