Posts Tagged ‘books’


Darkness Visible

July 3, 2008

A few weeks ago I was in the library searching for something or other and in my travels came across this wee gem of a book which I’d recommend to anyone interested in mental illness, especially depression.

In the eighty four pages of Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, William Styron describes his descent into depression through reflection on melancholia, despair, physical ailments, social phobia, alcohol, therapy, hospitalisation and eventual recovery. He gives an extremely moving account of his preparation for suicide, feeling like an observer to an oncoming disaster in an almost theatrical fashion. His attempts to write a farewell note seemed too ridiculous for they sounded either pompous or comical so he tore up all his efforts and resolved to “go out in silence”.

“Late one bitterly cold night, when I knew that I could not possibly get myself through the following day, I sat in the living room of the house bundled up against the chill; something happened to the furnace. My wife had gone to bed and I have forced myself to watch the tape of a movie in which a young actress, who had been in a play of mine, was cast in a small part. At one point in the film … the characters moved down the hallway of a music conservatory, beyond the walls of which, from unseen musicians, came a contralto voice, a sudden soaring passage from the Brahms Alto Rapsody.

This sound which, like all music – indeed, like all pleasure – I had been numbly unresponsive to for months, pierced my heart like a dagger, and in a flood of swift recollection I thought of all the joys the house had known: the children who had rushed through its rooms, the festivals, the love and work, the honestly earned slumber, the voices and the nimble commotion, the perennial tribe of cats and dogs and birds … all this I realised was more than I could ever abandon, even as what had set out so deliberately to do was more than I could inflict on those memories and upon those, so close to me, with whom the memories were bound. And just as powerfully I realised I could not commit this desecration on myself. I drew upon some last gleam of sanity … “

Eloquent and straightforward. Enjoy.


to be human

February 28, 2008

‘Perspectives on the Human Experience through the Arts’ is my chosen options module this semester and it’s a challenging one. This module is based on the belief that for health professionals to learn what it is to be human they need compassion and appreciation of the uniqueness of individuals. Studying the arts and humanities helps us do just that and though it may sound like the easy option in an otherwise heavy academic year or ‘time out’ to some, it isn’t. Seriously.

By exploring a range of materials, including individual pieces of work created by survivors, we are encouraged to enter into their world and by doing so recognise the things that make us human: vulnerability, individuality, personality, imagination, passion, spirit, breath …

We explore the many different experiences found in childhood through adolescence to old age and end of life issues and discuss the difficulties people face and the reasons why they do what they do in a world that has become too harsh for them to bear.

Reality shocks and not for the first time my awareness is heightened. Most of the material isn’t an easy read and with or without the compassionate heart, one cannot help but be affected.

This poem is from The Memory Bird (1996) Edited by Caroline Malone, Linda Farthing and Lorraine Marce. Published by Virago.

As I watch blood ooze from my vein
Slowly the droplets anaesthetise my brain
The screaming in my head gently subsides
Calmed and sedated, almost mesmerised.

I am losing the struggle to survive
I have to bleed to know I’m alive
The tramlines of war scar my skin
The only sign of battle within.

My life drips on to the barren floor
Tears flow in rivulets under the door
Numbness spreads right through my core
Where is my energy to fight for more?

But these are not for death but life
Do not be alarmed at the way I strive
Marks on my body are a small price to pay
For freedom from Hell and a new dawning each day.


ah … those were the days

May 22, 2007

Book Tagging …

May 20, 2007

I’ve been tagged by Stewart … thought I should at least make an effort to respond.  So, after some careful deliberation and, yes, procrastination I’ve come up with some answers.  But as you know there are many books I love so this probably isn’t a definitive list, like most folk.

How many books do I own?  No idea!  Lots I guess.

Last book I read? 

The Five People You Meet in Heave (Mitch Albom).  I’ve blogged about it already.  I’m currently on ‘Semi-Detached’ by Griff Rhys Jones which is an account of his life through childhood and university.  It’s an easy read, comical and very moving.  I’m liking it a lot and have a tendency to want to read bits to whoever will listen (usually nobody!).

Now my five books (in no particular order).  Here goes:

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This is probably my favourite if I’m honest.  It is set in Alabama in the 1930s and the story is told by Scout Finch who is an eight year old girl.  Issues such as race, class and justice are raised when a black man is arrested for the rape of a white girl.  This is a time of growing up for Scout and she has many questions, mostly about life and attitudes displayed by adults.  I was hooked from the start most likely because I found the characters so engaging, so real.  It is very funny in parts and I smile a lot at the antics of Scout and her brother, Jem.  They’re delightful.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Tennessee Williams

Ok I know it’s play but I really do need to include it in my top five so I hope it’s allowed!  It’s such a favourite of mine and I’ve read it too many times not to include it.  It would be like betrayal!

