WAIT FOR YOUR TRILOGIES: A PROPOSED RULE

You’d think I’d know better, but I’m willing to let other people profit from my own mistake, and learn the rule I’m seemingly incapable of following myself, which is:

 

NEVER START READING A TRILOGY OF BOOKS UNTIL AFTER THE THIRD BOOK IS PUBLISHED.

the dastardly miss lizzie

So many times I’ve been burned by my failure to abide by that one simple rule, and I’m suffering for it even now.  The latest book in the Electric Empire Series (book 3), The Dastardly Miss Lizzie, by Viola Carr, has just been published and naturally, since I’ve read the first two when they came out, I snapped it up and prepared to devour it.  The series is great fun, which is clear from the fact that I, who have an almost holy reverence for the original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, am loving the books though there is no way you could reconcile the Jekyll/Hyde from the original with their counterparts in this series (Jekyll never married nor had any female friends, as far as I can tell from the original book, so there’s no way he could have a daughter who shares his unfortunate ability to split into a good and an evil side, and that’s one of the bedrocks of this series).  It’s steampunk, it’s good solid mystery, it’s Victoriana, it’s got great characters and ongoing plotlines involving those characters, and the writing is crisp and entertaining.  

 

However, I’m having trouble getting through it, and that is largely because it’s been almost two years since the last book in the series came out (The Devious Dr. Jekyll, in October 2015) and I’ve read a lot of other books since then and have, I hate to admit, forgotten some of the background of this series in the meantime.  Perhaps it would be easier if the author included some kind of prologue to bring us all back up to speed (other authors in other series, such as Jonathan L. Howard in his excellent Johannes Cabal series, do give you a little summary to remind you of how the characters got where they are in this volume), but you can’t know, before you start the book, whether the author will be considerate in that way, and there you are, struggling through a book you should fly through if you’d just finished the last book in the series a week or two before instead of nearly two years before.

 

Sometimes it’s not a problem. I’ve referred to The Magicians series by Lev Grossman, another series where the books were published years apart, but following those books wasn’t as much of a problem because when I finished the first book (The Magicians), it felt like a real ending, not the ending of a first book in a series, and likewise the end of the second book (The Magician King) felt final and not like a setup for a sequel, so in each case the sequels felt like pleasant surprises, and I didn’t feel I needed to go back and remember how the characters got to this point.

 

Aside from the problem of not remembering all the essential details over the course of a couple of years or more between parts of a trilogy, there’s also the horrible possibility that the third book (or even the second book) may never be published and if you’re reading the books as they come out, you may be left hanging. I’m frankly beginning to wonder whether Hilary Mantel is ever going to publish the third book in her series about Thomas Cromwell, which began with Wolf Hall in 2009 and continued with Bring Up the Bodies in 2012 (three years later).  Now it’s almost five years after the publication of the second book and I’m wondering whether Mantel just doesn’t want to come to the inevitable end of the series (which would probably cover her main character’s fall and death).  If I waited until the third book actually got published, I wouldn’t have experienced the intricacies of the first two books (both of which won Man Booker awards in their respective years), but I also wouldn’t be kept on tenterhooks about whether we’re ever going to reach the end (fans of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire will certainly sympathize).

 

So it’s a good rule, and if you follow it, you’ll be able to whiz through trilogies with no problem.  Do what I say, not what I do.

