Book – Autism spectrum disorders exploded into the public consciousness in the early 2000s, along with worries that this sudden uptick in diagnoses meant that something unnatural was happening to children, something that had never been seen before. Really, Silberman explains, with great and gracious detail, our understanding of what “normal” development looks like and how eccentricity shades into disability is changing. In this book, he follows the history of autism and the researchers, parents, and people with autism who shaped our understanding of the different ways the human brains can work.
This isn’t a nice history; people have, historically speaking, not been nice to other people who have disabilities or even just differences that make them annoying. And since Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner, who shaped our modern understanding of autism, were physicians working in Austria and Germany in the mid-twentieth century, eugenics and genocide play a large role in early chapters. It gets better after the Nazis, but that’s not a very high bar to clear. The way people diagnosed with autism have been treated under the guise of helping them to become “normal” is upsetting at best. And yet, I found this a very hopeful book. Despite the burying of Asperger’s research; despite the litany of abuse and mistreatment; despite the struggles autistic people still face in being understood, accepted, and listened to; Silberman paints a picture of a flourishing subsection of humanity, one with astounding gifts and a great uniqueness, one which is ready, in this age of technology, to come into its own.
Book–If your primary complaint about Marie Kondo’s best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is that it just isn’t hardcore-minimalist enough for you, Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things will be just your speed. Sasaki recounts his journey toward minimalism that stemmed from his dissatisfaction with his life. He was, in his own words, “an unmarried adult with not much money to speak of.” Interestingly, after embracing minimalism, he is still in the same boat, but is now happy with his life. He owns an air mattress, wallet, keys, iPhone, a few dishes, multipurpose liquid soap, and a hand towel. Sasaki makes some decent points with regards to owning possessions to appear a certain way to others (DVDs to seem like a movie buff, books to appear cultured) and suggests minimalism as a way to strip away pretense, but I personally think he takes his obsession with minimalism a bit far. For instance, he mentions how much happiness he derives from using full-size bath towels when he travels in hotels as opposed to the scratchy hand towel he uses at home and recommends routinely denying yourself so that things you used to take for granted become sources of happiness.
I might sound like I’m ragging on this book, but the fact is I quite liked it. While I think Sasaki’s brand of minimalism sounds like torture, he has an interesting writing style and I enjoyed my glimpse into his life which is so different from mine. If you enjoy reading about minimalism, I recommend The 100 Thing Challenge; if you just like keeping up on popular lifestyle trends whatever they are (hey, me too), I recommend How to Hygge.
Book – If you are a person who lives on the Internet, you probably know who Zoë Quinn is – or at least you know the movement that sprung up after her ex-boyfriend posted a long, defamatory screed about her online, and then grew into an online harassment machine. Even if you don’t, though, you’ve seen some of its effects in the rise of online hatred, the never-ending stream of YouTube-star scandals, and the recent death of a man in Kansas by “swatting” – the practice of calling in a fake report to a police department that will result in a SWAT team being sent out.
Quinn’s book is part memoir, part guide to this environment of a new kind of harassment, one that disproportionately targets women, people of color, and other minorities, and which police and the legal system are woefully unprepared to cope with. She describes how she survived the initial onslaught, and the barrage of harassment and privacy violations she continues to struggle with, and how she founded an organization to help other victims do the same. She also offers some valuable information on how to protect yourself from a similar harassment campaign (without “just getting offline”). But even if you’re not concerned about attacks from the Internet, this is a valuable book to read. Internet culture is a part of our culture now, and we all should be aware of the ways it can go horribly wrong. (Also, Quinn has a great sense of humor. Seriously, just read the chapter titles.)
Book – Did you know that traditional Inuit sealskin mittens have two thumbs, so they can be flipped and worn the other way when the palms get wet?
That’s not the kind of intriguing tidbit I’d expect to pick up from a book on the history of fashion, but it’s only one of the ways that Why’d They Wear That? exceeded my expectations. Most books on historical clothing are big, glossy coffee table books from museum presses. That’s great as a visual feast, but the focus of such books tends to be narrow, and the text is often dense, dry and in tiny font.
Why’d They Wear That? gloriously smashes that mold, but without sacrificing either visual pleasure–it’s bright, bold and gorgeous–or quality of information. It’s playful in tone, deeply readable and, most importantly of all to me, focuses on whys as well as whats, delving into the practical and societal causes and consequences of what people wear, such as the significance of indigo dye to colonialism and Anglo-Indian relations. And it’s wonderfully broad in scope, not only covering a vast stretch of time but also–as in the Inuit example above–maintaining a truly global perspective.
Obviously with so much to cover in a slim 200 pages, Why’d They Wear That? provides more of an overview than an in-depth examination. But as a casual read for a cozy afternoon, it’s a fabulous choice for anyone (adults too, despite its home in Juvenile Nonfiction!) who’s interested in costuming, fashion or history.
Book – Sh*t My Dad Says is the hilarious, wonderful memoir detailing the quirky relationship between author Justin Halpern and his father. As the title implies, readers will quickly discover the foul mouth of Justin’s always blunt, yet caring dad. The memoir began online as a Twitter page titled “Sh*t My Dad Says,” which featured all the many quotes of Justin’s beloved dad. All of Justin’s friends that his Dad’s quotes were hilarious and it soon became clear that the internet loved him too. The Twitter account quickly accrued a mass following with news stations requesting interviews with the writer and the man of the hour himself.
Justin is a very relatable narrator, chronicling life after college, moving back home, and trying to survive in the chaos of adultdom. The introduction starts with Justin’s longtime girlfriend breaking up with him, the catalyst that causes him to seek refuge at home while searching for new life prospects. The life lessons his father instills upon him as a child, adolescent, and adult are often filled with-tough love, and are downright brutal.