The play is set in Mississippi and centres on the unstable relationship of Maggie (the cat) and Brick as they meet with other members of the family to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday.  Big Daddy is unaware that he has cancer as the family, all but one, have conspired to keep it from him.  They are all trying to be on their best behaviour because there is inheritance at stake.  Maggie loves her husband very much but, despite that and her escape from childhood poverty, she finds herself in a marriage that is unfulfilled.  Brick was a football star but neglects his wife following the suicide of his best friend.  Homosexuality is hinted at.  A moving and significant conversation takes place between Brick and Big Daddy and the word mendacity is introduced.  This probably sums up the theme of the play.

It’s about lies, desire, frustration, depression, alcoholism, denial, need, love, loyalty, inadequacy to mention a few.  (Note to self: must read again soon!)

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

Amazing.  It is set in the American south (I’m beginning to see a theme develop here with my book choices that I hadn’t noticed before!).  The story of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty.  Her life is not an enviable one.  She is raped time and time again by the man she only knows as father and give birth to babies that are taken from her.  Not only that but she is separated from her sister too and trapped in an ugly and violent marriage that is nothing more than convenience.

Her hurt is so deep that she is unable to bear the thought of talking about it out loud so she tells her story by writing letters to God … Dear God.

Celie’s salvation and emancipation comes in the form of singer, Shug Avery.  Through Shug, Celie discovers some truths and in doing so is empowered to leave her abusive husband and start a new life.

When Stewart, David and I were in New York last year we were so lucky to see The Color Purple musical on broadway.  What an experience!  Having read the book and seen the film, I wondered how it would transfer but it did.  It was a very moving experience and I’ll remember it forever.

Moab is my Washpot – Stephen Fry

I’ve read several of his books now and loved them all.  Moab is basically an autobiography of the first twenty years of his life.  I was already a big Fry fan and this book charmed me so much.  When I was reading it I could almost hear him talk of his family, the suffering he experienced when he was younger and homosexuality.  It’s funny and smart and so him!  I laughed out loud many times.  Loved it!

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

Praise be to English teachers!  I can only thank mine for encouraging me to read further.  At some point during higher english he would suggest books for us to read and, knowing us all pretty well, was good at pointing out books that would suit our individual tastes etc.  My friend got Tolkein and I got Capote.  Interesting.

It is set in Kansas in the late 1950s and is essentially a reconstruction of the pointless murder of  a farmer, his wife and two teenage children at the hands of two parolees.  The search for the killers is the focus of the book.  While the act is horrific it is written in a way that conveys the human perpetrators.

Capote read about the killings in a newspaper and decided to investigate and write about the multiple murders and consequences and is more a journalistic approach.  He was assisted in his research by his friend, Harper Lee, and it took several years to complete.

It isn’t easy to get into the book but it pays off.  Persevere.


Trinny & Susannah

May 3, 2007

The Survival Guide - A Woman's Secret Weapon for Getting Through the Year

After my recent reading binge that included some serious and thought provoking material I spent the whole of this week talking about nothing but politics.  Now I have exercised my constitutional right I guess I’m in need of something a little lighter on the educational and current affairs front … Trinny & Susannah’s Survival Guide!

For advice on health, beauty, vitality (yes girls vitality!) and what NOT to wear check out the Trinny & Susannah website now!!!


the practice of the presence of God – brother lawrence

May 2, 2007

 The Practice of the Presence of God

The Practice of the Presence of God is beautiful book, wise in its teachings and inspirational in it’s writing. 

It is a record of conversations and letters  exchanged between Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite monk, and people in his community.  I found this little book many years ago and what an inspired find it was.  A gift.

Brother Lawrence worked hard in the monastery kitchen for most of his life and repaired sandals in later years, his position could only be described as lowly.  But people saw his passion for God and sought his advice and guidance. 

If you haven’t met Brother Lawrence, do so, and enjoy.


birthday books

April 30, 2007

I was saying only last week how my new thing is buying books in twos … well I’ve got another two, as a birthday gift.  Someone was obviously listening!

