So last year I threw down the gauntlet and dared myself to find the time, energy, and brain cells to read 50 “serious works of fiction.”
I managed 22.
Around here we call that an epic fail. Apparently I stopped reading in August and never picked up another book. That squishy sound you hear is the sound of my brain rotting.
But I am okay with failure. I am a writer. I fail at shit all the time. But I am nothing if not resilient – so here I stand, dusting myself off, to proclaim a similar challenge for 2014:
THIS YEAR I WILL READ 50 SERIOUS WORKS OF BOOK-LENGTH FICTION
See what I did there? I gave myself a little credit for the non-fiction reading I do. For the Malcolm Gladwell and the Janet Reitman and the Bruce Fieler, too, while we’re at it, books I keep at the bedside or read for research or read for this blog.
Sure, they’re not quite as diverting to my mind as a great work of fiction, and they demand a little less from me – all the legwork is done FOR you, in good non-fiction, whereas in fiction the reader’s imagination has to do a bit of the heavy lifting – but it’s not like they’re not equally MIND EXPANDING.
Give a Mom a break, already.
So this year, I’m counting both – fiction and non-fiction, book-length, and generally agreed to be works of either scholarly or artisitic merit. (Meaning: there’s a reason I left Fifty Shades of Grey off my list last year. Yes, of course I read it. Didn’t we all?)
Welcome back to the CHECKLISTMOMMY BOOK CLUB, 2014 EDITION.
My reads below. Your thoughts / suggestions / aggravations in the comments, please!
1. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
This is THE definitive scholarly work about clinical depression. It’s a National Book Award winner for good reason: Solomon traces anthropological and historical roots to the causes and perceptions of the disease, in it’s MANY forms, discusses treatments, interviews people who have suffered, and relays his own experiences with struggles with depression, too. An incredibly impressive, dense, invaluable book which I read every 10 years. I picked it up over the New Year to help me with an idea I have for a novel. If you are struggling with depression, or know someone who is, this is THE book you need. (Non-fiction / JANUARY)
2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Can you believe I have made it 38 years – several of them as a mopey, depressed, melodramatic teen – without reading this book? Me neither. Totally engrossing, weirdly charming book about a suicidal depressive. Plus if you pick this up now you never have to admit to never having read it again. (Fiction / JANUARY)
3. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Do you detect a theme? I swear this is research – but even so: I LOVED THIS BOOK. This book is structured in such a way, and narrated in such a way, that its shape and voice completely mirror its content, a memoir about living several years as a teen in a mental institution – the same institution, by the way, that Sylvia Plath inhabited years earlier. Phenomenal read. True, believable, shocking. And no, I had never read it before NOR seen the movie. Real gaps of my education are coming to light here, I know. (Memoir / JANUARY)
4. Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Meh. I just didn’t buy it. And I say this as a person who has been depressed, and grew up around depressives, and continues to live among them. Most people I am friends with are medicated. But I just didn’t EVER feel I believed what I was being told in this book. Not because it wasn’t true – because I didn’t believe Wurtzel was telling the truth. There is a distinction. Reading this was a slog for me. I might not have finished it if I weren’t immersing myself in dep-lit (yes, I just made that up) right now. Oh and: the title takes it’s name from the (tacked on) last chapter about what Prozac has or hasn’t done to our nation as a whole. Which didn’t seem particularly integrated into the book IMHO. I don’t know. Maybe this book was huge because it was THE depression book about ’90s kids, just as GIRL, INTERRUPTED, was about ‘60s kids. All I know is, this book is NOT the book for me. (Memoir / JANUARY)
5. Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface by Martha Manning
THIS book I found incredibly true in every way. Manning’s particular skill is in describing how depression builds not just as a result of so many and such disparate life events, but also showing how one’s biologically-based personal chemistry that may even pre-determine a severe depressive crisis despite all efforts to head it off. Manning is a psychologist herself, and during the time she describes in this book she was a church-goer, practiced meditation, and was happily married — and yet NONE of these things were a great enough hedge against harm. It’s a chilling and beautiful book about a slow, inexorable build to illness. Highly recommended. (Memoir / JANUARY)
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