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He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him by Mimi Baird
He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him

kas, February 27, 2015

Through Daughter, Father Shows Why We All Must Want More than Can Be Found in Whole History of Medicine -- Demand the Moon!

Note: In composing this review, I have assumed the reader to have read the summary provided on the page on which this is posted, or, regardless of what information this page does or doesn't provide, or to have found out this book's general topic.

I was very excited to read He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him, and I was fortunate enough to win an advance edition (publication expected in February) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers monthly giveaway program. Having finished the work, I have to say that author Mimi Baird met and then exceeded my high hopes; my five-star rating at the top of this review understates the value of this reading experience in my view.

In fact, I think Baird has created a vitally important work that should be among the books everyone should (hope and try to) read at some point in life. I found ideas presented and questions raised in this text that would make it especially valuable reading for any professional engaged in critical services to diverse populations -- doctors, lawyers and teachers come first to my mind. In sum, this book imparts rare wisdom the ignorance of which tangibly impoverishes our society and limits the quality of human life.

Given my wholehearted belief in the value of this read, I was somewhat surprised when to find Kirkus presenting a very different perspective in the recently published review of this book. The highlighted excerpt chosen to showcase the review's conclusions evidenced a much more circumscribed view of the value to be found in these pages:"For Mimi Baird, the book serves as closure; for general readers, it's a sobering account of how little we knew and how much we still have to learn about mental illness -- especially how not to treat it." This link connects to the complete review, for your convenience:

Contrary to the implications of that assessment, Mimi Baird's book is more than an insightful discussion of a personal quest. The text consists in large part of her father's own writings; his story is not just uncovered as a set of events that document the behavior that typified the illness for which he was hospitalized, the medical "treatments" he received, and details of the staggering professional and social losses he experienced after hospitalization. As it turns out, Dr. Baird was not only an outstanding practitioner of medicine with peerless academic qualifications for his profession, he was a gifted writer who possessed rich insight into his experiences as a mental patient. His papers provide straightforward, clear and rational descriptions of manifold elements of his life during his hospitalization. I found that Baird never dramatized the hardships he experienced, but he did not soften dismal conclusions about the terrible circumstances that arose directly from his mental illness diagnosis and the medical establishment's conception of what that illness entailed.

Despite the rational presentation of Dr. Baird's observations to which the reader is privy, his attempts to relate details of his psychological experience in order to improve knowledge of the disease and find a path to better treatment were unsuccessful. In speaking of his own experience, this brilliant man was not credited by either his treating doctors or his friends and former colleagues in the medical profession. Catherine Mackinnon once wisely observed that power inheres in the ability to speak your truth and have it taken seriously by the wider community (unfortunately, I do not have the direct quotation available right now). There is an increasing amount of scholarship on the persistent powerlessness and substantial life limitations experienced by the mentally ill. Systemic flaws in the perspective on mental illness, present in society as a whole as well as within the medical/psychological professions, collectively create phenomena that have come to be described as sanism. This first-person narrative of sanism at work can do more to raise awareness about the warped perspective on mental illness that exists today and throughout Western history than any academic theory or historical review. However, I think a broader truth is to be found here, and this is what provides the basis for my belief in the great impact this book could have if read widely. Specifically, it seems everywhere I look people who can be found near either end of various spectrums of given human qualities and experiences, are routinely misunderstood and their truth is silenced. It's not always a minority that meets with this effect; I think the persistence of sexism for example is rooted in a similar social process, at least in part. This story of a great genius ignored by everyone has much to teach about the grievous harm that can be done when we fail to pay close attention to human differences -- whether in personal relationships, classrooms, courtrooms, or mental hospitals.

This is just one key reason why I heartily encourage others to read this book. The fact is it's a quick read that is packed with stories and insights that are rarely available, let alone in such a convenient way. Thanks for reading my thoughts; I hope they are helpful to you in some respect.
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Mexican Eskimo Book 1: Exmikan by Anker Frankoni
Mexican Eskimo Book 1: Exmikan

kas, February 27, 2015

Deeply Personal, Incredibly Worthwhile Journey

I received a free audiobook version of this strange new book. I didn't know what to expect at first, but author Anker Frankoni's narrative washed away any initial trepidation with ease as it engaged my deep interest and full sympathy from the outset. I am happy to be able to provide a wholeheartedly stellar review of *Mexican Eskimo Book 1: Exmikan*.

A. What *Exmikan* Is Not About:
One concern I had about the book upon seeing the title was that it would treat racial/ethnic categories and cultural distinctions lightly. That fear was unwarranted. Inasmuch as Frankoni deals with Eskimo and Mexican peoples and their respective histories as symbols within this autobiographical novel, he demonstrates knowledge of relevant cultural details and never fails to acknowledge his fundamental distance from these subjects. He doesn't pretend to speak to these cultural experiences in an authentic way, or that's my reading anyway. The narrative tone of this work provides the best evidence for my view; it is never without irony or several notes of warm, self-deprecating humor. As such, the presumption necessary for appropriation of a foreign culture for fundamentally inauthentic purposes is a virtual impossibility in this context. This is no lighthearted comedy, so the nature of the work does not suggest light treatment or casual consideration of these topics within the larger context of Frankoni's own narrative.