The Girls

‘The Girls’ by Lori Lansens – it’s got mixed reviews but I like to make up my own mind.  Here’s the first para:

I have never looked into my sister’s eyes.  I have never bathed alone.  I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon.  I’ve never used an airplane bathroom.  Or worn a hat.  Or been kissed like that.  I’ve never driven a car.  Or slept through the night.  Never a private talk.  Or solo walk.  I’ve never climbed a tree.  Or faded into a crowd.  So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved.  And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.

The other book is ‘Love in the Present Tense’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  Better reviews than the first.

Love in the Present Tense

I haven’t started this yet but, as always, will share my thoughts when I’m through. 


the five people you meet in heaven

April 22, 2007

“There are five people you meet in heaven,” said the Blue Man.  “Each of us was in your life for a reason.  You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for.  For understanding your life … This is the greatest gift God can give you: To understand what happened in your life.

“Was the pier so bad?” the old woman asked.  “It wasn’t my choice,” Eddie said, sighing.  “My mother needed help.  One thing led to another.  Years passed.  I never left.  I never lived nowhere else.    Never made any real money.  You know how it is – you get used to something, people rely on you, one day you wake up and you can’t tell Tuesday from Thursday …”

Eddie is a war veteran, it’s his 83rd birthday.  He believes his life is pretty mundane, filled with missed opportunities – he’s spent most of it fixing rides in an amusement park.  Eddie tries to save a little girl and loses his life.  The last thing he sees is the girl’s frightened face and the feel of two small hands in his.  Eddie wakes up in Heaven, where he will encounter five people who are connected to him in some way.  They have been waiting for his arrival.  In turn they provide little pieces of the jigsaw that is Eddie’s life but it isn’t until the final piece, his encounter with the fifth person, that  his true purpose is revealed, a purpose that meant more to someone than he could ever have known.  His life wasn’t so wasteful after all.  It is then that Eddie finally realises how interconnected we all are. 

A simple book, beautifully written in parts, and full of questions … hopeful and spiritual, it made me think about my own beliefs.  I think it would make a good study book, it would be great to sit and discuss it.

I’m sure (and hope) that when the time comes there will be a few well known faces waiting for me but no doubt a few surprise ones to explain the reasons why. 

I enjoyed it immensely, it reminded me of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and have been recommending it to my nearest and dearest over the weekend.  I guess I really need to read Mitch Albom’s ‘tuesdays with Morrie’ now!


Excitement of a New Book …

April 11, 2007

Now I’ve finished The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne I’m missing it.  So in an attempt to fill the gap I ventured off to Borders this afternoon via Ikea (to pick up a catalogue).  After making some random purchases as one does in Ikea that included a grill pan (my son’s fault), candles, cushions, dish towels, 2 glass tankards, hot dog, coke (NO catalogue to be had incidentally) we made it to Borders for a good browse.  I love book shops.  There’s something quite childlike about getting a new book!

I came back with Griff Rhys Jones’ Semi-Detached and The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.   

I’ll let you know what I think. 

Now, which will I start first? 


How to Walk in High Heels

April 7, 2007

Camilla Morton’s ‘How to Walk in High Heels’ is a funny and informative book.  A book for dipping and out of.  A book for reference.  The A-Z of useful tips for goddesses everywhere.   It includes how to: walk in high heels; be stylish; deal with unpleasant situations; wear an apron with style; hang wallpaper (no really); make a bed (complicated use of safety pin involved therefore not for the faint hearted).  Here’s a sample from ‘how to wash dishes’:

Locate your Marigolds, the only brand of rubber gloves to wear, and slip them on.  Despite advertisements singing the moisturising benefits of soapsuds on skin they surely mean the bathing type and ladies do not want hands to feel as though they have done manual labour.

Roll up cashmere sleeves and cover any silk or satin tops with an apron to avoid any stray splashes.

Take plate and  scrape any excess food into bin, rinse well, before placing in bowl – you don’t want salad floating about and complicating matters.

… wash smaller objects first then big and don’t leave too many things in the bowl or else you might lose them.  You can leave things to soak- just don’t forget that you need to come back to them.

The secret to washing up is common sense but if you have any of this why don’t you have a dishwasher?!

So, there you go.  Simple operational procedure for those who haven’t yet grasped the concept.  However approach with caution.  Some people may need a gentle introduction so any intervention required should be sensitively and carefully done.  One could always refer to Camilla’s ‘how to clean and tone, dust and burn’ section which points out the physical benefits to the upper body as an incentive!

Girls!  One must really start thinking more Stepford Wives meets Olivia Newton John (musical accompaniment optional) rather than Cinderella and chief cook-bottle washer. 

Ah, the glamour!