 

OLD FAVORITES WITH NEW BOOKS AT THE FIELD

Some authors just have a knack for writing the kinds of books people love. Maybe they’re the kinds of books that win awards, or maybe they’re the kinds of books that touch people’s hearts and turn into bestsellers.  Both Elizabeth Strout and Fredrik Backman fall into that category, and both of them have new books out that you want to check out if you’re a fan of their work.

anything is possible

Elizabeth Strout won a Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of interconnected short stories that was later made into a television series starring Frances McDormand.  Her books focus on small town people and the connections between them, and her gift is to make those people come alive so you feel you know them better than people you know in real life, and she makes connections between one book and another that deepen the significance of both books.  Her newest book, Anything Is Possible, follows on the heels of her last book, My Name Is Lucy Barton, and takes place in the same town where Lucy was born and raised, which both Lucy and her mother discussed in the previous book.  Like other books by Strout, this book is in the form of interlinked stories, baring the souls of people bound together by shared pasts and shared presents, focusing on relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, siblings, and illuminating them all with Strout’s characteristic grace and beautiful writing.

beartown

Fredrik Backman’s breakout book was A Man Called Ove, which came out in America in 2014 and is still a favorite of book groups, the sort of book you have to put on hold to have a hope of being able to read from the library.  That book, about a seemingly curmudgeonly man who is gradually revealed to be a man in mourning who’s better than his outward appearance would suggest, has been an international bestseller and was followed up by Britt Marie Was Here and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, both of which have also been bestsellers about isolated people becoming part of the larger world.  His newest book, Beartown, is a little different, though some of his themes shine through here as well. Beartown is a small town slowly dying, the forests encroaching on its periphery, but the people in the town still have hope: their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals and might even win.  Unlike the classic sports movie about the underdogs who go on to win it all, in Beartown the critical match turns into something violent, traumatizing one young girl and spreading pain and trouble throughout the town.  Can the people pull together and find hope even in the aftermath of such a damaging event?  Don’t expect a sentimental happy ending, but rest assured that Backman will bring you a satisfying one.

 

By the way, for those doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, Beartown counts as a book about sports.  Just saying.

 

THE CHASE IS ON: NEW THRILLERS AT THE FIELD

There’s something about the chase, the bad guy’s seeking out the innocent protagonist and following him or her through hell or high water, that leads to exciting thrillers. Throw in the officers of the law, endangering the protagonist in their efforts to get the killer, and you have an edge of the seat read, like three of the new thrillers here at The Field this month.

no easy target

No Easy Target, by the always good Iris Johansen, has as its protagonist Margaret Douglas, the survivor of a brutal childhood, a woman who discovered she had the power to understand and communicate with animals.  That gift helped her get through the nightmare of her past, and she’s grown into a woman who keeps as far as she can from anyone who might want to get close enough to use her as a pawn.  However, sometimes you can’t run away from danger, and when a nightmarish enemy from her past sets his sights on Margaret, not only does she have to avoid him, but she also has to keep away from John Lassiter, the CIA operative who’s hunting her enemy and wants to use her as bait to find him.

burntown

The enemy hunting the protagonist in Burntown, by Jennifer McMahon, has been haunting the family for two generations now.  Miles Sandeski witnessed the murder of his mother, searched out and discovered the identity of the murderer, and then spent his adulthood trying to protect his daughter from the murderer’s continued interest in the family and something the family has.  Unfortunately for Miles and even more for his daughter, his efforts to protect her fail: there’s an attempt on her life, she loses her memory and ends up in hiding in Burntown, the underbelly of the New England town where she’d been living.  There, among other misfits with problems and issues of their own, she tries to survive the police and the killer, who’s still looking for her and will not give up.

the red hunter

A house is the connection in Lisa Unger’s new book, The Red Hunter.  It’s a house where, years before, Zoe witnessed the terrifying deaths of her parents, an event that shaped the rest of her life.  She’s dedicated herself to learning the martial arts, to becoming the Red Hunter, and find the men who killed her parents, so she can destroy them.  That same house has inexplicably drawn Claudia, a woman whose life fell apart after she was assaulted in her own home.  She’s rebuilt her life, sort of, and has found her way to this particular house, though she senses there are dark secrets lurking there.  Claudia’s purchase of Zoe’s childhood home starts an inexorable chain of events that brings her into contact with Zoe, and brings both of them into horrible danger.

