Good Morning, Monster: A Therapist Shares Five Heroic Stories of Emotional Recovery by Catherine Gildiner
Be prepared for this book to tear your guts out and leave them in a sloppy pile on the floor. It will make you feel like complete garbage for ever complaining about anything in your life. Catherine Gildiner is a white therapist who tells about her work with five patients suffering from traumatic life experiences. She tells their stories with tenderness and obvious fondness. Each patient overcomes the debilitating elements of his or her own emotional turmoil, finding ways to create success and exemplifying the qualities of true emotional superheroes.
Gildiner starts with a white woman named Laura, forced into parenting her younger siblings after her father left them abandoned in a remote winter cabin. Next up is Peter, a painfully shy son of Chinese immigrants, who was left alone in a room above the family's restaurant for so long that he suffered severe developmental gaps that created intimacy issues in his adult life. Although all of the stories were heart-wrenching, Danny's struck a particular nerve with me. Danny, of the First Nations, lost his wife and daughter in a car accident and was referred to Dr. Gildiner by his boss when he was unable to show emotion or feel pain after the loss. After learning more about Cree indigenous cultural norms, Dr. Gildiner helps Danny discuss his painful childhood when he was torn away from his native family and sent to a Canadian residential school designed to eliminate his identity. He was horrifically abused and spent the rest of his adult life blocking out all emotion. Alana, white and of high intelligence, was sexually abused by her father, and Madeline, also white and from a wealthy family, suffers from OCD and shares how her mother would psychologically torture her in various ways, greeting her each morning with "Good Morning, Monster."
While Gidiner shares lessons from each person's story, she also discusses the mistakes she makes and how these cases helped shape her professional growth. She's quick to point out her own flaws and ways in which she could have done things differently, and this reflective quality makes me like her even more. While not for the faint of heart, this book will give you the space to consider your own emotional resiliency in comparison, and lord knows we can all use some hopeful models to look up to these days.
The Office is one of those shows that I put on when I need a guaranteed laugh, and it never lets me down. I really enjoyed hearing all of the actors, writers, and directors talk about the entire process in their own words. The style of this book highlights just how unique and special this show is. They reveal some of the actors that were originally imagined for Michael Scott's role, and how much work went into making sure the set and wardrobe were as authentic to the everyday world of a small paper company as possible. The actors/actresses also revealed the scenes that made them break, and of course, one that had them in fits was the dinner party episode. Between Dwight's dinner date, Jan's candle business, and Michael's tiny TV, the episode slays. I also really appreciated how much they thought through the characters and developed them in ways that were so much more than just comedic effect. If you're an Office fan, this is your Bible.
This book made me think about racism in a completely different way. Here I am, thinking I'm just fighting the good fight and trying to be anti-racist, and then this books knocks me down a few pegs, rightfully so. While a lot of this information is likely obvious to some readers, I found the material to be thought-provoking and discussion-worthy, which to me, is always the mark of a good read and will definitely inform my life going forward. Robin DiAngelo is white and is speaking specifically to white readers after years of training as a sociologist and working as a diversity trainer in the business world. She talks about how racism is not an action but a systemic fact. Racism exists pure and simple, and it's not in the binary good/bad ways we've always framed it. When people think of racists, they think of the Klan or those angry whites from the Civil Rights era screaming in the faces of little black children on their way to school. But racism is so much more than these scenes. Racism exists in structures. It exists because blacks have not been able to accumulate generational wealth. It exists because most of the "top ten" lists of wealthiest people are white men. It exists because most of the people serving in positions of power in Congress are mostly white men. Award winning movie directors are all white men, and the list goes on and on. Racism will continue to exist until whites give equality to people of color. She starts the book explaining this concept with the example of suffrage. Women were not given suffrage until those in power changed the laws. White men gave white women the right to vote. Women of color were not given that right officially by law until much later. It's up to the group holding the position of power to change it. Nothing will change unless white people stop acting defensive when talking about their racism and recognize these structural deficiencies in this power imbalance.
