• Book Reviews,  Bookish,  mental health,  Writing

    Wednesday Words: trigger warnings

    Can we all take a moment to agree that saying “I am triggered” as a joke is actually not something that is funny?

    We don’t do this with physical illness and if you do well…. that’s not funny either.

    Because this is something I am intimately familiar with, let me explain what it’s like as someone who can be triggered; as well as a caregiver of someone of the like.

    You are going about your day. Maybe you are in Anthropologie, your favorite store. Or maybe you’re in the library. 

    A person walks past and you catch a whiff of their cologne that most love.

    You break out into a cold sweat. Tunnel vision sets in and the exits disappear. You are transported back to “that place” where the worst thing happened to you. Your heart is racing and you can’t breathe. 

    Now you’re making a self-perceived spectacle of yourself in one of your favorite stores or places. 

    If you are lucky you have someone with you who can remind you to breathe. They see what is happening. There’s the five-finger trick where you have something associated with each finger that grounds you. You use your hands to feel the floor, the chair, the person you are with and you are slowly transported out of your worst nightmare and back to current reality.

    But you still feel like shit and the public embarrassment isn’t even part of that. A surge of adrenaline does incredible and also devastating things to your entire body. An occurrence like this can render one worthless for the rest of the day.

    But what happens when you are alone, reading a book at home that everyone has raved about – or even worse, a public place?

    The same thing.

    There are movies and TV shows my family and I avoid because they have content warnings. We know the triggers and take the warnings seriously. Some rated R movies are fine while others are not because the details for the rating are listed below the “R”.

    Ninth House is a wildly popular book that is shown all over Instagram. I saw it in countless top lists of 2019 – which is fine – but I never saw a single mention of a warning about the content that quite frankly, would have upset people who don’t even have PTSD. Instagram is huge so it is always possible I missed a mention of this but it’s not just this book.

    I don’t know why books don’t carry warnings. It would take up so little space to include: child r@pe, extreme hazing, violence against women including drugging and assault… you get the point. And all of these and a few more should have been included in a blurb for Ninth House. Not to mention, the author of Ninth House is a popular young adult author. She has made it clear that this book does not fit that genre but I have seen this very book in the young adult section at multiple bookstores.

    Back to ratings: it’s not that difficult. But that may mean that a group of people don’t buy a particular book. I would hope the publishing industry isn’t as calculating as this seems but one has to wonder when all other forms of media carry warnings.

    With a warning, some may skip the book entirely. However, I would argue that a simple trigger warning would allow a reader to chose to buy the book and then come back to it when they are in a good mental place. Everyone wins – the reader is respected and the author is read.

    The last thing I will mention is context. Because as a writer that is something to be considered. Does the graphic description do something to advance the plot? Is it integral to the character and their personality? Is it being used as a message to be shared? I will still argue that graphic content may not be necessary – we leave readers to their own imaginations all the time with far more innocent plot lines.

    I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know how this changes unless more readers speak up. But until then, my reviews will include trigger warnings. Because I know from personal experience that a praised book can take me to a dark place fast and that is certainly not the point of reading and I never want to be responsible for transporting a fellow book lover back to their worst moment.

    The world is scary enough already.

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish,  Writing

    Fleishman Is In Trouble: a book review and the lies we believe

    There was no way for her to voice an opinion without being accused of anger. Everywhere she turned in her own home, there was a new insult. She would wake up in the morning and walk out the door with Toby and the kids and before she headed in the direction away from the school, she would hear the doorman talk about what a hero Toby was for taking his own children to school.

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    Rachel is a wildly successful agent. Toby is a respected doctor. They are getting a divorce and one morning Rachel drops their kids, Solly (9) and Hannah (11), off at Toby’s apartment at 4 am.

    Then Rachel disappears from their lives and her voice from the book.

    Toby is a good dad, there’s no doubt about that. But how good of a parent are you when you hold open contempt for the other parent and question their love for their children?

    Toby scrambles for childcare and is met with sympathy and accommodating help. And against the backdrop of Rachel’s disappearance, she is left without perspective during the pages upon pages airing Toby’s grievances against her, far beyond her disappearance.

    The entire story is told through the eyes of Libby, a longtime friend with struggles and frustrations of her own. From a literary standpoint, the use of her as a narrator was both fascinating and creative.