B. What This *Mexican Eskimo* Thing Is About:
*Exmikan* is a tremendously personal work of art; Frankoni bravely presents his search for meaning in life, which begins in despair, to the reader. The subject of the story (or rather, stories) is his relatives' lives and of course, by extension, his own. Between Frankoni's two parents' families, an enormous spectrum of human vices and virtues are represented in stark relief. The tales to which the reader is privy are unforgettable -- heartwarming, triumphant, sympathetic, inspiring, horrifying, tragic, alienating, bewildering, tragicomic, magical and absurd. Rich and varied insight, humility, humor, and compassion distinguish Frankoni's narrative voice throughout the work. It is a brave, ambitious artistic project by any measure, and to my mind it is a great success. I am very grateful to have experienced this book and would advise other readers to try this work; in doing so, you will join the author on a personal, strange, resonant once-in-a-lifetime journey. The author gives himself wholly to this work, and we who experience are the beneficiaries indeed.

Thank you for reading my ideas; I hope they provide some perspective on what this book has to offer. I fear my comments are too vague, but the stories told are so dramatic and inimitably told that I dare not summarize any part of the plot(s) of these interconnected narratives.
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No Book But the World by Leah Hager Cohen
No Book But the World

kas, October 21, 2014

No Book but the World is an excellent work of literary fiction, in my view, because it employs unusual and special skill to elucidate subtle ideas -- and especially to illustrate precise emotional states -- in order to achieve its ultimate artistic purposes. This is an excellent read, which I recommend enthusiastically. I expect it will likely be one of my top 10 reads of 2014 (of 100+).

The novel is narrated entirely in the first-person, and by the end of the first page the reader is drawn directly into the whirlwind of the protagonist's stream-of-consciousness. Perhaps what strikes me most about this book is that it does not merely exemplify psychological fiction; it fully embodies this idea. Cohen guides the reader with uncanny fluidity through time, personally significant experiences & different perspectives on these experiences. It's not a pleasant novel at all times. It's unsettling as you can gather from reading the plot summary, but I wouldn't call it disturbing. There is nothing alienating about it -- especially when as a reader we are able to most directly inhabit Ava's perspective, IMHO.

This was a surprisingly quick, light read considering its sophistication and depth. Nothing about the form -- or the content -- caused me to stop at a given point and examine a portion of the text with great particularity. It seemed to work organically with my attention, which I guess is one of the ways this work gives the psychological novel added dimension as a form.

I am sorry that this review is pretty abstract and general; I find it hard to get into the specifics of the story without saying too much or somehow misrepresenting what it is. Thanks for reading my thoughts. I hope they help inform your opinion on this prospective read somehow.

Please be advised I received a free copy of this book to review through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.
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O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn
O, Africa!

kas, September 4, 2014

O Africa!: A Novel is nothing more and nothing less than a beautifully realized story of intellectual depth and palpable soul that includes as its central theme the challenging, multi-dimensional nature of perspective in the creation and interpretation of narrative art itself. This Andrew Lewis Conn guy is nothing if not ambitious!

A key element that distinguishes this novel as a great book is the light, easily digestible, yet richly evocative prose which is a unique enough pleasure in and of itself without the presence of other features which render this type of read a downright bizarre find in this novel, according to my mind. Firstly, given the aforementioned theme, one can expect some notable navel-gazing of the artist protagonists in the substance of the story as well as various signs of the entanglement of the author's writing process with our experience as readers interpreting the text. I would expect this kind of work, if successful, to be very textually rich but inevitably somewhat unwieldy as a read with some stagnation at different points in the plot.

Instead, I found the narrative to be light, beautiful, effervescent, organic in its transitions and incorporation of various stylistic elements; innovatively engaged in reverent dialogue with a living literary tradition, and last but not least; steadily flowing and never stagnating. All in all, it was an oddly brisk (and briskly odd) read. I cannot recommend this book more highly -- enjoy!

Please be advised I received my copy of this book for free as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
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Troika by Adam Pelzman

kas, September 4, 2014

Adam Pelzman's novel Troika is an unquestionably relevant work for contemporary readers, as it could be for readers of many (if not all) ages. From the first sentence to the very last, Pelzman signals the radical primacy of humanity to this work.

What in the world do I mean by that?

First of all, on a basic level, Troika is a story about a complicated relationship between a wife, a husband, and the woman with whom he is has an extramarital liaison at the beginning of the book that is told in first-person narration from multiple perspectives. There is no filter between the reader and character's psychology. And indeed, I found the characters to be not only multi-dimensional and believable, they were likable and so relatable that they provided an effective bridge for me to understand and appreciate values contrary to my own and actions I would never take.

The first narrator is the "other woman" in the triangle; a young stripper named Perla. When the story begins, she is at work. Despite the vulgar language and number of vulgar people populating this first setting, Perla's proud and irreverent -- but not unkind personality --is definitely compelling. The one word I would use to describe my impression of Perla and the opening of the novel itself is definitely "charming." The original partner of the male protagonist brings a witty, wise and generous perspective to the narrative.

In addition to the centrality of realistic, incredibly well-drawn characters -- and in particular two strong and unusual women -- and the privileging of their unique perspectives through the structure of the novel, I would also call this a truly humane book due to: the generosity shown by the characters (implicit in the plot's nature & structure) and the hope the story can engender in the reader concerning the expansive potential of human relationships. I recommend this novel without reservation. Please be advised I received a free ARC of this novel for an honest review through the Early Reviewers Program. Thanks for reading my thoughts
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