So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

Book Review: So Sad Today by Melissa BroderFor four years, Melissa Broder has been tweeting funny but achingly sincere tidbits like, “I don’t feel at peace unless I’m torturing myself,” and, “the road to hell is you not texting me enough,” from the @sosadtoday Twitter account. Each tweet is an effort to connect, to entertain, and to score a tiny dopamine hit as the faves and retweets come rolling in — because her tweets are an effect of the very obsessions she is speaking about. In her book of essays, So Sad Today, Broder steps out from behind her Twitter handle to write about her struggles with anxiety, depression, and addiction in a deeply vulnerable way.

In “Honk If There’s a Committee in Your Head Trying to Kill You,” Broder writes about her attempts to shut out the internal voices incessantly reminding her how fucked she is. She tries alcohol and drugs, but she has to come down. She tries spiritual trinkets like Buddha statues and crystals before realizing, “In the temple it’s magic, but at home it just becomes more crap.” Finally, she finds meditation to be a useful way to find stillness and silence, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

“Google Hangout with My Higher Self” is exactly what it sounds like: an imaginary conversation between her anxiety and her rational mind. It’s so familiar to anyone who has tried to talk themselves out of their fears (“ok u need 2 chill the fuck out. u need 2 sit still”) only to realize that obsessing over small everyday bullshit is what keeps them from freaking out over existential doom.

In “Keep Your Friends Close But Your Anxiety Closer,” Broder writes about her fear of appearing vulnerable and the mask she wears in an attempt to control the way people perceive her.

She gets real about disordered eating, panic attacks, addiction to drugs and alcohol and the internet (she’s now sober), body image, fear of dying, her sexual fetish, and the tedium and tenderness of her open marriage to someone who has a chronic illness.

In a world where talking about mental illness is still taboo, books like So Sad Today are so important. I’m a firm believer in the power of books to build empathy, and Broder’s essays open a window into the life and mind of a woman whose brain chemistry makes getting through the day so much harder than it is for mentally healthy people. I related to some pieces and felt overwhelmed simply reading others.

Balancing out the mortal dread, fear, and insecurity is a darkly comic voice. As she writes of her Twitter account in the final essay, “I felt that in the reality of what I had experienced, it was a lot more helpful to just lie there and share experiences with others who understood. What worked for me was to maybe make myself laugh about my plight, and through the grace of the Internet, make other people laugh.” This book does that really well, using humor to build a bridge and encourage empathy.

I so highly recommend this book. It’s sad, it’s funny, and it will make you more human.

Book Review: Judging a Book by Its Lover by Lauren Leto

Book Review: Judging a Book by Its Lover by Lauren LetoJUDGING A BOOK BY ITS LOVER
by Lauren Leto

Essays
Harper Perennial; Oct. 2, 2012
Paperback; 269 pages
Source: Book Riot Quarterly Box

Have you ever needed to pretend that you’ve read an author whom you haven’t gotten around to yet? Are you curious about the rules for bookstore hookups? Do you wonder what your favorite author says about you? Are you aware of what your child will grow up to be if you read him/her The Giver? Do you just love reading intelligent, funny writing about books by a person who is clearly passionate about them? If you answered yes to any of these questions, Judging a Book by Its Lover is for you.

This relatively slim volume contains essays about the many facets of being a bookworm — including Leto’s proposal to change the term to bookcat. Some pieces are personal essays about her own life as a reader, from her no-shame enjoyment of The DaVinci Code to her childhood spelling bee flub to trying to obtain a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on its release date while teaching in Japan. Other essays are bookish rules and how-to’s. I’ll share a few examples: Continue reading

Book Review: Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace

Book Review: Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
CONSIDER THE LOBSTER AND OTHER ESSAYS
by David Foster Wallace

Non-Fiction: Essays
Back Bay Books, 2006
Paperback, 343 pages
Source: Purchased

While reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again last summer, I was alternately blown away by David Foster Wallace’s intelligence, chuckling at his sense of humor, frantically looking up words in my phone’s dictionary app, and baffled as to why I was reading a 70-page essay about a director whose films I’ve never seen (David Lynch). Mostly, though, I loved it. I was crazy about the way Wallace can make any topic interesting and just how ridiculously smart he is. I don’t know how it took me a year to read another of his books, but I finally read Consider the Lobster! Continue reading

Book Review: Red by Terry Tempest Williams

Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert by Terry Tempest WilliamsRED
by Terry Tempest Williams

Non-fiction: Essays and Stories
Vintage, 2001
Paperback, 288 pages
Source: Purchased

I recently spent three weeks traveling around the American West and spent much of that time in southern Utah, a vast, wild land of stunning red cliffs and winding canyons, natural bridges and arches, views of distant mountains, the meanderings of the Colorado River, and an astonishing variety of plant and animal life.

I picked up Red at the visitors center in Moab and read a good portion of it while sitting on a sun-warmed boulder under a massive red butte next to the Colorado River. Reading this book about the beauty of the desert and the importance of conserving it while being able to look up and contemplate the multi-hued, ever-changing colors in the rock around me made for the perfect reading experience. Continue reading

Book Review: Portrait Inside My Head by Phillip Lopate

Book Review: Portrait Inside My Head: Essays by Phillip LopatePORTRAIT INSIDE MY HEAD: ESSAYS
by Phillip Lopate

Non-Fiction: Essays
Free Press, Feb. 2013
Hardcover, 304 pages
Source: Provided by publisher for review

Portrait Inside My Head is a compilation of personal and critical essays by acclaimed author, film critic, poet, and essayist Phillip Lopate. Although the essays in this collection span a wide variety of topics, they are divided into four categories: The Family Romance, The Consolations of Daily Life, City Spaces, and Literary Matters. The pieces included provide an interesting cross-section of Lopate’s writing over the years, including stories about family life, literary and film criticism, and reflections upon Brooklyn, his hometown. Continue reading

Book Review: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

book review: tiny beautiful things by cheryl strayedTINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS
by Cheryl Strayed

Non-Fiction: Essays/Advice
Vintage, July 2012
Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Purchased

I never thought I would be the type of person to buy a book from the Self-Help section of the bookstore. And yet, a few weeks ago I found myself furtively sneaking down an isle lined with titles such as A Whole New You and The Happiness Code to ease a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things from the shelf.

I loved Strayed’s memoir Wild when I read it this summer, and when I heard about Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of pieces she wrote for the online advice column Dear Sugar, I decided to set aside my preconceived notions about advice columns and give it a shot. I’m so glad I did. Continue reading