One thing that really struck me since I'm such a big reader is the idea of white as the default race. When I read and even write book reviews, race is only mentioned when a character is of color. Why is white the automatic default? Why do we assume that someone is white unless we specifically point out their race? I do this all the time in my reviews. I'm white, and the reason I do this is because of my own racism. Do I wear a pointed hood or scream at black children? Do I make racist jokes or say the N word? Never, but I've learned racist things without recognizing them as such just simply because I'm white living in a world where white has always been the default. This is something I'm going to commit to working on, and it's ever-evolving. Another poignant moment for me with this book was the section on segregation. Sure there have been laws to abolish segregation, but we still live in a mostly segregated society from housing to schools, etc.
This book angers a lot of people. If you read it without being open to the idea of discussing your own white race, you won't gain anything from it. The fragility exists when we are unable to talk about how whiteness is entangled with racism because we're afraid to be labeled bad or good. Our social environment insulates us from ever having to deal with stress related to discussions of our race, and therefore we become ultrasensitive to any kind of conversation about it. It's not up to people of color to end racism. It's our responsibility as white people to learn from POC about their experiences. I like how DiAngelo points our her own racism and what she did when she learned of it. Her personal examples and sociological points are the highlights of this book and cement it as one of those reads I just can't get out of my mind.
The Galvin family consisted of 12 children born between 1945 and 1965 which is worthy of a story just based on the sheer insanity of having that many children within a span of 20 years. The shocking thing about this family is that six of the children (all boys) were diagnosed as schizophrenic. Robert Kolker goes on to describe Mimi and Don Galvin's remarkable family as years of seeking, blaming, violence, denial, and abuse tear the family apart and break down their seemingly ideal lives. Kolker not only goes through the history of schizophrenia research, but he also does justice to the family by telling their devastating story in a humane way, showing empathy for the mentally ill boys, siblings, and parents despite the family's dark secrets and dysfunction. Eventually the Galvin family is studied by researchers at NIMH. Their case study informs genetic research and debates on nature vs nurture. The most fascinating part of this entire family study is that it helped researchers find a dietary supplement, choline, to add to prenatal vitamins in an attempt to alter or eradicate the illness completely. The trial is currently in progress. This book reminds me of another terribly sad history, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The authors in both tell the stories behind medical and scientific progress with particular attention to the sacrifices, humanity, and callousness in which these advances are often gained. It's important to hear the full stories and recognize what has been given and often taken behind the grandeur of progress.
Glennon Doyle has a very interesting voice. I appreciate a lot of what she's laying down, but some of this just felt a little selfish, to the point where it's borderline snobbery. Yet I also felt a kinship with Doyle and much of her take on the world felt like she was talking directly to me, absorbing right into my being. How can you not love a book like that? Doyle shares her experience with a divorce and a new relationship with a woman, retired soccer star, Abby Wambach. I loved the island metaphor that she uses to explain to family and friends that were not accepting of their new family unit. "When you are ready to come to our island with nothing but wild acceptance and joy and celebration for our true, beautiful family, we’ll lower the drawbridge for you. But not one second sooner." I especially related to her sections on parenting a sensitive child. She talks about how sensitivity is a superpower and not something to be ashamed of. Her mantra "We can do hard things," is something I've already started repeating to my girls especially in these last few months. Feelings are meant to be felt - all of them, not just the happy ones that we display to the world around us. Doyle is obviously a kick-ass mother but is also quick to point out when she doesn't do things right. She has a genuine ability to self-reflect, and this makes her thoughts that much more likeable and relatable.
I'm all for women taking stock of their lives and knowing when to say no. Selfishness has a rightful place in our lives, but it also needs to be balanced with empathy and awareness of others. Women often put others first to the detriment of their own sanity, but a healthy balance is what's missing not a full onslaught of self-talk, and a me-me-me-me-me attitude. But with that said, Glennon (I feel like I'm already on a first name basis with her, and I'm pretending we're friends) would probably point out that confident women all too often get labeled entitled, and to that point I agree. Quibbling over how much selfishness is too much or just right is not enough to take away from the other points in her book. She has so much good stuff in here to ignore. And then she says “When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself,” and I feel like I everything I just thought was wrong. She's so good and really makes me think about ALL OF THE THINGS.
