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25904473Title: So Sad Today
Author: Melissa Broder
Pages: 203
Year: 2016
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsis: Melissa Broder always struggled with anxiety. In the fall of 2012, she went through a harrowing cycle of panic attacks and dread that wouldn’t abate for months. So she began @sosadtoday, an anonymous Twitter feed that allowed her to express her darkest feelings, and which quickly gained a dedicated following. In So Sad Today, Broder delves deeper into the existential themes she explores on Twitter, grappling with sex, death, love low self-esteem, addiction, and the drama of waiting for the universe to text you back. With insights as sharp as her humor, Broder explores–in prose that is both ballsy and beautiful, aggressively colloquial and achingly poetic–questions most of us are afraid to even acknowledge, let alone answer, in order to discover what it really means to be a person in this modern world.

This is a book that I was supposed to love. Personal essays about experiences with mental illness with a touch of humor or arguably too many touches is like 100% my thing. Even my book reviews have that style half the time. And yet, I very much did not like So Sad Today. I feel bad about disliking this book so much because it’s a real person’s deepest secrets and most intimate feelings. I can appreciate what she did. The things she shared are intense, and I related to her feelings of depersonalization and derealization that I have been scared to share with other people, so I applaud her for sharing them. But the rest of it…. Well, I consider myself to be pretty weird, but as I read this, I started to feel very, very normal.

The hyper-sexuality of So Sad Today is what really turned me off to it (ironically?). Gosh, at least eighty percent of it is about sex, and I was uncomfortable to say the least while reading, for instance, the chapter that is mostly made up of very graphic sexts. Call me prudish (or perhaps semi-asexual) if you like, but I have no interest in that sort of thing, so I started to think maybe this book just isn’t for me.

Argh. I’m struggling with this, you guys. I want to say that objectively, definitively, there’s too much sex in this book. Yet, there’s nothing about literature that’s objective. This is when I start to think about what a book review’s purpose really is, and what anyone’s opinion on a book really means. This is Broder’s life story, and she can tell it however she likes. I can’t suggest that she write a different story because then it would not be true. All I can say is that I did not enjoy reading her story. In addition to my discomfort, I felt her writing was repetitive. There is a chapter that solely consists of single lines followed by “: a love story,” which is supposed to indicate that each line is the title of a love story. After several of those lines, I was incredibly bored. I was like, okay, I get the point. And her writing wasn’t particularly vivid, despite its detailed grotesqueness. I couldn’t see what she saw. (Though often, I really didn’t want to.)

What I wanted to hear more about was her struggles with addiction. I’ve dealt with many of the same issues as the author, but I’ve never experienced an alcohol/drug addiction, so I was really curious to know more about what that was like for her. Yet, I felt she didn’t go into it very deeply, and I think the book would be a lot stronger if she had included some more discussion on that topic instead of so many sexts.

Okay, so I wrote all of that about a week ago, and I felt like I was going in circles and I needed to take a step back from it. And coming back to it, I have more definitive things to say about it. It was brave of the author to share all the things that she did, and I hope it was cathartic and freeing for her. However, from a literary standpoint, she failed to tell her story in a way that was vivid and interesting, and her writing is repetitive and chaotic. Therefore, I did not enjoy reading this, and my rating is rather low. This review is rather chaotic itself, so thanks for bearing with me! This was a hard one. Happy reading, my friends.

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11250847Title: Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Author: Conor Grennan
Pages: 320
Year: 2010
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (HarperCollins)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks, 4 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisIn search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan embarked on a yearlong journey around the globe, beginning with a three-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in civil war-torn Nepal. But a shocking truth would forever change his life: these rambunctious, resilient children were not orphans at all but had been taken from their families by child traffickers who falsely promised to keep them safe from war before abandoning them in the teeming chaos of Kathmandu. For Conor, what started as a footloose ramble became a dangerous, dedicated mission to unite youngsters he had grown to love with the parents they had been stolen from—a breathtaking adventure, as Conor risked everything in the treacherous Nepalese mountains to bring the children home.

This is one of those books that I wished would never end.

