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What to Read Next (No. 227): wrapping up Mental Health Awareness Month
I wish it was a happier, lighter Friday, readers.
All week I’ve been trying to stay away from my NYT app, from social media, from the internet in general — at least as much as possible given my line of work.
The large majority of American citizens are in favor of stricter gun laws and outlawing semi-automatic and automatic weapons. But it just doesn’t matter, because the politicians don’t give it a shit. It feels so helpless.
Given that reality: the upheaval of the last few years has shown a lot of people — myself 100% included — the importance of mental health.
Sometimes it means going for a walk and moving your body. Sometimes it means chilling on the couch with a fluffy, escapey book or movie or Selling Sunset. Sometimes it means spending time with your best friends. And sometimes it means getting outside yourself — giving your time and energy to someone in need or a larger cause.
No matter what it looks like, perhaps a combination of those things and more, I sincerely hope you’re taking the time and giving the effort needed to care for yourself and those around you.
Now let’s talk about some books, which, as I’ve said again and again, can be a great comfort in our lives.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
“Was I ever crazy? Maybe. Or maybe life is… Crazy isn’t being broken or swallowing a dark secret. It’s you or me amplified. If you ever told a lie and enjoyed it. If you ever wished you could be a child forever. They were not perfect, but they were my friends.”
I had no expectations going into Girl, Interrupted, which made it all the more delightful when it turned out to be a rare (for me) 5-star memoir.
Kaysen details her ~2 years in a mental hospital, from ages 19-20, with incredible candor, uncommon self-reflection, and even a bit of ironic wit. Though mental illness memoirs are a dime a dozen nowadays, Girl, Interrupted, published in the early ‘90s, was one of the first to go mainstream.
Structured in short chapters that sometimes jump around between subjects, the book itself almost feels manic — like the format alone gives us some insight into Kaysen’s thought processes.
Not only is the story a page-turner, but the writing is really good. Kaysen’s ability to honestly and unreservedly probe the inner workings of her brain, while in a mental hospital, is remarkable, to say the least. (She published the book decades later, but kept notes from the start.)
It’s also just a fascinating snapshot of what mental health care looked like in the ‘60s. As you can easily imagine, the physical and emotional needs of the patients, especially women patients, were not really taken into consideration.
Girl, Interrupted is close to my must-read category of recommendations. It’s short (just 168 pages), readable, eye-opening, and often profound. An excellent book all around.
I Didn’t Do the Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt by Madeleine Dore
“Our days have become containers for internalized capitalism, or the pervading sense that what we do is tied to our worth.”
I Didn’t Do the Thing Today is one of the latest books in a new wave of what I’m calling the anti-productivity genre. Related titles include: Four Thousand Weeks (one of my favorite titles of last year), Make Time, Do Nothing, and Off the Clock.
Dore provides a much needed dose of what amounts to, “Stop spending so much time and energy on being productive, and more time and energy on being a unique human with unique desires, needs, and passions.”
I read it slowly, taking in roughly a chapter per day, because so much of it was underline-worthy and thought-provoking.
I really enjoyed, especially, the idea of embracing fecundity rather than constant productivity:
“[fecundity is being] capable of producing new growth, but not always in producing mode. Seen in this light, our days are like fertile gardens: a plant to plant, to sow, to weed, to prune, to pick, to compost, depending on the season. A fecund day will look different at different times: some days we did the thing, some days we didn’t. There will be some fruits ripening, but there will also be weeds — distractions, unexpected calls, delays.”
I Didn’t Do the Thing Today is a nice balm of a book if you ever feel overwhelmed by your to-do list.
The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)
Though I’m still reading Stephen King at the pace of roughly one every 4-6 weeks, I was a little behind on reviewing ‘em. This week, I finally wrote up my review of The Long Walk, a short and spare novel that was actually one of the first stories King started writing.
That’s all for me this week! I deeply appreciate the time and inbox space.