And then she brings on the pizzazz with this gleaming pearl that I can't stop thinking about. “Mothers have martyred themselves in their children’s names since the beginning of time. We have lived as if she who disappears the most, loves the most. We have been conditioned to prove our love by slowly ceasing to exist. What a terrible burden for children to bear—to know that they are the reason their mother stopped living. What a terrible burden for our daughters to bear—to know that if they choose to become mothers, this will be their fate, too. Because if we show them that being a martyr is the highest form of love, that is what they will become. They will feel obligated to love as well as their mothers loved, after all. They will believe they have permission to live only as fully as their mothers allowed themselves to live.If we keep passing down the legacy of martyrdom to our daughters, with whom does it end?" Gut punch. Doyle has a way of just getting to the raw meat of women's lives, and this is just one of her many juicy bits of wisdom that make me keep coming back to this book, cringing and loving it all at the same time.
I really had to force myself to finish this. It was marginally interesting but not memorable at all. Larson follows William Dodd and his family as he becomes the American ambassador to Germany in 1933 when Hitler comes into power. He slowly and painfully reveals how the world underestimated Hitler's reach and volatile power. Dodd is a basic guy who doesn't like showy things. His daughter, Martha, sleeps around with everyone in Berlin, enjoying the social scene and flirting with obliviousness. The books takes so much time detailing Martha's sex/dating life (not in graphic detail at all so don't get excited) that she takes a primary role in the book. She eventually gets a "meeting" with Hitler as a possible hook-up but she's not into him. Later, Martha gets involved with a Russian spy, and she's probably the most interesting character overall which is an indicator of how boring this whole book is. Tell me more about Martha's correspondence with poet, Carl Sandburg, and her endless attempts to engage the literary crowd while she woos the Nazis. I finished this only because of an annoying promise I made to myself not to quit books.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My girls will read this book someday, and if I had sons, I would have them read it too. I don't care that it's graphic and raw; it's also dripping with an angry truth that everyone should hear and feel. Chanel Miller's voice is fireworks of emotion. The day I finished this book, I tried to explain it to my husband while he was driving, and I just couldn't get the words out. I cried and tried to explain what she wrote about. He patted my knee and then lightly squeezed my arm, and that's all I needed. He understood what I was trying to say without another word. I ached for this woman, for myself, for my friends, for every woman who has faced even the tiniest bit of the cruelty and injustice that comes with sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Chanel's voice is difficult to connect with at first, and I found myself confused about who she is. Then as she continued her story, and her writing style revealed her true voice, I got it. She didn't act the way survivors are expected to act because there are no set rules. She didn't ask questions. She expressed more concern for the well-being of her sister than for herself. She did what she was told. She was a victim put on trial while her rapist, Brock Turner, was pitied, and his lost swimming future lamented. Her life and private parts were put on display while people made excuses for his privilege. She eventually writes a searing victim impact statement only to have it edited for time, and the justice system demeans her further. Chanel finally gets her say when her entire statement is published and read by millions of people worldwide. Her words are uncensored, and the polished euphemisms often used in sexual assault cases are bravely and notably missing. Chanel Miller makes her name known to the world despite the outrageous slap on the wrist that Brock Turner gets at sentencing. I was enraged, devastated, and disgusted by what Chanel went through. Her story lays out the reality of sexual assault and the way victims are degraded in the current processes of our judicial system but also a path toward healing by creating justice with her own words.
