Books are fun! But there’s more to engage in life than just reading medical stories. Most of the following reviews are of recently published books (click on the sailboat link button on the home page for in – depth reviews of TotS written by other readers). However, historical works are also included. While medically oriented literature will continually be prominent, much of what follows here is a diverse collection of titles. Many are purely for entertainment and are quite unrelated to epilepsy or medicine. Often times, the medical art is meant to capture an essence too. New titles appear with some regularity. Check back for author interviews as well.
Independent authors depend upon reader reviews for food, shelter, and clothing. If you read any of the independent, contemporary authors listed here or anywhere, please leave their book a review at Amazon, Goodreads, other social media, or at your own blog. Just three sentences means a lot.
Do you want to view a profile of Jeffrey Lee Hatcher as a book reviewer? Go to BookSirens for more detail.
Medical book reviews are gradually being translated into Chinese using http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) and the reader is asked for leniency in judgement during this process.
Complications After Anterior Temporal Lobectomy for Medically Intractable Epilepsy
By A.G. Brotis, T. Giannis, E. Kapsalaki, E. Dardiotis, and K.N. Fountas
The following review is not of a book but a synopsis of an academic article that, itself, reviews the current professional reports describing the side effects of epilepsy surgery. It concerns the partial removal of the temporal lobe of the brain on one or the other side (never both) to stop or greatly ameliorate seizures. Seizures can arise from any lobe of the brain, but the temporal lobes are by far the most common starting location. Consequently, the excision of the relevant left or right lobe is the most common form of brain surgery for reducing seizures and occasionally stopping them all together. Removal of this brain tissue is made possible by the fact that it is not deeply involved in vital bodily functions, sensory functions or social functions. It does not regulate breathing, monitor blood chemistry, control muscles, or give us vision, speech, etc. Rather, it plays a central role in memory processing, emotional stimulation, and other cognitive functions that are vital to self – actualization but not to individual biological survival (species survival is a different matter).
The topic discussed in the article catalyzed the writing of Tacking on the Styx for the lack of information conveyed to the patient – the surgery candidate. Hence, as a patient, I consider it to be one of the most important articles in medical publication of the last four years, if not the last four decades. However, it is not at all reader friendly for a lay – person. Below, I try to highlight the fundamental conclusions of the authors in a more reader friendly manner. What, then, should a reader do with such a paper if they procure it for themselves?
Neurologists and surgeons are busy people. Even when they are attentively listening to their patient, they cannot always empathize with the extent of your concerns. Nobody could focus on anything with their entire intellect engaged. Part of their mind might be wandering their list of priorities for planning your treatment. Their answers to your immediate question may be a high-caliber reply of a go-to nature relayed to all of their patients.
Get a copy of this paper from a library with inter-library loan service, highlight a point of interest in pen, hand the paper to your doctor and ask, “can you explain this to me?” Simply having a professional article with you is going to reshape their focus about your concerns. Furthermore, not every single doctor has had a chance to read about the very latest advancements in our understanding of surgical risks as reviewed in 2019. Not only will you sharpen their focus on your own concerns, you might even help bring them up to date just a little bit.
So without further ado:
Complications after anterior temporal lobectomy for medically intractable epilepsy: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
By A.G. Brotis, T. Giannis, E. Kapsalaki, E. Dardiotis, and K.N. Fountas
In Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery
2019. v.97. p.69-82
A.G. Brotis and colleagues provide an important dissertation on the difficulties faced by patients after they have had brain surgery for epilepsy. To do so, they survey the large amount of available literature describing outcomes of surgeries from a large number of hospitals (and, hence, surgeons) across multiple countries. Doing such an analysis is statistically tricky because different hospitals have different facilities, machinery, and qualified personnel. Differing institutions work with differing numbers of patients, use different amounts and types of patient screening, and, naturally, have different amounts of surgical talent. All of these variables can skew various statistics regarding outcomes in unhelpful ways when comparing the results of surgeries conducted in different hospitals. Similarly, the articles published can vary from reports of large and statistically meaningful studies to thought provoking but almost anecdotal ones. The authors painstakingly filter potentially useful reports through a variety of statistical tests as well as logical selection criteria to reduce as many mathematical biases as possible.
Throughout their report, the authors provide that which a patient may crave the most – candor. They needed to eliminate a good number of studies. They also touched upon a variety of topics but did not try to squeeze insight out of the available materials when the numbers were not strong with meaning, stating explicitly that the math could not resolve an issue.
They call attention to reporting bias. Within academic culture generally, well constructed studies that do not show clear results supporting an hypothesis do not get published. “We didn’t find anything” never goes to print and doesn’t procure future funding. The bias created is not about some kind of individual flawed integrity but comes, instead, from a universal culture that only takes interest in the novel and the clear cut.
Overall, they describe about ¾ of the studies to be of low quality by their standards (19 of 25) while the remainder were moderately good or better (these studies were the ones making a final cut for inclusion in their analyses).
Several key findings that stood out are that:
a) children and adults have similar results in outcomes;
b) surgery is safe – the probability of death is on the order of 1%;
c) the morbidity – the probability of some neurological, physiological, or cognitive impairment coming from the procedure – might be as high as 17% but that estimate is not of the highest quality;
d) variation between studies is high.
Of particular interest to myself and the craving for counseling about which I have written so much is their finding that:
e) the development of subsequent psychiatric disorders may be as high as 7%.
Additionally, alterations in the patient’s visual field and weakening of one side of the body had rates of 6% and 5% respectively. Language disorders occurred in 3% of surgeries.
So what to make of these general findings? Well the importance of a lot of these figures is ultimately something to be decided by the patient (and/or their guardian if a minor) in consultation with their neurologist. If I had to choose between the hardship of continuing seizures vs. the 3% chance of developing a language disorder, personally, I would leave the language disorder risk out of the equation.
That the authors found a high variation between study outcomes raises the suspicion for myself that differences between institutions and surgeons are something to seriously consider. Ask your neurologist who she would want to see operating on her own family member and where (though the former will likely determine the latter).
Now, are a 17% chance of developing a physiological or mental impairment or a 7% probability of developing a psychiatric disorder game – changing probabilities? For myself, these are uncomfortable numbers that don’t offer easy answers. A key concern to have a doctor address is the possible duration of the condition. The brain has resilience. Of great importance to note, the authors point out that side effects were often temporary. What does temporary mean? Improvement is improvement even over the course of a decade. Terminating seizures may be worth enduring a psychiatric problem for that long. Only a properly counseled patient can make the decision. Some disorders which the authors specifically mention are verbal and visual memory decline, depression, psychosis, anxiety disorders, and obsessive – compulsive disorders. Again, why did I write Tacking on the Styx? Because 7% is a very difficult number to understand. Seventeen percent probability for mental impairment might be an even more compelling argument against surgery, but, again, recovery may be good, and a continuation of seizures might impose similar problems over time with an even greater likelihood.
Importantly, the authors advocate taking a family history of psychiatric health prior to surgery.
Proper preoperative identification of any predisposing to psychopathology factors (positive family history, mood disturbances, social adjustment difficulties) may help in the early diagnosis of such psychiatric complications and may help in their prompt treatment.
Lastly, the authors call for a more systematic approach to reporting on results of studies. They generally find the literature to be poorly composed and this needs to change.
Finally, stepping away from the article and returning to personal experience, I have been essentially “cured” by a diligently carried out drug regimen – seizure free since 2008. I won’t divulge my specifics, because I am not a medical doctor and it would be simply inappropriate. But I will say that the liberating drug is among the newest available. It has very little presence in the scientific literature. In light of its effectiveness, I am glad not to have rushed to surgery.
After the Crash
How to Keep Your Job, Stay in School, and Live Life after a Brain Injury
By Kelly Tuttle
After the Crash adds a trove of wisdom to make use of for people with brain injuries. Whereas severe seizures are, themselves injurious to the brain, not surprisingly, Kelly Tuttle’s book provides valuable reading material to anyone with heavy duty epilepsy. Having had a slow and sadly incomplete recovery from an intense and damaging seizure, I noticed quite a few points in Tuttle’s work to which I could readily relate. Predictably, I recommend her work to family members of patients as well as to the victim of brain damage.
In my own writing, I have described difficulties of noise filtration, both literal noise and the statistical ‘background noise’ which can impair any of the senses as they are processed in the brain. Tuttle does likewise, but what I did not think about that Tuttle describes is the availability of noise-canceling headphones. Tuttle goes even further in noting that headphones also reduce the disturbance caused by unimportant human interactions. I wish I had thought to make use of them during my graduate studies!
She discusses numerous other topics, such as personality change, mindfulness and workplace accommodation. She suggests applying for medical leave to protect employment during recovery. She advocates getting a lawyer to guide oneself through a variety of issues, and particularly for handling medical bills and insurance claims. And for this, she suggests contacting the Brain Injury Association of America. Her lawyer gave her peace of mind in a way her doctor’s did not /could not.
While providing a variety of tips like the above mentioned ones, she reiterates a need to cut one’s self some slack. Don’t shortchange convalescing. Take breaks periodically throughout the day. Alternate between complicated tasks and simple tasks when multiple ones of each need doing. Work sequentially rather than multitask (something both she and I hate for similar reasons). These points are the kind of wisdom one does not get at the doctor’s office.
A couple of book features for which I had less affinity were her focus on lists and her section on diet. Honestly, the breadth of her list-making recommendations got overwhelming or at least felt like it did. Her discussion of diet seemed like something better laid out by a medical dietitian. For someone with epilepsy (which is sometimes treated with a diet high in animal matter and low on plant matter), her promotion of a more vegetarian diet could possibly be harmful. Furthermore she makes no mention of heart-healthy fats, i.e. seafood, that are also brain-healthy. This deficit could impact many other people besides just people with epilepsy. All in all, however, the usefulness of the book greatly outweighs its weaknesses.
I Didn’t Sign Up for This Shit
A Book About Love and Hope
By Michael R. Lewis, M.D.
So, why are doctors not treating the patient and only the diagnosis?
I am not sure if the HMO business can be said to sell plenary indulgences, but if so, then Dr. Michael R. Lewis has more than a couple of theses to tack to its door (though fewer than 95). In I Didn’t Sign Up for This Shit: a Book About Love and Hope, Lewis details a broad range of problems within healthcare; prominent among them is business mentality that has encroached upon the healing community. Albeit about love, the book’s tone ventures into a rant from time to time. However, this tonal venturing should be accommodated because, a) it is justified and b) Lewis repeatedly lays out issues in an addressable manner and explains his thoughts and priorities accordingly. The book can be a particularly useful part of collegiate curricula in the sociology of contemporary medicine. However, it will also be / should also be appreciated by anyone interested in where healthcare is headed, most especially by business school students.
Lewis describes the obstacles to best treatment practices that the insurance industry imposes upon doctors. Companies reduce every aspect of medicine into numbers and then shackle the doctors accordingly. In his view, the HMO is a photocopier – scanning the paper and hoping that the paper / patient doesn’t jam the system. Success gets measured by rate of papers scanned.
However, by no means is every comment cynical. He discusses how a patient-centered focus of treatment is gaining the upper hand over treatment centered around paternalistic expertise. He also points out that “Dr. Google” has increased the need for doctors to stay aware of how external information sources may educate or confuse their patients. I found his views to exactly mirror my personal thesis in Tacking on the Styx:
I find it most important in this profession to exercise a choice-outcomes model. In this way when patients are presented with the physician’s data, expertise, experience, and evidence-based medicine they are better prepared to make informed decisions….
From this patient’s perspective, the most important statement in the book is on page 247. Simply stated :
Never underestimate the effectiveness of a thorough discussion.
Early parts of the book elaborate upon the ways in which litigation adversely impacts healthcare. In a particularly horrifying passage Lewis talks about keeping a detailed patient record:
Every word we write in our medical records is at risk of being scrutinized during litigation or deposition and, therefore, can and will be used against us in a court of law. In medicine, it is said, if it isn’t written, it didn’t happen.
Furthermore, this frame of mind which physicians get locked into is a primary reason for professional burnout, and the numbers Lewis presents disturb a reader. He sees serious ramifications in the dwindling recruitment of physicians into primary care.
Latter parts of the book run to topics such as compassion and compassion – fatigue; the costs, benefits, and philosophical guides to pain medications and antidepressants; and the need for physicians to protect their own emotional well-being. This last point is considered a critical challenge. Lewis also shares wisdom about how doctors can modify well-intentioned behaviors to give patients more compassion vis-a-vis coping with the ways in which insurance companies match treatment, patient, and coverage.
The book covers numerous other facets of medicine and professional experience. By and large, it is laid out as a course for imparting wisdom to future professionals more than as a popular work. Again, it will get its best audience in a college classroom or in the hands of a policymaker.
A Short Tale of Uncommon Daring & Ultimate Defiance
By Justine Avery
Justine Avery’s The Darkness is a compelling short story about which I cannot say much without spoiling the plot. It ranks high for originality. If a master horror writer raised a pen to draft a gospel story for Biblical inclusion, The Gospel according to Justine could make a good start with Darkness. Everyone in a community must be a steward of light. A failed steward is a dead steward. You must be the light of the world.
Avery provides rich (and respectful) material for multiple allusions to salvationist theology. Whereas the main characters are prepubescent males enduring a test of salvation, one is tempted to see an allegorical picture of what Jesus and John might have been like as teenagers. I cannot stretch too much out of a short story. Just a thought.
A Doctor’s Journey Back to Health
From Doctor to Patient to Doctor Again
By Steven J. Sommer, M.D.
With Tori Sommer
A Doctor’s Journey Back to Health is the first of a two volume series (the second is A Path Back to Life). In it, Dr. Steven Sommer, recounts his life afflicted with myalgic encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome. Like Tacking on the Styx, Sommer fuses science discussion to personal experience and personal philosophy. He goes to length to explain how the disease firmly adheres to a model of a neurolgical disease rather than a psychological condition. He does so successfully. Aided by his medical training, he then discusses the nature of the disease and those treatment issues that require addressing by the medical establishment.
He critiques the psychological community’s current and historical relationship to patients with CFS. As with other patient authors, he offers advice to them, but the book also gives advice to others. Particularly good is the fact that his wife contributes to the writing. In a chapter of her own, she offers up a boxed list of do’s and don’t’s for care-takers which is quite valuable. Interestingly, she finds social workers more valuable than clinicians (in Australia). In sharing this, she highlights the need for psychologists to engage various diseases to a much greater extent than they do (apparently Australia shows some similarity to the United States in this regard).
Sommer takes on the issue of the stigmatization which people with CFS receive for having a disease that is seemingly ‘invisible’. Legitimizing the condition is a tall order. Hence he notes that one can legitimately liken it to multiple sclerosis, AIDS, chemotherapy treatment, and other such situations for its life impact, both medical, economic, and social. He explains how careers and marriages can collapse under it. His description of how some people just pack up and exit a sufferer’s life is telling. Likewise, his wife narrates some days of their life, and she highlights the disbelief and disdain her husband sustained from his in-laws.
The book has one seriously awkward characteristic and that is that some passages have difficulty walking the line between expert depth and layperson readability. Given that Sommer writes as a patient, the text leans to the personable most of the time, but he has moments of swinging too far into academic mode. Some of his text about a PACE study, for example, reads a bit more like an introduction to a research funding application and this stylistic manner and detail level can put a book into an ICU. Whereas bringing power to the classification of chronic fatigue syndrome as more than a psychological issue drives much of the book, he goes to great lengths to layout the physiologic mechanisms of the disease in technical detail. He seemingly writes for colleagues who don’t have the time to read a book but might make the time to read an opinion piece in a peer – reviewed journal. He tries to ameliorate the difficulties inherent to seeking multiple, disparate readerships by advising non-technophiles to skip sections of text. Anticipating what to skip and what to explore poses challenges that might inspire some people to simply put the book down. He tries to bypass this quandary by including a ‘key points’ roster for each chapter. Somehow, it just did not work for me – refraining from giving attribution to authors by their name and university is stylistically essential – that’s why God created bibliographies. Some readers may see “SARS” and want to know more about the disease. They do not care so much about the names of Harvey Moldofsky and John Patcai who wrote a cited paper.
Skipping text also means skipping good facts and messages. For its technical detail, a reader might skip his discussion of Graded Exercise Therapy, but this discussion has serious importance to any and every reader. For its technicality, the book will benefit people most who are directly affected by the illness. To the lay reader, I would suggest trying a fast, even superficial, read of the whole text and marking sections that merit re-reading in finer depth (or rely on the key points that Sommer lists to guide rereading).
Practical Ways For Caregivers To Overcome Stress During The Three Stages Of Dementia
By Atwater McDaniel
The Dementia Guide by Atwater McDaniel will be a treasured resource for families who include someone suffering from dementia or end-of-life cognitive decline. At a quick glance, the book’s title is slightly misleading as Atwater mainly discusses ways to interact with the ill individual rather than measures to take for protecting a caregiver’s serenity in a direct sense. I quickly dismissed this criticism because simply knowing a general approach to care provides succor to the caregiver and the ill person alike.
McDaniel starts right in with information specifying what the book covers. He doesn’t seek to build empathy with an autobiographical description of a family member or friend. Rather he presents a very humanistic guidebook largely written in the second – person perspective. The value of portions of his work will vary from household to household, and it’s important that the reader not anticipate every section to have relevance to themselves. He notes that there are over fifty forms of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is but one. With such a broad array of types, he keeps his discussion to dementia, the condition, as it manifests itself to the patient and to others.
He goes into do’s and don’t’s of adjusting to psychological changes, and a few points I disagreed with, but more on that later. A very important part of the book focuses on protecting the financial well-being of the infirm as well as the general safety of him or her. If someone enjoyed marksmanship or hunting, a good reminder from the book is to assess the safety of gun ownership or accessibility. More universally, take an inventory of finances, credit cards and property, getting the individual’s desires recorded regarding estate planning. What I found especially useful was a suggestion of getting calls and mail routed through a single person so as to protect the individual from predators and con men. Even where some suggestions are obvious, it never hurts to read about them to keep them in the front of one’s mind. Bear in mind, also, that preventable financial mishaps can be more than mishaps and also have severe impacts on other people.
McDaniel emphasizes the importance of early diagnosis. Among other important points, early action will prevent many of the financial hardships incurred which may simply, but harmfully be a string of unpaid bills. In my own family’s experience, banks can be compassionate, but getting a call about months of unpaid bills on a second mortgage stresses one out to no end.
While I appreciated discussion of ways to materially protect the patient both from others and from themselves, McDaniels provides numerous suggestions for enhancing the psychological quality of life which I also found useful. Make use of grandchildren, for example, as young people engage without a lot of different forms of baggage and hang-ups. Creative activities do not require taxing the memory. Keep life sensory-rich as memory and deep thought difficulties do not detract from sensory pleasures so much.
A topic that the book does not greatly cover is the trickiness of dealing with particular personality profiles – McDaniels cannot be reasonably expected to tailor his suggestions to each individual. Many recommended steps in care as well as tips for understanding people seem to have some unintended bias with regards to the patient’s disposition. The practicality of much of what he suggests depends upon the affability and engagement which the person has prior to the onset of sharp decline. A family member of my own is stubborn by nature and was in hard denial about the state of his health for a long time. He hid his slowing ability to dialogue with others behind a hearing impairment that he has steadfastly refused to address. “What?” is his favorite word in his personal lexicon, and it has been so for decades before cognitive slowing set in. Consciously or not, he repeatedly tries to buy time for the slowing mental processing by faking a hearing difficulty and asking the speaker to repeat sentences ad nauseum. However, the fact that he was doing so for decades fosters a lot of anger earlier in decline which ultimately morphs into a lack of sympathy further along. Getting him to acknowledge his condition became so problematic that I had to do something remarkably cruel. At a particularly vulnerable moment, I quizzed him on the name of a son who died at birth fifty years prior. He couldn’t produce the name at which point his denial disintegrated. Healthy dads do not forget sons’ names. It was a horribly, horribly cruel thing to do, but I really had no other way to get him on the same page as the rest of the family. Consequently a large proportion of the author’s wisdom simply doesn’t have much use to me. I am sure I am not the only person who will find a lot of prior planning to be very tricky due to patient denial. Nevertheless, that point doesn’t greatly compromise the value of the book. Rather, it points to a path for future discussion.
P.S. McDaniels highly recommends the book by Teepa Snow, Dementia Caregiver Guide, which I have not read but I will certainly pass along in light of his own respect for her work.
The View from the Clinic
One Nurse’s Journey in Abortion Care
By Patrice D’Amato
Albeit published shortly before the overturn of Roe v. Wade, The View from the Clinic, by Patrice D’Amato, remains very timely as more states reevaluate the value of respecting women’s rights. Aptly titled, the book recounts Amato’s years in an abortion clinic and, simply by doing so, corners the reader into acknowledging that clinic workers are also human. She offers some strong opinions, but she does not bombard the reader with a personal agenda.
What else she does is articulate a philosophy of life that is probably adhered to by a majority of people, even if only a bare majority, but never articulated. For her, a body is a repository for a soul and her perspective might be called a 1st come – 1st served perspective:
I worked in service of the legions of women who had the unlucky job of making such life-and-death decisions by virtue of their sex, and I still feel solid in my conviction that it was my job to support the beings who showed up first to inhabit their amazing human forms, long before any sprouting new life took root in their fertile bodies. It has never been and never will be easy.
In fact, she points out, throughout most of its history, the Catholic Church did not consider a soul to enter a fetus until some weeks past conception. By contrast, an early action of the male – dominated American Medical Association was to make abortion illegal.
D’Amato also discusses informative history, highlighting its dysfunctionality. Our belief in America as a guardian of free speech might be shaken a bit by the Comstock Laws of the nineteenth century. They criminalized free communication. Just prior to Roe v. Wade, over a million illegal abortions were performed a year. History will likely repeat itself.
History is not, however, as much of the focus of the book as is her descriptions and ponderings about the contemporary clinic. She carves out a niche that might be unique (I am too naive to know). She suspects that more and more cases of trafficking women will go undetected as clinics become increasingly inaccessible. The abuse of an eleven-year-old little girl will go undiscovered. Lest one try to pawn off some atrocities to ethnicities different from a reader’s own, she describes the patient population which she has personally dealt with as the largest of society’s cross sections. Most importantly, she gives the environment and issues of abortion a context that they have lacked on the streets behind the placards.
Preventing Her Shutdown
Losing My Wife to Alzheimers
By Sammie Marsalli
In Preventing Her Shutdown- Losing My Wife to Alzheimers, Sammie Marsalli narrates a very personal and highly valuable account of his experiences having a spouse with this form of dementia. Whereas I have a number of cases in my extended family and also a parent showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, I feel extremely fortunate to have read Marsalli’s review copy. He lays out in detail what might be expected for both victim and spouse in intimate detail.
The experience of a sufferer will realistically vary from personality to personality and family to family a great deal, and Marsalli makes a specific note of this fact. Marsalli has a deeply loving relationship with his wife which makes his own experiences quite unique, nevertheless, much of the wisdom he shares has universal applicability. He explicitly states that the caregiver is best equipped to address psychological issues. His wife, Ximena, is especially fortunate to have a husband with great compassion.
The author is an American married for four decades to a Chilean wife and living in Santiago. Hence, I found it interesting that he shared some sentiments about the inadequacies of psychiatric care as I have expressed regarding epilepsy treatment in the United States:
The doctor is really no help at all recommending therapists not really qualified or able to deal with my wife’s problems such as not speaking or unable to swallow. Wooo..where am I going on this? I couldn’t get any answers or direction to guide me and I really felt blind in “no man’s land”. After the visit to the doctor, I felt more lost and desperate than ever before. When I started to ask questions about where we were in this disease, what to expect, the only thing he said was “she is in the advanced stage” That’s all he said and gave me a recommendation of a therapist, surely knowing there isn’t any professional therapy that can help at this stage.
He makes a helpful point that I will bear in mind and that is to find other people going through similar trials. Caregivers in online and in-person support groups educate and empathize. The [Chilean] Alzheimer’s Association helped him greatly. He finds these various groups useful to alleviating some depression. “Loneliness is the caregiver’s worst enemy,” he explains.
With respect to interacting directly with a patient, Marsalli emphasizes the value of family members maintaining direct contact with a sufferer. He points out that even if his wife cannot dialogue, she recognizes others in their voice and appearance for her to value the interactions. Numerous such acquired points of wisdom permeate the book. For some people, Chapter 16 may be the most valuable for it is there that he lists a number of do’s and don’t’s pertinent to socializing with his wife. Chapter 31 is similarly a must read for its very important psychological savy. In other chapters, he provides a window into what a caregiver might expect. His warnings are clear, important, and concise, ranging from keeping hazardous materials locked up to vigilantly making physical contact and loving proximity a central part of the day.
Although the book is short, a reader might wish to read it in small doses. The author’s style is simply so intense and hard-hitting. Nevertheless, I am very glad to have read it and expect that it will help me with my own family’s future.
The Invisible Filter
How Mental Models Shape Our Lives
By Rohit Gupta
Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense – Robert Frost, Mending Wall
If you are an aficionado of one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems, chances are, you will appreciate Rohit Gupta’s highly original work The Invisible Filter. Gupta presents an illustrative discourse on how we perceive what it is we and other people think and how such processes influence our behavior, even controlling it. He advocates making a personal inquiry into the structure and origin of our thought processes.
Gupta asks us to start with a bottom – up approach to understanding perception and modify our behaviors to accommodate and productively build upon the perception (mental models) of others. Cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and drug use each have a turn in discussion.
In an interesting focus of the book, he lays out a set of useful principles to consider how we are influenced by filters, but I must say I don’t concur with all of them. Among them, he claims they are learned, and in a general sense I agree that they are, however, I also think of the debate about gender self – perception. Gender, in and of itself, is very much a mental model, unlike sex which hinges upon what kind of gonads an individual has and which has nothing to do with self – perception. Rightly or wrongly, many people maintain that gender identity is primarily innate rather than socially determined. There are few other principles that I believe require clarification and better wording or that I disagree with, but my concerns are mostly trivial. The zoologist in me wonders at his notion that pattern recognition proficiency really sets humans apart from other critters. Not having a whale’s perception of echo-location or a dog’s sense of smell, I’ll avoid the topic of superior proficiency. I would focus some commentary on the mental tools of evaluating models which may or may not be best understood as pattern recognition – such as the matricies in artificial neural networks.
I enjoyed the examples from medicine which he uses to highlight points. He points out that adding habits rooted in a mental model comes easier than letting them go and then notes how this facility increases drug usage. He speaks out strongly against people’s propensity to attribute failure to inadequate efforts – that is a mental model to discard.
His prescriptions for winning people to one’s perspective stimulate useful thought. To persuade a person to think differently, open a discussion with values rather than facts. Focus on benefits of accepting a new paradigm of thought rather than enunciating all of the flaws of a current one. These are only two examples of issues he discusses.
Interestingly, he discusses the use of psychedelic drugs as an aide to refining mental models. This topic would have made for a better small book unto itself. He doesn’t flesh out the biology or the mechanics to his point of view with the same clarity with which he presents other ideas. In this sense it distracts from his highest quality texts. Also, there are undoubtedly readers who will greatly appreciate most of the book but will be put off by the drug topic which really requires a very in-depth discussion of risks and benefits. There is no great harm in catering to them a bit (though he makes repeated reminders to keep experts involved in various decision making of individuals). Drugs could be a post-script leading into a future work.
He drives home the point of how mental models determine history regardless of scale. He starts the book with an historically precarious episode during the Cold War in which one human being may have averted Armageddon. He then ends the book by illustrating how millions or billions of people must reappraise their filters regarding science authority figures to avert another form of Armageddon, specifically one from epidemics.
