Tag Archives: fear

Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown

My Age of Anxiety (nook book)

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’?”

Scott Stossel

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).

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

Age of Anxiety

Anxiety Stossel

A review of My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread and the Search for Piece of Mind by Scott Stossel.

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The Art of Dying

The Long Goodbye: A Memoir by Meghan O’Rourke (Riverhead Trade, $16.00, 320 pages)

Someone once wrote: “We fear death the way children fear going into the dark.”   Meghan O’Rourke

There’ll come a time when all your hopes are fading/ When things that seemed so very plain/ Became an awful pain/ Searching for the truth among the lying/ And answered when you’ve learned the art of dying…  But you’re still with me.   George Harrison (“The Art of Dying”)

Meghan O’Rourke has presented us with a serious, somber and thoughtful memoir about the grief she suffered when her mother died at the age of fifty-five.   Although her  mother’s age is noted, one has the impression that she would have felt the same burden if her mother had lived to be 100, as O’Rourke was simply unprepared to live in a world without its (to her) most important resident.   As she states so well, “One of the grubby truths about a loss is that you don’t just mourn the dead person, you mourn the person you used to be when the lost one was alive…  One night (my brother) Liam said to me, as we were driving home from my dad’s to Brooklyn, ‘I am not as sad as I was, but the thing is, it’s just less fun and good without her.'”

In order to deal with her pain, O’Rourke conducted a personal study of death, the standard fear of it, religious beliefs and the traditions surrounding it, and the vast amount of research that’s been done on the human grieving process.   She even addresses the matter of grief in animal colonies.   One discovery she made in the process is that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ work on the stages of grief has often been misunderstood.   These were intended to represent the stages that the chronically ill pass through, not the stages that mourners – those left alive – go through.

O’Rourke is at her best when she discusses her own fears with the reader.   She has been afraid since childhood of the notion of death and yet it remained an abstract – if still frightening – notion up until her mother’s passing.   Then her grief became all-consuming, and it became something that she could not put aside in order to live a “normal” life.   Grief, in a sense, made her crazy for a period of time but it also brought with it some very valuable lessons – the chief among them being that one has to focus on death in order to truly appreciate life.   As O’Rourke’s father told her several months after his wife’s death, he had always focused on what he didn’t have; now he had learned to appreciate what he did possess in the world and the universe.

After a loss you have to learn to believe the dead one is dead.   It doesn’t come naturally.

There’s a sense of accepting humbleness that permeates O’Rourke’s account.   Although she was raised as a Catholic, she refers numerous times to Buddhism.   If there’s a weakness in the telling, it’s a factor that naturally affects most memoirs, a tendency to make one’s own life sound more important than that of the others that share the planet with the writer.   And, like Julie Metz in Perfection, O’Rourke tends to tell her readers more than they would actually want to know about her social (meaning sexual) life.

At one point, O’Rourke comes off as strangely naive when it comes to social relationships.   At the time that her mother died (at Christmas), an old boyfriend – whom she once dropped without the benefit of an explanation – comes back into her life, and she wonders why, “…he always seemed to be holding back – why, I did not know.”   The reader wants to scream back at her, “Because you dumped him when you went away to college!”   (The ex was simply acting like a normal, scarred, self-protective human being.)

But these are minor points, because O’Rourke succeeds quite well in making us examine death as something both micro and macro;  internal and external.   It is something that must be fully understood before we can make realistic choices about what is key in our lives.   In her almost philosophical approach to examining death and dying, she has written not only a monumental love story for the person who went missing in her life, she has also placed death in its natural and proper context.

(I think I wanted to grow up to be my mother, and it was confusing to me that she already was her.)

This is, in the end, a work about acceptance – the good with the bad – life continuing on through death, the sudden eclipse of a life and eternal love.   O’Rourke masterfully teaches us about the art of dying, a matter for both hearts and heads (minds).

Very, very well done.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Long Goodbye: A Memoir was released as a trade paperback book on April 5, 2012.   “We feel our own grief, past and potential, as O’Rourke grapples with hers…  Now her book can provide similar comfort for others.”   The Washington Post

“And life flows on within you and without you…”   George Harrison (“Love You To”)

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Bobblehead Dad

Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew by Jim Higley (Greenleaf Book Group; $14.95; 201 pages)

There is something about cancer that strikes a chord with nearly everyone.   Whether it is the fear that it could happen to anyone at anytime, the fact that nearly everyone knows somebody who has suffered through the dreaded disease, or some other mysterious quality that separates this affliction from others, there is no disputing the fact that the mere mention of cancer quickly gets people’s attention.