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The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
James McBride grows up questioning his identity as a black child raised by a white mother with eleven black siblings in a poor housing project in Brooklyn. Ruth McBride Jordan is fiercely protective of her children and evasive about her childhood and past. James spends a large part of his life embarrassed by his mother and questions everything while she artfully and sometimes gruffly dodges his inquisitions. When he asks her what color God is, she replies that, "God is the color of water," and she generally lives her life according to that principle. Her expectations for life and living transcend the human construct of race, but James struggles to find himself. James and his siblings eventually all become successful college graduates, and James begins to uncover his mother's hidden past and roots in Jewish traditions. I absolutely love how McBride switches back and forth between his and his mother's stories. Ruth is a tough woman, and her memories and reflections are both inspiring and tragic. This is not just a story of James' life, but a moving tribute to his mother. He understands who he is after finding home and self in her memories and acknowledging her sacrifices and strength. I've been meaning to read this for a long time and wish I had sooner. This book gave me hope and reminds me all is not lost when chaos takes hold in the world around us. We can all find ourselves again. We can all find our center, our home, our worth, and that orbit is always pulling us back to the middle. This book is a precious pearl settled softly in my heart. It's a rare one you absolutely need to add to your reading list.
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This memoir has feels to last for eternity. Albom's books are always powerhouses but this one is on another level. Some of the life-changing lessons Albom learned in Tuesdays with Morrie resurface and change as he faces these new experiences with life and death.
Finding Chika: A Little Girl, an Earthquake, and the Making of a Family by Mitch Albom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Mitch Albom's books squeeze hearts so slowly that the aching feels warm and devastating all at the same time. The mark of an amazing book is one that leaves you with a feeling so deep that you can't shake it for days after finishing. This book left me with a profound sadness that I couldn't stop coming back to, and yet I loved it despite how it ripped me up inside. This is one of those books that will roll around in my heart forever.
Albom and his wife, Janine, start an orphanage in Haiti and are eventually given the scary news that five-year-old Chika has a brain mass that can not be properly treated in her home country. They take her back to Michigan only to find out that the tumor is rare, and the diagnosis is terminal. Through it all, Chika captivates everyone with her bold personality, fighting spirit, and sweet nature. Although the Alboms did not have any children of their own, Chika immediately becomes their girl blessing them with cheer and wonder despite the dire circumstances. They create a family focused on the short seven years of blessings she brought to their lives. After Chika passes away, Mitch begins to see her again. She visits him at home, and they talk just as they did in life. As Mitch grieves, he also relives her joy. She urges "Mr. Mitch" to write her stories, and he celebrates her. His honesty on what it's like to have a dying child, a child with older parents, a non-biological child, an orphan child from poverty and trauma is all powerful and authentic.
While I read part of this in print and also listened to the audiobook, I highly recommend the audio. Albom includes clips of Chika's voice, and the raspy sweetness of her laughter and speech in between Albom's narration is magnetic, soothing, and bittersweet. Have a large box of tissues handy through this entire book, and be prepared for full-on sobbing. I will assume you have a heart of stone if you don't cry reading this.
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This book is a love song memorializing the beauty and history of libraries. Library lovers will fall deeply and helplessly into the cadence of Orlean's story. Prepare to be in a trance for a little while after finishing this one.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is definitely not for everyone. It's a read for people who take great pleasure in the experience of libraries and books in general. Libraries have adapted in dramatic measures over time always fighting to stay afloat, dipping and bobbing over the span of their existence like colossal free-floating icebergs. The experience of a library is architecture, the smell of pages, eclectic personalities, the presence of knowledge, group experience, individual awakening, and the list goes on and on. Susan Orlean is clearly a lover of all things library, history and consciousness included. In 1986, a fire ravaged the Los Angeles Public Library, and it was suspected as arson. Through her research into the fire, clean-up, and subsequent police investigation, she weaves in a broader tapestry of how libraries have been shaped by history, evolving into the living, breathing hearts of our communities. She profiles many charming people, and it's these assorted characters that make the library programs universal and welcoming. The Los Angeles Public Library has had it's bouts with financial strain and still struggles with the larger systemic issue of the homeless population who freely use the library building as temporary shelter during open hours. Space and money are ever present issues, but the main goal is always to maintain services that are open and equal to everyone. Even after tragedy, libraries persist and adapt. I've always been in awe of libraries, and this book renewed my sense of wonder. Libraries make me feel like I'm in the presence of greatness - the pages, the people, the productivity, the peace. It's all thriving and pulsing, a comforting strength that feels like home. If you can relate to this feeling then this is the book for you!
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Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.