By Kathe Koja
Kathe Koja’s Dark Factory definitely merits a look, especially for its vibrant style. Koja’s writing flows out of the page with energy and a full spectrum. While it’s difficult to describe, she gives the cast a sort of collective stream of consciousness that most stories lack. However, it came up a little short on plot clarity and progression.
For the purposes of this website, one very big plus is the way in which Koja humanizes and legitimizes non-mainstream relationships, i.e. one subplot is the development of a gay relationship between two main characters. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I believe fighting the stigmation of one group of people lessens the burden felt by other groups. When people develop total acceptance for the gay / lesbian community, the difficulty in reducing the stigmatization of others – such as persons with epilepsy, racial minorities, etc. – should likewise decrease. Koja’s gay characters are generally presented as just ordinary people in a positive manner. One never gets the feeling that Koja has a strong social agenda, but it comes out nonetheless.
While I loved her immersive style, it got a bit overloaded in setting a stage that did not balance with what happened on the stage. The setting of a dance club was new to me, and I enjoyed it. At the end of the story, however, I was thinking ‘OK, now what?’
Dead Man Dancing
A Handbook of Stroke Survival & Recovery
By D.C. Roberts
We need a multi-volume anthology of patient – authored literature placed in every medical school library and one that is routinely cited. It should cover a high percentage of major disabling conditions (forgive the political incorrectness of not using ‘differentially abled’), and a good candidate for inclusion as a case for paralysis would be Dead Man Dancing, A Handbook of Stoke Survival & Recovery by D.C. Roberts (2022). Though the title references stroke, Roberts focuses on the resulting physical disabilities, psychologically coping with them, and describing some key social issues arising from them. He candidly and thoughtfully describes topics like fatigue, bladder control, and drooling from personal and researched perspectives. He also describes behavioral effects of stroke such as pseudobulbar affect. He does not, however, delve into the broader topic of cognitive issues from which other people may suffer after surviving stroke events in differing parts of the brain. He also doesn’t claim to have the ultimate key to recovery (a point which makes the book title slightly misleading).
Roberts writes with an occasionally brusque style which may be particularly well suited for the topic. Whatever paralysis can be, it cannot be subtle, as he makes very clear in his final chapters. At the close of the book, he raises Descartes’ cogito ergo sum to a disturbingly higher and broader level – one that psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers should climb up to and explore. Descartes notion is inadequately sublime. I will not elaborate on the topic further as doing so would be a plot spoiler, however I will say that only a person with his medical condition might have the perspective to call attention to it, and it is a phenomenon I have never before seen put into words. Reflecting on my own life with epilepsy, I have seen some parallels to it, but epilepsy can be invisible at least some of the time and does not impact most life activities in a manner similar to paralysis, so a comparison might not be appropriate. His final points are very universal, however, even if not so abruptly noticeable to non-victims.
As with other patient authors, myself included, he writes for an audience of patients, caregivers, friends, and family. In the process, he mentions numerous facts and points of wisdom that are useful to know but which will not be addressed by busy physicians. His underlying theme is that everyday and hour needs to be seen, in part, as a fight. “Work ceaselessly at your body… night and day…” Don’t pay a physiotherapist to come to your home – go to his workplace. Don’t measure exercise by duration but by counts (and with this in mind, give some serious attention to investing in therapy machines). Do understand that simply remaining upright and still gives a brain exercise to unconsciously maintain posture (a different phenomenon than commanding purposeful movement) so exercise being still. Above all, be relentless because “what the f___ else have you got going in life?” Did I mention he was brusque?
Moiety: a Collection of Short Stories
By Mohammad Oweini
Cruelty had its pains but really it was ignorance and an uncreative limited ideology of how to handle a boy like Adam, that was the problem.
In Moiety: a Collection of Short Stories, Mohammad Oweini paints a picture of mental illness and what life can be like when matching context to a universal standard becomes challenging. One character in particular, aptly named Adam, is seen as being challenged in his own mind to maintain a stable sense of reality. We see him trying to find a path of interconnections between portions of reality or moiety similar, in some sense, as a First Man burdened with naming all organisms in a new planet would try to find. By intent or otherwise, Oweini’s writing style involving Adam becomes a juggernaut of surrealistic moiety – a compositional metaphor of sorts. By “The Story of Adam part 2”, we are introduced to the experience of a mental health paroxysm conveyed powerfully.
Anyone familiar with, and drawn to, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s paradigmatic Over-Soul in his Essays might take a liking to Oweini’s work. In fact, looking at both works close in time is meaningful. Both men see God within a collective dynamic of positive human interaction. Oweini’s apex of life comes about when we do not feel overburdened by life’s complexities thereby allowing one to witness to the good in all.
The book generally feels like a work in progress, but then, one general theme of the book is how life can be a work in progress so this quality simply make sense. Much of the philosophical musings come as character dialogue which can become somewhat unwieldy especially where some characters have a cheshire quality to them – one is never 100% certain of their reality – but it’s a brief work and therefore amenable to a digestive pace. It is useful as much as an experiential read as a reflective one.
A Guide to the Climate Apocalypse
Our Journey from the Age of Prosperity to the Era of Environmental Grief
By Vitezslav Kremlik
The scientific method has underlain most significant advances of the last 100 years, be they sinister like building a nuclear bomb or noble like developing a COVID vaccine. Modern science operates by publishing results in peer – reviewed journals. When I see a book title as grandiose as “A Guide to the Climate Apocalypse”, I have an obnoxious mental reflex and that is to jump to the back of the book and scan the bibliography for peer-reviewed publications. Kremlik gives the reader 846 citations to scientific reports, maps, government reports, blogs and the like. More than 800 citations is a lot and appears very scholarly, however, it also a affords a lot of wiggle room to make any manner of pronouncements. Peer-review is a key method of narrowing wiggle room. So a question I consider important is just what amount is peer-reviewed.
I’m not going to exhaustively enumerate a whole bibliography for the sake of Booksirens, Goodreads, or Librarything. Instead I examined every 8th citation up to the 800th for a nice number of 100 references (makes for easier math). Of those 100, I determined 36 to be peer-reviewed journals and 62 not to be (a couple I just could not guess about). These are slightly flawed estimates as a few were not in English or not in a style I easily recognized, and, again, they were just a sub-sample which always has error. So in my estimation, the book citations are less than 40% peer-reviewed (note that not every scholarly source is p.r.’d – some that are not can be book chapters written by qualified scientists for example, others may be government reports). Reader make of that what you wish.
Of the peer-reviewed lit, I made a best guess as to whether or not a source was oriented towards environmental science, earth science, or similar. Excluding Science and Nature, I estimated 14 to be. Including Science and Nature I estimated 25 (these two journals cover any topic but are regarded as the high authorities of scientific publications, though in fact they are not major data highways for specific disciplines). By this very crude analysis, approximately a quarter of the citations are to peer-reviewed publications closely relevant to climate science. Reader make of that what you wish.
On the topic of mass extinction (a pet topic I care greatly about), he summarizes, analyzes, and draws conclusions in 13 paragraphs (2.5 pages). He talks about celebrity figures and psychiatrists. Reader make of that what you wish.
Actually the basic structure of the book is to take a giant issue of science, reduce it to 1-3 pages and then make a grand pronouncement upon the subject based upon a lot of citations that do not directly test anything in a scientific manner. If he repeats this enough, he begins to appear authoritative. And there are little slip – ups, such as where he talks about insurance issues regarding storms and the quietly (and falsely) states that there has been no increase in major storms. I have heard multiple meteorologists state otherwise.
Fascinatingly, he has a chapter on “Post – Normal Science” which he sees as the results of a union of politics and science. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on the definition of Creation Science. He does not believe in it, but in so far as he likes to make environmentalists look like grand schemers, he might measure them against the sociopolitical demographic that has disputed Darwin for the past one-and-half centuries. He does reference the evils of church & state collusion on page 263 in an obtuse paragraph (and yet another 1 – page discourse on a huge issue), but this is not to the gigantic anti-intellectual influence some Protestant sects wield in red-state America.
He takes scientists to task for changing their minds from time to time. Case in point, he brings up the whole topic of the fact that earlier in the last century, some scientists warned of a coming ice age. What is not mentioned is at that time the computing power required to run the complex models now used to great effect simply did not exist or was not available to the average researcher. Nor did the giant databases provided by a wealth of satellites. One of the side effects of doing science is that scientists change their mind.
Not everything about the book is nonsense. His take on bio-fuels merits attention. However, the same criticism of too few pages to too big a problem pertains. The same can be said of the book’s ending (also rather thinly cited and obtuse and with a lot of complexity). To that end, he vilifies the left, while never laying out a genuinely clear an alternative. Hopefully he will elaborate in another book.
But enough about the finer points of his craftsmanship.
When I was in 8th grade science class, the teacher did a demonstration about the difference between measuring heat vs. measuring temperature. The demonstration was that if you heated a liquid/solid mixture until it changed entirely to a liquid, or a liquid/gas mixture until it turned entirely into a gas, you could dump a large amount of heat into a substance and yet not see any temperature change to a mixture until it completely transformed from solid to liquid or from liquid to gas. However, when the mixture became uniformly liquid or uniformly gas, heat applied to the system yielded a steady increase in temperature. You can place a beaker of water & ice over a Bunsen burner and add a LOT of heat with no observable temperature change.
Why do I mention this? Because the author fact – bombs the reader with every conceivable inconsistency about how environmental temperatures are measured, every bit of human vice observable in academia, every shade of gray in making policy. What is lacking is a strait to the point discourse on how the Arctic ice cap has completely melted if there wasn’t a huge amount of heat added to the system. We can bandy about every nuance of human nature in science, but the polar ice caps do not care. A tremendous amount of warming has taken place very, very quickly, and we can print a thousand books on the subject of measuring temperatures, but to anyone who was truly paying attention to their 8th grade science teacher putting a Bunsen burner underneath a beaker of ice and water, it should be obvious that temperature readings don’t actually matter. The Arctic ice cap melted, and that fact is all one needs to conclude that a tremendous amount of global warming has taken place. No thermometer required.
This book is a case study in anti-intellectualism.
The Incredible True Stories of Pioneer Patients
By Rod Tanchanco, M.D.
Rod Tanchanco’s First Patients presents an interesting look at the doctors, patients, and their mutual interactions at the debut of new medical procedures. Initially, Tanchanco’s work reads like a special interest book for medical trivia buffs. It’s not immediately clear to what end he writes. However, he increasingly develops several serious themes, although he never explicitly points them out as such. The book ultimately provides a useful window into the psychology of medicine.
Integrating new scientific knowledge into medical practice always and desirably has a lag time to it. After establishing a procedure or idea as credible, tests need to be run using animal models, analyses need to be optimized, tests need to be rerun, etc. All of this process takes significant time. Part of this process occurring before, after, and along the way is the formal and informal process of peer-review. A first layer is the funding application, a second is the self-imposed review during clinical trials, followed by publication review. Ultimately, the most important review is by peers in their own medical practices – where a novel treatment approach takes place in a hospital setting there are additional colleagues, officers, and boards of trustees to convince. First Patients familiarizes the reader with this big – picture review process and illustrates how medicine can veer too far from medical science from time to time.
From the opposite side of the spectrum, Tanchanco’s stories also illustrate how patients and their families frequently instigate change. If the art of medicine gets too tied up with scientific analyses, it becomes slothful. A desperate patient may willingly assume the role of the lab rat and survive to break new ground.
Human lab rats play a very important role beyond just confirming science – led methods. Tanchanco makes quite a few references to individuals and institutions (professional and religious) getting in the way of progress by adhering to arcane notions. A doctor might derive a great deal of resolve to confront social obstacles by having a patient with a sad enthusiasm for trying the novel.
In this time of America’s heightened anti – intellectualism, Tanchanco relays an excellent quote of Daniel Boorstin – “the greatest obstacle is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” In our time of Covid, too many anti vaxxers and self-appointed experts are making themselves an obstacle to the greater good. Books like First Patients impede the development of an ‘us vs. them’ mentality by generally opening up the window on medical practice.
Finding Joy with an Invisible Chronic Illness
Proven Strategies for Discovering Happiness, Meaning, and Fulfillment
By Christopher Martin
Christopher Martin masterfully advises methods of coping with adversities that are under-appreciated by others in his Finding Joy with an Invisible Chronic Illness. He presents a trove of uncommon common sense points of wisdom within a light, readily digestible text. He touches upon a limited set of illnesses directly (nobody could do otherwise), however most of his advice extends to numerous diseases. A similarly composed work devoted exclusively to epilepsy would be sacred.
I don’t usually start a positive review with my most disparaging remarks, but in this instance I find it useful to do so. Contrary to his title, I did not draw much Finding Joy with from the text but rather wisdom for Overcoming the Adversities of. With respect to his subtitle, I saw ways of Recovering Happiness, Meaning, and Fulfillment rather than Discovering them. Although the title might also be misinterpreted to mean that an invisible problem might be used as a tool of sorts, the book does not really promote that notion either. Sub – optimum titles notwithstanding, readers will find Martin’s book quite valuable.
Martin introduces the reader to such therapy topics for coping as Steven Hayes’ ACT protocol to living in the moment with your values and sense of fulfillment intact. Martin lays out the six – step process, explaining each of them. Several involve living in the moment without striving to change the moments – this can be highly complicated for a person with epilepsy because avoiding a seizure often entails decisively leaving a stressful circumstance in the moment. Other parts of Hayes approach are superbly suited for a stress – exacerbated disease. As Martin explains it, cognitive diffusion, for example, focuses on eliminating rumination – an excellent goal for anyone with epilepsy.
Like his discussion of ACT, he explains other schools of though for therapy that the invisibly ill can make use of. The schema therapy of Jeffrey Young strikes me as potentially very useful in coping with epilepsy. Different approaches holdout strengths and weaknesses to explore as well. One useful piece of advice which Martin gives is to ask a potential therapist what school of thought they work within the most and then use their reply in deciding their value to you. To this end, Martin’s discourse on brands of therapy works well.
Among many other topics, he touches upon understanding the concept of an internal vs. external locus of control. The first refers to exercising control over the environmental factors of life. The second involves accepting that the environment controls ourselves. Balancing internal and external loci is an overarching requirement of living with epilepsy. As requirements go, however, it can also be exceptionally difficult. Martin advises to practice pacing – this is good, but if practiced to strictly it might catalyze stress. Pacing also contains a hidden assumption which is that the person wields a high degree of control over their own schedule. That assumption will frequently not hold true – some workplace tasks are simply long, drawn out affairs. Other tasks become necessary during unscheduled moments.
Other sections I appreciated include his thoughts on maintaining friendships, dating, relating to employers, and being helpful to your physician. Especially important to living with epilepsy are his suggestions on self-education vs. self-diagnosis. He points out that “no amount of internet research can replace the skills of an experienced provider.” Stress and depression receive a good amount of attention.
He meditates on a wide array of issues, but then he gives an unusual word of advice for an author to give. Don’t try to harness everything which he has to say:
It is best to focus your energy on one, two, or even three principles or strategies in this book that you know you need to improve in your life. If you try to put them all into practice immediately, you will set
yourself up for failure and become the “jack of all trades, master of none.” We succeed where we focus. ”
Consent to Orchidectomy
In Ars Medica
2017, v. 12. p. 46 – 49
by P. W. Bridgman
Consent to Orchidectomy is a poem by P.W. Bridgman that critiques the pace of call to action as well as what some may consider the paucity of guided reflection prior to surgical organ removal. Whereas the organ removed in an orchidectomy is the testis or both testes, one is forgiven of a roll of the eyes when I say that orchidectomy has close similarities to brain surgery. ‘Oh, of course, men think with their balls!’ is the rejoinder. But after the brain, the testes are the primary organ of memory. They archive, retrieve, and transfer information. They are half the record of the grandparents held in an aesthetically vulgar vault in trust for the grandchildren. For animals, they, along with their ovarian counterparts, are the only source of information about prior generations – the only memory source crossing generations. So on a poetic level, brain surgery and castration have more in common than many similarly obtuse comparisons.
Bridgman’s character is hospitalized for cancer surgery. He identifies his surgeon via an acronym of serial number length and not to be confused with an ordinary human name. Setting the pace of the poem’s title, he states:
The masked medic’s word-pistol has… remained securely holstered until the last minute.
The pistol serves as a cloak for the dagger with which a doctor can cut a man’s cancerous balls off in the blink of an eye. The pistol consists of the bundle of bureaucratic consent forms foisted upon a patient imminently before surgery.
The middle verses criticize the impatience of the surgical team aggressively. The patient needs reflection on questions yet to be formed into words, but said reflection poses an inconvenience. Please do not rush decisions without simultaneously laying out the big picture. Bridgman waxes quite unforgiving of the people, their protocol, and their pace.
The emotional turmoil of Bridgman’s patient uncannily mirrors the psychology of my own experience in undergoing evaluation for a temporal lobectomy to control seizures. It could, truth be told, serve as a literary abstract with only a few word substitutions. However, I would be quite unfair to make too close of a comparison between the staff in the poem and the real staff working with myself. My own doctor was never dismissive or disdainful of my needs nor was his support team. They just did not think to address these needs. Attentive counsel simply had never had space in the protocol historically. However, more importantly, when I said ‘stop!’, they stopped. At no time did they speak in parallel to Bridgman’s line
Come on. You’d prefer we leave them in?
A specter voicing the same sentiment can hover over anyone with epilepsy. The time scales expressed in the poem are much faster, as testicular cancer can kill at a different pace. Nevertheless, the train of thoughts can follow the very same track.
Shrink ~ Psychiatrist Yowai ~
by Nanami Jin and Tsukiko
Shrink ~ Psychiatrist Yowai~ is a Japanese manga written by Nanami Jin and illustrated by Tsukiko that personifies psychiatrists as a resource for the community (10 chapters at the time of this review). The work’s general mission is to present various mental illnesses as wholly legitimate medical phenomena and sweep away the stigma attached to them within Japanese culture and other cultures as well. Shrink is well researched and the conditions touched upon are both accurately and well presented.
At the time of this review, topics covered include bipolar disorder, depression, panic disorder, and developmental disabilities (e.g. ADHD and autism). Most of these conditions are further divided into their variants. The main character, Dr. Yowai, discusses each with a different patient while remaining both up-beat yet serious. Action scenes interweave pertinent topics setting up topics for counseling sessions.
His own portion of dialogue includes current understanding of treatment and factual material; he even makes reference to the DSM-5 (the professional standard for classifying conditions). Additionally, he editorializes extensively (a chief mission of the manga, obviously). One useful theme which the work addresses is the need to have an integrated approach in using both medications and behavioral life strategies for optimum psychiatric therapy.
When not actively discussing medical topics, his character has an endearing scruffiness. One wonders if future issues will not make the doctor a patient. Like some other single, nerdy types, Yowai’s housekeeping skills have not fully matured.
People respond strongly to facial expressions. This tendency makes graphic literature exceptionally well suited to the subject matter. Tsukiko’s illustrations convey Dr. Yowai’s compassion and professional savoir faire quickly and effectively thereby relieving a beleaguered brain from processing lengthy text. Shrink also will engage people who have little affinity for medical text which can come across as dry and unappealing. The format may leave an impression on younger readers, teaching them that psychiatry can help many, if not most, people experiencing both chronic or acute illnesses and, again, conveying the idea that mental health problems do not warrant shame.
Kings, Conquerers, Psychopaths
From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation
by Joseph N. Abraham
If you are feeling intrepid and connect to ideas as much (or more) with visual imagery as with text, you might get a copy of Usamaru Furuya’s manga Palepoli v1 ch1. Having done so, take a look at “Takashi Learns that Authority is Won by Force” (being mindful that Japanese read right to left). Then page back to “Cupid” while perusing some of the other disturbing graphic art in the book. Once you’ve had this aerobic visual workout, you will be ready (well, might be ready) to switch from the artistically graphic to the textually graphic book by Joseph N. Abraham, MD. His Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths provides an in-your-face look at the dystopian nature of human governance which the faint of heart will poorly handle (if you subsequently feel in desperate need of an elixir, perhaps Brian Orend’s The Morality of War can offer some breathing space).
Abraham ruthlessly lays out the numbers of people murdered during conquest for regime after regime, nation after nation, and civilization after civilization. He primarily describes strongman systems which make up the core of human civilization, but does not limit his dissertation to them. The hardest hitting part of his text for me to cope with are the sheer magnitudes of regime – based blood baths. Most notably, we in the West are justifiably conditioned to view the Holocaust as being paramount in goal – oriented murder (weakly distinguished from tactical war casualties). The numbers given by the National WWII Museum are “approximately six million European Jews and at least five million prisoners of war, Romany, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and other victims.” Yet these numbers are familiar and 20th Century and brought about by modern mechanized war machines.
My formal history education never prepared me for Abraham’s discussion of five and a half million civilian and military casualties in the Napoleonic wars, nine million lives lost during the Crusades, and a litany of other million+ death events. The Holocaust is not at all as quantitatively unique as it should be. In light of the differing population sizes, these earlier killing events are not even slightly occluded by it. Abraham makes this a major thesis of his book:
I agree that Hitler was a fiend, but I argue that he was, unfortunately, a very usual fiend
the scope of his crimes may have been new, the virulence of his racism may have been new, but his cruelty and malice were very old.
However, he brings our attention back to our preferred focus on der Fuehrer as the standard bearer of evil. Disturbingly, he asserts:
we need to recognize that Hitler is still among us, biding his time and slowly sapping away at the walls of the modern citadel.
From this point, Abraham maintains that the most robust tool in preventing new Hitler regimes is a cultural universality of human rights – cultural rather than institutional. In my opinion, culture can be resistant to rationalizations, and this feature can be used for good as well as for evil.
Abraham brings an interesting amount of current psychology into his writing, introducing the reader to the dark triad of psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism. He profiles each phenomenon briefly and comments on the consequences to government of each one. Machiavellianism is essential to governance, albeit requiring prudence, he points out, but the others are not so. He even proposes adding sadism resulting in a dark tetrad (which he points out is semantically if not scientifically imperfectly compatible with the DSM-5 – the professional diagnostic standard for psychiatry). Importantly, he discusses the relationship between empathy and these conditions (empathy is a deep consideration in Tacking on the Styx I must say).
Fanaticism and zealotry, he points out, are not recognized as disorders. However, from the standpoint of leadership, Abraham asserts that they ought to be:
Zealotry is a thought disorder of large societies that results in large scale murder; so it is not clear why it should be excluded from psychiatric consideration.
In America, we currently have at least two nations masquerading as one. One of these is permeated with / defined by fake Christianity and general anti-intellectualism. I was impressed that Abraham takes on the problem of anti-intellectualism directly. Sadly, I see little challenge to imagining a medical scholar’s residence of work or living being burned to the ground should he speak out against zealots. Any psychiatrist adopting Abraham’s perspective should seek employment in Massachusetts where his or her family can live in a relative state of peace and security. We are at a point in US history when we should be dismissive of very little.
As the book progresses, he applies a psychological perspective to the nature of more categories of people and historical and current economic classes. He resignedly states that the immorality of persons gaining power by force is what our civilization is founded upon. He dives into some of the societal consequences of catering to the authoritarian leader. Among them, placating the docility – seeking tyrant requires stifling childrens’ intellectual curiosity and teaching them to be compliant.
He makes a very poignant observation about how a commonly occurring mindset can have chilling consequences:
A particularly toxic football saw is ‘Defense wins championships.’ When carried into politics and business, this translates into an unfortunate: ‘If I can stop you, I don’t need to produce much progress.’
His words make an effective football pass to someone like myself to launch into a bout of post – Citizens United sputtering. How does one get desperately needed environmental regulations through a plutocratic government of polluting industry?
This observation comes from Chapter 7, and this chapter is a mini-masterpiece of discourse on the psychology of despotism. He systematically presents a number of critical psychological features of the social mind which he then opines about such as sacrifice, fatalism, anti-intellectualism, fundamentalism and various other features that relate back to dark leadership and, increasingly, the corporate de facto state as well.
Abraham makes a harsh, unsparing manifesto about the need for societal introspection and the need to limit the power of the corporation. That he speaks for a sizable amount of the medical profession is testified to by a contemporary letter to the editor in either the New York Times or the Washington Post (reader please forgive my epileptic amnesia) during the administration preceding the current Biden administration. This letter was signed by numerous physicians explicitly diagnosing Donald Trump as a clinical narcissist. Openly diagnosing a person whom the doctor has never met and examined is professionally unheard of, but Trump embodies corporatism in its most impersonal form. Worse yet, he has been embraced as a mascot for the conservative ‘Christian’ right. Trump is not the only one criticized by Abraham; while never being explicitly named, Mitch McConnell gets a jab for abusing our Constitution as well.
Abraham does not absolve the ‘Christian’ right for promoting its own version of religion. Explicitly, he states:
“Part of my thesis here is that we are willing to view the horror of conquest as acceptable. Old Testament fundamentalists show that horror can be declared sacred as well. This can be seen in all large cultures.” [emphasis added].
Incidentally, he also makes a worthy critique of the Apostle Paul whom he believes occludes much of what is good in Christianity.
Overall, this book is depressing. However, it should be slogged through because his epilogue is a must – read in which he opines on a variety of steps needed for progressive, caring, and genuinely moral people to take back the USA. Abraham considers George C. Marshall’s plan for post-war European recovery to be the high point of governance. Perhaps his next book should focus on that thesis.
Dogs with Jobs
(A Picture Book for Adults with a Twisted Sense of Humor)
By Nolan J. Moore and Tanja Russita
Written and illustrated to be a satire on human nature, Dogs with Jobs (a Picture Book for Adults with a Twisted Sense of Humor), fails to twist a reader’s funny bone. Nolan Moore’s writing dives into cliche – not so much in the words but in the topics – Broadway puppy prodigies that turn to drugs and the like. Tanja Russita’s illustrations are ordinary comic material. An illustrated search for satire that makes a better portfolio of material to serve as chapter headers in a real book of satire than a book itself. A five minute read.
By Seb Doubinsky
Seb Doubinsky’s Paperclip takes place within the military-industrial complex and big pharma world of dystopian city-states and environmental chaos. Sadly, though, while I felt attracted to the setting, I cared very little for the writing style. Good action fiction should have a degree of cinematic flow to it. Where the reader might like a movie, Paperclip offers an old fashioned slide show. Each slide offers high contrast description of a scene, but the carousel cannot rotate fast enough to please the reader, and the continuity is disturbingly fractured. Even worse, the carousel doesn’t contain a great deal of plot, leaving the reader to wonder how much descriptive text serves as filler.
Call me unforgiving, but when I see, “ Coming out of the hotel, the heat crushed Susan like an ant under an uncaring heel,” I think of high school English class. Is there such a thing as a caring heel? Furthermore heat embraces, suffocates, envelopes, or, if you’re a biochemistry nerd, even denatures. It does not crush.
If one needs a serious spoon feeding – “Kurt opened his pillbox and counted the small round objects inside.” Since most of my pills are shaped like boxcars, I’m glad Doubinsky clarifies the situation. Such clarity is critical to something.
Don’t like pills? Then try on “A long and delicate hand with black nail polish quickly counted the money and produced a small bag from a drawer. ” Oh dear, I just don’t care about nail polish color.
A few such sentences are tolerable, but the book is replete with such passages. Doubinsky could improve it dramatically if he deleted half of his adjectives and most of his similes (a quick word count of ‘like’ yields only slightly less than one simile per page after adjusting for the verb form of ‘like’). I always felt too distracted to fully grasp the plot.
In cruel fact, the reader can decide right away if they take to Doubinsky’s writing style just by reading the second paragraph of the book. If it works for you, dive in. If not, move on. Having been trained in the spartan style of science writing, I grew too impatient to really enjoy the book.
