rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Nov. 11th, 2011 10:06 am)
To celebrate 11/11/11, I bring you brief notes on books which I read but, resignedly, realize I will never get around to writing up in full.

Glitter Rose, by Marianne de Pierres. A beautifully designed small hardcover from Twelfth Planet Press of connected short stories about a little Australian island, mostly populated by the decadent and desperate rich, which is infected by spores which mutate the population in strange, subtle ways. Wispy, atmospheric, delicate, like spare prose poems. A bit reminiscent of Lee Killough's Aventine stories, and, in themes but not style, of Tanith Lee. A World Fantasy Con giveaway.

Identity: Unknown (Tall, Dark and Dangerous), by Suzanne Brockmann. Amazon has Brockmann's short Navy SEAL romances listed quite cheaply, so I snagged a couple. Navy SEAL Mitchell Shaw is shot and hit over the head while deep undercover, and ends up amnesiac on a horse ranch and convinced that he's a hit man! This doesn't live up to its delicious premise, and suffers enormously from its short length. The romance starts too soon and seems way more about physical chemistry than real interaction, and the heroine seems like a nitwit to be convinced based solely on intuition that he's not a villain. There is missing plutonium that gets mentioned a few times, then forgotten. Read Frisco's Kid (Tall, Dark and Dangerous) or Harvard's Education (Tall, Dark and Dangerous) instead.

The Gift of Therapy , by Irwin Yalom. Brief notes and tips for new therapists, concentrating on the therapist-client relationship, the here-and-now (what's going on in the present moment during therapy), and dreams. Yalom is an existential therapist, and delves into the big questions about fear of death, existential anxiety, the meaning of life, etc. I got a lot out of this, and will undoubtedly refer back to it when I start seeing clients.

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, by Ethan Watters. How American concepts of mental illness and its treatment are exported worldwide, causing changes in how mental illness is perceived, manifests, and is treated. A mixed bag, but very much worth reading. Watters theorizes that symptoms of emotional distress manifest in a manner which one's culture recognizes as messages that something is wrong. In Freud's time, distressed people fainted and had mysterious physical symptoms, and that was culturally recognized as a signal of distress. In our time in the USA, those people would be more likely to complain solely of anxiety and depression.

Watters has some great and little-addressed points which are very much worth taking seriously. However, he has a bias toward the idea that Western therapy and psychiatric medication is overrated and often useless, that it should not be exported to other countries, and that looking at mental illness as biologically-based and treatable by biological means is at best only good for Americans (to whom it's at least culturally appropriate) and even then is stigmatizing.

To bolster these opinions, he makes extensive use of selective evidence. For example, he quotes people with mental illnesses who think that looking at it as a matter of brain chemistry is degrading and erasing, and then suggests that all people with mental illnesses feel that way and it's only the drug manufacturers and the medical establishment who think that the medical/chemical viewpoint can be empowering. This is flat-out untrue, as is his claim that no one ever manifested the current DSM-IV symptoms of PTSD before WWI. (It's true that earlier reports tended to be more somatic, but there are descriptions that do sound very similar to modern Western understandings of PTSD which go back at least to Shakespeare's time. It's a pretty well-researched area.) This makes me wonder how much other parts of the book are similarly carefully selected to make his point, and equally misleading. It's too bad, because his overall thesis has a lot of merit.

Note to commenters: If you want to discuss Watters' book or the ideas therein, please be aware that it's a hot-button topic, and be courteous and sensitive to the different experiences of others.
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