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review 2018-06-10 12:46
The Recovering: Addiction & Its Aftermath
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath - Leslie Jamison
nb. I am a recovering heroin addict with decades clean. I lived through it when some medical professionals thought I wasn't worth the effort anymore. (That still upsets me - nobody should ever give up on an addict, especially medical professionals!) My addiction is private, but it's worth a mention here since it affects how I consume recovery literature.
 

I normally stay far away from recovery memoirs, having lived one myself and heard thousands more through the years. This book, though, promised to turn "the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself." My ears perked up and I took note. The blurb goes on to say (from the publisher):

All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Raymond Carver, Billie Holiday, David Foster Wallace, and Denis Johnson, as well as brilliant figures lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here.

That interested me tremendously. I find it endlessly interesting that so many artists are sure their art is linked with their particular dysfunction -- be it mental illness, substance abuse or misogyny. And I know of some writers and other artists who have done their best work only after clearing away the wreckage of addiction (Denis Johnson, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace, Raymond Carver to name just a few...) Jamison's theory and examples seemed (from the blurbs) to be about how the stories we tell ourselves about addiction and recovery are, in fact, part of both solution and problem. I've read enough about the hard-drinking writer. I wanted to hear about the writers who got clean and sober and continued or gone on to great success. I didn't want another quit-lit book. I wanted something deeper and more interesting. What I got was mostly (but not all) another literary drunkalog, and this ain't Tender Is The Night, Where I'm Calling From, A Moveable Feast or any of the other rather brilliant drunkalogs we have to choose from.

Jamison has been compared to such iconic writers as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. Yet her utterly singular voice also offers something new. With enormous empathy and wisdom, Jamison has given us nothing less than the story of addiction and recovery in America writ large, a definitive and revelatory account that will resonate for years to come.

Lofty, eh? It promises not just another quit-lit recovery memoir, but something that will alter the landscape.

 

So I was mighty upset when, for the entire first half of the 544-page book, we get precious little that differs from any number of other recovery memoirs, even while she explicitly states in the text that she will not be writing "just another recovery memoir." The language in this part is practically caressed, not just massaged. Every bartender's eyes or hair rates several adjectives, every drink is served with multiple metaphors. Everything is so damned beautiful. It felt -- a lot -- like the glorification of alcoholism and the behavior that comes with it. Eventually, on her own because it seems nobody else really noticed her problem, she will get sober, relapse and start over. It's here that the tone begins to change, but we're more than halfway through 544 pages at that point. In other words, she devoted a massive amount of pages to the glorious drunken Leslie and her oh-so-uniquely artistic pain.

 

At one point she says outright that she has trouble writing without putting herself in the story, and that's clear. She makes mention of the famous writers at Iowa with her, but only in passing because we're busy learning what she likes to drink, how much of it, when and how... Once she decides to get sober, she will fail and there will be a bit more longing for drinking/scheming etc, but the shine has gone, as anyone who has relapsed could tell you in far fewer words. It's after this point that the book starts to be unique. She is an excellent journalist, and I wish she'd excised her own story from this book entirely.

 

Her drinking is written in far greater detail than her recovery. She seems to take an emotional step back the minute she gets sober. I could feel fear at her vulnerability and recovery the minute it stopped being a drunkalog. Once sobriety starts, Jamison introduces journalism, statistics and experts, so we get no "other side of the coin" to the first half of the tome -- there is no honest portrayal of Jamison sober. It's obscured by her fact-finding missions and critical readings. This is where the other writers step in to give an assist.

 

Honestly it felt a bit like she used their stories of relapse and recovery to mask her own fear that she isn't qualified to write about her own recovery. Perhaps, like any smart addict, she has a fear of relapse. If you write a book called "The Recovering" you probably hope not to have to start counting days sober again after the publication date. Instead of saying that outright, though, she shows us other writers who did exactly that. The irony is that her sponsor tells her at one point that this is her problem in life -- it seems to also be a problem in her writing.