Tengoku Ni Musubu Koi – Love that Binds Us to Heaven
By Ohkoshi Koutarou
Societies stigmatize people with epilepsy to a unique degree. But society stigmatizes many persons who have poignant physical or mental differences from the norm. Following the logic that promoting respect for one person who suffers from a physical or mental issue can promote respect for even those with different conditions, an enlightening message can be found in Conjoined Paradise: The Love That Binds Us to Heaven by Ohkoshi Koutarou (frequently titled only as The Love That Binds Us to Heaven). It is a graphical novel about conjoined twins who are viciously rejected by mainstream society and who find themselves in an ambiguously exploitative yet accepting traveling freak show.
Set in Japan, in the early 1920’s, the story commences with a father consulting a physician friend about his preteen son and daughter. With a dose of biological license (if not artistic license) by the author, the brother and sister are literally joined at the hip in a manner which only occurs with identical twins. Right away, Koutarou highlights the problem of stigma, when the doctor queries the father about his reasons for waiting to see him for so long – until his children are well grown. The father confesses that he was ashamed. However, as becomes obvious later on, the parents do have some moral justification for keeping the twins shut away.
Separated from their family by an earthquake and then alienated from their caretakers by a hostile interaction with another child, they find themselves in imminent peril from a mob who sees their uniqueness as a threat to society. It is during this time that they find protection in a traveling freak show whose members include a person suffering from lycanthropy (werewolfism), several folk with dwarfism and a variety of performers portraying themselves as physically unique.
The twins’ relationship with one another becomes complex. Catatonic for years at the beginning of the story, the girl awakens and enlivens midway through the story. Her brother then must struggle to re-imagine himself. This development is one of the more subtle themes. One of the less subtle themes is the group leader’s financial exploitation of the twins which become his top earners. However, even he has a humanitarian side and the pictorial story closes with his musings about stigma: “His pain is my pain. My happiness is everyone’s happiness. I wish we could live like other people. That is my dream.”
At the close of chapter 4 one Housai Tsuruoka gives an intriguing commentary which focuses upon the misery of individuality. Siamese twins, to him, achieve a solution of sorts. He even sees sexual themes which others might as well. One wonders if the opposite-sex conjugation enhances the level of animosity people show towards the twins. The reader must take in Tsuroka’s afterword to fully appreciate what is a high quality artistic look at the scorned status of people with disabilities.
By Jenny Jaeckel
As it has been a few decades since I have read either author, I use caution in suggesting that if Nathaniel Hawthorne and Flora Nwapa collaborated on a book, the result might resemble Jenny Jaeckel’s Boy, Falling. Jaeckel authors a literary work that critiques the human condition from the perspective of a Canadian woman of color and feminist. Her description of her characters’ states of mind and her 19th Century pace of writing resembles Hawthorne’s style. Nwapa is a pioneer writer among people of color with her best known work focusing on one woman’s life experience in Nigeria. Within their places and times, both Nwapa and Hawthorne have made important inroads into feminist literature. Jaeckel contributes the perspective of an early 20th Century Canadian – turned – American woman within a diverse cast of deeply developed characters not unlike those of the aforementioned authors. She extends her characters farther into cultural diversity than either of them did or probably would, tackling gender issues more diverse than just feminist causes.
There are multiple well – developed characters having distinct issues with society above and beyond the racism that drapes the background. The main character. Jeannette, marries Macon Halvorsen, midway through the book. Macon is a man of great integrity but also overt chauvinism. To some extent, he appears to be brainwashed into a plantation owner’s mindset. That is to say, he sees value in himself as primarily a business commodity. To the extent that a plantation owner would value a black man only as a function of his productivity and not as a human being, Macon perceives himself in the same way – a high intensity workaholic of color seemingly incapable of self – value outside of a ledger sheet. Unfortunately, his persona takes a serious toll on his wife.
Much of the book’s most engaging plot line consists of Jeanette’s own journey of self value, especially in her relationship to her overbearing and not well emancipated spouse. However, the book starts with a boy, Gerard who has a very complex life history of his own, much of which is highly pertinent to today’s social issues lateral to feminism. His story of self – actualization constitutes a major part of the beginning of the book. In fact, I wish that Jaeckel kept him closer to the development of the book near its ending.
A theme which I particularly liked is Jaeckel’s emphatic call to cultural humanism. Her multiple and complex protagonists are deeply attached to the visual arts, to poetry, and to music which, unlike for the character Macon, fulfill and complete them. Whereas most of her work revolves around race, feminism, and gender identity, her focus easily moves around liberal humanism as well.
My one problem with the book is that Jaeckel is so wrapped up in character that it makes a memory – challenged person like myself mentally stymied. I require an active plot to keep my mind focused. The detail in her writing overwhelms me making it hard to stay engaged. But this effect is as much a reflection of my own personal weakness than of the author’s style, perhaps.
101 Questions True Crime Fans Ask
By Joni Johnston
Serial Killers: 101 Questions True Crime Fans Ask by Joni Johnston, Psy.D., gives an inspiring, historical inventory of methodologies for serial killing. And she has seen and researched a lot of crimes and criminals. Before I started to read the book, I had never had a clue just how diverse and extensive the topic is: in the most inclusive sense there are baby farm killers, spree killers, “compassionate” healthcare workers, and the list goes on much further than one can guess from Jack the Ripper or contemporary mass murderers (who might not be called ‘serial-killer’). Perhaps surprisingly, women are on par with men in this crime domain.
Beyond the how-to’s of killing people, Johnston also touches on issues of great sensitivity. How might we best think of teenage criminals? How does mental illness figure into the picture? What role does family history (e.g. parental abuse) play in cultivating a killer?
I had a few issues with the nature of the book. Honestly, the question / answer format simply did not work for me. I always felt like the story raised by each question needed a larger answer with more overall synthesis than the one which was provided. In fact, the format distracted my mind rather than help to organize my thoughts. This distraction fostered skimming – a terrible sin for someone intending to critique a book! Parsing the book into multiple sections with a more traditional organization (or a set of five mini-volumes) might work better for similarly minded individuals. Volume 1 might be Modus Operandi; Volume 2 Causation; Volume 3 Historical Cases; and so on.
From a more academic perspective, the citation of sources were poorly noted, possibly inadequate (???) and somewhat haphazard. Professional attribution aside, a book like this might be valued most as a jumping off point for further research. To this end, a big part of the book’s value lives in its bibliography. Listing citations at the close of each chapter might be useful. As I had an advance reviewer’s copy, these citation issues might vanish upon completion of the general release book. Furthermore, Johnston’s status as a professional eye-witness to so much topical material is a major resource – one which is only enhanced by a clearer delineation of what is her literary research and what is first – hand contribution.
Of course the decathlon of any such work would be examining the place of serial-killers in the history of America’s race relations. What do you call the person who decides which persons on a slave ship get tossed to the sharks when said human being is too sickly to be sold on the slave market? Is the decision maker a serial-killer? And what about the Ku Klux Klan? Given the dearth of personal accounts, such an undertaking would be an Everest to climb for any scholar. Johnston doesn’t climb that mountain – that would be an unfair expectation of any mortal. But it sure would be interesting.
Hope, Healing, and a Life in Transplant
by David Weill, M.D.
THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
In his memoir Exhale: Hope, Healing, and a Life in Transplant, Dr. David Weill provides a look into the state of organ transplant medicine in America. He provides editorial commentary on the procedure of candidate selection for lung transplantation and the prioritizing factors for institutions having organ transplant programs. Similar to Tacking on the Styx, he overlays descriptions of involved activities and editorial discussions upon a larger autobiography. The bulk of the book focuses on professional psychology.
As one of an increasing number of similar books, the autobiography plays its most important role in reminding society that doctors are people too. Weill is a transplant specialist (albeit not a surgeon) whose job included overseeing the patient selection process and conducting preoperative and follow up healthcare. Most of the book’s substance comes from his time directing the lung transplant team at the Stanford University Medical Center.
Weill points out that organ transplantation emblazons the image of God upon a doctor in a way no other field of medicine does. He describes his work as a frequently all – or – nothing process of success. Given the circumstances of the patient, death is a constant companion. This structure imposes a unique psychology upon the doctor:
I envisioned the emotional reserve of a doctor to be a sheet of paper: When I began my career, it was large and intact. The first patient death tore a little piece off one end, and the next one tore another, followed by another and another. Once the hundredth death rolls around. . . it tears off a disproportionately large piece. I could feel that last piece float to the ground, and I knew it was gone for good. Once it’s gone, so is your emotional and mental capacity to lose another single person—to watch it all over again, to sit in that waiting room with one more family. You just can’t do it anymore. [emphasis added]
Sadly, he points out that the successes just fail to compensate for the inevitable failures. He chides other people who explore various factors in causing physician burnout for overlooking the straightforward high prevalence of death.
While he does critique a variety of issues, he writes a self – reflective, in – the – moment piece which becomes almost exclusively about his own experience of burning out, dropping out of direct clinical care, and finding the Church (and God). He writes with a slow style from the heart, in contrast to an author like Lynn Casteel Harper whose book Vanishing is sharp and focused for not being quite as much a memoir (I review Harper’s work further down on this page). The book could keep the reader better engaged if Weill stayed a bit more focused on message. While it could improve with editing, for persons directly interested in medical culture, Exhale rounds out a library and bears an important message for its niche. Beyond its niche, however, it offers lessons for anyone involved in a high stakes field at a management level where burnout can become problematic.
How Unexpected Observations and Unintended Outcomes Shape the Science and Treatment of Depression
By Sarah Zabel
When we hear that someone is feeling depressed, we often envision someone temporarily feeling ‘down in the dumps.’ Chronic depression, however, arises from innate proclivities having a complex relationship between the current state of the body, the person’s life history, their genetic background, and their environment. In Fighting Chance, Sarah Zabel introduces the topic of depression as an increasingly recognized disorder for which society still has a long path to travel in appreciating this very common problem.
She describes the different schools of thought about causation in depression all the way down to the protein level. The reader will find a fine description of brain chemistry and drug functioning. One of the more important passages of the book concerns the biochemical relationships between excess hormones and stress. In it, she gives a clear view of how depression can be thought of in a disease context via a detailed description of the involved and predictable physiology. However, this section is also written at a highly advanced level for a general readership. Her main point – that there is a describable biology specific to stress (albeit very complex) gets lost in the details.
By way of emphasizing how depression is a clinical illness, in Chapter 4 she gives an anatomically detailed description of what observable differences are present in neural pathways and brain features between depressed and healthy individuals. She points out that progress towards a newer model of depression is coming as much or more from the realm of brain structure as opposed to neurochemistry –
this new model of depression places the focus on structures in the brain and what is happening to them, layering a tissue-level view over the top of the chemical view.
In light of this insightful observation, I am tempted to call her model a scientifically legitimate neo-phrenology. The modern connotation of “phrenology” is negative – it hearkens to the day that intellect was thought of as a function of brain size and convolutions overlaying a hearty dose of sexism and racism – but it really seems to be an apt term for the school of thought which she poignantly describes. And I mean this in a positive sense free of the sexism and racism. Subsequently, she integrates the neurochemistry of drug treatment approaches into this neophrenology. I liked this organizational approach.
Her discussion of how the scientific perspective on depression is gradually shifting from neurochemistry to micro-morphology really enriches the work. In illustrating just how depression must be understood to have a legitimate and defineable niche as a psychiatric pathology, Chapter Nine, subheading “Intrinsic Networks in Depression” is of great value. One of the more important passages explains:
When researchers extended studies of functional networks from healthy volunteers to people with psychiatric disorders, the importance of these neural networks to psychopathology quickly became apparent. Dysfunction across one or more of those networks has been identified in autism, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, and frontotemporal [lobe] dementia. Depression has its own unique fingerprint in the interactions among and within neural networks, distinct from any of the other psychiatric disorders studied. The composition of the networks change. (emphasis added).
She then discusses the concept of rumination. Whereas excessive rumination frequently occurs in epilepsy, I naturally took to what she had to say. My personal belief regarding some of the philosophical insight which is attributed to people with epilepsy is that it is a useful byproduct of rumination, itself.
Also noteworthy is her introduction of Dr. Charles Nemeroff who puts forth the view that depression later in life can find its roots in childhood and in a very Freudian sense, and she discusses the cognitive behavioral therapy of Aaron Beck. She provides very poignant case examples all the while referencing the need for greater cooperation between neurologists and psychologists / psychiatrists. The case examples include people she has interviewed. They share high quality insight and advice with the reader.
Her dominant thesis and the keen perspective to be gained from understanding it is unquestionably 5+ stars. Her research is unabridged. However, the readability of the book is 3 stars. Some ruthless editing could turn it into a powerhouse work of non-fiction literature. Aside from reigning in the biochemistry, she could delete a large amount of biographical material relating to researchers. For example, she gives a very useful quote from a Dr. Philip Gold:
“One of the premises of my work over the years has been that depression represents a stress response that has gone awry,” he told me. “We need the stress response to survive. When we’re stressed we become anxious; we focus on the danger at hand, so we turn down our capacity to be distracted by pleasurable phenomena because that promotes survival. We lose the propensity to eat, sleep, and participate in sexual activity because that would also diminish the likelihood of survival.”
Tragically, she precedes the very useful quote with a description of Gold’s professional connections, his college degree, and status as a war veteran. This level of personal detail distracts the reader quite a bit. The bibliography provides their proper recognition and serves as the normal jumping-off point for persons seeking more familiarity with specific researchers.
Likewise, the level of detail does not easily fit the reading style of a non-specialist. For example, Chapter 12 reads more like a PhD thesis in genetics than a book intended for general consumption. Take the following:
The FKBP5 gene has several different alleles, affecting how much new FKBP5 is produced by the activation of the GR, differences in GR sensitivity, and stress hormone system regulation. Each of these variants is formed by a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) of FKBP5. (In an SNP, one of the bases in a sequence of nucleotides – A, T, C, or G – is swapped for another.) When studied on their own, the various alleles of FKBP5 sometimes showed an effect on depression and sometimes didn’t. When, similar to Caspi’s research, the different alleles were studied in association with childhood adversity, however, a strong gene-environment interaction was revealed. A meta-analysis of 7 independent studies, involving a total of 7,135 individuals with depression, found that having the “T” allele of a particular FKBP5 SNP was significantly associated with increased risk of developing depression after childhood adversity.
Yikes! Eighty percent of Chapter 12 could readily be eliminated without any loss to her goals of informing and persuading. It is a blitzkrieg of informational cluster bombing that could reduce to a few paragraphs and a generous section of an appendix. The mosaic style of the book makes it difficult to define an audience. Such as it is, the book is one to be prescribed in a curriculum more than browsed in a store. However, the readership need not be so very narrow.
I do hope that she considers putting out a 2nd edition. Streamlining the text could let her do for the understanding of depression what Rachel Carson did for the understanding of environmentalism. Furthermore, the book calls out again and again the need for better integration between neurology and psychiatry, something that is the soul of this very website.
By Sophocles Sapounas
THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
In the graphic novel, Not Alone, Sophocles Sapounas commences a tale of a zombie apocalypse. I promptly sought an early reviewer’s copy when I saw that the Amazon blurb for the book describes it as the story of a teenage girl “with a young amnesic as her sidekick”. Immediately, I wanted to see how an amnesic boy might thoughtfully be portrayed, especially by someone who may or may not have direct experience with the phenomenon. Hence, this review is biased towards that issue.
The story begins with a young man and young woman evading a horde of zombies. In the process the man sustains a bad head wound which makes him amnesic. What follows from that misfortune comes completely from popular imagery. He speaks of having total recall impairment. While possibly useful to future plot development, tabula rasa amnesia is not shrugged off as a grand inconvenience in real life. The insecurities that accompany it psychologically debilitate a person. They also will cause a person to withdraw into themselves. As intimately described in Tacking on the Styx, losing track of the physical world – the spatial world – also intimidates the soul to an incredible degree. Sapounas does not touch on these issues in this first volume. In fairness, however, zombies can overshadow them much like adrenaline overshadows pain.
What Sapounas does portray accurately is the extreme attachment which accompanies amnesia. The man will endure any level of social abuse in preference to striking out on his own – perhaps the basis of the title of the book. His companion tests this resolve repeatedly. Nevertheless, does the underlying factor in the book title come from the psychological effects of amnesia, or do zombies explain everything? We’ll have to wait for future volumes to find out.
Amnesia, in real life, will be one component of a larger trauma. Be it a severe head injury or an epileptic seizure, the cause will simultaneously impact other neurological functions as well. The man does not display any of the unsteadiness of a brain – traumatized person. He hangs from trees and traverses the landscape unimpeded by novel coordination problems. He remains articulate, and these facts add to the cliched nature of his portrayal.
Of greater promise for psychological drama is the woman’s wanton lack of empathy. Her disdain for her companion of circumstance betrays a pronounced narcissistic streak. She holds the key to making the series more interesting.
In a chapter reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand, the pair travel underground for a bit. Here, we see the most intriguing line: “I like the dark. I can be whatever I want in it!” Coming from someone with amnesia, those words hold out promise for future interest.
Unfortunately for allocating stars, I am a big proponent of having some major closure even in graphic novels. Running a series is great, but, written or graphic, novel series are best linked by common characters, sub-plots and over-arching themes. Abrupt plot breaks are disheartening. Not Alone hooked me by the Amazon blurb. However, in an interview at tibetanlemon.com, Sapounas says that Not Alone is the beginning of a seven volume series. Whereas the first volume ends with no resolution of any kind, I am not sure if I have the patience to go further. I might like to check in a few years to see if a boxed set of hardcover volumes comes on the market that would sate my desires for completeness, but that might take a decade or two. A format more like a manga series might work better for the story.
Might this tale have an abrupt ending?
MANHOOD – WOMANHOOD
A Treatise on Secret Indulgence and Excessive Venery
Showing How Virility is Destroyed, and How Restored with a
Word of Warning to Both Sexes
By S.A. Richmond, M.D.
Repeatedly in academic literature, one sees epilepsy referred to as exceptionally stigmatized. However, in popular contemporary writing, I have rarely encountered any reference to it of any kind, stigmatizing or not. This potential oversight begs for an example, and the museum specimen of all examples must be Manhood – Womanhood. A Treatise on Secret Indulgence and Excessive Venery by S. A. Richmond, 1885. As the expansive (yet abridged) title suggests, the treatise concerns the apocalyptic sin of onanism, and the text assigns epilepsy to be the bed partner of masturbation quite indulgently. Richmond aims to sell his anti-masturbatory elixir, Nervine, predominantly as a cure for it and to a lesser extent other diseases. Not living in an age of internet blogs and e-books, he resorts to a tome of some 208 self – published pages.
Superficially amusing is Richmond’s extended quotation of The Art of Preserving Health: a Poem by John Armstrong (1709-1779). The Art is a Shakespearean length ballad (albeit less than 100 pages) on the woes of being human. Richmond selects out what might be the lengthiest verse concerning masturbation ever written – almost an order of magnitude longer than anything of the limerick genre. Armstrong’s style effervesces with originality demanding a repeat of Richmond’s selection:
“In matters connected with venereal pleasures, the poet – physician, Dr. John Armstrong, in his Art of Preserving Health brings poetry to the aid of morality and virtue, and has the following beautiful lines upon the subject:
Is health your care, or luxury your aim,
Be temperate still; when Nature bids, obey;
Her wild, impatient sallies bear no curb;
But when the prurient habit of delight,
Or loose imagination, spurs you on
To deeds above your strength, impute it not
To Nature; Nature all compulsion hates.
Ah! let not luxury nor vain renown
Urge you to feats you well might sleep without,
To make what should be rapture a fatigue,
A tedious task; nor in the wanton arms
Of twining Lais melt your manhood down.
For from the colliquation of soft joys
How changed you rise! The ghost of what you was!
Languid and melancholy, and gaunt and wan;
Your veins exhausted and your nerves unstrung,
Spoiled of its balm and sprightly zest, the blood
Grows vapid phlegm; along the tender nerves
(To each slight impulse trembling awake)
A subtle fiend that mimics all the plagues,
Rapid and restless, springs from part to part.
The blooming honors of your youth are fallen;
Your vigor pines; your vital powers decay;
Diseases haunt you, and untimely age
Creeps on; unsocial, impotent and lewd.
Infatuate, impious epicene! To waste
The stores of pleasure, cheerfulness, and health!
Infatuate all who make delight their trade,
Is health your care, or luxury your aim,
Be temperate still; when Nature bids, obey;
Her wild, impatient sallies bear no curb;
But when the prurient habit of delight,
Or loose imagination, spurs you on
To deeds above your strength, impute it not
To Nature; Nature all compulsion hates.
Ah! let not luxury nor vain renown
Urge you to feats you well might sleep without,
To make what should be rapture a fatigue,
A tedious task; nor in the wanton arms
Of twining Lais melt your manhood down.
For from the colliquation of soft joys
How changed you rise! The ghost of what you was!
Languid and melancholy, and gaunt and wan;
Your veins exhausted and your nerves unstrung,
Spoiled of its balm and sprightly zest, the blood
Grows vapid phlegm; along the tender nerves
(To each slight impulse trembling awake)
A subtle fiend that mimics all the plagues,
Rapid and restless, springs from part to part.
The blooming honors of your youth are fallen;
Your vigor pines; your vital powers decay;
Diseases haunt you, and untimely age
Creeps on; unsocial, impotent and lewd.
Infatuate, impious epicene! To waste
The stores of pleasure, cheerfulness, and health!
Infatuate all who make delight their trade,
And coy perdition every hour pursue.
There may have been a time in the history of medicine when a weakness approaching to impotence induced by sexual excess was looked upon as beyond cure, and when the sufferer from epilepsy brought on by self -abuse was considered a subject to be hidden away in the cells of some asylum as beyond relief, but fortunately that day has gone by, and I have no hesitation in saying that I have, in the whole course of my practice, not met with three cases which have been beyond the powers of my medicine and therapeutic treatment.”
Richmond simply makes too many references to epilepsy to cite or expound upon. He glorifies his elixir in declaring it the answer to almost any psychosis or cognitive pathology, but time and again he returns to epilepsy. He does not mince words in describing and stigmatizing the problem:
It is generally by enfeebling the system with sexual indulgence that epilepsy is induced, and it has been observed that in epileptics the sexual feeling is so strong that the temptation to vicious indulgence is almost beyond control.
Likewise, he associates a man’s frequency of erection with the probability of developing epilepsy. He insinuates that, vis-a-vis an excess of boners, a person with epilepsy gets his just deserts for “reading lascivious books, or… constantly thinking on obscene subjects.”
The book overflows with self-serving pictures which simultaneously amuse and disgust. He contrasts the sexually virtuous wife and mother with the degenerate milieu of future epileptics all of whom could be saved with a dose of his Nervine elixir. To emphasize the need to save what little virtue a person with epilepsy may retain, he depicts an asylum scene of masturbatory seizures.
What need is there to review historical literature such as Richmond’s publication with regards to current stigmatization? In the socially dysfunctional state of America circa 2021, who can say?
Tripping the Multiverse
Jade and Antigone – Book One
By Alison Lyke
Alison Lyke sets up a tough challenge for herself in her book Tripping the Multiverse. She meets it fairly well with a hybrid of fantasy and science fiction. As such, however, her story about moving between multiple universes might evolve into a better movie script than a novel. It’s not a stand – alone work but the start of a series, and as such carries plot development, setting descriptions, and character development into the time where the action should be resolving rather than continuing.
The refreshingly original plot focuses on tracking down a renegade scientist who is destabilizing the universe (as it is known to Earthlings). The main protagonists and antagonist are women which is great to see for a book that will draw a primarily younger male audience. That audience should not disengage at all for this casting choice – it’s one of the strengths of the book.
Another strength of the book is Lyke’s audacity in setting up a plot immersed in a most fundamental realm of physics. She keeps the big picture fresh. In doing so, however, she jumps between science fiction and fantasy repeatedly. She has shape-shifters discussing cosmology and tackling problems that a human being using 23rd Century technology ordinarily would tackle. In the middle of the book, a character changes into a puma and converses with other pumas. Pumas do not do much to enhance the sci-fi aspects of the novel.
A hidden side effect of this hybrid style is that it sets up numerous micro – scale dei ex machinis scenarios. When the technology fails to move the story, bring in a mountain lion. That side effect doesn’t help from the standpoint of a frumpy fifty-something year old man, but it should not necessarily bother a younger crowd. I would be challenged to flesh out a story of such theoretical focus, myself.
A stylistic error that I can advise on is to dispose of the romance novel scene descriptions that hinder the pace of the plot. For example:
Anti nodded for him to go on while Jade sat with her arms folded. He could not continue, however, because an enthusiastic server interrupted them to rattle off the daily specials, which were rosemary crusted quail and peppered crab. Jade faltered when it was her turn to order. She’d never bought food of this quality or complexity, so Anti ordered her trout with lime glaze and couscous, with a promise that Jade would love it.
Good grief, who cares about pepper, rosemary, and lime glaze when there are universes to be traversed? Too many other examples can be found in addition to the above (including one posing the question of whether a mattress is stuffed with organically or inorganically sourced feathers). Furthermore, Jade’s character development should not be a part of the final 25% of the book – even one which is the start of a series.
As I have noted in other reviews, I am a disciple of Stephen King’s mantra that adverbs best adjectives and descriptions should not eclipse action in story telling (especially descriptions of lime glaze and pillow stuffing). Lyke’s writing style could do well to adhere to this view more closely.
At the start of this review, I said the book could make a good movie script, and I meant it. Thinking of Star Wars’ pub scene, a huge number of character types in different costumes made on different planets greet the eyes of the movie – goer. The visual diversity and high detail make great cinematography. Those same characteristics cannot be written to move fast enough to keep a book moving, however.
Trial, Error, and Success
10 Insights into Realistic Knowledge, Thinking, and Emotional Intelligence
By Sima Dimitrijev and Maryann Karinch
Trial, Error, and Success lays out an engaging philosophical approach to managing business and life. As their title suggests, they highlight the value of experiential learning and its frequent primacy over theoretical calculation in decision making. A sub-theme is that learning can be put to best use within a team organization. The book is a fine text for individuals; a very thought provoking text for business persons, and useful heresy for academic sorts (albeit maybe less so for medical professionals).
The authors frequently take an academic tone which can make for a slow read in the beginning, however, the final third builds up steam as they increasingly discuss the psychology of decision making (or perhaps I just got into a groove past the half-way point). They provide interesting case examples for various points along the way. Refreshingly, the value of incorporating emotional-intelligence into creating strategy and making management decisions features prominently in their discussion. Similarly, just getting along in the workplace is a topic. What can you learn from your employer’s facial expressions and how can you respond to their emotions in a useful manner? The authors don’t hesitate to editorialize on the utility of different emotions, even discussing the moments in which anger should be expressed.
They extemporize on the work of Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton who published on the topic of happiness and life satisfaction. Kahneman and Deaton split these concepts and put actual dollar values to what level of income satisfied people for these two different life parameters. The authors then follow up with a story of how a co-owner in Gravity Payments actually made a radical shift in salary policy based on this research. The story may be well-known within business circles, but it was not to this reader.
The book has a focus on the art and need for sharing thoughts and knowledge in a manner that fosters group benefit. It could be useful to follow, but in the modern academic research environment, it may better represent a death wish for some demographics. The graduate student may stand to gain very, very little from being a team player – her safest strategy for career advancement is to be 98% self – centered. Junior faculty fall into the same boat as the student. Only tenured faculty could reliably gain from Dimitrijev and Karinch’s’ philosophy, and that reality is a genuine pity. Their advocacy for taking a team – orientated approach to management would work best in private organizations. Workers in private business may have the greatest appreciation for the book, but it has something to offer a broad spectrum of readers.