 

NEW BESTSELLERS OF SPRING: SANDFORD, PATTERSON, STEEL, EVANS AND HAWKINS

Welcome to the semi-regular discussion of which bestselling authors are coming out with new books in the near future!

golden prey

First we have the next installment in John Sandford’s prey series, Golden Prey. If you’ve been following this series over the years (this is the 27th book in the series, which started with Rules of Prey in 1989), then all I need to tell you is that this book is about Lucas Davenport’s first case as a U.S. Marshall, a very different experience from his former work in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, where he’s been for years.  Lucas is investigating a robbery of a drug cartel’s counting house which ended up with the killing of six people, including a child, and his investigation brings him into competition with the cartel whose leaders also want to find and deal with the thieves in their own, illegal, ways (considering that one of the cartel’s people is known as the “Queen of Home Improvement Tools”, which is a reference to her favorite means of torture, you can bet things are going to get nasty).  You can count on Sandford to give you a tightly plotted, well-written book you can’t put down, so get ready for Golden Prey (which came out on April 25).

16th seduction

May brings some more familiar names.  James Patterson starts the month off with 16th Seduction, his latest in the Women’s Murder Club series. In this book, Lindsay Boxer is reeling from the discovery of her husband’s betrayal at the same time the case she and her husband broke together is coming to trial, and at the same time that she’s facing a bizarre wave of heart attacks felling seemingly unrelated people around the city, which may or may not be unnatural in origin.  

against all odds

Danielle Steel, who’s lately been publishing books almost as frequently as James Patterson, has another book, Against All Odds, coming out the first week of May.  As with the best of Danielle Steel’s work, this one concerns a family and the relations between a parent and her children.  Kate Madison, the widowed mother of four adult children, has built up her resale shop into a business that supports her and the family, but she has to face her children’s decisions to risk their happiness and perhaps their futures on unlikely and possibly dangerous gambles: one Wall Street attorney daughter falls in love with a criminal defendant she’s representing; another daughter marries quickly and leaves behind her whole life to be with her new husband whom she may not know as well as she thinks she does; one son decides he needs to start a family despite not being financially or emotionally ready to do so; the other son makes a choice with a woman twelve years older that shocks everybody.

the broken road

Also coming in the beginning of May is the first book in a new trilogy by Richard Paul Evans.  The book, The Broken Road, turns on a most intriguing question: what would you do if you had a second chance to live your life, to change decisions you made that set you on the wrong path?  Not that it looks as if Charles James, the protagonist, is on the wrong path: he grew up in poverty and now he’s got everything he ever asked for, wealth, fame, and all the material comforts he could desire.  But appearances can be deceptive, and Charles is really living a lie, coming to realize that the things he has are not the things he should want, and wishing he could change his fate.  And then one day he gets another chance, and the question is, what will he do with it?

into the waves

I personally wouldn’t want to try to follow up a global sensation like The Girl on the Train, but Paula Hawkins has come up with another tale of psychological suspense in Into the Water, also being released at the beginning of May. A vulnerable teenager is found dead, at the bottom of a river that runs through town.  A few months later, a single mother meets the same fate, leaving behind an orphan 15 year old, lonely and friendless, in the custody of her mother’s sister.  This is not a great situation for her: she’s never met her aunt before, and her aunt left the town years before, vowing never to return.  A string of mysterious deaths, hidden secrets, trauma, grief and numerous twists and turns make this book another un-put-downable read.

 

MAY BOOK GROUP BOOK: ANOTHER BROOKLYN

Thanks to everyone who attended the April meeting of the Field Notes Book Group and engaged in a lively discussion of our last book, The Art of Racing in the Rain.  As usual, at the end of the meeting we decided on the book for next month’s get-together on May 20 from 11:00 to 12:30.

another brooklyn

The May book we’ve chosen is Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, and it is a terrific book, sure to inspire great discussions.  

