Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. One in five Americans is affected by mental health conditions. During Mental Health Awareness Month, people are encouraged to expand their understanding of mental illness. It’s also a time to try to increase access to treatment and let those who are struggling know that they are not alone.

This year’s awareness theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body. The theme reminds people that mental health is affected by nutrition, sleep, stress, gut health, and exercise. Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being. Living a healthy lifestyle may not always be easy, but can be achieved by gradually making small changes and building on those successes.

Here are a few books- both fiction and nonfiction- that center on mental health:

lawsonFuriously Happy by Jenny Lawson- The author discusses how her severe depression has led her to lead her fullest life. This book is about mental illness, but is also about seeing joy in new ways.

 


crazyCrazy: A Father’s Search through America’s Mental Health Madness by Pete Earley- 
Pete Earley has written about the criminal justice system while as a reporter with the Washington Post. But it was only when his own son, in the throes of a manic episode, broke into a neighbor’s house that he learned what happens to mentally ill people who break a law.

centercannotholdThe Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks- Elyn Saks is a professor, lawyer, and psychiatrist- she has also suffered from schizophrenia for most of her life. Saks discusses her paranoia in this beautiful memoir.

 

hyperboleHyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh- In this graphic novel the author, who also has an award-winning blog, talks about her ongoing depression in a series of hilarious stories.

 

belljarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath- Esther Greenwood, a talented writer, becomes mentally unstable during a summer spent interning at a magazine in New York City. She is tormented by both the death of her father and the feeling that she simply does not fit into the culturally acceptable role of womanhood in this harrowing novel.

the_silver_linings_playbook_coverThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick- Pat Peoples is a former history teacher who has moved back to his childhood home in New Jersey, after spending time in a psychiatric hospital. Pat thinks he has been away only a few months, but soon realizes it has really been years, and he struggles to piece together his lost memories and what has become of his wife, Nikki.

 

For more information about Mental Health see these websites:
Mental Health America
National Alliance on Mental Illness

For local information:
Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition
The Women’s Initiative
Partner for Mental Health

“More subtle than Kingsolver.”

ragnarokBooks on Tap read Ragnarok (other editions available) by A.S. Byatt at Champion Brewery on April 5. The book is part of the Canongate Myth Series, in which noted authors reinterpret myths in book-length format. Last fall the group read and enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s contribution, The Penelopiad, so we decided to try another one. A.S. Byatt chose Ragnarok, the Norse myth of a battle of the gods leading to the end of the world. She frames the story with that of the thin girl evacuated to the British countryside during World War II who comforts herself by reading and re-reading 19th century German collection of Norse myths. The destruction of the mythic world and  20th century Europe are compared in the final section, “Thoughts on Myths” with environmental degradation in the 21st century.

Unlike The Penelopiad which was a witty transformation of The Odyssey focusing on a minor character, Byatt’s Ragnarok is a straight-forward retelling within the frame story. Some of our readers found the writing, naming all plants and animals, lush, similar to The Ten Thousand Things. Others found it off-putting and hard to track.

Byatt questions the difference between myth and fairy tale but does not provide a clear answer. Our group was also unable to come up with a definitive answer, but did find this myth useful. Are we not as vainglorious as the gods? Is Loki’s chaos as natural state destined to bring about cyclical cataclysm, either war or environmental? Unlike modern interpretations of fairy tales, Byatt chose the pre-Christian ending, in which the world is destroyed but not re-born. However, there are glimpses of hope in her final section and in the fact that the thin girl’s father unexpectedly returns from war.

While this wasn’t the success that The Penelopiad was, the readers who joined us found it a worthwhile struggle and the first (and probably only) book by Byatt that we’ll read.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author about the book
Other works

Books on Tap Information:

Have a suggestion for future titles? Add them to this list.

Previous titles

“You can’t be infinitely open minded and effect change.”

whatwetalkaboutBooks on Tap read What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank  (other editions available) by Nathan Englander at Champion Brewery on March 1st. This is the first title in JMRL’s Same Page program, which invites Central Virginians to read the book and discuss its themes at events throughout March 2018. A collections of short stories, it plumbs themes of Jewish life, trust, questioning and anxiety while providing a healthy dose of humor. Our readers didn’t think the title was indicative of the stories inside, but each story was complete in itself, the sign of a great collection.

In the title story, two American women who had attended yeshiva together are reunited as adults. The narrator’s wife is living a largely secular life, while her friend is living in Israel as Orthodox. While partying, they debate who would hide them in a second Holocaust, pointing out that not only can they not trust all of their neighbors, but each other. While specifically about the Shoah, it points to a universal question of trust, relevant today in LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter and the resurgence of Nazis in America. We discussed how we hope that we would act heroically but very few do. As we age and have more responsibilities, these decisions become more fraught.

“Sister Hills”, set in an Israeli settlement, is a story of  spite & revenge played out over two generations. Englander uses the tree imagery to highlight the fragility of life. The misfortunes to befall the two focal families can be read as noble sacrifice and the price to pay for taking Palestinian (Arab) land. The characters draw multiple lines in the sand against neighbors and their own family members. The bitter ending, seen on high by strangers, looks like familial devotion while in fact stressing the limits of a legalistic reading of religion.

In comparison, “Free Fruit for Young Widows” has a more humane, nuanced look at revenge. As we learn more about  Egert (a man with that name is thanked in acknowledgements), we forgive his gruff attitude. His friend even makes a skillful argument for pre-emptive revenge, including killing a baby, giving context to the decisions of a child. From the very beginning of the story, when Egert kills soldiers eating with his friend because both sides are wearing the same French-supplied  uniforms, Englander stresses that you can’t tell who is bad on the surface.

“Peep Show” and “The Reader” were only briefly discussed. “The Reader” was a hopeful meditation on the reciprocal relationship between artist and viewer.  “Peep Show” succeeded as dream-like reverie, due to its specific details, ending with the re-named narrator proving to himself he is no longer Orthodox. It was the least well-received by our group.  

“Camp Sundown”, on the other hand, generated much discussion.  The distinct voices made each character real as opposed to the over-the-top murder plot. The elderly campers are obsessed with past wrongs while ignoring the dangerous current harm they are causing. One reader paired this strand of the story with the young director’s similarity to a politician to Israel/Palestine relations. Doley Falk, the camper accused of working in a concentration camp, is pleasingly ambiguous. If the rumor is true, why would he come to this Jewish camp? Was he made to work by the guards? Is the revenge justified?

“Everything I Know about My Family on my Mother’s Side” is both about immigration and the power of storytelling for forgiveness and redemption. The family knew they came from a town called Gubernia, but didn’t know that word just means “state” generically. The narrator doesn’t think he as a history, but his girlfriend persuades him that he may not know the details but he does retain a specific culture and set of expectations, which inform not just his actions but also those of his parents’ grandparents’ generations.

Finally, we discussed the stories in relationship to Charlottesville after 2017. Some took it as a call to arms in reaction to specific events, others as a reminder to be their brothers’ keepers. One reader left us with a quotation attributed to Helen Keller,“although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

Join us in April to discuss Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt and chose titles for the summer.

More Information:
Meet the author at Northside Library and the Festival of the Book (a Same Page partner)
Interview with the author
About the book
Other works  

Books on Tap Information:

Have a suggestion for future titles? Add them to this list.

Previous titles