The literary agent I used to work for, Trena, represents Conor, and she encouraged me to read this many times before I finally picked it up. And boy did I pick it up. I savored every word and tried to draw it out as much as possible because I wanted to read about the children of Nepal every day for the rest of my life. This book had me nearly in tears on the subway regularly over the last two weeks, at the same time that it had me laughing out loud. The kids sound so wonderful–they have such a fantastic sense of humor, especially Jagrit. I love the way they all make fun of Conor. And when the littlest girl who was so traumatized finally laughs for the first time, I completely broke. And when I got to the middle of the book where there were pictures…goodness, it really hit me then that these kids are real and they’re still out there, living and breathing, and I want to meet them. I’m, like, holding myself back from asking Trena to call up Conor and see if I can go to Nepal and help out somehow. Because I know that’s insane, and also the kids are nearly adults now, but there are probably more little ones, and I want to have this amazing connection that he had with them.

As for the actual writing–Conor’s voice is strong, and he really brings Nepal to life. I get the sense that if I read something else by him, I would know it was his writing. I didn’t care so much for the segments about Liz, but I was really moved by the part when he buys a bible as a means to get closer to her, and Farid, who is becoming a Buddhist, says, “We both saw that light, I think. We just saw different things in the light.” I’m not a religious person, and for me to try find one would be inauthentic, but everybody believes in something, even if that something is nothing, and I like to think that all those somethings are really all the same something. I don’t think that’s really what Farid meant, but I think it’s related. Either way, I like books that spark those thought processes in me.

I learned a lot from this book, and I’ve enjoyed sharing the story of these children with anyone I can get to listen (mostly my coworkers, ha). I definitely recommend this one. I’m also very excited to say that this is my 100th book review! Glad it landed on a good one. Happy reading, friends.

68783Title: Girl, Interrupted
Author: Susanna Kaysen
Pages: 169
Year: 1993
Publisher: Vintage (Knopf Doubleday)
Time taken to read: 2 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele — Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles — as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. Kaysen’s memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a “parallel universe” set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.

I said in my review of The Bell Jar from a couple of weeks ago that that book put me in the mood to read Girl, Interrupted, and so I went right off to the library after writing that review and picked this up. I realized while I was reading it that Susanna was totally at the same mental hospital as Sylvia Plath, which is dope, and if I ever get sent to a psych ward again, I’m going to insist that they send me to McLean, because duh.

Anyway, obviously I can hella relate to the author/main character because I too am a Borderline. But I feel like we barely see her symptoms in this book because she spends so much time explaining what’s going on around her. There is that incident where she thinks she doesn’t have any bones in her hands, but mostly we learn about the other people in the hospital. (Nothing like that has ever happened to me, but there’s still time.) I love when Kaysen asks, “Was insanity just a matter of dropping the act?” I sometimes feel like other people must feel the things that I feel and see the things that I see, because they’re right there in front of my face, right here in my body, and I’m in the same exact world as them–but they don’t act like me, so they must be suppressing it somehow, or lying to themselves and/or everyone else. Or maybe they just weren’t made to see and feel those things. And then I feel a little lucky, like I’m enlightened or something. I can see the truth, and other people are kept in the dark.

Well, that’s enough of my insanity for one review. I kind of like the way the story is told sort of out of order, because it felt like she was talking to me. At least when my best friend and I tell stories, it never comes out perfectly in the right order. We always have to backtrack a little and then find our place again, and that’s how this book felt, which was kind of comforting. It felt like the author was my friend.

Kaysen also says, “People ask, how did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well.” Maybe that was true in 1967, but I don’t think it’s true now. I think regular, normal people know that they are regular and normal and are very comfortable with and proud of that and would never think for a moment that they could end up in a hospital, especially with all the levels of therapy there are for all sorts of issues. I remember once when I was in college, I stopped in the dining hall to get lunch before going to a therapy appointment, and I ran into a girl I had known and liked my freshman year. She asked me what I was doing, and I told her the truth, and she asked, with absolutely no shame, “What do you see a therapist for?” I was shocked, but only because I would never ask someone that. I have no problem being asked and answering it, and I told her. I think she was just curious. People like to gossip. I like to gossip. And crazy people sure are interesting. I probably seemed pretty normal to her, and she wanted to know what was hidden underneath. Which I’m sure Susanna Kaysen could relate to. She seems fairly well-adjusted most of the time. “Seems” is the key word, though.

And now that this review has become all about me and my issues, I’ll stop here. Sometimes I think I don’t write book reviews so much as book responses. In any case, I’m interested to hear if other people felt they could relate to the main character, because I think a lot of symptoms of BPD show up in a lot of people, though in an extremely diluted form–the difference between being normal and having a diagnoses is that we feel all the things and we feel them so gosh darn much.