 

Another Brooklyn is about memory, what we remember and how our memories shape us. It’s about loss: lost mothers, lost friends, lost innocence.  It’s also about a very specific time and place, seen through the memories of August, now an adult returning to Brooklyn in connection with her father’s death.  A chance meeting with a former friend on the subway brings back to vivid heartbreaking life the time when August was young and first living in Brooklyn in the 1970’s, and becoming best friends with Gigi, Angela and Sylvia.  The book is vibrant with the sights and scents and music of the period (and if you’re of a particular age, that music will bring the era back to you, too), and August and her friends face all the joys of discovering themselves as young women and all the dangers of that discovery.  Specific and universal, Another Brooklyn is the kind of book that remains with you long after you read it.

 

So come to the library and pick up the reserved copy for the book group, and then join us on May 20 at the Gallery in the Field Library from 11 to 12:30 to talk about August, her life, and this poetic, warm book.  Coffee and refreshments will be served, and we look forward to seeing you there!

JOAN OF ARC IN THE FAR FUTURE: THE BOOK OF JOAN

the book of joan

Some authors like to do new looks at classic fairy tales, some look for new perspectives on Shakespearean tales, and some authors use actual history as source material for fiction.  In the last category we find the new science fiction book, The Book of Joan, by Lidia Yuknavitch, which takes the real story of Joan of Arc and transposes it into a post-apocalyptic world.

Admit it, just reading that description intrigued you, right?  What a fascinating idea!

As with many good dystopian novels, this one has as its prelude a series of devastating wars that have changed the earth completely.  In The Book of Joan, the very surface of the earth has become a radioactive battlefield.  The human beings who remain alive are living on a strange platform called CIEL, where they have evolved into sexless, pale white, hairless creatures who inscribe stories on their skin.

A charismatic war leader, Jean de Men, rises above the other bloodthirsty cult leaders to take over CIEL and turn it into a sort of corporate police state.  Along comes a child warrior, Joan, who seems to possess or to be possessed by a strange force that communicates directly with the earth (not unlike the voices of angels and saints the historical Joan of Arc heard), and she galvanizes the group of people rebelling against Jean’s rule.  As so often happens when people stand up against a police state, Joan is martyred by Jean and his armies, but also as so often happens, the result of this act is not what the tyrant expected, and Joan’s legacy is more than anyone, her colleagues, her enemies or even Joan herself, could have possibly imagined (similar to the repercussions of the martyrdom of the historical Joan of Arc).

Post apocalyptic dystopia, issues of gender and sex, love and destruction and questions about what it means to be human: if these are issues that intrigue you, then you owe it to yourself to come down to the Field Library and take out The Book of Joan.

 

WORLD WAR II FROM BOTH SIDES: HISTORICAL FICTION AT THE FIELD

Maybe it’s because the last survivors of World War II are dying off and our society is realizing that a lot of information and personal experiences of that shattering time in world history are disappearing forever, or maybe it’s just a new trend that’s arisen for no other reason than that it’s trendy, but I’ve noticed a lot of World War II related historical novels in the last couple of years, looking at the war from many different perspectives.  In just the last few weeks, two new books have come to the Field Library, each offering a different perspective on the war, from Germany to the home front.

cave dwellers

It’s always at least a little heartening to learn about attempts to assassinate Hitler, even though they (unfortunately) didn’t succeed (and of course it’s a classic time travel trope that someone wants to go back in time and assassinate Hitler; in the excellent Last Year the twist was that a time traveler from the future wanted to assassinate Hitler’s father to keep Adolf from ever being conceived).  The new book Cave Dwellers, by Richard Grant, focuses on one such effort, and even though you know the attempt isn’t going to succeed (this is a historical novel, not an alternate history book), the author still involves you with the characters and turns up the suspense. In late 1937, just before the war officially started, Oskar Langwell is recruited into an effort to kill Hitler by one of Germany’s best counterintelligence officers, who knew Oskar from a patriotic youth league in which they were both involved.  Oskar is sent on a dangerous mission to Washington, D.C., but he is compromised and has to make his way back into Germany without being caught or even noticed.  Crossing the Atlantic with a Socialist expat pretending to be his wife, Oskar is surrounded by Nazis and fellow travelers, his situation becoming more dire and hazardous as he gets closer to Germany.