Tell Me Where It Hurts
Private Notes from a family doctor’s treatment room about patients, medical care and life
By Doron Amosi, M.D.
When should one be aggressive and when should one be lenient? And not just when, but with whom – with whom should one be aggressive, and with whom should one be lenient?
Tell Me Where It Hurts presents a great ‘a – day – in – the – life’ look into what it feels like to be an Israeli general practitioner, but it’s written as a refined sort of journal that has not yet graduated into a book. Dr. Doron Amosi shares an extended amount of professional work days, and he succeeds in cultivating empathy between doctor and public. Underlying themes of importance flow through the pages, but extracting them and rinsing them off is left largely to the reader.
What I mainly discerned is that above all, doctors are human. They take their work home with them and cannot shrug off tragedies and patients’ sorrows and sufferings to an optimal extent for preserving their own psychological well being. Surprisingly to an American reader, Israeli doctors (or at least Amosi) still make a considerable number of house calls! They deal with humans – not cases – and the tension this inspires, between the need for compassionate empathy, the need for stern prescription, and the need for self – preserving detachment, persists across the whole of their professional lives.
As a general practitioner, Amosi naturally has more intimate time with a broader range of patients than most other doctors. He must guard himself against becoming too chastising of patients who take homeopathic approaches to breast cancer – or maybe not! The psychological interface between GP and patient appears to be as complex as any in the human social schema:
When should one be aggressive and when should one be lenient? And not just when, but with whom – with whom should one be aggressive, and with whom should one be lenient?
These questions haunt him. He does, however, make a strong point that Western protocols based upon statistical research and cold empiricism, generally, should be the overarching approach to acute care. He has more leniency to chronic care:
contrary to how I perceive chronic illnesses, when it comes to acute issues, I tend to lean towards Western medicine, and I become much less patient. Whoever tries to treat pneumonia with acupuncture, or erupting Crohn’s disease with different elixirs, won’t be receiving any support from me.
The chief idea which Amosi inspires in me is that the psychology of medical practice needs to be considered as a field in and of itself. From this viewpoint, psychologists specializing in the mental health of healthcare workers could also serve great ends. Doctors and nurses live in a unique world with unique stressors that require attention. Pre-med college students might gain useful wisdom with an elective course in the psychology of doctors.
Having discerned at least that much of what Amosi relates, the book’s structure requires quite a bit of patience to navigate. The text begins abruptly and ends abruptly. He does write it as a journal – much like a well refined and personable sea captain’s log. Given the style, the book’s 300+ pages become oppressive. I hate the sadism which I feel, but I must say that one could excise 85 or more pages clean out of it with no harm being done to his message or goals. It cries out for filtration, condensation, and a properly developed start and conclusion.
Sanity’s Thief: an Eric Beckman Paranormal Thriller
By Al Macy
Sanity’s Thief scores high marks for originality. The pace is comfortably fast. The science fiction works well with a low – key private eye who has some very special talents.
Macy does a sensitive job inside of the “hospital” for depicting humans with mental issues of various sorts in a respectful yet humorous way. Outside of the hospital the cast includes a rather vicious wife abuser, begging the question of how to define a mental illness. I now need to get the preceding book for the series, as this was the 2nd, and I want to become a regular reader.
By Siegfried Kra, M.D.
Siegfried Kra writes an autobiography of his life as a cardiologist which includes the romances he has had, his foreign travels, and his educational days. Nine Lives reads like a three-way tug of war between writing modes, any one of which could serve his ends (if such were clearly defined) but used in combination, they do not synergize very well. He could take his long life’s wisdom and incorporate it into a fictional story. Fiction is arguably the most powerful of literary styles. He could focus on a few themes and write a philosophically focused book of non-fiction, or he could write a more clearly themed autobiography about being a doctor and fitting the medical world into the layperson’s world.
The tack he has taken, however, reads more like a collaboration between Steven J. Gould and Danielle Steele only without the poignancy of the former author or the style of the latter one. He has a pleasantly fluid writing style with briefly engaging passages. In fact, the first part of the book (and later sections too) feel composed for the Hallmark Channel. Were he unhindered by the autobiographical need to write everything from the 1st person perspective, he could run with a great story using his life as a template. Such as it is, I read 50% of the way into the book and asked myself, “why am I reading this?” The answer, I thought, might lay in some deep wisdom about the medical world or some poignant life philosophy, or perhaps a well paced story, but through to the end I never really found an answer to the question.
Elsewhere on this web page, I reviewed Kra’s Dancer in the Garden. Rereading that review, I realized that my opening paragraph for Dancer would serve equally well for this review almost verbatim. Both books cover similar territory, and to read one is sufficient. In fact, my underwhelmed view of Nine Lives may stem directly from having already read the other book. Of the two, I recommend Dancer.
There are some great sections, and a wonderful subplot is about a woman named Monique. I won’t elaborate on her for the sake of not spoiling plot. However, I’ll say that his time with her and her plight in life cry out for a novel. The same can be said of one Madam Corot. The best bit of medical wisdom in the book comes from her life story. It concerns how a doctor should play the system for each patient in a personalized way. If Kra would divorce himself from the mildly narcissistic autobiographical approach, he could really write a great piece of fiction centered about these two women.
Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons: Stories
By Keith Rosson
Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons by Keith Rosson peers into the darker, empty regions of men’s souls in highly original and vivid detail. In fact, it is difficult to overstate Rosson’s originality, however, my one piece of advice to the reader is to meter attention out at one story per evening. In contrast to the style of Stephen King, who is all hot for adverbs because they move quickly, Rosson writes with vivid description heavy on circumstance and adjective. Taking in too much of the book at once sacrifices appreciation for each chapter. That caveat dispensed with, the reader will be immersed in disturbing empathy.
Pestilence narrates the starting chapter. “The Lesser Horsemen” comically lays bare how sinister apocalyptic figures are created in the image of God (if the same can be said of Man). They’ve gotten dealt a bad hand, and grumble in the manner of any under-appreciated employee.
Further on, we are lead to the question, what should the Tooth Fairy do if he comes upon a paedophile in bed with a customer? Rosson addresses the question that society has chosen to ignore about a fairy’s proper role. In fact, much of the book seems to be about protocols which might be part of the reason for giving the book its title (however “The Melody of the Thing” is more medically oriented).
“Coyote” tackles the way in which people cope with loss, both in family, courtships, and cognitive abilities. Two brothers travel in search of cherished parts of their past. The story is deeply reflective and disturbing and has an evocative ending.
These examples suffice to show Rosson’s diversity. He does walk a thin line between lively detail and wordiness. I’ll simply echo his own text to end here:
The words just kind of roiled out, and I have to say, for a brand-new song I was just making up on the spot, it wasn’t too bad.
The Role of Mindfulness in Creativity
By Rosie Rosenzweig
In Emergence – The Role of Mindfulness in Creativity, Rosie Rosenzweig provides a condensed introduction to the psychological forces driving art. She passes this psychology through a filter of Buddhist philosophy in a refreshing (though sometimes hard to follow) manner. She does not expound on works of art but rather on artists and their thought processes. Near the close of this brief work, she also delves into the neurology of art, introducing a variety of scholars.
Mindfulness, as Rosenzweig uses the term, comes from Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. The first truth is that suffering or angst, Dukkha, permeates life. The second is that “Dukkha is exacerbated by clinging and attachment.” The third is that letting go is the solution. Finally, the fourth truth is right view which, in my own uneducated terminology, is something of a personal paradigm deriving from a synthesis of memory and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd truths. Rosenzweig takes this complex notion of mindfulness and discusses how this Buddhist way of thought can serve as a secular method of fostering creativity. She then discusses how various people have defined themselves as artists in manners which can best be understood in terms of right mindfulness.
Rosenzweig quotes Ayya Anandabhodi Bhikkhuni in defining Right View as:
Knowledge with regard to stress, knowledge to the origination of stress, knowledge with regard to the cessation of stress, knowledge with regard to the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: This is called Right View.
Incidentally, much of the psychological preventative control of temporal lobe epilepsy can be seen as attaining Right View, for stress is the number one facilitator or even trigger of seizures. On the other hand achieving Right View may be particularly difficult for someone with TLE because doing so is considered to require great memory (though Rosenzweig does not explain this requirement very clearly).
As for Noble Truths, epilepsy gives rise to a hearty dose of angst / Dukkha, be it an artist’s angst or something else. The frequently concurrent amnesia leads up to a predisposition to clinging and attachment, yet the ictal event that yields an insecurity promoting clinging simultaneously enforces a letting go of the past by wiping the slate clean. In this regard, TLE might very well be the doppelganger of Right View and mindfulness! It promotes some conditions that Rosenzweig emphasizes but it does so pathologically.
Rosenzweig cites the prominent Buddhist scholar, Bikkhu Bodhi, as saying that memory (or Samma Sati) is the basis of Mindfulness. This thesis leaves a person with epilepsy in despair.
Upekkha refers to a highly stable mental composure and, as such, is a counterpoint to Dukkha. Rosenzweig explains it as a form of equanimity. She quotes Bikkhu Bodhi for saying it is an unshakeable freedom of mind. Topical freedom is easy to come by for someone with TLE: amnesia is liberating that way. However, breaking out of rumination over a freely connected topic is a different task. Whether or not someone free of ictal activity can secure Upekkha might be debated. It is something clearly unattainable for someone having a seizure or just a bad day in epilepsy. Yet in a calm state, it can transform a Dukkha experience into something artistic (which the author claims is the gateway to artistic material).
Rosenzweig also references Linda Bond as saying that Right View is a moral compass for other parts of living – Right Intention, Right Speech, and a number of others for the reader to discover.
The Sensual Metaphors in the Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarter by Keisai Eisen (1790 – 1848)
and other works
Shunga Gallery is a publisher of Japanese art that is both sensual and erotic by nature – shunga (or しゅんが ). I received a free review copy of their book The Sensual Metaphors in the Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarter by Keisai Eisen courtesy of Librarything.com. Eisen, a Japanese artist (b.1790-d.1848) working in the 19th century has a large portfolio of work of suggestive to very explicit sexual material. In addition to art and also writing, he was an accomplished drinker and self-reported brothel owner (Wikipedia).
The book features twenty-eight of his works. Like many, if not most, such art books, it has a plate and paragraph format. Nine illustrations of erotica do not depict actual coition. The remainder do so, however they may do so only implicitly such as where shoulders and heads are all that is depicted but depicted very tightly together. Shunga Gallery publishes with the “express purpose to offer a sensual oasis in a desert of prudishness.” They do so with Eisen’s high quality artwork quite well, as his subjects contain a variety of adult ages with depictions of both heterosexual and lesbian couples. While the subject matter has an expected draw to it, Eisen’s color use and balance of form and detail is pleasing to a non-expert seeking to appreciate the technique and skills of the artist.
As a piece of literature, the book does what many gallery – styled art books do, which is to leave the non – expert reader hungry for more context and discussion. While the book’s title subject is metaphors, the subject of metaphor is actually very lightly referenced. One has the suspicion that there are far more metaphors to be found than a few references to phallic-shaped flower parts, bat motifs and butterfly motifs. Many works incorporate Japanese texts in the background, but their meanings and possible purposes remain unremarked. This literary incompleteness is a charge that I would level against a majority of publishers of artworks – certainly not just SG. They are not committing an original sin in that regard. That pet peeve not withstanding, Sensual Metaphors succeeds in bringing fine Oriental material to the curious Occidental mind.
In addition to Sensual Metaphors, Shunga Gallery has four other e-books available for download at https://shungagallery.com/e-books/ . They are from 2019 with Issue 1 titled The Complete Shunga Legacy of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849); Issue 2 titled The Anatomy of Hokusai’s Rarest Shuga Series; Issue 3 titled The 25 Most Important Classical Shunga Artists (Vol. 1); and Issue 4 titled The 25 Most Important Classical Shunga Artists (Vol. 2).
As with Kesai Eisen’s work, the subject matter and illustrations of all of these works would make a twentieth century American suffer an apoplectic fit were these works of art found on a coffee table, and an adolescent son would stash them as far under the bed as could possibly be reached (at least prior to the internet age). Having gotten that warning out of the way, let me first discuss both volumes of The 25 Most Important Classical Shunga Artists together. Not being an art historian, I will focus on the structure of the books.
These volumes make an excellent introductory work to people interested in learning about the field more deeply. The structure is an artist – by – artist format in which one plate appears per person with an accompanying page of text. The text is more extensive than what is generally found in The Sensual Metaphors. However, it generally is not a critique of the art but rather focuses on the biography of the artist. Albeit brief, the biography is attention getting and deepens the reader’s interest.
The volumes give a good sense of the expanse of time in which Shunga historically existed. The earliest included artist, Hishikawa Moronobu, lived from 1618 to 1694. The latest – living artist included, Ikedo Terukata, lived from 1883 to 1921.
The subject matter covers most of the commonplace heterosexual repertoire. Absent are male homosexual acts and male masturbation. As is common to the field, exaggerated genitalia feature prominently. Somewhat amusingly, the works show a very stark difference in attitude between some 19th Century Japanese attitudes about the relationship between masturbation and sanity vs. beliefs from the same period in American culture. Compare Utagawa Kunisada’s Masturbating Woman (c1837) to a piece from Samuel A. Richmond’s work Manhood, Womanhood: a Treatise on Secret Indulgence and Excessive Venery …. (1885):
The Shunga piece differs from the portrayal of onanistic people in America (i.e. a majority) to a noteworthy extent (even considering that Richmond happens to be selling a product). At the time of Richmond’s publishing, epilepsy was closely connected to masturbating. While I do not know about contemporaneous Japanese attitudes, I somehow doubt that a similar connection to epileptic insanity was made.
The first e-book of Shunga Gallery’s series is The Complete Shunga Legacy of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). This volume gives a detailed, engaging view of Hokusai’s painting, its influence, and the artist’s life. In this regard, I found it to be more engaging than Sensual Metaphors.
The pictures are, again, dominated by couples in intimate contact, but some works are exceptionally bold and unique. The Horny God of Izumo, for example, would make a Westerner faint after some minutes were they in mixed company. It features a woman and three men, the former smoking a pipe and the latter sitting closely around and facing her, each man with decorated phallus. Also included in the volume is Hokusai’s most imaginative and original work, Diving Girl Ravished by Octopuses, which depicts a reclining woman experiencing an intense bout of cunnilingus with a very large cephalopod. The diving girl searches for a pearl within a clam. The octopus does likewise. It is difficult to assume that Hokusai did not inspire the tentacle porn of hentai.
Finally, the second book, The Anatomy of Hokusai’s Rarest Shunga Series goes into more sensual imagery with some plates being repeated and discussed further. The book’s most visually notable feature is the fact that digitally remastered images are placed side-by-side with originals. Background text is removed. Some minor changes to content are made, such as differing prints on depicted cloth items, but no changes affect the response of the viewer. See the cut-away, (i.e. highly censored) images from Figures 6a and 6b for example. The enhanced images make for a more pleasurable read.
The images are of a mature woman with an adolescent boy. Most of the copious sensual components have been excised for this website. You can see the fidelity to the individuals, but the rugs on which they lie differ, and the background is cleared, among other changes.
Of equal, if not greater, interest than down-loadable books is the artwork present on the Shunga Gallery website, itself. As mentioned above, Hokusai’s molluscan misadventure may be iconic to the genre. While kitsch reinterpretations of Michelangelo’s David and Da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa are more common than liars in Congress, apparently even more reinterpretations of The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife exist in noteworthy variations. A key difference between Hokusai’s work vs. the other two masters, is that many, if not most, variations and studies of The Dream are not kitsch at all (though plenty exist). An extremely large collection of engravings, paintings, sculptures, and numerous media types await the interested aficionado.
The Spirit of Time
By Joshua Linden
Joshua Linden writes an eclectic book about time travel that includes science fiction mixed with theology and philosophizing about the nature of consciousness. He is quite unconventional in the extent to which he mingles the three, especially his incorporation of Christian lore into the sci-fi. In an interesting sense, Linden appears to synthesize his own theology, seasoning Christianity with a hint of Gnosticism (and the ambiguity innate to it).
Memory scores high marks for originality. However it gets a bit hard to follow for several reasons. First, laying out a brand new religion in depth (permissive of and explaining time travel) grows inherently complicated. Characters discuss at length the meaning of time and its relationship to knowledge and consciousness. As with many theologies, their discourse comes across as gobbledy gook at first pass. Second, Linden writes in a very detailed manner, waxing descriptive of many things which are unimportant to the story line. As one example, he gives a detailed description of the workplace for the main characters – the office arrangement, the square footage per employee, and so on. In another instance, a couple talk about clothing while one irons a shirt.
Unnecessary details tax the reader dreadfully when one wants to sink into the esoteric discussion of the interplay of time, memory, and consciousness. Imagine a Star Wars scene in which Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker are discussing the nature of the Force which they then break away from to discuss the best batteries for droids. They then recommence discussing the Force.
Stepping away from those criticisms, I liked the nuggets of philosophy. For understanding memory, Linden strikes gold in relating perception and time:
For the purposes of consciousness, time exists only in a very weak state. It is a socially constructed measurement of change. To be more exact, change exists. Time is our way of explaining change. It is a way of creating order out of chaos.
When someone suffers memory difficulties, time becomes exceptionally hard to perceive in any sort of quantitative sense.
Linden sets the bar too high for himself in some ways. He tries to flesh out his characters’ theories to an extent that distracts from the plot. However the theories are the plot which makes writing the story challenging. He meets his own challenge in a satisfactory way on balance.
Dark Seduction and Persuasion Tactics
The Simplified Playbook of Charismatic Masters of Deception. Leveraging IQ, Influence, and Irresistible Charm in the Art of Covert Persuasion and Mind Games
By Emory Green
Dark Seduction and Persuasion Tactics by Emory Green is, well, seductive. It both entertains and makes a persuasive argument that a person will benefit from seduction skills. While its subtitle mentions deception, dishonest manipulation is not a focus (all types can learn from Green however).
The most prominent of several take-home points is the mantra of the Carnegie Hall pilgrim – practice, practice, practice. Another is that seduction skills can benefit anyone – not merely the sexy. Predictably, Green mentions business and sales quite frequently.
While the book is rightfully in the Self-Help genre, it contains interesting descriptions of historical figures which Green places into categories of seducers. Benjamin Disraeli was a charmer, Eva Duarte was a charismatic, and Charlie Chaplin was a natural, etc. Green gives other types as well.
He offers a whole schematic of rules which he lays out clearly. He doesn’t bullshit. While they’re firmly given, they don’t pose a challenge to absorb.
People with epilepsy have a lower rate of marriage than the general population, and the causative role of the patient becomes clearer to me for having read this book. Stigmatization poses a terrible problem, but from the patient’s perspective, the sheer energy required for boosting a relationship from the familiar to the intimate poses a big hurdle. I have been on some very enjoyable outings with the fairer sex, and when I have returned home, I have suffered profound exhaustion and not from any physical exertions, mind you. The most exhausting have also been the most enjoyable. Reading Green’s description of how much mental strategizing and execution needs deployment in seduction explains the pattern.
By Psoid Froid
Essentialized, by Psoid Froid, discusses the nature and philosophy of fulfillment in both prose and poetry. The text is about modeling existence in a manner which is refreshingly (or deceptively or superficially) extemporaneous and structurally a bit 19th Century. I hasten to add that neither observation connotes anything negative. Rather, they signify an alternative style to dryer products of modern academia. In light of the fact that I have covered some similar material within Tacking on the Styx, I found numerous gems of philosophical observations which I could readily appreciate. Essentialized goes more philosophically in depth for shared topics than does my own work because philosophy is its only realm.
At the risk of making a spoiler, essentialization, as Psoid Froid puts it, is about the optimization of modeling – conceiving something in the most parsimonious manner without sacrificing the power of prediction or the power of explanation. Sections of the book might be described as secular humanism meets cognitive mathematics.
The book’s editorial spirit shares some brotherhood with Robert Frost’s poem, The Lesson for Today, and if you don’t care for the latter work, you probably won’t like the former. Frost mocks navel gazing cynicism and PF scorns it:
To pretend our current world is more miserable than ever is a disservice to all those who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.
Similarly, Frost would likely empathize with a motivational passage:
I was here to write philosophy and crack jokes—and I’m all out of jokes; comedians are in dire straits for the world has become a parody! Not to speak of philosophers who must, at all times, espouse the opposite of how people act. What is left for me? Poetry? Hmph. Yes. Poetry.
Though, in fact, one quote complicates the other! PF’s saving grace, however, is his highly original and fascinating delineation of life’s meanings into a schema of “fulfillment games” examples of which include control fulfillment; curiosity fulfillment; and validation fulfillment; among quite a few significant categories. His ideas merit further contemplation for use as an epistemological tool in the study of behavior.
With inspiration from Artificial Intelligence (AI) theory and cognitive modeling, he discusses memory and how the known can be condensed to a pattern of components in layman’s terms very similar to my own modeling chapter in TotS. He speaks of mutations in thought components as essential to maturing knowledge in a sense which I have touched upon when writing, tangentially, about the impacts of neuropathological brain activity. On a theoretical level, we both speak of the need for a component of entropy in cognition to advance thinking and belief. The groundbreaking geeks in AI have long discussed realization as a network seeking global vs local entropy minima and the need to shake up the system for escaping the local and arriving at the global essence of a problem (see the early works of John Hopfield, David Tank,, and their peers in the 1980’s). Knowingly or not, he captures some of the horrendously mathematical ideas of Hopfield in lay terminology in his discussion of types of traumas and their relationships to knowledge advancement.
Again, wittingly or unwittingly, he proposes that the meaning of life is about model optimization – something both cognitive mathematicians and theologians long have struggled with. I am not yet sure I buy into the notion. Perhaps, I need to reconcile ‘meaning’ with ‘goal’?
I hope to see him give greater discourse on his categorization of fulfillment games in the future. My compromised temporal lobes have some difficulty smoothly absorbing and reviewing all that he says, but I like the outside of the box, where he thinks.
P.S. Incidentally, he gives the most thought-provoking definition of an ideal romantic partner which I have read.
Trauma, Shame, and the Power of Love
The Fall and Rise of a Physician Who Heals Himself
By Christopher E. Pelloski, MD
Christopher Pelloski, M.D., tackles one of the most distasteful social behaviors in the human repertoire head on in Trauma, Shame, and the Power of Love (2015). Within this rather unprecedented and one of a kind text, Pelloski describes his own experiences in watching multiple instances of child pornography and then describes the moral and legal actions and issues which he deals with upon his discovery. Predictably, one comes away with mixed feelings about Pelloski’s character and his motivations both as an involved party and as an author. One also confronts the impact of society’s dealing with the issue. No matter one’s feelings or conclusions, it is a worthwhile read for the importance of the subject and its viewpoint.
Like many other narratives written from the experiential end of the mental illness spectrum, Pelloski calls out for more behavioral treatment in healthcare from qualified psychologists and psychiatrists. While not excusing himself, he does relate an early childhood history of sexual abuse and subsequently describes his initial offenses as rooted in the PTSD of his own childhood. The book focuses only upon his end of the issue as a child and as an adult; other children’s side of such experiences is another person’s narrative to write.
There are legal tiers in child porn that he describes including exclusively observers (non-producers), porn producers, and inspired molesters. Pelloski falls exclusively with the 1st group. The general theme of the book focuses on the rigid adherence to Federal sentencing guidelines at the expense of judges’ discretion with regards to this group. He makes a point of discussing how numerous professionals believe that the populist approach to legal and psychological rehabilitation has simply gotten out of hand.
Pelloski engages in two discussions of a cost-benefit approach to dealing with illicit porn – one which merits serious contemplation, another which has a serious underlying danger. Citing a number of legal scholars and judges, he points out that the large amount of money spent on catching and prosecuting observer – only offenders would be better spent on the more important task of catching those who produce it and/or others who engage in hands-on abuse. For America’s party of cutting-taxes-is-all-that-matters and also other political groups, this is a vital consideration. Nevertheless, politician and others see value in targeting non-producers:
The authors of the material I read speculate that what keeps [non-producer prosecution] going, like most poor public policy, is fear, ignorance, and misinformation. The news media, elected politicians, law enforcement, and federal prosecution offices have also realized what an easy target nonproduction child pornography cases present. It is not surprising that these comprise the overwhelming majority of new sex offenses cases (despite being the least threatening subtype with the lowest recidivism rate). The political and PR return on investment is lucrative, indeed. It takes very little effort to catch someone accessing child pornography online, the public brings its approval to the voting booth, and the headlines write themselves.
He then asks a very provocative question regarding the threat of this class of offenders to the public:
Why was I observed online for nine months? If law enforcement had a legitimate fear that I was a danger to children (my own or pediatric patients), why was nothing done for all that time? I can only conclude it was already known that I was not an immediate hands-on threat. It was more important to spend many months building the case, so I was allowed. . . The police’s inaction tacitly disclosed their position on the matter: that the harm I was generating toward children was not worth preventing sooner.
This kind of cost/benefit/risk analysis is good to contemplate. However, he also mentions the fact that, within his own case, his usefulness as a doctor is wasted. That point has a dangerous flip side which is the unfairness factor. A younger person – say twenty-five years of age – has much less to offer. Worse yet, they might be in an economically or racially disadvantaged group. Bringing societal utility into the discussion poses a steep and slippery slope. From time to time his tone gets sufficiently self-exculpatory to get under a person’s skin. However, his viewpoint is educational. His training in science and medicine also are put to good use in the research required for introducing facts and arguments with minimal filtration through holier-than-thou emotions (and he also calls out America’s overly populous fake Christian community for sensationalizing the legal process). A very useful read, however one’s view of the author evolves.
A Tourtuous Path
Atonement and Reinvention in a Broken System
By Christopher E. Pelloski, MD
I would pose the following question to the reader to put their mind in the proper frame to read A Tortuous Path: should a smoker who is not part of the tobacco industry be held accountable for a child who he does not know getting cancer?
Christopher Pelloski’s A Tortuous Path – Atonement and Reinvention in a Broken System is the sequel to Trauma, Shame, and the Power of Love. It describes in detail his experiences during incarceration. This second text is much more prescriptive than the first. As such, both books should definitely be purchased as a set. The two, together, have much greater value than either one has when read as a stand – alone work. The latter part of the second book is an evidenced – based discourse on the sentencing procedures for child – pornography offenses.
The most important discussion within the book concerns US Supreme Court Chief Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy’s arguments regarding incarceration cited rates of recidivism by convicted porn viewers. The information used by Kennedy has been subsequently shown to have been fabricated!
Pelloski describes instances of persons in their young twenties being incarcerated for extensive periods and put at an extreme economic disadvantage for finding employment upon discharge. He describes this legal path as utterly insane especially in light of the recidivism rates that are far lower than the fabricated rates used by the Supreme Court. Diversion programs, similar to those used by consumers of illicit drugs should be the corrective model used.
many teens in high school send explicit pictures of themselves and their friends to each other—which technically is production and distribution of child pornography, since the subjects of the media are under eighteen years of age, even if the subjects are themselves. And yes, cases are emerging where teens are considered to have victimized themselves and are punished for it as if they were abusing adults, while state laws… are being drafted to further criminalize this common activity among teens
To whatever extent Pelloski is right about the above quote, the legal situation truly has become irrational. He suggests looking to Western Europe (especially Finland or Germany) for a more rational approach to dealing with consumers of child pornography. The populist sensationalizing of the issues in America suggest to Pelloski that only the Federal court system – not the legislative systems – can effect reform.