In his early forties, Jim Higley, a single dad with three young children was diagnosed with prostate cancer.   The prognosis was particularly ominous due to his family’s history of cancer and the fact that he had lost his brother to brain cancer just a few years earlier.

Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew is his story.   The term bobblehead refers to the sports replica figurines whose heads bobble.   Early in the book, Higley recalls his fondness for them as a child and realizes that he has taken on that characteristic as a dad by routinely bobbing his head dismissively when he returns home from work and listens to his children’s stories of their days.

That is the beginning of the format of the book in which the author pairs childhood memories with his real-time cancer experiences to craft a series of 25 lessons focused on choices that allow for happiness and healthy relationships.

The writing is excellent.   The lessons initially appear to be a bit simplistic or quaint, but in the context of the author’s battle with cancer, the reader is much more inclined to internalize the inherent wisdom of many of them.   My personal favorite is Lesson 12:  Rest.   Some other examples include “Embrace Who You Are” and “Lessons Happen Every Day.”   Again, out of context, they might appear too unsophisticated for 21st Century America, but that appears to be exactly the point – they are not.   In fact, they are presented as foundational building blocks for life.

Due to consistency in voice and presentation, the book flows seamlessly from page to page.   The reader can easily relate to the anecdotes, topics, and relationships that permeate the true tale.   In no way is the book’s audience limited to males, cancer survivors, or other types of age ranges or subgroups.   It can be read quickly in a  few settings or in short segments as time allows.   Overall, Bobblehead Dad is a gem.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the author.   Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.   Note:  Readers who relate to this book might also be interested in The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and/or Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.  

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Back in Black

The Descent of Man: A Novel by Kevin Desinger (Unbridled Books; $24.95; 272 pages)

The Descent of Man explores an interesting premise:  In the face of fear, can humans actually de-evolve into their basest nature creating a world where self-preservation overtakes reason and higher-order thinking?

The book opens when the main character, Jim, and his wife, Marla, hear two car thieves attempting to steal their car in the wee hours of the morning.   Jim’ s subsequent decision on how to act, and then an impulsive, unplanned act, come together instantly to set off a chain of events that involve a lie, which, of course, leads to subsequent lies and more complications before the story finally resolves itself.

The tale starts off well.   While the theft of a car may lead one to initially assume that the book will be an action/suspense story, a great deal of the early portion of the book is told from a psychological, philosophical point of view through the inner workings of the minds of the main characters.   This is where the book works best.

As the story unfolds, a promising concept begins to unravel.   It is possible the author tried to do too much at once.   For a while, the reader may want this to be a thriller, with humans hunting down other humans, car chases, accidents, and scenes that take place in the seediest part of town.   Or, they may like the parts that stick to the introduction and are a psychological drama about tormented and tortured souls.   Or, they may like the scenes that touch on the relationship between Jim and Marla and want more of the “love story”, for lack of a better term.   But the reader gets a little bit of each and not enough of any of them to be truly satisfied.

It is hard to know what to make of the detective in the story.   Does he want to help Jim, or is he setting Jim up?   Clearly, he does not trust Jim, yet at the end, they seem to form an interesting, through unrealistic bond.   One painful incident from the couple’s past is introduced, but does not do much to advance the story or give hints as to the current nature of their relationship.   Perhaps, in fact, the most unsatisfying parts of the story are those that focus on Jim and Marla.   Jim is supposedly desperately in love with her, and she wants badly to reconcile after events cause them to be apart for a while.   But most of this picks up about halfway through, when the reader believes the story is headed in a different direction.   There just isn’t enough to them to care very much about their relationship.   The crimes, lies and curiosity about who might get caught, killed, or whatever, is much more intriguing.

There are some other problems from a plausibility standpoint, like when Jim buys a gun from a hooker he hardly knows during one of his insomniac-based ventures into the town’s red light district.

In this reviewer’s opinion, author Kevin Desinger has promise, but the book falls a bit short despite some strong passages that peak the reader’s interest.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was received from the publisher.   The Descent of Man will be released on May 3, 2011.

