Sometimes I find myself sliding down a rabbit hole of readery goodness. This year was the year of the mental health memoirs and psychologically-inclined non-fiction books (and plenty of fiction books whose plots would have landed them here if I hadn’t decided to stay away from that slippery slope). Nothing makes you feel like maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem as books about incest, schizophrenia, and family dysfunction to a degree I had thus far not even imagined. I felt like I was rubbernecking as I gulped these books down as quickly as I could…
1. The River of Forgetting, by Jane Rowan. (Feb 2012). I read a lot of psychology-related memoirs this year, starting with this one about a woman who was abused as a child, but remembers only as an adult. First with glimpses, then a bit more with guided therapy and hypnosis, Jane struggles with the validity of her memories and wonders whether her attacker could truly have been her father – and if so, how could her mother have stayed with him until his death. While obviously the author was dealing with tremendously powerful and difficult emotional content, the writing seemed wishy washy and disjointed. I imagine the book would be helpful for someone who experienced similar assaults to know there are other survivors, but the writing was not strong enough for me to connect as an outsider. Not a fault; just an observation. 2 of 5 stars.
2. Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, by Koren Zailckas. (May 2012) I didn’t get much out of this book, mostly because I was lucky enough to escape my teens and 20s relatively unscathed. Hell, compared to a lot of the memoirs I’ve read, I’m frickin’ pristine, still. However. Just because reading Smashed was a sad confirmation of the staggering stats I’m already aware of doesn’t mean I think it’s a waste of time. On the contrary – Smashed would make for fantastic compulsory reading for every high school freshman in the country. 3 of 5 stars.
3. The Psychopath Test: Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson. (May 2012) The author tries to determine if there’s a personality test that could determine who is – or could be – a psychopath, and uses his research to examine the lives of several high profile businessmen in today’s society. A compelling read, even thought it was a lot different from what I expected (more narratively driven than set up with chapters devoted to different subjects). 4 of 5 stars.
4. A Child Called “It”, by Dave Pelzer. (Jun 2012) This was a re-read for me, but it’s been so long since I read it that I couldn’t remember huge chunks of the story. The details were just as horrifying as I remember, but the writing was much, much weaker than I recalled. Either that, or all the mental health memoirs I’ve been reading have raised my expectations. If you haven’t read it – and you have a strong stomach considering that truly horrible, heartbreaking acts of violence are committed against a small child – I would still recommend it. Just keep your expectations lowered going in. And tissues at the ready if you’re a mom. 3 of 5 stars – with some latitude.
5. The Memory Palace, by Mira Bartok. (Jun 2012) Another of my mental health memoirs I burned through this year, The Memory Palace is one I could not put down. It tells the tale of two grown up sisters attending their mother’s last days. Already a zinger, right? Well get this: their mom was (is) batshit crazy. And I do not use that term lightly: the sisters changed their names and moved away in order to protect themselves. That is crazy on a whole ‘nother floor, am I right? The with and against narration was beyond moving, hearing Ms. Bartok struggle with loving and hating her own mother, and trying to deciper “real” and “not real” in all her memories of her mom. I dare you to read this book and not ache on one level and feel incredibly guilty for the (comparatively) small worries in your own life. 4 of 5 stars.
6. The Serial Killer Whisperer, by Pete Earley. (Jul 2012) The book is based on an incredibly interesting true-life story: a promising young boy suffers a traumatic head injury at church camp. As a result, he suffers from some pretty devastating personality disorders, one of which is that he tends towards angry, impulsive lashing out. Later, after much recovering and retooling of his life and his parents’ lives, he begins a new hobby: writing to serial killers. Is it possible that many serial killers are the way they are because of brain abnormalities and/or injuries? Earley explores that any many other questions. 3 of 5 stars.
7. Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl, by Marguerite Sechehaye. (Sep 2012) It was straight-forward, depressing, and exactly as advertised…though little more. Perhaps a lot of it was lost in the translation, but I just didn’t get any oomph or triumph-over-adversity-happy-feelings. Which makes me sound like a horribly spoiled and self-centered reader. I guess what I felt was lacking was why? Why was the book written? What made her want to share her story? If a book can’t answer that question, I feel like the point was sort of missed. 2 of 5 stars.
8. Your Voice in my Head, by Emma Forrest. (Dec 2012) I had no idea who Emma Forrest was before I read her memoir about being an hot, up-and-coming screenwriter, the girlfriend and lover of several celebrities, and a bipolar with self-destructive tendencies. I’ll admit that I googled which A-list movie actor her GH (Gypsy Husband) was, but mostly I wasn’t reading Ms. Forrest’s memoir for the sinsational tabloidy bits (which is probably a good thing, because there aren’t many). I was reading it because, as I’ve mentioned, I have a thing for mental health memoirs. And I also have a thing for love stories. Especially well-written ones. That’s what this was. It is a heartbreaking love story written to her beloved psychiatrist who helped her see herself again as she really is, and to the healthy self she learned to become. If it helped me remember how to help myself steer clear of unhealthy relationships – with boys and my darker self – goodo for me. 4 of 5 stars.