 

Jamison leads a charmed life, drunk or not. She is in prestigious writing programs and residences throughout the entire time chronicled in this book, and she's publishing too. High-functioning isn't even close to the right word. That doesn't change her pain or disqualify her sobriety, but it's worth a mention. She says nada about insurance or paying for medical care. When she does make mention of money, it's to do things most of us will only dream of - travel, foreign research, time just to write in exotic or beautiful locales. One could imagine she saw this note coming, since she shields herself from her privilege by mentioning it a few times. 

 

But between all of that extraneous and rather privileged "just another recovery memoir," there are very interesting themes and excellent journalism. She has a great hypothesis that's buried a bit deeply, but it goes something like we are all subject to being seduced by the stories we tell ourselves and it might be good, if scary and different, to tell ourselves healthy stories rather than unhealthy ones. Artists don't have to write with their own blood, and if they do, they'll eventually bleed out. She has an excellent critical eye for reading others' writing and pulling support for her story out of their words. Those parts are extremely compelling, and I really wish that the majority of the massive amount of pages had gone to that.

 

One final thing. While she makes mention of the big names who were known to drink, some of these writers also seem to have suffered from comorbid disorders, and that is never discussed. I can't say, nor can Leslie Jamison or for that matter, her relative, author and psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison, whether many of these suicides were caused by one specific illness - be it alcoholism or an affective disorder. I do wish these rather large topics weren't skipped. They're important, even if they don't fit neatly within the narrative built here.

 

What I would hope is that the personal story be completely excised next time and the researching, critical eye step in. Her best work is when she empathizes with the writing of others and explains it from the standpoint of one who has felt those feelings and lived to tell.

 

 

 

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review 2018-06-07 12:27
You'll Grow Out of It
You'll Grow Out of It - Jessi Klein

 

 

A collection of humorous autobiographical essays from Jessi Klein, head writer for The Amy Schumer Show.  I had not heard of Jessi Klein before stumbling upon this audio book, and I enjoyed her voice (both authorial and audio-narrative).  I frequently laughed out loud like a crazy person.  I was less fond of the direction she took with her "Get the Epidural" essay, because I felt it ended up being a little bit overly bombastic in its "GET THE EPIDURAL" refrain.  I agree that no one should be shamed for wanting one, but it felt as though she went too far in the opposite direction.  Like you'd have to be stupid to even consider not getting one.  Personally, I had planned to try labor and delivery without one, while keeping it as an option if I felt the need.  Ultimately, my entire birth plan went out the window, as I ended up with a c-section due to fetal distress.  Klein makes a very brief disclaimer along the lines of, "If you really want to give birth without an epidural, go for it," but that is pretty well drowned out by the frequent shout of "GET THE EPIDURAL!" 

 

As Klein explains in the essays, she was single and dating when she began composing them, and got engaged, married, and pregnant, and became a new mom during the course of completing them.  "I'm a slow writer!"  I would definitely seek out a stand-up special by Jessi Klein, should one become available (are you listening, Netflix?).

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review 2018-06-04 17:46
Anthropomorphic leisurewear
Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It - Grace Helbig

So I had the bug to try reading more audiobooks and I only got as far as 2...for now. After thoroughly loving Yes Please by Amy Poehler I was all set for some more hilarity. To that end I picked up Grace Helbig's Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It. This is part memoir (a very small part) and part irreverent fashion and beauty guide. If you're unfamiliar with Grace she's a comedian with a super funny YouTube channel (as well as a YouTube series with fellow comedian Mamrie Hart) and this is actually her second book. The book starts off with Grace relating some very personal stories about her struggles with body image but lest you get the idea this is a very serious book it's more about trying to take things less seriously and accepting yourself flaws and all. I really enjoyed the personal anecdotes and how they related to her changing opinions and tastes when it comes to mainstream fashion and beauty standards. She also discusses how differently she views herself now that she has increased visibility due to her career. I think this would be especially good for a young woman in high school or just starting college as that's when we're most vulnerable to the pressures from media. (Note: I don't ever think we're completely immune to it but I do think there are times in our development when it's an especially powerful influence.) Because I consumed this book via audiobook format I felt I was at a bit of a disadvantage when she talked at length about specific beauty products, tips, and how-to's because I'm fairly sure the physical book had a plethora of visual aids. I do want to point out that there was a large portion of the book dedicated to a 'sweatpants diary' which I suppose was meant to be a metaphor for the pressures of the media effecting how we perceive fashion but I found it exceedingly odd. (Also, I found myself nodding off more than once during it.) For those that need reminding that fashion and beauty in general are completely subjective this is a great resource. For someone looking for a hilarious pick-me-up it's a bit short of the mark. 5/10