A Heart Condemned to Roam
By Brian Carmody
As his title suggests, in Brian Carmody’s A Heart Condemned to Roam (2020, Black Rose Writing) the reader accompanies Ben, a college upperclassman, on a quasi-post-adolescent walk-about through America’s heartland. In what might be described as an exploration of American stoicism, Carmody commences the book in an interesting fashion with a sequence of passages illustrating the model of American citizenship as he sees it. Of course he does not identify the passages as such, they can easily be seen as Respect for Family, for God, for Country, for the Other, and for Achievment in that order. After this unorthodox beginning, the introspective journey begins.
Carmody writes from a 1st person perspective and the main character speaks on a very intimate level which engages the reader. In a genuinely humble tone, Carmody inserts a lot of moral conviction in addition to the exploration of a young, God-fearing man about matters of conscience. One such gem comes from fatherly advice about handling the aftermath of clumsily colliding with a fellow pedestrian:
It was a genuine human interaction, a chance to make a new friend, discover something new about yourself, and you wasted it, both of you wasted it, arguing about whose fault it was that you met in the first place.
Dad also prefers another theme in the book:
After a certain point you realize, it’s not what you think you care about that matters, it’s the big things you willfully choose to ignore.
And in a thinly veiled allusion to a certain girlfriend:
Take every opportunity you can find, even the bad ones, as a chance to find a fellow human being.
Dialogues also include talking with a hitchhiker about sexuality (a recurring issue concerning Ben’s girlfriend) as well as discussing Just War Theory with a re-enlistee friend. A clergyman from Nigeria offers a key to serenity near the book’s conclusion.
As a walk-about, the book naturally seeks a younger audience and accordingly is for the just-out-of-reach shelf of the bookcase. An excellent read for a 15-year-old. However, it can be enjoyed by any age and is refreshing for style and topics. I enjoyed it in spite of my five decades.
P.S. There is a citation boo boo in an unidentified quote from Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell album, but everybody makes mistakes.
Overtested, Overtreated, and Overcharged. The American Healthcare Mess
By Gilbert Simon, M.D.
Gilbert Simon’s Ripped Off! Overtested, Overtreated, and Overcharged: the American Healthcare Mess (Paper Raven Books 2020) is difficult to review because it is both very good and very weak in two ways. Like a number of other books reviewed below, it is a treatise on institutionalized insanity, albeit not of people but of the business of healthcare in the United States. Dr. Simon’s long experience in both the practice and administration of healthcare gives the reader a useful window into the machinations of an inscrutable universe of professional, governmental, and cultural practices. His experience, combined with his thoroughness and his candor, give strength to the book. However, the serious reader may become troubled by the sparse sourcing of many facts. Much that he speaks of clearly comes from self – experience, but he frequently refers to figures and historical notes that he does not plainly source. Here, I am not talking about personal attribution; I am talking about laying down a paper trail for others to follow and particularly others interested in making sound policy.
Simon’s powerful content focuses on a dysfunctional interplay between political parties, insurers, the federal government, and global economics. He does an intricate and masterful job of parsing the role of each of the above into a force for ill in healthcare. He discusses the pros and cons of doctors being allowed to set prices for services as opposed to Medicare doing so; the ‘defensive medicine’ stimulated by malpractice suits in which doctors protect themselves by ordering numerous and unnecessary tests; and the mythology of the ‘evil bureaucrat’.
He directed managed care in the 1990’s. As for the politically motivated horror tales spun about such a system, he asserts:
Contrary to popular belief, there was no “evil bureaucrat in Washington” making life-and-death decisions. There were no bureaucrats at all. Those decisions were made by qualified physicians following evidence-based guidelines that determined medical necessity. This was not a government takeover of medicine; it was a corporate takeover of medicine.(emphasis added)
From this perspective, much of the book is a harsh analysis of the conversion of medicine into a business rather than a health service. One example of moneymaking that he frequently refers to is medical imaging, another is in pharmaceuticals. Tremendous amounts of cash are wasted on unnecessary CT scans and MRI’s. Tests are bundled together (e.g. a blood sample is tested for 5 things when only one is desired), all in the name of “community standards” rather than “evidence – based guidlines”. And let’s not even talk about the pharmaceutical industry – but Simon does so. What he has to say is unsettling.
A particular pet peeve of his is the cost of imaging – what he calls the 800 lb gorilla:
The head of the American College of Radiology calculated the cost of diagnostic imaging in 2014 to be $100 billion and suggested that up to 10% of all imaging services are unnecessary or duplicative. Non-radiologists believe the percentage to be closer to 50%, especially for children. A 10% reduction would save $10 billion per year, a sum that could put an end to homelessness for 317,000 homeless citizens. And there is also a cost in terms of radiation exposure, since each regular CT scan exposes the patient to the equivalent of 250 chest x-rays. (empasis added)
He gives an exceptional explanation of the patent games (“evergreening”) which drug companies play to keep large monopolies. Likewise, he describes how hospital corporations pursue local monopolization. All in all, he takes some extremely complex subject material and makes it readable for the lay person. He doesn’t mince words at any time.
Unfortunately, we see bold factual statements and strongly worded passages without clear indication of where the information originates. For example:
Our adolescents have the highest rate of pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases since 1990. Among the industrialized countries studied, we had the highest prevalence of AIDS and the second highest of HIV infection. More Americans died from drug and alcohol abuse. These are appropriately known as despair deaths. We have the highest obesity rate among children and adults from age 20 on, and we have the highest prevalence of diabetes. Adults over the age of 50 are more apt to have and die from cardiovascular disease than those in our peer countries, and lung disease is more prevalent and debilitating in the United States. More older American adults have their activities limited by arthritis than their counterparts in other countries.
The above statements clearly have multiple sources, but they seem to be from one report for the “Commonwealth Fund” and what that report specifically is remains unclear. A book of this nature requires easy fact checking to command serious attention. Many dozens of passages similar in nature to the example occur throughout the book. In fact, the explicit citations number only fifty-one, and many or most of these refer to direct quotes or secondary sources. A discussion of Simon’s magnitude ought to have five times as many. Simon does provide proper contact information for people wishing citation materials, however, such an approach is simply bad form. The book should additionally serve as a launch pad for future research. The informal citation takes a five – star book down several notches.
Mortality, Dementia, and What It Means to Disappear
By Lynn Casteel Harper
I can count on one hand the occasions I saw administrators on the Gardens’ dementia unit spending time with residents and staff. – L.C. Harper
I could choose among twenty great quotes and a myriad chunks of wisdom to find a lead – off to this review of Harper’s timely and timeless manifesto, On Vanishing (2020 Catapult: New York) on the care of people living with some form of dementia. I chose the above, because it captures the distance from which higher caregivers treat those in their stewardship. It also hearkens to the business – model of care in America. In fact, though, I could have used many quotes or phrases to highlight other aspects of Harper’s work just as readily.
Harper, a Protestant minister and former nursing home chaplain, tackles a very challenging subject, namely the way in which people suffering dementia should have their status as members of society maintained. Her work is a manifesto in which she brings numerous aspects and agents of care into focus, from religious institutions’ (primarily Christian) lack of focus to inappropriate drug administration, to the economic status of the hands – on employees tending to people (40% of whom, she notes, live off of public assistance themselves). Most of the book centers on the social psychology shaping how people perceive those in need of care as the title suggests. She promotes the view that the individual’s personal identity is paramount to sustain throughout every stage of decline, and the way to do this is to maintain a never – ending level of individual engagement to prevent “social death”.
Using such politically incorrect terms as “lunacy”, she presents some unorthodox points to ponder. For example, lunacy / madness / psychoses are all “positives” in the sense of being qualities added to the persona. Dementia, on the other hand, is perceived as a reduction of the persona. Of the two semantic categories, she has a certain affinity for the former.
What if we defied vacancy’s tyranny and returned to madness for a moment—not as demon possession or constraint or a way to classify and contain people—but as needful folly in a world of stifling convention? Vacancy seems to suppress imagination; madness stirs it. Might we direct these motions toward compassion? Madness, understood as a window on a social world less ruled by mental conformity, might have some salvageable meanings for dementia.
This convergence with Tacking on the Styx delights me for its congruency with my own perception of why epilepsy should be considered a mental illness. The person is always a complete person, albeit with serious issues. The issues require attention as types of challenges rather than as deficits. A ‘lunatic’ has issues, an aged person with dementia is unhelpfully considered to have primarily vacancies.
Also of interest is her frequent reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson, a favorite personality of mine. While I have quoted the man’s lines about thought and memory, I did not know that he, himself, experienced some form of dementia. His inclusion, as a specific personality, rounded out the humanity of her discourse very nicely.
Care for people with chronic dementia and memory issues generally, makes for dreadfully depressing reading. However, reading such work helps us all in reclaiming a bit of our humanity. Harper’s book helps define what problems need addressing to protect the dignity and quality of life for persons living with dementia either in themselves or someone in their care.
The Shape – Shifter’s Guide to Time Travel
By Mark Budman
The Shape – Shifter’s Guide to Time Travel, by Mark Budman (Black Rose Writing, 2020), takes a reader on a fantasy adventure narrated by two teenagers in an Earth – like world. Chapters alternate between each character’s telling as the story unfolds. Their relationship is of the Romeo / Juliet genre (their respective anthropoid societies have little fondness for one another). Watching their relationship develop is an enjoyable part of the book which walks a line between a young adult and an adult audience (very well suited for the former). Their innate special abilities make for interesting situations and adventures. Budman mixes modern America (think leaf blowers), fictional Eastern Europe and fantasy worlds to great effect. Lose a star, however, for not being a stand-alone book even as it is a beginning to a series.
The House Without a Summer
By DeAnna Knippling
Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. – Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
The House Without a Summer, by DeAnna Knippling (D. Knippling, Wonderland Press, 2020) is a Gothic horror tale with an environmental spin. The protagonist, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars gets leave from the military to come home to his family’s palatial estate upon the death of his brother. He also must deal with the growing insanity of his father. The subsequent plot is a tale of palace intrigue. The action is nested within a world being overtaken by a mysterious fungus and also being haunted by mysterious, humanoid beings. The plot is interesting and would be good material for a movie or TV score.
The circumstances remind one of Justin Joschko’s Yellow Locust. Joschko’s story takes place in a world being overtaken by a locust plant. While the stories differ, my critiques of both differ very little (scroll down this page for that of Yellow Locust).
Knippling writes in a richly descriptive manner with enthusiasm. In doing so, she breaks a cardinal rule of at least one great writer. She leaves little to the reader’s imagination. To borrow her own words, as I moved through the text “it felt as though each footstep [I] made, was made while wading through a syrup.” Much like Joschko, she overburdens the reader with adjectives, adverbs, and context generally. As a result, the pace of this horror novel slows to something more like the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne than those of Stephen King.
A slow and highly detailed journey works well for the reader in the 1800’s. They had no TV, cinema, or Nintendo, and fewer books were to be had. Not so in 2020 and not so for a modern horror genre.
How’s Your Family Going?
By Sayonara Machado
Brazilian author Sayonara Machado takes a look at what a family is and what predicts a harmonic life within it in How’s Your Family Going?(www.sayonarapsicologa.com, 2020). Being a therapist, Machado particularly explores the juvenile and adult child’s reaction to his or her parents’ marital relationship and how that reaction persists and evolves throughout adult life. She takes a special interest in the romantic life of the child as a function of the parental model.
Reviewing professional literature as well as life experience, she points out that a loving relationship between parents provides the keystone of a family. Unconditional love between family members is paramount. She elaborates with a discussion of the need for respectful negotiations of differences in opinions between parents and not letting a competition of ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ take place within a couple. Similarly, she stresses a need for couples to meticulously resolve differences in real time to keep the past in the past. Across generations, she emphasizes the need for people to acknowledge the particular difficulties which their parents faced so that they, themselves, can evolve in a positive manner.
I admired the fact that she pulled no punches on the role of religious dogma in preserving bad or hostile marriages. She mentions that she has seen hundreds of cases of marriages that should have ended, but in most cases, the religious institution added pressure not to divorce. Still, she states, “I’m neither in favour [of] nor against divorce. I see it as a necessary medication that, like all medication, will bring relief to the pain and damage that will need to be cured over time.” She then goes on to discuss society’s views of divorce (which do not appear uniquely Brazilian at all) and ties these views to child psychology.
Stylistically, the book vacillates between the personal and the academic in both content and writing style. Its strengths lay in the first two thirds of the text with the final chapters growing somewhat less tied together. Nevertheless, numerous philosophical gems reward the reader of psychotherapy. I am not very familiar with the field of family psychology, but I suspect that she tackles subjects whose received attention is inadequate to their importance. Of further note, she offers a special form of objectivity in her perspective as her own life has been quite distanced from the idealized one, i.e. two mutually loving, supportive parents and a similarly engaged extended family.
To her fellow professionals, she advises:
The role of psychology in a society, especially of couples and family specialists, is to understand the social phenomena and their changes, working to relieve emotional pain. Helping the patient, family, or individual to build a new family picture of their life at that moment, is, perhaps, our greatest goal.
A Memoir of a Young Physician’s Struggle with Mental Illness
By Kyle Bradford Jones, M.D.
Society wants (and deserves) intelligent, compassionate, and effective physicians. The current arrangement dulls intellect through unsustainable and dangerous schedules, kills the compassion intrinsic in medical students and residents, and sacrifices efficacious quality of care for the “efficiency” of seeing patients in an increasingly short amount of time. We need to reassess our goals.
In Fallible (Black Rose Writing, 2020), Dr. Kyle Bradford Jones takes a necessary shotgun challenge to the medical industry establishment in a manner stylistically comparable to that of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. While Carson wrote a seminal piece on environmentalism, Jones focuses on the less planetary world of American healthcare. The voting public will benefit from reading Fallible, but the book will be especially valuable to the premedical student as part of college curricula and also to people interested in public policy and law. It will furthermore be interesting to people with mental illnesses.
Jones starts out with the conundrum of having an illness as a doctor, and he warns that inadequate attention to physicians’ health has been becoming alarming:
Nearly one-third of doctors-in-training suffer from a mental illness. Physicians have a suicide rate three times higher than the general population among men, five times higher among women.
He also examines some of the causes for this disturbingly high rate, giving it context via his own life experience ( he has an anxiety disorder). He touches on alcoholism and drug usage among doctors, generally. A key target of discussion is the rather perverse culture of medical training. His insider’s description inspires a notion of having basic training with a military drill sergeant over-lording you not for six weeks but for many years. Medical culture dehumanizes its own in its present state.
Though he focuses his thoughts about professional psychology on the abusiveness of senior personnel, he makes a brief but important description of the impact of medical malpractice suits brought against doctors. Ambulance chasers’ assaults on humanity take a grim toll on the psychology of physicians. The subsequent effects on doctors’ empathy and compassion are likewise grim. The general public, he asserts, greatly underestimates the devastating effect legal actions have on subsequent morale and performance.
The extent to which the American medical establishment has become a business figures prominently at the beginning of the book:
The Hippocratic Oath, which all doctors take when they graduate from medical school, begins with the charge “Primum non nocere” (“First do no harm”). But when something reimburses well, the oath becomes more of a loose guideline than anything else . . .”
Naturally, he highlights the largess and mercenary behaviors of some pharmaceutical companies.
Jones ends the book with a to – do list of general measures and goals to be focused on. Like Carson’s work, the book is both inspired, depressing, yet very necessary and timely. I do not doubt that Jones will harvest quite a bit of scorn for writing it. He deserves quite a bit of admiration for doing so as well.
Dancer in the Garden
By Siegfried Kra, M.D.
Dancer in the Garden is an autobiographical memoir about the career of cardiologist Siegfried Kra (Pleasure Boat Studio: a Literary Press, 2019). Kra writes what are effectively short stories in a very personable style. He does so from a perspective of fifty years in medicine. What he does not do so much is tie the stories together around an easily discernible theme or message.
Strong chapters include a storied comparison between a young lady and an older madame in a tuberculosis sanatorium. In both instances following protocol implies diverging from the whole appreciation of their humanity. Nevertheless, dealing with them requires playing different roles which require a talent for gymnastics.
Another chapter includes a vivid accounting of a plane crash which Kra survived in Rhode Island. He describes a number of human and environmental factors that should have culminated in the death of all of those people aboard, including his own. He makes soft allusion to a guardian angel and also seems to warn against the vice of being pedantic. Predictably, the guardian angels that may or may not exist turned their backs on several victims who were burned to death.
Kra hints at the need for listening – literally and through a stethoscope – as opposed to relying too much upon technology. He does so in a story of examining someone and making a diagnosis of heart cancer. It is about being up close and personal.
One of the very first sentiments of the book and also one of the most important occurs in the first chapter and resonates quite strongly with that of Tacking on the Styx (2015). Kra writes:
“Just touch him,” I tell the masked and gloved figures. “Hold his hand and it will give him a feeling of comfort and security. He won’t be so frightened. It’s an old method I learned in medical school, before you had all these machines.” All medical care should include the ancient bedside practice of taking the patient’s hand. “It works better than Xanax,” I tell them.
Similarly, at the close of Chapter 1, Hatcher writes:
Before he left, taking his lead from ancient healing rituals and Tom’s demeanor, he took Tom’s hand in one of his and placed his other hand on Tom’s shoulder. He stood in this laying-on of hands for some minutes without speaking a single word. Transfusing a sense of human stability. Then he vanished. Tom flipped back into the abyss of sleep. This laying-on of hands by his doctor would come to be the sharpest positive image retained from his hospital stay, if only for its simplicity.
Quite reassuringly, Kra, as a doctor, and I, as a patient, share a strong sentiment! It is a very good thing to know.
Am I a Lunatic?
Dr. Henry T. Helmbold’s Exposure of His Personal Experience in the Lunatic Asylums of Europe and America
Henry T. Helmbold, M.D.
To call attention to the haphazard and crude asylum systems in America circa 1877, Dr. Henry Helmbold wrote Am I a Lunatic? or Dr. Henry T. Helmbold’s Exposure of His Personal Experience in the Lunatic Asylums of Europe and America. Helmbold was a multi-millionaire who made his riches off of health tonics. He was also a Harry Houdini of insane asylums and had a relationship with mental hospitals much like water has with a sieve fixed over a bucket. He passed through the walls easily yet repeatedly found himself contained by the system.
Bearing in mind that Am I a Lunatic? is an autobiography, Helmbold describes every day of his life being a perfectly sane one. A reader does get the impression that he is eccentric but perhaps no more so than any person who is free of all financial wants and has a high disposable income. His audacity oozes from every chapter, but he never betrays any evidence of being a hazard to anyone. Nevertheless, some real but unknown agent persists in taking every measure to keep him locked up. One has the feeling that some party or parties – perhaps those with keen financial interests – have a strong vested interest in his confinement more so than in his health. If any evidence for his genuine insanity exists, it may be his persistence in returning to family after every escape from confinement which naturally ends in re – incarceration. Furthermore, he appears to have a following of paparazzi; he fondly speaks of receiving ‘hundreds of calls’ during a week in Boston. His ability for stealth fails both within and without.
Whatever the one-sided view of his life circumstances outside of asylums may be, his report of life within them accords with other authors sharing his perspective. And he has seen the interior of many both in America and in France. The latter he regards highly; the former he does not:
In an American lunatic asylum sane men are driven mad, but in France the main design of such an asylum is to render mad people gradually and pleasantly sane.
What he does do is point out the lack of accountability within the American system. At one institution, he obtains a writ of habeus corpus. Properly heard in court, he questions the ‘doctors’ holding power over him. He trolls several doctors into saying that they are familiar with the books X, Y, & Z, and then informs the court that said books are the products of his own imagination! These doctors’ professional integrity seems lax. Trolling predates Facebook.
Like so many patients, real or of convenience, he decries the lack of a counseled hearing which insinuates that criminals have it better. Additionally, he decries the boredom – the lack of stimulation that is self – sufficient to bring about madness. He gets treated brutally and housed in cells with inadequate heating or ventilation. Based on all of these factors he advises:
If any of my readers have friends who are insane, for God’s sake let them heed my words and take care of their insane dear ones themselves at home. Let them not send them to a madhouse. And if any of my readers fancy that they are perfectly secure,’ as far as they are concerned, from any possible danger of being thrown at any moment into a madhouse, let them think over the revelations published under my signature.
The book is engaging and a window into a past time based upon human behaviors which are not extinct.
Spiritual Self – Care for Mental Health Professionals
By Dr. LaRonda Starling
In Be Still: Spiritual Self-Care for Mental Health Professionals, Dr. LaRonda Starling (2019) coaches healthcare workers to take care of themselves within a Christian religious paradigm. The book is level headed and sensitive with sound advice to offer. However, from a literary perspective, it does suffer from a tendency to get too soothing and too slow. In this regard, it is similar to John Siefring’s An Important Day, but Starling never quite gets to Siefring’s level of viscosity except in a few places. More importantly, Starling occasionally seems to forget that her intended audience has a high level of education. Her tone frequently better suits a lay person reader.
Getting the nuisances out of the way first, her starting disclaimer embodies the illness of disclaimers:
I am not offering this book as advice to anyone, and the information here was written because God told me to.
Oh, for St. Pete’s sake. If God told her to write it, then of course it is meant to advise! If God told her to write it, then one should trust that She will protect Starling from law suits. Starling begs the question “should I be taken seriously?” from the start.
On the matter of tone, her speaking style may be useful for communicating with some clientele, but it often fails strategically for speaking to an audience of M.D.’s. Witness:
there is only one you. As much as some people may seem to be similar, even identical twins are uniquely themselves. Whether you believe it or not, you are you, and God created you for your unique purpose. There is no going to a people store and getting a new you.
Now, being a non-believer, I must take a few perfunctory swipes at conservative Christian theology. She makes the required references to the ever – increasing level of wickedness in our world. Why do theological types always set the trend pointing to Hell when very little that happens in 2020 can compare to the Holocaust or the real Hell in the Pacific during World War II? Do theologians ever ponder the fact that morality can go up as well as down? She has her moments of boring cliche.
And speaking of 2020, the environmentalist in me despises the shortsightedness of all salvationists who believe that the end is not just near but imminent. The verse which I despise is:
Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34).
This abbreviated mode of thinking puts the conservative minister in direct conflict with the environmentalist. Tomorrow is exactly what society should worry about, and ministers should be mindful of that or go into retirement.
Now for the good stuff.
She meditates thoroughly on keeping the good stuff at the forefront of a clinicians mind. The best part of the book is her referral to Philippians 4:8:
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things
She then goes on to discuss a number of ways one can discipline oneself to do this. Furthermore, one need not be a believer to find her advice useful. In chapter 6, she does fail again to match text style to audience but her thoughts for being still and saying ‘no’ to people who put too much on a counselor come across well. Herein lay the essence of the book:
If studied at some length, I am sure we could find many ways to say no to someone in a manner that honors God. Here we will look at this through the lens of the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23 – ESV). Look at a few of the ways you could say no: lovingly, peaceably, patiently, kindly, and gently. In a society where people encourage one another to be rude, blunt, and petty, it has become increasingly important to remember to say things in a loving manner, including the word no.
The Piling of Tophet
A Lunatic’s Problem for the World to Solve
By John T. Fowler
John T. Fowler’s The Piling of Tophet: a Lunatic’s Problem for the World to Solve (1879) stands as an early example of the value of patient – written material to a modern conception of mental illness. As such, it holds its own against modern works. Person’s interested in psychological reads should include it on their short list of works.
Fowler suffers from an intermittent psychotic disorder of some kind and is a frequent resident within the Hudson River State Hospital, Poughkeepsie, New York (a hospital less than ten years old at his time of writing). His points of appeal include some insightful philosophizing upon religion, a general description of his life in an asylum and the management of 19th century asylums, and how he, himself, is an appropriate person to be “in the system”. His description also shows the system in 1879 to be perhaps a good deal better than what it evolved into by 1979.
The sharp and insightful religious discussion of the first 1/2 of the book would easily stand side by side with the Rev. Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau. Tophet offers a delightful treasure chest of quotes for religious philosophy. Fowler probably does not have the same recognition as these other men due to his writing having some focus on mental illness. His illness clouds the wisdom in the eyes of others, as does a claim that he makes to be a prophet of sorts.
Unfortunately, thinking of oneself as sent from a god allows people to be dismissive of you. Today, some communities would look at him most warily, but they have no need to be concerned because “he is crazy”. Evangelical “Christians”, among others, might be put off by his conception of religious philosophy as a more universal philosophy. In truth, they would see him as a threat. Heaven, to his thought, is simply the earthly realization of the Golden Rule. Such a notion is a most existentialist threat to right – wing American theology purporting to be Christian.
In fact, his philosophy takes harsh aim at much of organized religion:
all the ecumenical councils and consecrated writings in the world could not secure the supporters of irrational doctrines from ultimate consignment to the hell of fools and the blind… There is no more horrible sin than the upholding of false and irrational doctrines. When such doctrines are established, and the opposition cowed into moral subjection, sin reigns supreme.
He does not believe in a hereafter, and in that respect, he is like the fictional protagonist in Tacking on the Styx.
Furthermore, by dispensing with that ‘soul concept’, he keeps a better perspective upon the interpretation of scriptural texts than many a modern preacher. Again, under the influence of the Golden Rule:
All men have naturally equal rights in the kingdom of heaven, and an equal right to plain reason as the basis of all sacred laws. But after some keen spirit like Moses, the evangelists, Mohammed, Buddha, etc., cooks up a tempting and plausible mess, he has no difficulty in getting the plebeian Esau to take it in exchange for his birthright freedom of reason. From this sale of birthright comes the attachment seen all over the world for national and hereditary religions, in defiance of all observed facts and the conclusions of sound reason.
Can there be any wonder that the religious world so frequently finds mental illness challenging to deal with? The sanity within insanity can be daunting. In fact, he makes possibly one of the most intelligent inferences about the source of religion – he does not explicitly use the term, but he basically refers to the social contract as the ultimate source of religion! Without a focus on the social contract, religion becomes a vice.
I could not deceive another without feeling that I was working against my own mind, or do hostile things without open defiance. This, I concluded, was rightly to be called a religious trait of mind. Others had the same tenderness about various words, records, mental images, practices, etc. , while they might not be as tender where I was. Their will-bondage I also recognized as religion, in the original and true sense of the word, but such religion as I would have subjected to the judgment of utility.
His “will-bondage” is the contract. I could now go on an odyssey of quotations of other piercing words, but this is merely a book review. He implants numerous gems in his writing that are pertinent to sin, evangelicalism, excesses of zeal, the deception of everlasting life, and some excellent perspectives on idolatry. Suffice to say that he scoffs at the inconsistencies of rational thought in religion and compares the tolerances of them as the foundation of the Tower of Babel.
When not sharing his spiritual world view, Fowler provides us with a meaningful view of 19th Century healthcare. He hears voices and suffers paroxysms of paranoia. In the 20th Century, he perhaps could effectively be imprisoned, but in the brand new asylum of his day, such is not the case. Upon his initial admission, he remains confined, but within a reasonable amount of time, he is allowed to leave buildings, and eventually the grounds, at his own discretion. He visits family for days and weeks, but he returns regularly to Poughkeepsie by his own choice. He lives in no state of denial about the illness of his voices. Yet, at the same time, he thinks that some may come from the people around him. That belief is one thing that makes the populated hospital problematic for him.
He has a few negative points to make about hospitalization. He is uncomfortable with what he feels is an arbitrary and unsettling living arrangement – he is moved from place to place to live within the grounds. His social sphere is hence disrupted, and staff spread a reputation about him before he makes an appearance someplace new.
He does not care for the sanitation of the environment but does not blame staff. Rather he considers it to be the nature of the beast:
You may be a cleanly person, but you must take your chance of being put on a bed that steams of fetid, acrid emanations till you fear that you will be poisoned through the pores of your body. This feeling of helpless exposure on the billows of other and indifferent, callous people’s wills is the one great bugbear of these institutions, in my estimation. As I have said, I have not felt it excessively myself, because of exemption for reason. This feature cannot be very well got rid of, and it would be wrong to make the conduct of the employees responsible for the pressure felt. These institutions are public necessities, and they are unquestionably the means of the recovery of great numbers, from the regularity of the mode of living they enforce, also from the breaking up of old habits of mind; and as for their uncomfortable points, the patient would be so anywhere. Anywhere else he would be a well-spring of discomfort to others.