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Tragedy

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Random House; $15.00; 352 pages)

“Most of our fears are petty and small…  Only our love is monumental.”

In Every Last One, author Anna Quindlen gives us a monumental – yet quietly reserved – look at the life of a typical American family, before and after the family is rocked by an unimaginable tragedy.   This is the story of Mary Beth Latham, a basically stay-at-home mom who operates a landscaping business; her ophthalmologist husband, Glen; daughter Ruby; and her fraternal twin sons, Max and Alex.   Although we observe their lives through Mary Beth’s eyes, we come to know Ruby the best.   She’s a senior in high school who is about to leave the nest for a yet-to-be determined college.

Mary Beth at one point ponders whether it is a woman’s role to persevere after everyone she loves has left her.   But she thinks about this at a time when everyone she loves remains close to her.   This is when she’s the woman who worries about the smallest of concerns, when her life goes on as normal.   But normal is not lasting…

Daughter Ruby has known her friend Kiernan since childhood, and he becomes obsessed with her and all of the Lathams.   Kiernan comes to become less of a boyfriend to Ruby than a stalker, and someone who uses any excuse to keep company with the Latham family.   Ruby realizes that she’s going to have to reject Kiernan soon – and before she departs for her future life.

When tragedy strikes Mary Beth must become a survivor.   Everyone around her fails at offering comfort; instead, they impose their expectations on her as to how they believe she should act.   The people she worked so hard to please, to impress, to be close to all let her down.

Eventually Mary Beth comes to see – as we all must – that she cannot live her life in a manner that pleases others.   She simply must continue, even if the reasons for doing so are not clear.

“It’s all I know how to do.   This is my life.   I am trying.”

It is impossible to describe the nature of the calamity that Mary Beth experiences without betraying the story, and this summary does not disclose it.   Suffice it to say that when it occurs the reader will think the narrative is over.   In the hands of a less skilled writer it would be.   But Quindlen is at her best in writing the tale of a woman who is strong when the world believes she has been stripped of her heart and her soul.

“The silence is as big as the sky…”

Author Quindlen teaches the reader that life is not predictable, that one must be prepared to start over at any time.   It is, after all, the nature of every life.   Life, for better or worse, every year, month, day, and each and every minute.   It is all to be treasured, and readers may come to justifiably treasure this impressive work from the subtly gifted mind and pen of Anna Quindlen.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Every Last One will be released in trade paperback form on Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

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An Unflappable Giveaway

Thanks to Anna at the Hachette Book Group, we have three (3) copies to give away of a new nonfiction book which was just released on March 6, 2011.   This is Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool; a hardbound release from Little, Brown and Company valued at $25.99.   Here is the official synopsis:

Nerves make us bomb job interviews, first dates and SATs.   With a presentation looming at work, fear robs us of sleep for days.   It paralyzes seasoned concert musicians and freezes rookie cops in tight situations.   And yet not everyone cracks.   Soldiers keep their heads in combat; firemen rush into burning buildings; unflappable trauma doctors juggle patient after patient.   It’s not just that these people feel no fear; often, in fact, they’re riddled with it.

In Nerve, Taylor Clark draws upon cutting-edge science and painstaking reporting to explore the very heart of panic and poise.   Using a wide range of case studies, Clark overturns the popular myth about anxiety and fear to explain why some people thrive under pressure, while others falter – and how we can go forward with steadier nerves and increased confidence.

“…brings sophisticated science into precise layperson’s language and applies it to our everyday lives with humor and wit.”   Amazon

So, how can you win one of these copies without experiencing too much stress?   Simple, just post a comment here with your name and e-mail address; or send an e-mail message to josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, tell us the answer to this question – If 1 is a ‘fraidy cat and 10 is a superhero with nerves of steel, which number would a panel of fear and stress experts give you, and why?   Post your answer below, or provide your response in an e-mail, and you will be credited with a second entry.

Our usual furry contest administrator will draw the 3 winning names.   You have until midnight on April 15, 2011 to submit your entry or entries.   In order to be eligible to win this contest, you must live in the United States or Canada and provide a residential address when you are contacted.   Books will not be shipped to a P. O. box or a business-related address.   Only one person can win per household.

This is it for the nervous-making contest rules.   Put on your superhero costume and give it a whirl!   Munchy the cat  says, Yeowk!   (Translated this means, Good luck and good reading!)

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