    And it drove a subtle point home as she is also largely quiet for long portions of the book. The women in Toby’s life don’t have the opportunity to say much.

    Fleishman Is In Trouble… but which Fleishman?

    Toby does his own investigative work and determines that Rachel is having an affair on top of abandoning their children. Double standard: they are technically still married but his extensive use of dating apps and hook-ups are treated as nothing short of normal.

    It was so interesting to me the amount of sympathy, help, support, and passes that Toby received while his wife was torn apart for her career, her drive, and the role reversal within the marriage – that he benefitted from, all while complaining about it at the same time.

    We don’t hear from Rachel until the latter part of the book and while some suspicions were confirmed, what we really found was a woman broken by the belief that women can have it all.

    The writing, the narrator, the stories told within the story, and the subtle way that the author created appeal to almost any adult reader made this a five star book for me.

    There were parts of this book that struck incredibly loud chords with me. Yes, this book may appear to be about divorce – but only on the surface. Sex is a prevailing storyline so no, this book is not for everyone. But if you were taught the lie that a woman or a man could “have it all”, this book is well worth a read.

    Much like Rachel, I spent 20 years in a male dominated industry. Locker room talk, harassment, and all the other fun things that come with the territory were the norm. I believed that I could have it all but it never happened – something always had to give.

    That something was everything from respect from colleagues to the death of a certification I wanted and studied out my guts for.

    That’s where this book really began to resonate with me. I’ve been there and have fought the stress and untimely pause or death of a dream. Sure, I could have gone in the direction of Rachel but we would have ended in the same place.

    Angry and insulted no matter our achievements.

    Women are tired. Men are frustrated. The lies are everywhere. In the book, Toby was free to exhibit little drive by keeping the same job, even when given opportunities for advancement, while he watched Rachel climb the endless corporate ladder which benefited the entire family.

    A fancy apartment in the city, a house in the Hamptons, the best schools – all things Toby begrudged while blaming Rachel for everything. Decisions made jointly were suddenly Rachel’s ideas and Rachel’s career help Toby’s back,  and of course the kids, they preferred Toby over their mother.

    Rachel couldn’t have it all. But neither could Toby. And it broke them.

    Because Fleishman was in trouble.

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish

    The Lost Books Of Jane Austen: a review

    About The Lost Books of Jane Austen

    • Hardcover: 304 pages
    • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (October 8, 2019)

    In the nineteenth century, inexpensive editions of Jane Austen’s novels targeted to Britain’s working classes were sold at railway stations, traded for soap wrappers, and awarded as school prizes. At just pennies a copy, these reprints were some of the earliest mass-market paperbacks, with Austen’s beloved stories squeezed into tight columns on thin, cheap paper. Few of these hard-lived bargain books survive, yet they made a substantial difference to Austen’s early readership. These were the books bought and read by ordinary people.

    Packed with nearly 100 full-color photographs of dazzling, sometimes gaudy, sometimes tasteless covers, The Lost Books of Jane Austen is a unique history of these rare and forgotten Austen volumes. Such shoddy editions, Janine Barchas argues, were instrumental in bringing Austen’s work and reputation before the general public. Only by examining them can we grasp the chaotic range of Austen’s popular reach among working-class readers.

    Informed by the author’s years of unconventional book hunting, The Lost Books of Jane Austen will surprise even the most ardent Janeite with glimpses of scruffy survivors that challenge the prevailing story of the author’s steady and genteel rise. Thoroughly innovative and occasionally irreverent, this book will appeal in equal measure to book historians, Austen fans, and scholars of literary celebrity.

    Review

    Cheap books make authors canonical. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, cheap and shoddy versions of Jane Austen’s novels performed the heavy lifting of bringing her work and reputation before the general public.

    From the sanitized, Victorian-era Jane Austen to a modern day cover of Pride and Prejudice that had schoolgirls convinced that Mr. Darcy was a vampire, this has by far been one of the most fascinating books I’ve read this year.

    If book covers captivate you like they do me, this book will grab your attention as you take a historic walk through the book covers of Jane Austen’s works – many considered “lost” today.

    The reader is also given a look into the publishing industry, trends, and perhaps the biggest reason we are obsessed with book covers – marketing.

    And it’s not a new strategy. 

    I thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched book, full of Austen covers I never thought I would see. My favorites were the cheap paperbacks rather than the first and collectible editions – which illustrates a large part of the author’s argument that it’s the inexpensive books that make an author live on forever.

