My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossell (Knopf, $27.95, 416 pages)
“So am I, with my phobias and worries and general twitchiness, ‘neurotically’ anxious? Or just ‘normally’ so? What’s the difference between ‘normal’ anxiety and anxiety as a clinical problem? …If anxiety disorders and depression are so similar, why do we distinguish between them? …Mightn’t my anxiety be just a normal human emotional response to life, even if the response is perhaps somewhat more severe for me than for others? How do you draw the distinction between ‘normal’ and ‘clinical’?”
The unfortunate thing about this book is that the very people who will be attracted to it may be those who’ll get the least from it. I’m speaking of those who suffer from anxiety, something that Scott Stossel is unable to define although he claims to suffer from it. Stossel is not an expert but he combines a survey like approach – what he calls “a cultural and intellectual history of anxiety,” to the topic with his own experiences. (This takes up over 400 pages.) The problem with the initial approach is that Stossel plunges into deep waters quickly, discussing Kierkegaard and Sartre and the nature of Existentialism. All readers who were not Philosophy majors in college are likely to be lost immediately.
The author might have grabbed the reader by relating his own anxious experiences first. However, there are two problems with his stories. Firstly, one wonders whether some of them actually happened. And, secondly, they must have been greatly exaggerated in the telling.
Those who pick up My Age of Anxiety thinking it’s a self-help book will likely be disappointed, especially as Stossel self absorbedly and somewhat relentlessly relates the exact nature of his confused and anxious mental state ad infinitum (to infinity).
A review copy was received from the publisher.
Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music and the Holy Ghost by Matthew Paul Turner
Some people like inside baseball books. Some like inside politics books. This is an inside religion book which starts off as being very entertaining before it bogs down…
Initially, Hear No Evil reminded me of Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost (October 2009); Richard Rushfield’s truly hilarious tale of his wild and wooly days at the ultra-liberal arts Hampshire College in the 1980s. Don’t Follow Me was reviewed earlier on this site and while it started off a bit too agressively, it calmed down and simply remained funny until its final page.
Unfortunately, once this reader was more than halfway through Hear No Evil it began to remind me of Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield. Sheffield’s real story had to do with his attempt to woo the love of his life via the compilation of just the right music on cassette tapes. It was cute while it lasted, but it all too soon veered sideways with too much talk of peripheral figures. I loved it before I became bored with it. Yes, Hear No Evil is a bit like that.
This one starts off funny as Turner tells us about his desire to be “the Michael Jackson of Christian music.” And there are some great observations in it – if not necessarily true ones – such as the statement that rock bass players have the emotional maturity of fourth-grade girls. But there’s just not enough here about music. Instead we hear talks about The One True God, God’s sovereignty, Calvinism, etc. Turner himself becomes disenchanted with all of this, “I turned into the punk know-it-all son with a religious ax to grind.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there and done that. My second major in college was in Philosophy and Religion, so I once enjoyed rambling discussions about the wisdom of St. Augustine versus one’s favorite existentialist. But I never thought it would be interesting to write a book about those youthful conversations.
For me, Turner’s latest effort is a miss rather than a hit.
A review copy was provided by WaterBrook Multnomah (WaterBook Press), a division of Random House Books.