the liberators of willow run

Turning from the intrigues just before the war to the American home front during the war, we have The Liberators of Willow Run by Marianne K. Martin, which focuses not so much on the B-24 bombers that made such a difference in the aerial battles of the war, as on the lives of the women who left behind the lives expected of them in 1940’s America to work in the factories building those bombers.  The book focuses on the experiences of three women working in the Willow Run Bomber plant in 1943, and how Audrey, a patriotic young woman seeking her own independence as well as Allied victory, Ruth, a single mother formerly working as a waitress, and Amelia, a 15 year old rape victim forced to live in dangerous surroundings, come together and demonstrate their own strength, ingenuity and courage as they do their part for the war effort and help change their own world in the process.

 

By the way, both these books count in the 2017 Reading Challenge as books about war, and The Liberators of Willow Run also qualifies as a LGBTQ+ romance novel.

 

WATER MAGIC: WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS

when the moon was ours

In a place that feels real and modern but also timeless and universal, there’s a water tower that’s about to fall down, so the townspeople decide to knock it down in such a way that the rusty water flowing out of the broken water tower will do the most good for the plants.  To everybody’s surprise, what emerges with the water is a child, a young girl, terrified and screaming that she lost the moon.  Only a young boy, Sam, is able to approach the girl (whose name is Miel) and calm her down.  This begins the deep and abiding friendship between Sam and Miel, and this begins the absolutely beautiful book, When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore.  That this book happens to fall in the category of “Read a YA or Middle Grade Book by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+” is, for those of us doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, just icing on the cake.*

Miel is special: aside from her remarkable, even miraculous first appearance in the town, she grows roses from her wrist.  This is never explained, just a given, though there are all kinds of legends and stories about people who have that power, and about what those roses can do for the right person.

Sam is also special: he creates beautiful moons and hangs them throughout the town and surrounding area to reassure Miel that she hasn’t actually lost the moon.  He is the only child of a woman from Pakistan, and he works in the pumpkin fields owned by the Bonner family, where his family’s background in collecting saffron from crocus flowers comes in useful.

As Miel and Sam become friends and more than friends, they run afoul of the Bonner sisters, four beautiful redheaded young women who have never been refused successfully by anyone for anything they wanted. They have picked up all the boys they ever wanted and dumped them, breaking their hearts in the process, relishing their power over the town, even if some people in town call them witches.  Now, however, something has changed.  The sisters are losing their power over the town, and they have decided that Miel’s roses will restore it.  They don’t care whether Miel wants to give them the roses that grow through her skin; they intend to get them, at whatever cost to Miel or anyone she loves.

Everybody in the book has secrets they keep from those they love and those they don’t love, and in the end, those secrets are revealed and save the people who have been holding them.

The book is gorgeously written, the magic amazing and believable, the characters rich and full of depth.  I want to thank Christi O’Donnell for turning me on to this wonderful book, and now I’m paying it forward by recommending the book to everyone who loves good writing and page-turning books.

 

*This book also counts as a fantasy novel, so it’s a two-fer for those of us doing the Challenge!

THE BEST OF THE BEST: PULITZER PRIZE WINNERS AT THE FIELD LIBRARY

As you probably already know, the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes were just awarded for excellence in journalism, arts and letters.  If you would like to read some of the prize winners, you’re in luck, because in the categories of fiction and nonfiction, the winners and some of the finalists are available right here at the Field Library.

underground-railroad-cover

The 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning novel shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention: it’s The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which also won last year’s National Book Award.  I wrote about it then, in this post THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: 2016 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER FOR FICTION, and it’s still available as a new book and an express book on our shelves.