As the above suggests, Fowler is both philosophically insightful and yet has an eminently level-headed view of life, despite whatever episodes of psychoses which he may suffer from (given modern medications, he might be a professor). His book can be a difficult read for some of its wordy rambling which comes from both the author’s frame of mind as well as the literary style of his time. However, the moments of brilliant heresy make it very worthwhile.
The Prisoner’s Hidden Life
or Insane Asylums Unveiled
By E.P.W. Packard
Like the works by Ann Titus and Robert Fuller reviewed below, The Prisoner’s Hidden Life or Insane Asylums Unveiled by E.P.W. Packard (1868) gives a patient’s – eye view of asylums in 19th century America. Unlike them, however, her work could readily be considered a feminist treatise for women’s rights. As such, it stands philosophically original and one of the early works of its kind. I have no expertise in the matter, but I would speculate that it could be the first of the women’s rights genre. The relative lack of recognition as such undoubtedly stems from its dual focus on America’s wretched social infrastructure built around mental illness. This latter issue initially draws the reader’s attention faster.
Packard’s own life outside of an asylum is very fascinating, but I shall stick to Packard the author. The book is frankly a very slow read – much like scripture. This, in part, is because it has a wordy, 19th century style more like Old Testament scripture than contemporary text. However, in the same vein and the best light, it contains a dense pack of wisdom. One could fill six pages of great quotes. She does not shrink from controversy. It is easy to see why numerous men feel threatened by her. One of the main theses of the book is the need to take away the absolute power of commitment a man has over his wife.
Hence the asylum serves very much as a prison rather than a hospital (where she reports getting no genuine treatment for any ill):
It was a matter of great surprise to me to find so many in the Seventh ward, who, like myself, had never shown any insanity while there, and these were almost uniformly married women, who were put there either by strategy or by force.
In short, the hospital is a dumping ground for bothersome wives.
She makes a biting remark about the status of people with mental illness:
The insane are permitted to be treated and regarded as having no rights that any one is bound to respect—no, not even so much as the slaves are, for they have the rights of their masters’ selfish interests to shield their own rights. But the rights of the insane are not even shielded by the principle of selfishness.
Unlike the slave, people with mental illness are considered to have no value to be protected even indirectly as her analogy suggests.
Like Tom in Tacking on the Styx, she is troubled over and over by loss of contact with the outside world during her confinement. She even elaborates on “post office rights” – a right of communication. I have written of the same issue. and a right of communication is, indeed, worthy of special status. This is particularly true for someone with a mental illness, especially when the person is suspected of being a threat to themselves or to others.
She greatly worries over her children and their well being in the custody of her despicable husband. To further drive home the point that women declared insane are the lowest rung of human status, she makes the mind-stopping observation which typically nobody ever would:
The mother of the illegitimate child is protected by the law, in the right to her own offspring, while the lawfully married wife is not. Thus the only shield maternity has under the laws, is in prostitution.
One is left speechless at the truth of it!
I could go on for many pages about the wealth of philosophical wisdom in the book. However, I should note that her commentary about life in the Jacksonville Insane Asylum is what one would expect, rather harsh. I recommend the book as much or more as an important work of feminist literature as medical for that is what separates it the most from other writings about asylums.
Lunatic Asylums: Their Use and Abuse
by Ann Titus
Lunatic Asylums: Their Use and Abuse by Ann H. Titus (1870) is an autobiographical account of time spent at Sandford Hall, an asylum in downstate New York, in 1870. While we never know the mental illness that she supposedly suffers from (and neither do several physicians who see her), her words are clear and as cogent today as at any time. Whatever her condition, the points which she raises regarding economic incentives polluting medical care cut right through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. They remain as pertinent today, with special interests fighting an ignoble battle against Obamacare, as a century and a half ago.
For reasons not clearly known or spelled out (but likely involving rights in the family estate), Titus’ brother, Jacob Conklin, plots and ultimately executes her commitment. Titus, herself, tells him she would consent if he could produce a letter from a doctor who found it necessary. The doctor whom she ultimately sees merely finds her to be stressed and in no need of hospitalization whatever. Her brother then gets a referral letter for commitment from a doctor who never actually sees her. She takes care to emphasize the gross malpractice and malfeasance of this professional crime.
She reports on some gruesome but realistic features of Sandford – nursing staff is absent as far as she knows. Rather there are servants. Two days a week, in fact, there are no medically qualified people on the premises. Yet, the cost of a stay was about $30 per week. That amounts to between $550 & $600 per week in today’s money. Perhaps that rate only applies to a first week of several, or perhaps not. It is an obviously insane figure for a 19th century household.
The bed linens smell of opium. Her homeopathic tonics from home are gentle on her system, but the concoctions forced on her make her violently ill. Most of her warmer clothes are taken from her upon admission. Naturally, the residence is drafty and cold. Eventually, her husband, who seems a bit slow of mind, succeeds in getting her out.
She then relates a tale of nauseating family intrigue, but beneath it all lies a system with severe accountability issues. Her ultimate take – home message feels too poignant:
The State can, and does in a great measure, prevent abuse of the State institutions ; but the private asylums are frequently made use of unworthily. In these places, for a price, persons are continually received without the least form of investigation, or on the bought certificates of physicians. It is a blot on the humanity of our people and our lawgivers, that all private insane asylums are not abolished. They are neither more nor less than idiot factories. The moment a sane person is confined in one of these places, it becomes the obvious interest of the proprietors of the retreat to render the victim insane as soon as possible.
Or in other words, keep money out of medicine at every opportunity.
An Anthology of the Phantasmagorical Engines and Rail Riders
Edited by Neil Enock
Were you looking for a grand technological metaphor for fatalism, you would need look no further than the nearest train. Unlike any other mode of transport, the train works in a world of deterministic order in which discretion plays a minor role. Switchmen, engineers and passengers follow a rigid schedule. Trains move forwards. Trains move backwards. In Fantastic Trains, (edited by Neil Enok, EDGE – Lite, 2019), locomotives and their attendants are liberated from constraints. Yet, in spite of the liberation, fatalism pervades the book. While a fatalistic order is neither restricted to being good or bad, we seem to give it a negative connotation all the same. This propensity is evident in this anthology.
Fantastic Trains has fantastic originality in many instances. While Charon is an ancient figure, Gavin Bradley’s “Soul Train” places him in a delightfully new context at the beginning of the anthology. Bradley also speculates on the fate of annoying people. Nuisance personalities do not have a prominent role in tales about Hades. Bradley uses this perspective to wryly entertain. From this beginning, we roll through a series of stories in which a basic theme of death or post – apocalyptic life underlies everything. Works by Melodie Leclerc, Kim Solem, and Samuel Marziolo, among others, are very original but very death oriented.
Not until Dwain Campbell’s “Special Delivery” do we get a more upbeat story about mail service as managed by an octopus man (perhaps Poseidon in disguise?). High marks for originality but still having a fatalistic world which, as mentioned, is innate to trains. The same applies to Maurice Forrester’s “The Conductor” which has a happy ending and an amusing tone. However, both of these works fall deep between the covers.
Any book concerning trains will draw a young adult, male audience. Given that some stories qualify as literary fiction, the work could serve as a bridge into this genre for these particular readers. In fact, even fine art occurs. Near the end of the work, Michael Johnstone’s “Mr. Turner on the Great Western Railway” has an interesting bit about the great train artist. I fear, however, that the cynical tones of many of the stories will dampen this potential. Originality, though quintessential to good writing, does not replace outlook and plot development. Unfortunately, the negativity of the book’s start causes it to drag before reaching its full potential.
An Account of the Imprisonment and Sufferings of Robert Fuller of Cambridge
by Robert Fuller
The mariner, who should discover rocks and shoals,which he had narrowly escaped, and to which others would be exposed,would be regarded as a monster, did he not give information, and warn all who should go that way to avoid them.
Insofar as history repeats itself, or breaks new ground into societal insanity, Robert Fuller’s self – published An Account of the Imprisonment and Sufferings of Robert Fuller of Cambridge (1833) makes a brief and worthwhile read. In it, he describes a sixty-five day, involuntary stay at Mclean Asylum for the Insane in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Mclean hospital still operates today, however the Wikipedia description of the institution is far more complimentary – historically sanitized perhaps – than the description which Fuller gives from the early nineteenth century. While Wikipedia offers details on the celebrity patients who have had treatment therein as well as literature about the place, you will not find Fuller mentioned on the website (as of January, 2020). The Wikipedia account might better be described as a sales brochure than as a scholarly article.
The book approaches two centuries since publication and, thus, could be considered dated. Naturally, it offers only Fuller’s perspective, but he reports some observations enticing one to take him seriously. However, we are never given a hint as to why he was placed there or what illness might have plagued him.
To the credit of the 19th century culture, he only resides there for two months and is then discharged. He also is allowed to leave the asylum grounds accompanied by a chaperone from time to time. Society has not condemned him as an irreconcilable problem to be swept into a hole. This fact needs bearing in mind.
Nevertheless, his descriptions of the emotional turmoil of even the briefest commitment remain as cogent as ever and are mirrored in Tacking on the Styx. Unlike Tom Meyerhold, he claims to have no knowledge of why his family has placed him in Mclean. Completely like Meyerhold, however, he is taken aback and made completely distrustful by the fact that he is not permitted to contact any sort of representative in the outside world.
I will back Fuller up in saying that, no matter the brevity, to be deprived of contact with a trusted person outside of the system is to lose all faith in the goodwill of healthcare personnel. We may speak of hours or weeks – it does not matter. While Fuller is allowed to stroll about a garden and take leave of the grounds occasionally, this sense of disconnection eclipses all such humanitarian gestures. He realistically reports on the shackles and groans:
The McLean Asylum for the Insane possesses a large share of popular favour. Its character is not known. The public are ignorant of its inmates, its rules and regulations. Its location is pleasant, and its outward appearance delightful… But let him go with me within its walls: let him hear the groans of the distressed: let him see its inmates shut up with bars and bolts : let him see how deserted they are : how they are neglected and cruelly treated ; how unfit so lonely an abode is for the disconsolate and melancholy—and his views of that Institution will change.
However, the revulsion at the disconnection is sufficient to deter someone in need from a second round of self – sought supervision even today. The horrors above are not necessary, and people involved in mental healthcare need to keep this emotional state in mind.
So careful is our law of the freedom of the citizens, that every man charged with a criminal offence (sic) is entitled to a hearing before a jury of his country. Yet there is this seeming anomoly (sic) – a man charged with insanity can be taken away with out trial, and shut up within the walls of a prison.
History repeats itself. The familiar paraphrasing of John Philpot Curran applies – “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Never Stop Dancing
by John Robinette and Robert Jacoby
“Never Stop Dancing”, by John Robinette and Robert Jacoby (Inner Harbor House, LLC, Takoma Park, 2019 ) reads like a cathartic tide of empathy and tragedy cresting from book to reader and back again. If it strains you much after the first 60% of text (and it may), do not put it down. Like those books we read in high school English class, it has a way of sticking to you that more entertaining and easier paced texts lack. It is heavy for the right educational and humanistic reasons.
Robinette recounts and philosophizes upon the tragic loss of his spouse which occurred with no prior warning. The loss devastated both him and his two sons, spurring him to share some very saccharine – free experiences and revelations. While I thought that some middle sections could be abbreviated to no ill effect, he provides a steady supply of substantive insight. I also think that the book is especially well suited for people who have a loved one diagnosed with a terminal illness, i.e. innocent persons awaiting a “preplanned” death.
Among other lessons, Robinette illustrates how absurdly we expect the male of the species to ‘hold it together’. He holds life together while confessing to weeping on numerous occasions – far more so than the stereotypical male ever would admit to doing. More importantly, he allows himself to do so.
I was struck by the simple and practical advice he offered on maintaining an intense, friendship based relationship:
For a couple years running we would plan a quarterly date, a weekday date. It was actually easier to do this than to get a babysitter. I would take a weekday off on a day she didn’t work, and we’d spend the whole day together. We’d get the kids off to school. We’d go to breakfast together. There’s a restaurant in town, Mark’s Kitchen. We’d usually start there, and she’d order pancakes, coffee, and orange juice, and I’d order an omelet and coffee. Sometimes we’d go catch a matinee in Silver Spring or in Bethesda. Sometimes we’d go to a park and just talk. We’d go to lunch, maybe something a little bit upscale, and have a glass of wine, then come back home, and make love.
His ground level and no – holds – barred take on religion is most refreshing:
Mankind-in-God’s-image suggests to me that God has His issues, too. And as we evolve as a species, and God gets smarter and learns more about being a God, He’s still prone to mistakes, which is why Amy got killed. Because that’s clearly an error. This thinking doesn’t necessarily negate God’s existence, but it negates the all-powerful, all-knowledgeable God, because He can’t be. I think He’s struggling to keep it going, keep it together. He’s like an adolescent God.
He has contempt for the “higher plan” concept of theology. So far as I could tell, he is an atheist – in – training or in full. His having attained this status via tragedy helps to remove a certain stigma that the Book of Job scripture fosters. Reasoned convictions are what they are regardless of motivations.
He also provides cogent advice on how to greet and converse with someone who has just lost a loved one. I leave that for the reader to discover.
One final example of wisdom comes in the Afterward of the book, in which he explains how to remain close to inlaws. People try to please or avoid inlaws often when they really should be looking for the same qualities that attracted them to their son or daughter to begin with. The qualities won’t be hard to find and should be easy to connect to. I had never thought of that! Robinette continues to cherish his parents by marriage.
So, while the book is a heavy one and starts with an aura of the ‘touchy – feely’, I am glad to have read it. It is humanizing with a large dose of the universal, in part because the decorum of male reserve is not exalted. Yet it is seasoned with some strategic male brusqueness as well.
ISBN-10: 0578524457; ISBN-13: 978-0578524450
An Intimate Journey into America’s Mental Health Crisis
by Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, M.D.
Asylums never went away, they just grew into two varieties: posh for the wealthy… and prisons for the poor – Cheryl Roberts, quoted in Bedlam
truly quality psychiatric care will emerge only with the establishment of a universal, single-payer insurance system of the sort used in every other industrialized country in the world – Bedlam
I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review via http://www.librarything.com.
Kenneth Rosenberg, MD, provides an always timely, poignant, and intimate description of the state of mental healthcare in the United States. Using his insight as a psychiatrist and as a sibling to a seriously mentally ill woman (deceased), he reinvigorates the call for more responsible treatment. His tone is both compassionate, historically & currently relevent and, as needed, empirically unforgiving. He also takes care, however, to highlight where progress continues to be made in mental health treatment, and he does not leave the reader mired in cynicism.
The structure of the book is similar to Tacking on the Styx in so far as it interweaves personal story telling with empirical social & scientific discourse. However, the former is strictly about epilepsy and incorporates intimate historical fiction. The latter is much more inclusive of all (serious) mental illnesses, and it seeks the attention not only of medical professionals but of government agencies and the public at large. Biographical discussion of Rosenberg’s mentally ill sister and his own experiences surrounding her treatment are vividly humanizing.
Rosenberg’s take away points are too numerous for a book review, but some that stick out include the need to vigilantly protect the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. That act protects patients from attempts by insurance companies seeking to discount a patient’s mental health coverage relative to other medical needs. Rosenberg carefully avoids saying that an ill concealed elephant in the room is the exceptionally pro-business state of present American government, so I have said it for him. Parity cannot be taken for granted. Contrary to my cynicism, however, he introduces the reader to our current ‘mental health czar’, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz and describes her very progressive agenda with optimism and respect.
Highlighting a need to fight stigma, Rosenberg also quotes Bruce Schwartz as saying that insurance companies considered the stigma of mental illness to be a first line of defense against monetary claims for treatment ultimately never sought or never fought for. Fighting stigma is a powerful message within the book insofar as the text confronts the fiasco of using the prison system as a fundamental, yet doomed, care-giver. He points out that one big – city jail has mentally ill prisoners filling about 1,500 beds. By contrast, he then describes the great results of a multipronged approach to care in Italy where in-patient (and by extension, inmate) care transforms into out-patient care with great effectiveness. Insurance companies must be brought to this approach.
Bedlam provides a great informational resource, but one of Rosenberg’s greatest gifts to the reader comes at the end of the book in “Practical advice for persons with SMI and their families.” He lays out the hands-on measures to take under particular circumstances, giving contact and website information for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and lists some of the services and information provided there. He suggests and describes making a crisis plan for the household. He discusses Dr. Xavier Amador’s Listen-Empathize-Agree-Partner method of constructively connecting to someone with an SMI.
Even more importantly, his “Tips and tricks to help a loved one with chronic, debilitating SMI” is an essential, practical mini-manual of coping which touches on everything from paying bills online to limit stress, to pet ownership, to legal prodding (he also suggests visiting https://mentalillnesspolicy.org/coping). He offers important advice relevant to situations requiring law and law enforcement.
Bedlam is an essential resource to both everyone who has a loved one with a serious mental illness and everyone planning a career in mental healthcare.
7 Thoughts to Live Your Life By
A Guide to the Happy, Peaceful, Meaningful Life
by I.C. Robledo
Somewhere in very, very recent history, right – wing America discounted moral behavior. They did so with the complicit approval of the right – wing churches who generously refer to themselves as ‘Christian’ denominations. The rest of the adult American populace now has the distasteful task of protecting younger citizens from becoming like – minded (by ‘younger’ I include anyone whose moral philosophy remains pliable in a non-negative sense). Part of this task is to expose people in their late teens and twenties to moral philosophies which do not involve gods who can be leveraged by someone as a stage prop for gaining social power.
Books within a “self – actualization” genre can have a role to play in protecting younger adults from moral decay without the need for dated threats of damnation. Traditionally, moral and self – discipline oriented texts come from religion. In Western Civilization, religions tend to be eschatological i.e. preoccupied with death. The self – actualization genre does the opposite, focusing only on life. I.C. Robledo has contributed to this literature with 7 Thoughts to Live Your Life By: a Guide to the Happy, Peaceful, and Meaningful Life.
Robledo shares his life philosophy in a well organized and easily read manner. He does not target a particular age group. The suggested demographic best served by the his work is my own opinion. The strategy for living which he proposes hase a theme of minimalism to it. In this regard, the book is not particularly original, but it remains valuable for adding weight to the genre. Its general spirit has strong overtones of Walden, but it is more operationalized than the musings of Thoreau. 7 Thoughts is also quite Epicurean.
Used in a casual, popular sense, ‘Epicurean’ might sound derogatory for my having applied it to Robledo’s work. I mean nothing of the sort. The following description, quoted from the American Bible Society, mirrors his theses and also makes clear the philosophical respectability of Epicurus.
Epicureanism was founded in Athens by Epicurus, who lived from about 342 to 270 B.C. The main goal of life for Epicureans was to find true happiness. They believed true happiness was gained by encouraging serenity (the Greek word ataraxia) and by avoiding pain. They did not believe that fate or destiny ruled their lives; instead, they believed in free will. Since they did not believe that the gods influenced a person’s life, they were considered by some to be atheists. For them, true pleasure came from living nobly and justly and with a healthy lifestyle.
Though not groundbreaking, 7 Thoughts has its nuggets. He emphasizes comparing self – to – self, across time, rather than comparing self – to – others. He makes the highly non-religious suggestion that life works best by viewing and weighing things with a probabilistic mind set. Don’t get hung up on absolutes in keeping goals and judging situations. He loves lists and poignantly suggests fact checking ones thoughts. I particularly like his suggestion of keeping a ‘to don’t list’.
Like similar works in self – oriented literature (by definition really), a jump to family priorities and societal priorities is not well developed. For example, he states “I find that the more minimal I keep my needs and wants, the happier I am.” That is all well and good, but does the mindset work well for a father? In a parent’s world, some material excess brings security in hard times. He does, indeed, list out how personal priorities should anchor to the family. However, if this mind set is transposed to a government, we might get the austere, libertarian governing that favors the 1%. Similarly, he advocates focusing on the present much more than the future. Again, at a societal level, this is pure poison. In today’s world, people should be more demanding of institutions in all respects rather than less. The genre, as a whole, trips up on the divide between the individual and the group / civilization. Happiness cannot run from the masses. Nevertheless, self – actualization literature is a useful step to gaining secularization and to limiting preoccupations with scorning others.
I received this advance reviewer copy free through Booksirens.com
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
People having various neurological or psychiatric disorders frequently enrich society by virtue of having a distinctly different perspective on life due to nature’s allotments. In The Power of Different, Dr. Gail Saltz lays out various case studies in which altered abilities in some mental functions give way to enhanced abilities in others. Saltz makes a successful bid to sensitize her readers to the complexity of human thought and capability. She also demonstrates the potential costs incurred by society if it is dismissive of people whose cognitive abilities or tendencies lay away from the ‘norm’. The Power of Different could not appear more timely in America for the waning of social sophistication and compassion in our present-day government.
“Mental illness” as a technical label has little more value than “somatic / bodily illness” for the purposes of description and classification. Yet we see it used exclusively time and again. Saltz rectifies this deficiency by presenting a clearer description of several forms – dyslexia, ADD, anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and autism (she categorizes them in a more sophisticated manner that also includes more disorders than I refer to here). She allocates a chapter for each disorder, making it concise and readable to anyone. She also points out that disorders can and do overlap as would be expected for a networked bodily organ. Her chapters are grouped by symptomatology. She also makes the key point that psychiatric counseling is about the treatment of symptoms – classifying conditions is done for insurance purposes rather than treament purposes.
Within each chapter, Saltz explores creative potentials that can be enhanced by the condition(s) described. She also stimulates productive thought as she discusses “work arounds”. She proposes behavioral changes that people, or their associates, can make to cope with differences in abilities and thus enhance the strengths which people possess as a result of these differences.
The book does walk a fine and contentious line on the topic of semantics. What does one call a medical condition that comes about by an aberrant developmental condition and/or genetics and which directly impacts cognitive function? What social repercussions do labels have? The book occasionally comes across as muddled regarding these questions – muddled for its realism primarily but not exclusively.
For example, she refers to dyslexia as a ‘difference’ as opposed to a disorder. Referring to a condition simply as a ‘difference’ puts it at risk for lowered medical research and might jeopardize insurance coverage. Saltz discusses dyslexia as a ‘learning difference’ and she gives the reader a lucid description of how someone with the condition is predisposed to think when reading. But she also tells of some people describing their experience as seeing letters “moving or vibrating on a page.” Vibrating letters are a perceptual pathology not simply a difference. Dyslexia frequently afflicts a person concurrently (i.e. comorbidly) with other difficulties, such as dyspraxia which she explains is a difficulty in articulating sounds due to a kind of neuromuscular impairment.
The reader does need to bear in mind that Saltz demonstrates the **breadth** of the human condition more than reasonable expectations for the average individual with a disorder. Her sampling is openly and also appropriately biased:
“I have interviewed multiple successful and supremely creative individuals with brain differences for this book, and in each case I have asked them if, given the choice, they would eliminate their brain difference. To a person – and no matter how much pain their difference has caused them – they said that they would not. Each of my interviewees couldn’t imagine separating their strengths from their weaknesses.”
This kind of sampling is far from interviewing a person with a condition at random. She does not refer to people who lack supreme creativity. Therefore, using the term “brain differences”, as opposed to “disabilities” or “disorders” runs a danger of overcompensating for historically negative views of some people. She points out her focus on exceptional people repeatedly. However, when a reader fails to attend to her disclaimers, they might lose sight of the possibility that not-so-creative persons might find themselves in misery. The fact that her interviewees would retain their conditions could reflect their status as exceptional people more than their status as people with a recognized medical issue. Nevertheless, Saltz carefully avoids romanticizing any condition. As I said, she gives an *appropriately* biased picture, as one of her intentions is to highlight potential within people having a wide diversity of cognitive abilities. In America, at least, her agenda is imperative.
I have my own biases as I write this critique. I have temporal lobe epilepsy. The history of the disease includes a pendulous swing in status within the psychiatric community, and this volatile status can have high costs for the patient. Decades ago, epilepsy was front and center among mental illnesses. The illness was oddly both comorbid with and caused by seizures. When anticonvulsant drugs became highly effective at reducing or eliminating outward seizures, the disease mysteriously became non-mental. Yet, I can pick out various mental symptoms from multiple disorders that Saltz describes and show them to also be comorbid with temporal lobe epilepsy. Saltz quotes a young woman with dyslexia, “I do better with abstract concepts and ideas as opposed to solid things that require huge amounts of knowledge stored.” I have expressed exactly the same thoughts about epilepsy (in an earlier published work) as the woman quoted. I also appreciate points that Saltz makes regarding attentional difficulties and creativity. Saltz emphasizes the power of disinhibited thoughts – the amnesia with which I am too familiar has similar powers (when you cynically assume that you’ll be wrong most of the time, you cannot be bothered to intellectually police yourself). Epileptic activity can gyrate a person’s focus. Paradoxically, it can make a person hyperfocused as well. Epilepsy, however, is very pathological, frequently melodramatic, and even if it did bring me great success and creativity, I would never pause a moment to be rid of it. But then again, I am not supremely creative either.
Psychiatrists could be routinely treating epilepsy symptoms – as Saltz points out, treating symptoms is what psychiatrists are here to do. Unfortunately, treating the psychiatric symptoms by doctors and receiving reasonable accomodation in the work place has been greatly complicated by the “purging” of the mental illness out of the disease. Today, sufferers are too often perceived as being in a 100% normal mental state when not seizing. That misperception creates social problems. Semantics matter greatly, and the reader needs to critically examine any comment which suggests that a change in terminology is being made for any reason other than a coldly biological one. Such a comment may be very wise, but it needs introspection before quick acceptance. Having a mental disorder can incur stigmatization, but falsely not having one precludes the best care. For that reason, my own attitude is to work to purge the stigma from terms like “disability” or “mental illness” rather than change or discard the terms themselves. Despite our disagreement, Saltz’s highlighting of the refinements of other abilities, brought about because of disorders, benefits people with either viewpoint. A person optimally focused on abstract thoughts can make great contributions to an intellectual endeavor, just as Saltz points out.
Saltz tackles supremely complicated issues, facilitating finding bones of contention. However, what Saltz accomplishes with her writing overshadows the points of contention that I raise. Of numerous accomplishments, she a) humanizes mental challenges in a systematic and comprehensive manner; b) provides a text-book knowledgebase that fosters empathy as it informs; and c) poignantly lays in evidence what society stands to lose when we become insensitive to the human potential in anyone.
The Power of Different needs to be in every college library.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Christmas Planet and Other Stories consists of four short stories, three of which are of regular length. Of the three, two are sci-fi and one is adventure. While the tempo and style are adult oriented, with a couple of excisions of unnecessary PG-17 sentences, they would also appeal to some mature young adults as well.
Chapter 1 amuses with a story that could be likened to a remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as produced and directed by Gene Rodenberry and Henry Selick. This comparison falls short in so far as the fantastical characters are not so pure in motivation, and the draw of the ‘factory’ is as an adult amusement center as well as a place for children. The end of the tale involves catching the villain rather than bequeething a factory or fantasy theme park.
Chapter 2 is a tale of a space – junk scavenger who operates a salvage vessel. In the process of taking possession of a seemingly abandoned space ship, he meets up with a (legally) wanted woman. The subsequent short consists of their forming a social bond despite conflicting personalities. Their personalities and interactions hearken to Han Solo and Princess Leia.