Each chapter is titled with a different theme/life lesson and relevant Dad quote.
Justin traces stories of his childhood with his family and details the lessons he learned from his father. Many of these stories are experiences that everyone shares, though of course with the special touch of Justin’s father.
The humor reminded me of author Jack Gantos, specifically his series featuring a young man named Jack Henry. Gantos’ writing is full of crude, weird humor, very similar to Justin’s novel.
Book – It started with a bed bug infestation. Susannah Cahalan was convinced that they had overtaken her apartment, even though the exterminator could not confirm a single insect. Otherwise, things were going well. At just 24, her career as a reporter was advancing at the New York Post, she had a great boyfriend, and supportive parents. But suddenly, she began developing mysterious symptoms and started letting things slip at her job. She started experiencing memory loss, paranoia, and catatonia. She was hospitalized for a month at a great expense, seeing numerous specialists, going through a barrage of tests, and given inconclusive diagnoses.
She recounts all of this for us in this fascinating memoir. Her skill as a journalist is apparent in her writing, because she has almost no recollection at all what she experienced right before and during her hospitalization. She compiled her engaging account of events from stories from her colleagues, friends, family, and medical records. Her severe psychosis was also documented in a journal that her parents kept.
One extraordinary doctor, Souhel Najjar finally determined that she had a very rare autoimmune disease called anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis. Her brain was on fire. Luckily, it was treatable and Susannah slowly recovered and was back at work within a year.
The author compares her symptoms to what must have appeared through history as demonic possession and wonders how many suffered and were persecuted for the same disease.
A great page turning medical thriller.
Book–Fans of the hit HGTV show Fixer Upper, which focuses on quickly renovating beat-up homes in Waco, Texas to turn a profit and give families their dream home, will be no stranger to Chip and Joanna Gaines, the down-to-earth husband and wife team at the heart of the show. The Magnolia Story traces Chip and Jo’s origins from their parents’ childhoods all the way to the present at their iconic farmhouse, dwelling on their great rapport with and respect for one another along the way. The Gaines come off as truly humble and grateful for the chance to improve Waco and help their family and employees through the opportunities afforded by the show.
I’m by no means a Fixer Upper superfan myself, so I can attest that there is plenty to enjoy here even for those who have seen only a few episodes of the show. I highly recommend the audio book version narrated by Chip and Joanna, which feels like a folksy conversation between the two and showcases their different versions of their shared story. While occasionally a little repetitive and with abrupt jumps in chronology, this fun, squeaky-clean, and meandering memoir will keep you entertained (and make you wish the show was still on Netflix).
Book – Hygge, the Danish concept of coziness and wintery happiness, is all the rage right now, but the Danes don’t have the market cornered on winter bliss. Winter is a wonderful time for all kinds of making things – making presents, baking treats, crafting warm and cozy things out of yarn. (Is there anything better than a nice skein of yarn and a hot cup of tea on a snowy afternoon?) In this book, Emily Mitchell offers a range of crafts and activities suitable for the long, cold winter months, including tasty recipes and lovely crochet patterns. Her projects span the whole of winter, from the late days of fall when you can collect freshly-fallen leaves to preserve, to the earliest parts of spring when the first bulbs begin to sprout. Rather than getting depressed about the end of summer, get excited for winter with this wonderful book of ideas.
Book–Dr. Tweedy, currently an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University, shares his experiences in this roughly chronological memoir that explores his identity as a black man and how it intersects with his identity as a doctor. He explores his discomfort with the fact that, for so many illnesses, simply being black is a major risk factor, and he is one of only a handful of black students in his medical program. He observes half-seriously that “being black can be bad for your health.” To me, the most interesting parts of the book are in the middle, where he tells various anecdotes about his patients’ reactions to him as a doctor during his residency and observes the inequalities in care received by the rich and the poor, who are disproportionately black. During his education, Tweedy briefly serves as a doctor at a pop-up clinic in a poor, rural area, prescribing whatever medicines his patients can afford and doing his best to make notes for whichever doctor will see them next time. He contrasts this type of patient-doctor relationship to that of his more affluent patients with health insurance, who are able to see the same primary care doctor each visit and receive drugs based on efficacy rather than affordability.
Tweedy makes for an engaging and thoughtful narrator. His account is modest and he remains cognizant of his own biases, having grown up in a middle class household shielded from the disadvantages suffered by many of his patients. If you enjoy Black Man in a White Coat, try Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, another examination of what it means to be a black man in America.
Book – It’s hard to find a good true crime book about murderous women. There’s a way in which female killers are often treated less seriously than male killers, as though their femininity makes them somehow cute or trivial even though they’ve killed people. From the title, I was expecting Lady Killers to be something like that. I was pleasantly surprised when what I got instead was a chronicle of the way the contemporary media, and then history, treats women murderers. There are some big names in here (Countess Bathory, obviously; the Bloody Benders) but also a few I’d never heard of, and some I only knew a little about. They aren’t just stories from America and the UK, either – we’ve got murderers here from Egypt, Hungary, Russia, and Ireland. In each story, Telfer picks apart the ways these women are dehumanized (many of them were described as animalistic) or their crimes minimized by making them sexy (bathing in the blood of virgins!) or purely mercenary (killing one husband for the insurance money is one thing, but five?). And then, once they’ve been executed or died in prison, we forget all about them. Aileen Wurnos is far from the first female serial killer, but that was exactly what she was called in the press. In the end, Telfer’s thesis is simple: women are people, and sometimes people are horrible. Fans of Harold Schechter and Skip Hollandsworth should enjoy this very much.