 

The back. [Source: Simon & Schuster]

 

What's Up Next: Death of a Hollow Man by Caroline Graham

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-06-04 14:25
Interesting Premise, but Essays Fell Short
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death - Maggie O'Farrell

I can honestly say this wasn't a bad book, but it just didn't grab me after the first essay I read by Maggie O'Farrell. I think my main problem was that the book flutters around and we don't stay on a chronological timeline for the author.

 

"I Am, I Am, I Am, Seventeen Brushes of Death" is a memoir by Maggie O'Farrell that goes into 17 separate occasions when she almost and at one point one of her children almost died. The first story really grabbed me, "Neck" 1990. O'Farrell relates a story about a man that she came across that she realized was laying in wait to sexually assault her. The story ends with her getting away from the man, but realizing that he did indeed lie in wait for another young woman and raped and murdered her. The whole story was sobering and definitely had me thinking back to the many times I was around a man that I realized in a split second meant to do me harm.


After that, O'Farrell's memoir jumps around a lot. We go into Lungs 1988, and then spine, legs, etc., then whole body, and back to neck again. O'Farrell links every near death experience she has with her body in some way which was an interesting idea. And I have to say that the chapter headings do make it easier to figure out what period of time we are in while she is describing the story. That said, I had a hard time just finishing this due to the timelines going back and forth and being confused about who certain people were. 

 

For example, she tells a story about her dealing with her first pregnancy that resulted in a C-Section and almost death, to her then almost drowning with a riptide took her out into the ocean, then back again to when she was a small girl and almost hit by a car. And I honestly was confused about O'Farrell's family's make-up. She talks about a couple of relationships, but then mentions her husband, and then we jump back in again to the other guy she was seeing depending on the story. I honestly needed a flow chart after a while. 


And I feel bad for saying this, but some of the stories were not that interesting to me. Sometimes it read like a stretch to me in order for her to allude to some larger point (that I was obviously missing). For example, she tells about a near death experience she doesn't even remember, that her mother tells her about and then that segues into her remembering a garage that she and her sister played into, that then goes into a cat that had kittens in the garage, to the cat finally being too sick for her sister (who is a vet) to heal this time. I felt like I needed to be very alert while reading this book to just even follow everything that was happening. 

 

I am glad I read this, but really happy I just borrowed it from the library. 

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review 2018-06-03 17:11
The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard
The Best of Us: A Memoir - Joyce Maynard

A special thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Joyce Maynard, author and journalist, discovers true love later in life.  Before she met Jim, who we are told several times, has a great head of hair—I imagine Patrick Dempsey gets told this a lot too—Maynard believes she is done with marriage.  She is fiercely independent, but open to companionship and ends up realizing that Jim is more than a companion, he is her partner.

The couple has a whirlwind romance, and marry, only to have their years together cut tragically short.  Jim is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just after they celebrate their first year of marriage.  Raw, honest, and heartbreaking, Maynard doesn't shy away from sharing the ups and downs of marriage with the added strain of a terminal illness.  She courageously writes about Jim's final days—her writing is beautiful and reminds us that love is fleeting, as is time, and that both are a gift to the heart.  

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