In his sci-fi chapters, Macy creates a level of engaging realism by, paradoxically, the use of the mundane. He incorporates a lot of scenic description and a very realistic tempo for dialogue, both of which I enjoy and neither of which are necessary to an action packed sci-fi work. He writes for a mature audience as can readily be seen by his characters being an entire family in the first case. Eight year olds do not wield light sabers particularly well. They do, however, bring a level of originality and realism to a tale.
Chapter 3 forgoes scifi and returns to normal Earth. The daughter of a past employee in the main character’s former security firm has been kidnapped and held somewhere in Mexico. The tempo and dialogue are paced as expected for extracting a kidnap victim in contrast to the scifi chapters.
Chapter 4 is a snippet that any description of would spoil. Again, Macy’s penchant for family narrative in his plot is evident.
ISBN-10: 1724169130, ISBN-13: 978-1724169136
Stranger Things Have Happened by Thomas Gaffney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Gaffney has a fondness for ashes, and this book has them. Stranger Things is a small but very imaginative collection of short stories suitable for reading to naughty children before you put them to bed. The tales tend to the starkly fatalistic and brief. Gaffney presents mortality from diverse and vivid perspectives. Naughty children notwithstanding, this is a literary work for an adult mind.
My chief criticism is only that some of the stories could be longer. Brevity is essential to some of his tales – notably ‘Eight days a week’ and ‘The day Harold Sanford got cancer’ – but Gaffney could show off his talent more with longer works. I simply have a preference for longer stories.
ISBN-10: 0999263048; ISBN-13: 978-0999263044
The Faraway North: Scandinavian Folk Ballads by Ian Cumpstey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
These Scandinavian ballads are colorful and captivating. They will appeal to all ages. They provide especially good material for introducing poetry to young people and offer a culturally meaningful divergence from Harry Potter. More than that, however, they are a scholarly achievement reflecting a great deal of professional work.
Cumpstey prefaces each one in a readable and scholarly manner. His translations are all the more impressive for keeping a lyrical tone. A literary type will find the book useful as a starting point to better understand and research the history of the genre. He successfully grafts the academic to the entertaining.
The Faraway North is not suitable for bookswaps as it is the sort of text to be reenjoyed over years.
ISBN-10: 0957612028; ISBN-13: 978-0957612020
Yellow Locust by Justin Joschko
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I liked the setting of what might be a post – ecological warfare America. Joschko could have taken that a little further – a ‘prequel’ could improve YL after the fact.
Some highly accomplished writer whose name escapes me has noted that adjectives can be an enemy of good writing. An author should cooperate with the reader, providing the plot and action, while the reader provides the fine details of scenery. Joschko slows the reader down excessively with adjective – and adverb – laden descriptions of events. One need not “dodge and parry quickly”. Such actions always take place quickly. One only needs to dodge and parry.
Joschko also can get carried away with metaphors, similes, and the like to no useful end, such as in the following:
“The farms were hard to tell apart in the dark, but Simon’s target was fairly easy to spot. The silo thrust skyward like some colossus’ skeletal finger, admonishing the gods for its premature burial. Its metal skin shone bone pale in the moonlight, the patches of rust like blood stains indifferently rinsed away. Simon gripped the ladder.”
This text about a silo gets a bit over the top. Action and poetry do not always mesh well.
Stylistic criticisms aside, I liked the main character and would have liked to have seen into the head of her very introverted brother further. At this moment in American history, younger people need a lot of dystopian literature to help them better grasp the dystopian disunity in our post – Obama world. They also need strong female protagonists to stay inspired to achieve in a country where half of the population has endorsed misogyny. Yellow Locust helps in meeting these needs.
ISBN-10: 1946700630; ISBN-13: 978-1946700636
A Still and Bitter Grave by Ann Marston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An enjoyable book with a distinctive character. It has the detailed emotional narrative style of a romance novel with a modestly masculine pace, plot and character development. This difference from other novels is refreshing. Some readers drawn to the title, though, might prefer faster action. Marston appears to be playing to two very different reader genders simultaneously which entails some risks. On balance, she pulls it off though the fusion of the protagonist’s hyper-emotion and super speed behind the joystick at the very end gets a bit unwieldy.
In an unconventional sense, the main character seems narcissisitic. He is not arrogant or unable to have empathy in any traditional sense of how we use the term. Rather he seems to be trapped at the boundary of past and present trying to determine who or what the reflection he sees really is deep in the past. He is Narcissus staring into a reflective surface but uncertain of who actually stares back. Unlike the mythical figure, however, he becomes unstable. The instability ultimately emancipates him.
I know nothing about aviation, but I suspect readers who do will find Marston’s use of detailed pilot culture engaging, especially her male readers.
ISBN-10: 1988274095; ISBN-13: 978-1988274096
Transmigrations by Eddie Louise
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Quite original for a time travel piece. I enjoyed the book, but being of poor memory, the structure of the book was initially unwieldy – perhaps more a challenge to myself than to others. Some more staging would help it. The story fell nicely between young adult fiction and older readers.
I liked the uncontrolled possession aspect of it – having no say in one’s biological destiny. Louise gave it a situation comedy theme that felt refreshing and original by having mature adult humans get transmigrated into age – inappropriate and even species – inappropriate situations. He lost a star, however, for the abrupt ending. Whether they are part of a series or not, books should stand alone. The reader will return to a well written series without any need to be baited from one to another.
Return to Sender by Fred H. Holmes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Fred Holmes’ Return to Sender uses time travel to explore ideas of alternate American histories contingent upon who wins the Civil War. How one views the book depends upon a number of factors – one’s ethnic background, one’s view of American history, one’s affinity for white southern culture, and the time frame that one chooses to read the book.
I won’t speak too much about the action due to the risk of spoilers. Suffice to say that as a time – travel story it has all of the usual vulnerabilities. What is the mechanism of time travel? How does changing minor parts of the past alter the future? How do people feel about the possibility of slipping into non-existence, and so on. Holmes touches on these acceptably well; that he does so at all sets him apart from some authors. Readers must be forgiving of technicalities for all time travel stories.
One main character is a major apologist for the slave owners, and he speaks so eloquently from center stage at times, that it becomes hard to tell how much of his view the book might embody! The character proposes that many lives would have been saved if the South had decisively won the Civil War. Slavery would have ended on its own:
Certainly slavery was evil and wrong, but I believe that had the South won the war, slavery would have been phased out with the blacks receiving education and a far better chance at achieving equality than they received in the economically crushed South.
In light of how many southerners still think that Earth and life were created in 144 hours, this line of reasoning seems a bit preoposterous. Facts, rational discourse, and moral philosophy frequently come up short as tools for changing attitudes. One hopes that Holmes’, himself does not take the notion of populist progress too seriously! Certainly, the Johnson Administration could have made improvements, but the characters’ propositions are absurd, plain and simple. “Return to Sender” was copyrighted in 2015, our current Embarrassment that serves as America’s head of state had yet to test the credibility of the presence of moral values required for eventual, voluntary emancipation. If contemporary history is anything to go by, there are no progressive forces in the South capable of challenging the top 1% either in the 19th or the 21st centuries.
Of course, Holmes has other characters who counter the main villain’s notions, but one comes away feeling uncertain if there is any notion sufficiently non-utilitarian to be genuinely moral among the cast of characters. The occasional Dixie – nostalgia can disturb a person’s sensibilities as well. See the following:
“In 1798, George Carter acquired nearly 3500 acres of prime farmland. Its prosperity peaked by the time of the Civil War when it was tended by over a hundred slaves. In present time, the plantation was reduced to 260 acres and designated a National Historic Landmark with a roadside marker. But in1862, it still was thriving.
Thriving how and for whom?
In fairness to Holmes, this critic is from the only state not to vote for Nixon, and a person who would not be heartbroken if said state seceded from the Union in 2019. I get agitated easily. Holmes poses some food for thought. The book would make an interesting conversation starter in an academic sense.
Absolute Heaven by S.M. Shuford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If Edgar Allen Poe or Robert Louis Stevenson was a 21st century contemporary of S.M. Shuford, I would not care to speculate about who would have the greater influence over whom. Shuford has composed a highly effective book of literary unease in verse of both Western style and haiku. The title is a tease as the book is really the antithesis of serenity (though one might consider a mathematical perspective to grasp the title). Were Absolute Heaven transformed into visual media, I would liken it to a hybrid of the very darkest work of the young photographer, Gregor Petrikovic, and a less erotically obsessed version of surreal Japanese Ero Guro (Japanese erotic horror art) with some intellectual ancestry tracing back to Thomas Malthus. Shuford gives us a literary – quality examination of the organic, disturbing and even vulgar side of life.
The Western style title poem, “Absolute Heaven”, lies in the middle of the book and evokes the sense that Heaven lies within a model of nihilistic Holy War. The first of three verses asserts that forgetting life is the key to Heaven. The second suggests that what is to be feared most in life is not a major agent of destruction – an army or dragon – but rather internal corruption. It is horrifyingly a propos to contemporary American politics in which people are content to normalize the abhorrent. The third hearkens back to the first and laments nihilism. The poem, over all, disturbs.
Another example of her Western style writing, “Biodemonology Piece”, paints an exceptionally organic picture of what is to be feared about the faculties in life. Its symbolism hearkens to the religious iconography in “Lord of the Flies”. It is tempting to find Gospel themes within it – even a darkest form of eucharest.
Other Western verse tackles the darker experiences of modern life. Shuford offers poems that pertain to drug dens, prostitution, suicide, and abortion, among others. She leads the reader directly to the interface of emotion and experience. The reader often needs to meditate to find the precise topics, however.
The book provides a wealth of haiku which are well organized into sections. Blood Ballet pertains, it seems, to original sin. Parasite of the Sun evokes a Malthusian stream of consciousness (esp. #53). Ero-Guro Darlings provides an alternate, biologically oriented model of Hades. These are just three of many collections.
Overall, one of the most frightening aspects of “Absolute Heaven” is the pertinence one finds to very contemporary sociopolitical issues. I refer the reader to ‘Exhumation’, ‘Transient’, and most particularly to Haiku #44 of her Paradox Phenomena collection (the NRA would not like it).
Shuford presents a volume of carefully themed collections of poetry. Always literary in quality, they bleed, expose madness, and follow the innate dark sides of life. They unsettle and do so marvelously.
ISBN-10: 179513416X; ISBN-13: 978-1795134163Progressive Digression: A Book of Poetry by Jordan M. Ehrlich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Progressive Digression is poetry from a male adolescent’s perspective about self worth, self confidence, the opposite sex, and God. I got this book in a free giveaway, and it’s relevant that I’m long past the age group. Regardless of my age, I could identify with the poetry. Most people could. Ehrlich captures some universals very well. He does, in fact, capture adolescence very well. His very first poem calls to mind Charlie Brown and the little red haired girl (oops, I’m giving away my age).
The poems I favored include ‘Get off my back’ for its refreshingly terse use of 2nd person perspective. ‘The Phone Call’ is very identifiable, mind – racing, and spartan – something I enjoyed. ‘Shower’ is provocative and about identity (perhaps racial but more likely spiritual).
I do think the book is best suited for young people. I found too many poems to be thematically age – specific. My interest in youth psychology in poetry has limits, and the book could be pared down without losing value. I like diversity of topics and perspectives in my reading, such as one would find with Frost. Progressive Digression is routinely first person in grammar and occupied with finding context. For those reasons, it is best for youth to whom it will give empathy.
ISBN-10: 1492744786; ISBN-13: 978-1492744788
When to Now: A Time Travel Anthology by Alison McBain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ever since tomorrow, time travel has engaged readers, and multiple stories do so in “When to Now”. In fact, a few come across as downright literary (for the genre), yet some can readily be saved for a rainy day.
Abhishek Sengupta writes perhaps the most intriguing and disturbing story of the book in both poetic metaphor and narrative. “The Swing” translates an experience of Alzheimer’s disease as a repetitive, yet deteriorating, experience. One starts at one extreme of the travel arc and seeks to cross a threshold on the far side, to something like normality. The story encompasses the experience of the loved one as well. It is too rich and complex to give justice to here. Intellectually, it is a difficult read, but that challenge is a metaphor in and of itself.
P.C. Keeler’s “Try Again” seems to portray ‘God’ as an embodiment of Idealism more than Creator. Idealism is repeatedly drawn (or dragged) through a sequence of generations exposed to extreme Darwinism – the Counter Idealism. Idealism has at its heart naivite rather than omniscience. Keeler’s spiritual paradigm is too sophisticated to be compared to the brain dead creation theology which we call scripture today. Like Sengupta, his is a challenging read but not in any negative sense.
Other stories provoke thought for translating older ideas into a post modern setting “A Winters Day” is a futuristic Dorian Grey despairing the selfishness of wanting to live forever. However, it could benefit from some pizazz. It is also not mentally ground breaking, though it is a good study in how to create a vivid context for a story. It would be a useful example in writing technique for a student.
“Turns of Fate” briefly narrates the experiences of an adolescent working in a retro-amusement park. In a highly policed state, the story takes inspiration from “1984”. It puts the oddities of time travel into a scene that feels purposefully mundane.
“Neighbor” is a brief morality tale decrying selfishness in time as well as general irritability. It could make do with a bit more verve and could readily appear elsewhere. Alongside of works like those of Sengupta and Keeler, it feels out of place. The same might be said for “Misconception,” which concerns adoption. Both works develop an air of predictability.
The above are a small selection of stories. On balance, “When to Now” has some excellent works, and it brings many different perspectives and scenarios. However, writing styles which differ so greatly make it feel schizophrenic. A number of works lack intensity and make the book feel easy to put down.
ISBN-10: 1949122069; ISBN-13: 978-1949122060
Cries from the Static by Darren Speegle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Darren Speegle presents a literary quality collection of horror. He uses a variety of writing modes. His tails have high originality and, in the best sense, a 19th century depth of word selection.
Not everything that he writes is story. The volume’s title, itself, refers to a poem.
In another work identifiable as poetry, “Lathered Spit in the Calloused Palms of the Demiurge” he reduces life to something rather onanistic – a wretched proposition. In a brilliantly worded litany, *Things that Tend to Disturb*, he presents exactly that, a listing of things briefly editorialized. When the reader finishes the lengthy tally, they might feel overcome by a sense of dread.
Of course most of the work is story. He has a deeply visceral ghost story in “Hexerei”. A most unsettling, realistic, double murder transpires in another tale.
*Kiss of Chromium, Caress of Isolation* is a particularly disturbing story. In it, a man seeks out his mother living on a deserted island, perhaps to reconcile or resolve the troubles of a past life in which his mother was a paedophile. His name, Hadrian, makes a clear reference to isolation which permeates the story. His career as a photographer implies one who records but does not participate in the world at large. Speegle communicates through sexual symbolism through the story. It is a pleasurably challenging read.
Quite by chance, I read the adult graphic novella, *The Inferno in Bottles*, adapted from the story by Kyusaku Yomeno (1928), within days of reading Kiss of Chromium. Inferno is a classic pictorial work in Japan about a brother and sister also stranded from childhood on an island (reviewed below). Upon reaching the threshold of puberty, they, too, become horrified by their incestuous feelings, though they never commit a sin. The artwork within the piece is loaded with symbolism.
Anyone familiar with and liking TIB will definitely like Speegle’s work and vice versa. Using text as a medium, Speegle naturally creates something more visceral than can be found in any drawings, but I really enjoyed seeing two perspectives side by side. People reading Speegle’s story might like to see TIB similarly close in time.
In Stephen King’s opinion, good horror writing generally avoids adjectives in preference to adverbs. Speegle’s work boldly refutes this notion. He writes masterfully in a manner of Poe or Stoker relying on circumstance and description more than action to disturb the reader. For an adult reader, his style has a superior richness compared to most 20th century work.
ISBN-10: 1935738399; ISBN-13: 978-1935738398
An Important Day by John J. Siefring
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The book is heartfelt and caring. Each character is sensitively portrayed.
Unfortunately, they are sensitively portrayed over and over again. Every paragraph is loaded down with context. That sort of style is fine for the first 25% of the book, however, there comes a point at which one must give the characters freedom to express themselves on their own and in dialogue. The reader will accurately extrapolate their state of mind from actions and speech to a much greater extent than the author supposes. The characters are narrated to death.
I care deeply about mental illnesses – I have one myself. However, I could not ultimately finish the book as the narration crossed the line from sensitive to stifling. Most large paragraphs could be slimmed by 15% without weakening anything that the author wished to convey. The viscosity just became too much for me to handle.
I hope that most reviewers do not share my perspective. For those who might, take the book no more than two chapters at a time and contemplate Siefring’s wisdom in small doses. His manner is kind, and he tackles a difficult topic.
ISBN-13: 978-1530812899; ISBN-10: 1530812895
Team Charlie by Mark Lages
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Team Charlie follows the life of a man who began to hear voices in his head starting in early middle age. Formerly in sales and successful, he lives with his father up to the year that the book begins at. His father passes away, and we accompany Charlie on a long walk – about. He has become very disconnected from his previous life.
Our society remains depauperate in quality works on mental illness which promote empathy. Mark Lages fills one of numerous gaps in an intimate manner. The book reads in third person, primarily, but we never venture away from the main character. The source or cause of his mental hallucinations is never specified though it brings to mind schizophrenia. He has a stable cast of named characters in his head, and at least one is present almost all of the time hence the book’s title.
Most are benign at worst and likeable at best.
Team Charlie moves us further away from the 20th century notion of associating mental illness with criminality or a kind of collapse in maturity. It also highlights the manner in which healthcare for patients with mental illnesses can be precarious and deficient. In Charlie’s case, effective medical outreach could have saved him half a lifetime of trouble. Lages makes a timely jab at the retrogressive religious community whose belief systems are too preponderant in America and antithetical to optimal healthcare. The book should be in the library of most colleges of theology.
In a future edition, Lages will do the reader a favor by adding a section with links to professional organizations. While he seems carefully non-committal as to what disease afflicts Charlie, adding some general, non-fiction descriptions of illnesses involving auditory hallucinations might be valued by the reader. Such material should be used in an afterword. The story needs none of it incorporated.
Team Charlie gives people more breadth for understanding the human condition in a sensitive and personable way. It has an engaging storyline, and Lages’ uses a writing style that gives the main character’s personality continual development in ways which might not readily be seen. The reader will feel fortunate for having read it.
Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character by Kay Redfield Jamison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The public, the student, and even health-care practitioners need more biographical exposure to people with mental illnesses. The only way to really grasp the nature and diversity of mental illness is via empathy. Brains have no moving parts and x-rays, MRI’s and autopsies come up decidedly short for imparting understanding. More importantly, mental illnesses frequently need an intimate, real – world perspective to be best understood. Kay Redfield Jamison helps fill this gap with a study of Robert Lowell.
Writing as an academic, Jamison presents a biographical dissertation on Lowell, the patient and the poet, that trends to unabridged. However, even to someone unfamiliar with the man, she brings him alive in a manner that engages. I received this book in a giveaway lottery – I am not deeply into author biographies. Hence, twenty percent of the way into it, I wondered if I would finish it given its narrow focus on someone with whom I have little familiarity. I am pleased to say that I did and am glad to have done so. Jamison writes in an energized style. She has a talent for keeping every paragraph vibrant in the manner of a first – rate fiction writer, let alone an academic. But the book is anything but fiction, and the fact that it is not adds to its richness.
The book has one structural weakness that the reader can remedy on their own if they know to do so. Mania, in and of itself, is fascinating and complicated. By the third chapter, I wanted more medical background to better appreciate the poet. Half of the way through, I craved it. Jamison had me hooked, but I was not appreciating all that she had to say about Lowell’s life circumstances. She brings the disease alive at Chapter 9 and again in Chapter 13 (the best of the book).
Jamison does give a fine clinical description of the disease. Unfortunately, she has hidden it in Appendix 2. In future editions, it should be worked into the main text after the 2nd or 3rd chapter. I encourage the reader to start with the appendix or check it within the first half of reading the book. Mental illnesses are very diverse and poorly understood by the public and very often by doctors as well. Lowell’s life needs to have maximum context from the beginning to best orient the reader.
The book’s subtitle lists genius, mania, and character as topics. The text is strongest on the topic of character, then mania, and lastly genius. Given the order, some more space could have been allocated to his poetry with a few more examples showing where his genius lay early on. A larger amount of direct commentary on the verse would be helpful to tie it to Lowell’s mania. Redfield does note, “manic patients use more adjectives and action verbs and more words that reflect power and achievement,” but these points could be referenced to specific verse examples more frequently. It is not entirely clear how Lowell has more genius than other poets. Chapter 13 brings his writing alive (it is about death, after all) in the more dissected manner that poetry often requires for a novice to quickly appreciate. My own unfamiliarity with Lowell limits my full appreciation of Jamison’s work in this regard.
All in all, a rewarding read to the amateur and undoubtedly mandatory one for the literary scholar. We hear about the relationships between mental illness and talent often to the point of cliche. Setting The River On Fire brings said relationship into valuable focus and adds depth to our knowledge of mental illness and talent generally.
ISBN-10: 0307744612; ISBN-13: 978-0307744616
The Ghost Portal by Cheryl J Carvajal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Cheryl Carvajal’s Ghost Portal is a good YA-and-older start to a fantasy series. The story is a hybrid messianic and coming of age plot. The main character, Joshua, is a fifteen year old emotional castaway. His mother is taken away by cancer; his father is a piece of rotten detritus; and a previously unknown uncle takes custody of him before anyone else can have a say in the matter after his mother’s demise. “Taking custody” mirrors kidnapping without a ransom. His uncle inserts him into a private academy and for a time cuts him a bit of slack but not for long.
Joshua has some special talents with which he must come to grips. His uncle has a strong, smothering agenda for his care due to his talents. He divulges very little to Joshua, and this understandably brings out an adolescent disposition that anyone of any age could identify with. The uncle is high on noble intentions but low on dad skills. Very low. He gets overbearing because Joshua is unwittingly a gatekeeper of sorts. Joshua’s status relates to the book title.
Carvajal writes in the first person most of the time which works very well. So long as he isn’t drugged, Joshua mentally operates in 4th gear most or all of the time. He has to, because all of the adults in his tumultuous world are just a bit weird and not only by adolescent standards. A young reader will find a great deal of empathy in Carvajal’s writing style. Ghost Portal is an engaging tale about an exceptionally highpressure journey into maturity.
ISBN-10: 1684331005; ISBN-13: 978-1684331000
The Blood Moons: Wrath of Elijah by Kachi Ugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A classic storyline of uninvited power coming to a youth in the vein of Luke Skywalker. This is a nice teen series opener to a fantasy world. I cannot say too much how it compares to other teen lit as I am long past that age, but I like international authors. Ugo’s writing is vivid and easy to follow. Aside from the storyline, American youth can also appreciate a glimpse into other cultures (Yoruba, in this case).
The glossary is probably nice for the intended audience age, but it needs alphabetizing!
ISBN-10: 1542532124; ISBN-13: 978-1542532129
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, there exists a creature that is a little bit animal, a little bit alien, and a whole lot dangerous. The Puller is an effective horror story in the manner of Stephen King & Peter Benchley, and it shows the influence of both to good effect. Where Benchley’s great white shark controls the local environment, traveling invisibly, so does the Puller. Within its environment, it has a seemingly unfair advantage in power and stealth over people and animals that come close. It also has an appetite. Mostly, however, it is bellicose animosity.
Unlike Benchley, Hodges puts the action in rural solitude in the same sort of isolated and isolating environment frequently employed by King. Readers who enjoy Benchley and King will enjoy Hodges’ work quite well.
Of literary note, Hodges dares the reader to ponder if the Puller is created in the image of man. Though the being is formidable in and of itself, it is not on the best of terms with Mother Nature. This dysfunctional relationship becomes apparent at the end of the book. It is one aspect of the work that I would have enjoyed seeing further developed.
ISBN-10: 1925225976; ISBN-13: 978-1925225976The Scavenger by C.L. Lowry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This post apocalypse action novel is a good series introduction. Lowry overlays a Mad Max template with a very original crew of anthropoid ghouls inhabiting the former USA. Lowry hints at their origins which promise to make an interesting prequel.
True to the back page biographical text, he leavens the story with wholesome messages about morality, both in characters’ thoughts and their actions. He sets a stage with book #1 to include a great deal more in the future. This will be great series for young adult males in particular.
I do find one significant fault which is that the abrupt ending does not help the book as a stand alone piece. I have a strong preference for works that serve both ends. A book can readily be both. Whether this book qualifies as good or average largely depends upon whether or not the reader buys the next one. As The Scavenger is not terribly long, a person might want to hold off and buy II, III, & IV all as a boxed set.
ISBN-10: 1946897825; ISBN-13: 978-1946897824
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In *Bittersweet Symphony*, Rebecca McNutt builds a piece of literary fiction around the horrors of 9/11, the likes of which few authors have yet to try. In the process, she molds a daring fusion of King’s **The Shining**, John Hughes’ **The Breakfast Club**, and a dose of Harper Lee into a bildungsroman of sorts. McNutt also takes a timely and not so subtle swipe at plutocracy as she installs the action over a literary Love Canal.
We have a sky scraper version of the Overlook Hotel in Upstate New York, only it haunts many more people in deeper ways than King’s notion of a haunted business establishment does. McNutt tours us through the personalities of a large cast, developing the most important individual towards the end. We come to realize that the person has an air of a film noire version of Atticus Finch – an interesting model of a character indeed. The character’s persona traces their roots to 9/11. They bring their ghosts of that day everywhere.
McNutt paints a powerful picture of the experiences of 9/11 in a depth which I have not yet seen in another novel. Now, 17 years later, younger readers can get a poignant glimpse into that darker part of history. They can also get a message about environmental ethics that is needed more than ever as America has largely ceased being a democratic republic in favor of being a plutocracy. While I do not see the author explicitly targetting any adult age group, the book has particular value to young adults.
My only (very minor) beef with the storyline is that the sentence summarizing the underlying message of the work lies too close to the beginning of the final chapter. McNutt makes a powerful statement about moral outlook (I won’t elaborate due to a spoiler), but a reader could miss it due to its placement. My advice, then, is to buy the book quickly and take specific care in reading the ending.
ISBN-10: 197587451X; ISBN-13: 978-1975874513
The Boy by Rayne Havok
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Shock porn that mostly associates mental instability with violence without giving mature context.
ISBN-10: 1520237715; ISBN-13: 978-1520237718
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A great and groundbreaking idea for an anthology! Poems range from biting, scary, just plain sick, and too prophetic to feel comfortable about. Some are very Edward Gory-esque (e.g. Phrenology, How Yard Games are Invented). Some tackle extinction (Invention of the Trees). Others are very current and sharp in applicability (Octet for My Unnameable Killer Apps). “3-D Printed Skin” and “Little Bone Robot Boy” beg the question of how much living tissue, naturally made, is required for the preservation of one person’s humanity or society’s humanity. These are only a sample of the diversity. Best read in a sunny, open place like a meadow where you won’t scare too easily from the poignancy.
ISBN-10: 0996626204; ISBN-13: 978-0996626200
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
*Caticons* is a tremendously rich gallery of feline artwork shared with us by Sandy Lerner. It spans both Oriental and Occidental cultures over centuries. Lerner presents it in a manner that is simultaneously personable and scholarly. Though brand new to the market, it will shortly be a mandatory holding for a complete art library.
Over 290 pages showcase “domestic” cats in beautiful color plates on each page. One sees Russian Faberge carved figurines, 19th century French bronzes, porcelains from Asia and elsewhere, and oil paintings of masters, among many items. All major media – from clay and wood, to silver, to textile, to canvas – are represented generously.
