Week 17: Curtis Sittenfeld, American Wife. Really? Seriously??? A top ten book from Time, People, and Entertainment Weekly? A New York Times Notable Book? She's a good writer (I loved Prep), but this is just plain sloppy. Completely unbelievable characterization and motivation. Writing means you're supposed to ENTER INTO the psyches of people you loathe, not just caricature them and then pat yourself on the back.
Week 18: John Sedgwick, In My Blood: Six Generations of Madness & Desire in an American Family. Promising study of the hereditary tendency to manic-depressive disorders, bogged down by way too much irrelevant detail and far too much worshipping of one's Mayflower-disembarking ancestors.
Week 19: Stephen Fry, Moab is my Washpot. Recommended by a blogger who posted on this site. Fascinating: I'm guessing that nothing, from home education to board-school-privilege, erases that out-of-place feeling of unbelonging. (See Prep, which, like Fry's book and unlike American Wife, was actually insightful.) Fry reminds me that this discomfort always co-exists with creativity.
Week 20: Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book. I hate it when I get invested in a first-person narrator and then am suddenly jerked into a third-person perspective. Stuck with this book and enjoyed it, but I still wish the narrative strategy had been different.
Week 21: G. K Chesterton, The Secret of Father Brown. Haven't read this for years; popped it back onto my to-read pile for nostalgia's sake. Here's Father Brown, explaining how he solves murders:
I don't try to get outside the man. I try to get inside the murderer. Indeed it's much more than that, don't you see? I am inside a man. I am always inside a man, moving his arms and legs; but I wait till I know I am inside a murderer, thinking his thoughts, wrestling with his passions; till I have bent myself into the posture of his hunched and peering hatred; till I see the world with his bloodshot and squinting eyes, looking between the blinkers of his halfwitted concentration; looking up the short and sharp perspective of a straight road to a pool of blood. Till I am really a murderer....No man's really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he's realized exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery and sneering, and talking about 'criminals,' as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away; till he's got rid of all the dirty self-deception of talking about low types and deficient skulls; till he's squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees.Curtis Sittenfeld, are you listening?
Week 22: Kathryn Harrison, The Mother Knot. Like Sedgwick's book, a potentially fascinating study of mental pain, made less interesting by its intensely personal nature; not too many points of contact here between the narrator's journey into her individual past, and anyone else's. Perhaps this is the nature of writing about mental illness: that it is almost impossible to connect yourself with a pain that might be larger than yourself?
Week 23: Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. Disproves the statement above. Sweeping, painful, empathetic, real.
Week 24: Charles Barber, Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation. Blanket statements, unsupported suppositions, sweeping generalizations, and just plain fuzzy thinking. Skip it.