    If you love Jane Austen, if you collect her books, and if you adore books in general, you will find this book to be an absolute gem.

    About Janine Barchas

    Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org).

    Purchase Links

    Johns Hopkins University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

    Thanks to TLC Book Tours, Johns Hopkins University Press, and Janine Barchas for providing me a copy of this beautiful book to read, review, and promote.

  • Bookish,  mental health,  Writing

    Reading & Mental Health

    This post was meant to be my June wrap-up. I wrote it, edited it, deleted it and finally started over.

    I love posting big stacks of books read just as much as the next bibliophile. But what happens when that stack represents far more than books completed?

    When that stack represents a month marked by struggles?

    You write about it.

    May was mental health awareness month and I felt great. I even wrote about it to increase awareness. But then June happened and how disingenuous would it have been to pretend that I felt good and June was just another month?

    I couldn’t do it.

    I’m a slow burner. Things happen and I go into crisis mode. I hold it together and make sure everyone around me is taken care of first. The crisis is endured and once everyone else is back to “normal”, I implode – long after most think to ask how I’m doing. And that’s my fault, not their fault.

    There are many studies out there on the benefits of reading and the correlation to mental health. I have found those studies to be true with one exception:

    What do you do when you feel so bad that you can’t concentrate enough to read a few pages?

    My answer is audiobooks. They engage a different part of the brain, are a great distraction, and dull the roar of anxiety in your mind. This has been my experience at least.

    So here’s my honest wrap-up for June:

    I struggled with depression and anxiety. I needed my medication adjusted. I saw my therapist more and I read when I could.

    I listened to three audiobooks this month and they made a difference in my days – and sometimes even nights when I couldn’t sleep.

    I still read four books this month. I finished The Recognitions at the very beginning of the month and the other three I finished towards the end.

    I’m feeling a lot better now and all in all, I’d say June was a good reading month.

    Here’s to July and a little extra vitamin D!

  • Bookish,  Himalayas of Literature

    2019 Reading Goals: the super-nerdy book reading schedule

    When I decided to read more books in 2018, I had no plan other than to read a book a week. That worked out well and I felt like I read a decent variety of books. But it was very haphazard; most book selections came from glowing reviews on Goodreads or Instagram.

    Late last year I joined the Himalayas of Literature group through Book Oblivion. The experience thus far has been exceptional. So when I had the opportunity to enroll in the How to Read More course series in combination with their Critical Theory & Philosophy course, I jumped in with both feet.

    These two courses fit perfect with what I was looking to accomplish in 2019: read more and read more books covering a deeper subject matter. Plus the added bonus of great instruction and a community of like-minded readers.

    The first assignment for the How to Read More course was to create my super-nerdy book reading schedule – yes, it’s really called that and it is the perfect description of what you’re about to see. Super nerdy.

    Broken into months and then seven reading categories, I was able to plot out my entire year of books.

    For the first six months these are my categories:

    • Himalayas of Literature assigned book
    • Critical Theory & Philosophy assigned book
    • Book Club for Introverts monthly pick
    • Female Written Fiction
    • Person of Color Author
    • Poetry or Essay
    • On Writing

    For the last six months of the year here are my categories (the first three are the same as above):

    • Feminist Fiction or Nonfiction
    • Classic Lit
    • Short Story or Poetry
    • Research

    From there I went to the books I already own and filled as many monthly categories as possible. Another one of my reading goals was to read the books I already have because I might have a few that bookstagram made me buy. If you’re on Instagram, I know you are nodding in agreement right now.

    Don’t worry, I won’t tell your significant other if you don’t tell my husband. 

    I filled in the remaining categories with books that are on my to-be-read list on Goodreads.

    This exercise took all of 30 minutes to complete and I am thrilled to know what I’m reading each month. Maybe it’s just me but I used to get overwhelmed wanting to read all the good books and struggling to choose. I know, I have problems. If that’s not just me then you don’t have problems and neither do I.

    Win/Win

    I did not include audiobooks in this schedule as those are going to be my free picks so I don’t feel completely left out of the latest and greatest book releases.

    This was a nerdy but fun exercise and I can see this being a part of future years as well.

    What are your plans for reading this year? Do you have any particular goals set beyond the number of books you want to read?

     

     

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