A deeply abridged list of paintings includes contemporary works by H. Ronner-Kip, G. Mason, and A. Barham; 20th century pieces by M.R. Pipo, G.M. Pissaro, P. Picasso, H. Matisse, A. Warhol, and J. Nash; 19th century works by P. Rousseau, J.F. Herring, C. Chaplin, E. Manet, and A. Puissant; 18th century works by J. Collyer; and 17th century works of F. van Kessel, D. de Coninck, and G. von Wedig. These are only some of the European and American artists and some of the centuries represented.
Lerner’s passions do not exclusively include the visual arts. Her text includes a richness of quotes from people both familiar and obscure. Likewise, she provides a delight of poetry. *Caticons* is a highest quality labor of love.
ISBN-10: 151362024X; ISBN-13: 978-1513620244
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Should you have an emergency kit for a power outage – flashlights, batteries, that non-digital radio left over from the garage sale – be sure to include a copy of Dislocations in it. Windsor Harries entertains with a volume of short stories ideal for reading by candle light. Each chapter sucks you into a highly original work that is short enough to read in the dark yet creepy enough to make you wish the lights would come on sooner.
The stories follow different themes, but all remain true to the book title and never end feeling completely resolved. Harries visits post-apocalyptic Africa in one. Another story would make a great library reading for Robert De Niro to do. David Bowie could write some good ballade-length music for yet another. In one instance, Harries mixes a concoction of Steven King and Nathanial Hawthorne. All work. Fans of Ambrose Bierce will particularly like these stories. My personal favorite entwined some Genesis and some genebanking.
ISBN-10: 0993977545; ISBN-13: 978-0993977541
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jason Mather’s “Shadow Life” (Edge-Lite) blends the societal intrusiveness of George Orwell’s “1984” with a sci-fi adventure of George Lucas in a timely manner. The action takes place in a post – apocolyptic, feudalistic North America infested with Big Brother and Unpeople. It might be a world left when Kim Yung Un and our national embarassment walk off of the stage.
Mather’s character development is vivid and engaging, but he slyly confuses the reader as to who may be who. In this way, he keeps the reader on edge until the end, though for doing so, the plot can get a little hard to follow. He lays a good foundation for sequels. However, it is a very enjoyable read as a stand-alone piece.
ISBN-10: 1770531653; ISBN-13: 978-1770531659All In by Richard Parkinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I received this book in a free give away.
Parkinson has a gift for vibrancy and keeping the reader’s attention in the moment. However, the reader really must get the entire series to fully appreciate the story and character development. The book is essentially an installment more than a stand – alone piece. Another Goodreads reviewer compares it to Tolkien’s “Twin Towers”, and I think that she makes a very good analogy. For that reason, I did not rate it very highly. Nevertheless, if the entire series were available in a multi-volume set, I might readily buy it for a young adult or fantasy lover.
Wanderers : Ragnarök by Richard A. Bamberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received this book as an ebook giveaway. I am new to fantasy in a Mel Gibson world, and so I cannot compare it to other works. I found it enjoyable and very vivid. The character types were interesting. I was impressed by how well a first – person narrative could maintain such a long tale so well.
Bamberg could invite a greater YA audience to read it by removing some of the carnal scenes. The story simply does not need them – they do not add much to the enjoyment of his writing.
ISBN-10: 1494477483; ISBN-13: 978-1494477486
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The siren uses voice to lure people to distraction and so to an unfortunate end. This anthology could be a siren in and of itself, as it can lure a middle-aged man away from attending to life’s necessary chores such as earning a living. The topic offers fertile grounds for original storytelling because both modern and ancient literature have done so little with it. We have sirens in the sea, in outer space, and in the underground/subway system.
The book is always better, but each story in this book could be the kernel for a movie. Most tales show the siren to be evil, but some justify their harshness pointing to the pollution of the oceans – human eco-terrorism. Other sirens can act altruistic and maternal. Others are very classical in a very modern setting. Each story entertains intensely
ISBN-10: 0692687203; ISBN-13: 978-0692687208
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Great Hearts is an engaging fantasy told from the first – person perspective of a teenage boy and containing elements akin to “Superman”, “Jungle Book”, and “Star Wars”. The first comparison comes from the destruction of the protagonists’ family at the beginning of the story; the second for the prominence of non – human companionship and stewardship; and the third for the coming of age plot in which the boy enters the world of wizardry. These comparisons are not meant to detract from the originality in any way.
I particularly liked the Great Heart concept which refers mainly to an animal of magical prowess custom designed or appointed as a steward / guardian of a prodigy youth. Any connection between virtuous animals and flawed people has the real world value of instilling proper ethics in our environmentally perverse society. Oliver does a a fine job of letting the boy mature both with and without his “assigned” companion.
My primary criticism for the work is its loose ends. If you are one to read complete series, you will have no complaint at all. I, however, prefer my books to be more stand – alone. A good series need not closely link one volume to another. A reader’s enthusiasm should suffice. Deduct a star. I am also very stingy about giving genre fiction 5 stars. I mostly reserve that level for nonfiction, researched works. But for its ending, this is a 4 star book that the reader will enjoy, especially a series aficionado.
ISBN-10: 1521274835; ISBN-13: 978-1521274835
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thomas brings desperation to life and shows it for the step-brother to horror. Great originality. However, it has a good amount of adult content. Not YA material.
ISBN-10: 9197972592; ISBN-13: 978-9197972598An Unexpected Afterlife by Dan Sofer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The book rates five stars on originality which is tricky for a story that falls into the time -travel genre. The bureaucratic overtones give great irony – though they probably make the book enjoyable only to adults. Sofer appears to poke fun at religion generally by hinting that mortals, with their myriad rules, haven’t too much of a clue about a hereafter. Not being Jewish, I have the suspicion that there may be a good amount of subtle humor that I have missed as well.
Though the title is enticing, it would not appeal to teens. The sub-plots make a great story. However, Sofer puts a bit too much description into each paragraph, consequently slowing the pace of the book excessively. Nevertheless, serious, dour religion has a strangle-hold on too much of civilization, and we need a few more books like Sofer’s.
ISBN-10: 0986393231; ISBN-13: 978-0986393235
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Imaginative and engaging. Macy’s style is more Lucas than Roddenberry. I like the parallel universe perspective especially in so far as it has some advantages of time travel but remains original in that regard. This is film-worthy for action and environment.
ISBN-10: 1535188138; ISBN-13: 978-1535188135
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Pettit has conceived an interesting plot which seems highly original (I’m not yet highly versed in its genre). Julian Lucas Adler is a “dreamwalker” – one who stalks through the dreams of others. He seems to be half voyeur and half reluctant interventionist who fights the forces of evil in the land of dreams (vampires in particular), whatever the connection may be to the real world.
The biggest force of evil is Pettit’s tragic writing style which doesn’t induce slumber but rather mires the reader down in so much unnecessary descriptive text that the book becomes easy to put down. Pettit needs to remove the simile from his toolbox altogether and ruthlessly weed out descriptions of personalities, places, and circumstances that are peripheral to the action and plot. Several examples of ghastly simile are:
“I nodded, but my stomach churned like a tumble dryer with a full load.”
“I didn’t stop staring—at Edward Sloane. He’d walked in with the Chapter Master, and he was suddenly Mia’s supervisor. I needed this explained like a junkie needs a fix.”
The book needs similes like a catfish needs reading glasses.
Pettit’s target audience is a bit obscure. I would have guessed that it would include older teenagers as well as the younger middle aged male demographic. Then I read the following:
“Chelsea and Westminster Hospital is a major teaching hospital with a budget of over three hundred million pounds. That budget is dwarfed by the value of the land that the generic-looking, glass-and-brick hospital sits on, and, as I strolled through the foyer, I was amazed that most of its clientele was made up of the general public.”
Who, exactly, wants hospital budgets in a fantasy adventure story? I read fiction precisely to get away from this level of reality. Hospital budgets are a nightmare.
ISBN-10: 1095474405; ISBN-13: 978-1095474402
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Nancy Hollands “Thalgor’s Witch” successfully combines romance novel, fantasy, feminism, and literary fiction in equal parts to good effect. The main character, Erwyn, is taken captive by a tribe who effectively put a scarlet letter ‘W’ around her collar. She is stigmatized much like Hawthorne’s adulturess, but she is in no way an adulturer. She is a witch by birth, and that is enough.
In spite of the stigmata, she becomes rapidly valued if not fully accepted by her mainly male counterparts for her healing abilities and other good witch skills (her character is very wiccan). These conflicting pressures, the stigma, the value, and the inequality, reflect the real hurdles facing women. This presentation categorizes the fantasy / romance novel as feminist literature. Holland also vigorously attacks stereotyping and caste. It would be a good book for a young male curriculum.
ISBN-10: 1948342189; ISBN-13: 978-1948342186
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A nicely paced book for a young audience of both sexes and best read as part of a series. Moment by moment descriptions of action and characters are vivid with both a touch of romance and a lot of action. Has an enjoyable air of classical mythology to it with a more modern plot of time travel. It does not resolve very tightly which is fine if the next book comes along shortly. A light, clean and enjoyable read.
High Voltage by Eirik Gumeny
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If Lewis Carrol and George Lucas coauthored a book over a large pot of espresso and a little tinge of ‘roid – rage, it might read something like High Voltage. Eirik Gumeny produces a graphic novel using words alone.
The book is loosely held together which is both virtue and vice. For the younger to middle-aged male who has just finished ‘one of those weeks’, it makes for an excellent evaporative coolant. Whether it includes a telepathic squirrel, a more bionic and less flesh and blood man, or a Norse god suffering from ADD, each chapter of the book appeals to the reader’s senses while demanding minimal introspective thought. It is undemanding.
The vice of the book is its multiple references to the numerous and recurrent Armageddons predating the story. They chiefly distract the reader who begins to wonder if there is any point to following a bigger storyline. However, it is presumably part of a series and maybe not intended to be a stand-alone work. It ends somewhat abruptly which might work fine as one moves on to the next story.
Gumeny’s manic and colorful descriptions of scenes, characters, and actions tune to the book’s title quite well. The book entertains best with wine and Cheetos on a Thursday evening or on a weekend night when one hasn’t any date.
ISBN-10: 0985906227; ISBN-13: 978-0985906221
Reasons for Being
by Psoid Froid
I received a free copy of Psoid Froid’s work in exchange for a fair review.
Even a profound Cock cannot continue to cock-a-doodle-do when stretched beyond its natural limits. – Psoid Froid
A profesor could use “Reasons for Being” as a great case study for the importance of properly mating format to content in one’s writing. The book consists of a long collection of titled paragraphs written with an air of thought and spontaneity. At the start of my reading, I became immediately impressed by how 19th century it was. By that I do not mean antiquated. What I mean is that it progressed as a free flowing stream over nuggets of timely philosophy – writing that is more like that of a Thoreau rather than something more filled out and structured than what modern authors have produced.
The sharp poignancy also inspired. Henry David Thoreau meets Ambrose Bierce. I enjoyed the juxtaposition – for a while.
Then somewhere in the middle (well The Addendum, actually) I felt a devolution coming on. The work increasingly resembled an onanistic compendium of stains on the sheets under the book cover. The consistent use of the second person gradually tinged the work with condescension as well. Onanism is natural and not deserving of Victorian scorn. All the same, however, a condescending onanist is somehow grotesque.
There are provocative gems:
… even the most tolerant people need to be intolerant towards people who are against their tolerance in order to maintain the most tolerant possible society.
One section on the nature of human thought, near, dear and similar to my own writing on cognition is the following:
The information-action ratio is all messed up; most information has little bearing on our lives and there is so much of it, we don’t know what does matter. How do we cope?
We insulate and safeguard the known.
The known is a simplification resulting from pattern detection; once you figure out the pattern, you need only know the key components of the pattern rather than all the minutiae details; you can quickly match encounters to a signature and couple it with a suitable action based on what worked best in past encounters; by reacting to encounters with similar signatures you can figure out the optimal action with minimum information processing. Evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense (no pun intended) for us to streamline processing to its bare essentials; we can only process so much, might as well ignore the stuff which does not seem important.
Truly orgasmic for the future AI student reading by the fire though for people familiar with modeling, it is somewhat backgroundish. That is of no concern, because most people probably don’t know much about academic modeling.
He can also wax prophetic to great effect but far too much brevity on the future impact of artificial intelligence upon humanism.
Unfortunately, albeit dressed up in fine language, too many passages have the originality of an anchovy among its peers. I give you “Be Very Wary” – The only certain thing in life is constant uncertainty and the desire to reduce it. The more you learn, the more you realize you know nothing at all. Oh, how very cliche!
I would describe his “Ideal Love” as simply awesome whereas his “Simply So” is simply recycled. “The Psoid Principle” is originally worded, but it is not a particularly novel sentiment.
“Getting Back (at Someone) with a Vengeance?” is little more than Frank Sinatra’s “The best revenge is massive success.”
I could go on with both good and bad examples. His tragedy, however, is not fleshing out his good thoughts to greater extents while polluting them with sections of mundane and unoriginal sentiment dressed up with fine words. If he did some culling and promoted the work as something to be read one section per day, it might work very, very well.
The Portal Keeper
The Keeper Archives Book One
By S.T. Sanchez
Scene Co Publishing
The fantasy novel, “The Portal Keeper – the Keeper Archives Book One”, by Sarah Sanchez, straddles two worlds. The setup is classically modeled after “Through the Looking Glass”, but the stories have little in common beyond that. The style may better be described as Carroll meets Tolkien. A diverse set of characters play sizable roles, and character development is as deep as one would expect for the start of a series.
The main character, Ajax Maxwell, is set to inherit the family duty of standing guard at a portal between two universes. He will also inherit a powerful weapon that has something of its own personality. If those two circumstances were not enough to keep his young mind in turmoil, he gets reunited with a close childhood, female friend who is betrothed to royalty. Further destiny is left for the reader to discover.
Adventurers include an array of non-humans, most of whom are quite likable. Naturally, some are quite hostile. Some, dragons and elves, for instance can fall either way. Of course, rhinos are only good.
In all, I like the pace and character development, but the book could be more self – contained. However, taken in a series, it will run smoothly.
ISBN-10: 1951411013; ISBN-13: 978-1951411015
The Inferno In Bottles
By Suehiro Maruo (based upon the novella of Kyusaku Yumeni )
I never thought of a graphic novel, or manga, as literary or anything more than an adult comic book until I read The Inferno in Bottles. IiB is a well known and highly regarded graphic novella by the contemporary Japanese manga artist, Suehiro Maruo, based on the story of Kyusaku Yumeni (1889 – 1936). The story was originally published in 1928 by Ryoki Magazine and later as a book by Shunyodo. It is now considered a classic of its genre.
IiB presents a counterpoint to the Book of Genesis – perhaps a repudiation of sorts (?). In a dark and disturbing coming-of-age story, two children, an older brother and younger sister, are shipwrecked on a deserted, tropical island. Like Adam and Eve, these youngsters are brought to their world seemingly from nowhere. The author notes that their Eden meets all of their physical needs, and they grow healthily. However, each is a bottle with its own inferno. Where Genesis proposes original sin, IiB upstages Genesis easily. There is a true Original Sin in biology which is significantly worse than anything Biblical – relations between siblings which can wreak havoc upon the next generation (ironically, this sort of original sin is not at all original to humans when one sees how many species have evolved behavioral means of avoiding close inbreeding).
The story turns dark when puberty strikes. The island boundaries become a horrible prison, as the adolescents are imprisoned by their sense of shame and tortured by their hormones. Having a Bible among their shipwreck possessions, they know of the scriptural concept of OS, and they never transgress. Their sibling bond remains strong throughout, but it gets a distasteful patina that neither character can cope with.
The illustrations tell the story well without the need of the accompanying text. The final image of Part 1 is also the final moment of ‘innocence’. The two are swimming underwater in a semi-embrace and in a most arresting image and with their eyes closed. Fraternal love has yet to be polluted by adult distractions. Maruo’s choice to model the image after William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Psyche et L’Amour (1889) foretells the transition that the youth are upon. Adult distractions await them as soon as they open their eyes at the water’s surface.
The artistic illustration work provides rich symbolism. Most obviously, it is replete with serpents. On a more subtle level, we begin to see the young man increasingly covered in scars. It appears that he may do penance via self – inflicted wounds, which fall short of slashing his wrists.
Written for adults, it is artistically graphic without being pornographic. Per the subject, it is exploding with sexual tension. The prudish, American reader might not want to leave it on a coffee table. Nevertheless, it enjoys a special status as a work of art. More importantly, it provides a naturalist interpretation of OS that is quite simply more sophisticated than Genesis.
The Inferno in Bottles can be found at Mangakakalot.
The Atlantis Papyrus
By Jay Penner
The Atlantis Papyrus by Jay Penner (© 2019) tells a vivid story of historical fiction of political intrigue and the harsh manipulation of a man and his family by people vying for power following the death of Alexander the Great. This is a lengthy but very engaging story both for its plot and Penner’s writing style. To good effect, he writes alternateley in the first and third person perspective with the main protagonist doing a lot of narration.
The book is a hybrid of romantic melodrama and Homerian adventure, moving along a path of personal relationships with the main character, Deon. They encompass the full range, from spouse, to enemy, to colleague and more. Each supporting character tests the emotional, moral, or intellectual meddle of Deon. Each is described in a lively way. Penner keeps the plot moving at an adventerous pace all the while maintaining an atmosphere of intimacy between and within characters.
ISBN-10: 1091312036; ISBN-13: 978-1091312036
Russki Dread: a Collection of Short Horror Stories Set in Russia
By Artyom Dereschuk
Artyom Dereschuk breaches a reader’s psychological defenses with Russki Dread: a Collection of Short Horror Stories Set in Russia. Per his stated goals, he offers a look into everything horrible that can happen in Russia. His work is not site specific, however, and this Ukranian – born author can tweek anyone’s insecurities regardless of his or her culture.
One theme that repeatedly emerges in his work is a breakdown in community spirit – a topic for which inspiration can readily be found in America as much as any other country. His agents of despair include bodysnatchers and something best described as a synthesis of distributed intelligence in a Cold War environment, On another topic, a dendie is something which just might be as effective as certain private propaganda news channels for sucking out peoples’ souls (as this reviewer writes, a family member has just watched his sixth hour of daily hate talk, causing me to shudder at Dereschuk’s capture of universals).
Dereschuk’s writing style keeps his characters up close and personal with the reader. One has to step back from the text to focus on the themes he covers – neither an unexpected nor undesirable quality. The horror of his last story would make Peter Benchley proud, but more disturbing than anything Benchley may have written is found earlier in the book. The most intimate caste of community breakdown which Dereschuk covers is spousal abuse.
I received an advance reviewers copy of this work in exchange for a fair review.
ISBN-10: 1699701156; ISBN-13: 978-1699701157
Tales of the Unforeseen
By Fred Maddox
With Tales of the Unforeseen, Fred Maddox presents a diverse collection of allegories of a sort not frequently seen from a contemporary author. One sees themes of Aesop, Charles Dickens and reincarnations. A cheeky publisher might subtitle the work Dickens explores Hinduism. The stories in the volume range from a few pages to medium length. An entertaining novella of about 100 pages finishes the book.
I liked the book, especially the final part, but it did inspire me with mixed feelings. At this moment in American history, we need as much allegorical lit as we can get, homegrown or penned in the United Kingdom as Tales has been. Kudos to Maddox for traveling down this literary path. However, writing allegory carries some risk. By nature, the genre is deterministic – laying out a topic or action as good or bad, wise or stupid, and without a very probabilistic perspective on moral decisions. The fallout for the writer in a deterministic realm is the problem of predictability.
Several of the short stories do suffer for being predictable. ‘Grave Consequences’ is gravely cliche, as is ‘A Christmas to Remember’. My subtitle suggestion, above, especially applies to ‘Time and Time Again’.
Several short stories include interesting twists. ‘Yes Dear’ provides a refreshing take on resolving marital issues, as does ‘A Cat-Astrophe’. I also enjoyed the use of game show hosts in ‘Winner Takes All’ and ‘The Question Is’. However, by themselves, the shorts needed more momentum to carry the book.
Maddox saves his best piece for last, and I enjoyed it very much. ‘The Other Man’s Grass’ is a novella. It explores role reversal in the same sense as The Prince & The Pauper, the scenario is psychologically more interesting, for it is focused more distinctly on morals. Be careful what you wish for is the theme, and remaining true to your love is the subplot. Anyone who likes the movie, The Fugitive, will enjoy it for its plot, characterizations and pace.
Maddox’s work is one example of when the best piece should come a little sooner. A few shorts could be carried on TOMG’s coat tails. It provides the momentum for the book, and the reader will happily continue on after finishing it.
Tales of the Unforeseen will be especially good for the older edge of young adult lit. Younger people will find the material fresher. Allegory is made for the age group, and a dash of weirdness is appreciated.
I received an advance reviewers copy of this work in exchange for a fair review.
ISBN-10: 0244813884; SBN-13: 978-0244813888
The Soul of Medicine
A Physician’s Exploration of Death and the Question of Being Human
By James Raymond, M.D.
In The Soul of Medicine, James Raymond books a custom charter from Charon in which he extemporizes on the relationship between people and their demise in a medical setting. In a similar manner to Tacking on the Styx, he takes the unconventional approach of intermingling narrative story and fictional discourse with direct philosophizing about what the medical community should be doing about death. Intentionally or not, this gives the reader some breathing room to digest a heavy topic. It also, however, leads into a rambling style with some loss of focus.
To me, the most important part of the book comes midway and has nothing explicitly to do with death. He quotes a clinical mentor:
The major problem with today’s physicians,” he began, “is that they rely too much on science and technology to do their work for them. Somehow they have been deluded into thinking that these will relieve them of their primary obligation: listening to their patients.
This quote resonated loudly with me. That it should do so is obvious as that is a major calling of Tacking on the Styx. I should mention, however that it’s not clear why counseling is not explicitly stated to be the co-primary obligation. It is, after all, the desired output of listening and without it, listening eventually grows meaningless.
More immediate to his thoughts on death, he lays out some interesting starting points, although I confess to disagreeing with a few key ones. He perceives the ‘self’ as an unfolding process, rather than a mind within a brain. Having epilepsy, I am too familiar with the partitioning of processes within the conscious brain and the intermitent or near – permanent blinkout of some faculties. All of which is to say that the self can crumble and to view it as “unfolding” is to risk turning a blind eye to that issue. Evolving life experience should be called what it is – evolving life experience – or simply “my life”. That is not the self, though it plays a large role therein. I take a similar view of his desired perspective of time being a multidimensional space.
He proposes that pain and suffering are the closest thing in life experience to death. His justification for equating death with the physically unpleasant is unclear. In fact, I would argue that they are skew or quite the opposite. Pain and suffering testify to vivid life. Living death is a coma.
What I do like are his thoughts on the authenticity or inauthenticity of a life (actually a sort of paraphrasing of Martin Heidegger) :
Inauthenticity (sic) results when man tries to turn away from the inevitability of his own death. To shield himself, he distorts the unity of temporality and reverts to viewing it as three components. As a result, existence becomes focused on the present while the past and future are largely forgotten. Popular culture… is the major culprit here, with its emphasis on immediate gratification. And while this may confer some psychological security by masking the thought of death, in the end it distorts what it really means to be human.
Their pertinence to present day America is great, but he uses much too broad of a brushstroke in referring to pop-culture as the big culprit in distorting what being human means because, in his mind, pop-culture is about immediate gratification. Well, if immediate gratification is all about annual income tax reductions for the rich, then I guess that makes pop-culture. Rather than ‘pop-culture’ it might be more useful to single out some ethno-political demographic groups such as the top 1%. Similarly, if you want to find other agents of distortion, your best starting point would be fundamentalist religions which clamor for society to be bound up to some one particular scripture. Therein lay the culprits more than in pop-culture.
I think that his meaning of inauthenticity hearkens best to issues of environmentalism on both a global and social / local scale. Lack of focus on the future and ignorance of the past bring on wanton superficiality.
In truth, I think that where Raymond wants to go is into the arms of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
What we commonly call man, the eating, drinking, planting, counting man, does not, as we know him, represent himself, but misrepresents himself. Him we do not respect, but the soul, whose organ he is, would he let it appear through his action, would make our knees bend. When it breathes through his intellect, it is genius; when it breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affection, it is love. And the blindness of the intellect begins, when it would be something of itself. The weakness of the will begins, when the individual would be something of himself (emphasis added). All reform aims, in some one particular, to let the soul have its way through us; in other words, to engage us to obey. – The Oversoul
This review remains a bit helter – skelter in some degree because the book is frequently hard to follow.
The Relations of Epilepsy to Insanity and Jurisprudence
By W.J. Conklin, M.D.
In his presentation to the Ohio State Medical Society, in 1871, Dr. W.J. Conklin makes an important argument regarding the definitions of innocence in crime by reason of insanity. From a 21st Century, post – phenytoin (Dilantin) world, it becomes difficult to accept that some individuals could suffer moments of violent thoughts and behaviors directly influenced if not caused by epilepsy. Yet 19th Century doctors report specific case studies of violent behaviors, and we should acknowledge that seizures do stimulate complex behaviors (i.e. greater than making involuntary movements with the limbs or displaying other such automatisms) from time to time. This being the case, both the public and the judicial system will benefit greatly from Dr. Conklin’s wisdom which I have yet to see discussed in modern writings.
In his presentation, Conklin makes four points critical to keeping the disease in proper context and critical to protecting the civil rights of people with epilepsy. First, epileptic insanity is generally paroxismal in its manifestations. Incidences of concern frequently arise spontaneously without a recognizable lead up. Seizures, themselves, are called paroxysms. As paroxysms, distinctly anti-social or violent behaviors can typically be regarded as distinct episodes, with a patient acting normal in the intervals and unaware of the event. Intervals may also last years.
Conklin notes that psychotic or aberrant behaviors frequently precede full seizure (and can also follow them immediately). And they also give an impression that behavior and convulsive seizure can substitute for one another:
It is not unusual to hear an attendant say, ” Doctor, I don’t believe she would have her fits if she did not get so angry. She gets so mad at some one that she throws herself into a fit.” In point of fact, the anger is as much beyond the patient’s control as is the convulsion which it foreshadows. The fact that the psychical phenomena do replace the seizure is admitted by all; and in some cases, constituting the epilepsia larvalis of Morel, these mental symptoms may be the only manifestations of disease. (emph added).
The second point and third point pertain to the peri-ictal period; (2) the patient often shows no compromised speech or inability to process language and (3) the person’s memory for events is fractured at best.
In making the fourth and highly important point, he points out the increasing acceptance by professionals that an ability to tell right from wrong has no bearing upon criminal culpability for people with epilepsy. If the analysis of Commerce Secretary Bryson’s episode shows anything, it shows that the general public is quite ignorant of this point.
Conklin does list a series of characteristics of moral deprivation that people rightfully scoff at today, but these thoughts should not preclude giving his advocacy for the legal rights of people with epilepsy honorable recognition. These characteristics, by themselves, do not constitute criminal or insane behavior however. In quoting a peer, he makes the remarkable point that as soon as the status of epilepsy is established, the criminal prosecutor must be saddled with the entire burden of proof that the crime is not of ictal origin. That is a very large burden indeed and without meeting it, the suspect must be acquitted. Furthermore, epilepsy being established only long after an incident should still be considered exculpatory. Conklin embraces the fact that mania can be the first mark of epilepsy, and even its occurrence close in time to a crime is not a necessary observation for acquital.
Finally, Conklin advocates for an asylum system devoted exclusively for people with epilepsy who may require confinement. He is concerned with putting otherwise innocent people into a prison system among real criminals.
Book reviews by Jeffrey Hatcher cover any topic but preference is given to contemporary medical literature focusing on social issues in medical practice. Historical texts of interest to researchers are included and will typically be pre-twentieth century publications focused on psychiatric practices.