imagine me gone

One of the finalists in the fiction category available here at the Field Library is Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (whose earlier book, You Are Not a Stranger Here, was also a finalist for the Pulitzer and the National Book awards; always a bridesmaid, never a bride, unfortunately).  Imagine Me Gone looks, with deep sympathy and heart, at what it’s like to live with someone suffering from depression.  The protagonist, Margaret, is on the verge of marrying her fiance, John, when he’s hospitalized for depression.  Rather than breaking the engagement, she decides to marry him anyway and take on the difficulties she knows she’s going to have to face as his wife and the mother of his children.  As time goes on, Margaret and John have three children, including a son who’s both brilliant and deeply troubled, and Margaret’s dedication and love are tested to their limits.

blood in the water

In the nonfiction category of history, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner is Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, by Heather Ann Thompson.  Widely hailed as the first definitive history of the uprising and its aftermath, the book looks at the prison riot, the siege and the repression that followed from all perspectives, prisoners and hostages, guards, lawyers, politicians, survivors and families of the slain. In the same way that people thought they knew the story of the Columbine shootings before they read the book Columbine, by David Cullen, people think they know what happened in Attica but this book  illuminates all the facts beyond the headlines and brings the time and place to vivid life.

new england bound

A finalist in the history category that’s also here at the Field is New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America, by Wendy Warren.  Following in the footsteps of the brilliant American Slavery, American Freedom, Warren’s book traces the influence of slavery as an institution on 17th century New England.  Contrary to the popular notion that slavery in America was exclusively a Southern issue, Warren demonstrates that the Northern colonies wouldn’t have been as financially successful as they were if they hadn’t been deeply involved in the infamous Triangle Trade, and that it was the fruits of the sale of African slaves that formed the foundations of many a lofty New England fortune.  She illuminates the lives of Native Americans sold into slavery in the West Indies by northern colonists, as well as the lives of African slaves in the 17th century.  The book has been described as “the most important work on 17th century New England in a generation,” and evidently the Pulitzer committee agreed.

the return

The Field Library has both the winner and the two finalists in the category of Biography and Autobiography on its shelves.  The winner is The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar, a wrenching book about exile and loss, and the “cunning and persistent hope.”  Matar was a college student in England when his father, a prominent opponent of Muammar Gaddafi,  was kidnapped by Gaddafi’s agents and taken to a secret prison in Libya.  Matar would never see his father again, but 22 years after the kidnapping, when Gaddafi fell and  the secret prison cells were opened, Hisham Matar returned to his family’s homeland with his mother and his wife, attempting to find out what happened to his father.  In The Return, Matar reports on Libya on the cusp of change, and the terrible scars left on a land and a people after absolute rule, along with the personal pain and anger of his family’s suffering and uncertainty.

in the darkroom

Another story of fathers and children and love and loss is Susan Faludi’s In the Darkroom, a finalist for the prize in Biography.  Susan Faludi, the author of, among other things, Backlash, sets out to find out the truth about her father, a man who had disappeared from her life for years, but whom she remembered as being violent and aggressive, a man who stabbed someone he claimed was having an affair with his wife in the aftermath of their separation.  Hardly the sort of person, Faludi would have thought, who would have had gender reassignment surgery, but when her father reappears in her life, that’s what Stefanie (formerly Steven, formerly Istvan) has done.  A feminist struggling to reconcile what she thinks she knows about her father with what she’s finding out about her (now that Stefanie has transitioned, I’m using female pronouns), Faludi traces her father’s past in an attempt to find the real person she never entirely knew before.

when breath becomes air

The true story of When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, another finalist for the Biography prize, is heartbreaking.  Kalanithi seemed to have it all, or to be on the verge of having it all: he was in his early thirties, happily married, a baby on the way,  Ivy League educated and just about to finish his training as a neurosurgeon.  That’s when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and everything he’d struggled and hoped for was wiped out, and he was left to make sense of the short time remaining to him, and to ask the hardest question of all: given that everyone must die, what makes life meaningful?  If you’ve read (as I have) Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, this is a book you should definitely read, but keep the tissues close.

evicted

In the category of general nonfiction, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond.  Anyone who’s read the book, or even read excerpts from the book (some of which were published in the New Yorker last year), will have no doubts that this book deserved the award.  It’s an enthralling and terrifying look at the world many of our fellow citizens inhabit, where the cost of renting even a place that’s unfit for human habitation costs most of their income, and they can be evicted for having to call the police to protect them against domestic violence, for complaining to the landlord about problems with the space, or for having children living in the house and acting like children, among other things.  He describes in painful detail the terrible choices people have to make when rent consumes most of their income: skip rent this month and buy food or necessities for your family, or pay the rent and go hungry or go without.  He writes vividly about the court process (where poor tenants are at a huge disadvantage from the get-go) and the actual process of eviction itself, and brings the horrors of the low end housing market to life.

in a different key

One of the finalists in the category of general nonfiction is In A Different Key: The Story of Autism, by John Donvan and Caren Zucker, which is also available here in our library.  If you are at all interested in the autism spectrum, how autism has been described and treated (or not) over the years, this is a book to savor.  The authors discuss the history of the autism diagnosis, how often it was blamed on parents (especially mothers) for their treatment of their children (autism seen as a defense mechanism on the part of helpless children against “refrigerator mothers”), how it’s been blamed on vaccines (also a pernicious idea without basis in fact), and what we now think is the cause.  They also write about the changes in the way people with autism have been seen by society and how parents and family members are largely responsible for those changes.  

 

So if you want to be au courant with the books the Pulitzer Prize Committee considers the best of the year, come on in to the Field Library and check them out!

 

OUR INSANE MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM: NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE

If you’ve ever had the experience of dealing with the mental health “system” we have here in the U.S., either for yourself or for someone you love, then you need to read No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America, by Ron Powers.  As a matter of fact, if you are at all interested in how we deal, or don’t deal, with people suffering from schizophrenia, you should definitely read this book, heartbreaking and infuriating in equal measure.

no one cares about crazy people

Powers, a Pulitzer Prize winning author of nonfiction, has a personal interest in the subject matter: he had two sons, both of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia in their early 20’s.  One son committed suicide, the other came close to suicide but managed to survive the worst of the disease.  Half of the book tells the excruciating story of a parent’s nightmare: watching your beloved child suffer from a disease that medicine doesn’t understand and is nowhere close to curing. You know from the outset that Kevin is going to kill himself (Powers tells us this in the introduction), so throughout the story of the young man’s brilliance and talents you are, in some sense, bracing yourself for the horrible end of the story.  Even so, when it comes, it’s heartbreaking.

 

But this isn’t just a memoir of the loss and near loss of two young men to mental illness.  It’s also an exceptionally well-written story of what we know, and don’t know, about schizophrenia and mental illness in general, and a history of how our society, and its predecessors (all the way through recorded history), has dealt with people suffering from schizophrenia, diagnosed or not.  It’s not a pretty story at all, from the inhumanity of places like Bedlam in England (where not only were mentally ill people — and people who probably weren’t mentally ill but were behaving in a way that diverged from social expectations — treated worse than animals, chained to walls, beaten and subjected to all kinds of ugly treatments, but they were also used as entertainment for rich people who would pay to come and jeer at the crazy people) through the American system that Dorothea Dix fought against on grounds of humanity, through the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill (thanks, former President Reagan, a leader in the California movement) and the promise and abuse of pharmacological means of treating schizophrenia.  He does leave us with a little hope, but the hope depends not just on a change in science (some of which is already underway), but on a change in social attitudes, which seems less likely.  

 

The book is appalling and enthralling in equal measures.  It’s not a fun book to read, but it’s incredibly well-written and the subject matter is extremely timely and important.  If you or anyone you love has been caught in the toils of our unnecessarily complicated and difficult mental health system, this is a book you want to read.