Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

Best New Books of 2014: Amy W’s Picks

December 1, 2014

I enjoy a well-balanced diet…of books. Here we have something for EVERYONE from light and fun page-turners to thought-provoking non-fiction. Don’t let 2014 end without checking out any (or all) of these awesome books!

This Dark Road to MercyThis Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
Easter and Ruby are two young girls placed in foster care after the sudden death of their junkie mother. The girls are used to watching out for themselves. They hope to be adopted, but do not want to live with their maternal grandparents in Alaska, total strangers, living in a strange land. Their estranged father, a washed up amateur league baseball player, appears suddenly and confuses the already precarious situation. In the backdrop of the novel and adding to the tension, is the home run rivalry between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. The scores go back and forth and the competition is of interest to everyone. This Dark Road to Mercy is a well-constructed, page-turner that artfully tells a moving story in which children are once again thrust into an adult world.  See my full review.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Roz Chast, a longtime New Yorker cartoonist, documents the slow decline of her aging parents. Not only does this impact her life at the time, but spending time with them at their most vulnerable brings up old anxieties. No surprise, Chast tackles this subject with great humor and candor. I found this book to be comforting and thought provoking. The graphic memoir format really lends itself to exploring a topic I would ordinarily shy away from reading.

LandlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell
Remember back in the 80’s when you would talk on the phone for an eternity until your ear actually hurt? I do. I loved talking on the phone, not so much cell phones— and texting has its moments if you can get past all the auto-correct errors. Nothing will ever surpass the old school telephone when it comes to connecting with another person. Georgie McCool is in crisis mode. She is a writer for a sitcom that just may get a pilot. Her marriage, family, mental health and personal hygiene suffer from the effort. She needs to reconnect. Her old yellow phone becomes her lifeline to the past and the present. Told with great humor and tenderness, Landline is a delight!

All Joy and No FunAll Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior
Why, why, why is parenting so hard today? This thought has crossed my mind a lot, well, more accurately, this thought lives in my mind and it ain’t goin’ nowhere. Parenting seemed easy for my mom (it also did not hurt that I was a perfect child, am I right?). This is really the only parenting book I have ever read and boy, do I love it! It is not a book about how to parent , but a look at what parenting is about these days from a sociological and psychological perspective. So, I was right — it is hard–but now I spend a lot less time focusing on the no fun aspects of parenting. See my full review.

Thousand Dollar Tan LineThe Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas
I loved the Veronica Mars television series! This book takes place a few years after the series ends when Veronica gets really close to joining the FBI but decides to live and work in her small, California beach-side hometown, Neptune. Written by the series creator, writer and producer, Rob Thomas, stylistically the book is true to the spirit of the show and the 2014 movie. I know you are thinking, “that sounds kind of low-brow for you, a well-read librarian”. Well, it’s not. This book is not great literature, but it is perfectly entertaining and it was great to be reunited with old friends (this is the part where you remember the catchy theme song…A long time ago, we used to be friends….).

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior

July 28, 2014

All Joy and No FunI have to admit that reading is such an escape for me that I rarely read anything directly applicable to my life. This includes books about: work, parenting, self-help, spirituality, politics, and global issues. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood is the exception for me.

Ever since I became a parent around 4 years ago many questions have plagued me. I have questions beyond:
“How do I make her stop crying?”
“When was the last time I took a shower?”
“Did I just tell my co-worker I had to go potty?”
I often wonder why parenting seems so hard when I do not remember my mother and her generation having the same struggles being a parent.

This book answers a lot of those questions; however, it is not about how to be a better parent. The writer clearly states that this book is about the effect of children on parents . Author Jennifer Senior explicitly outlines all the things that are different today. She cites real studies, observes real parents in action, and even throws in some humorous parenting anecdotes from the likes of Erma Bombeck and Louis C.K.

Senior posits that even though parents experience moments of rapturous joy more frequently than our childless peers (like hearing my daughter laugh hysterically), we also don’t have a lot of fun the rest of the time and childcare is low on the list of fulfilling day-to-day activities. I know that sounds alarming and you think, “But I love spending time with my child!”. Look, children have never been on the top of the list to parents EVER. Senior points out (with physiological evidence) that you are dealing with an illogical being who may insist that she does not know how to put her shoes on —even though we know she does know how to put her shoes on, or screams over and over from her bedroom that she “forgot how to take a nap” (Step 1: stop screaming). So please, admit to yourself that it is not always fun, and that’s ok. But we have to put up with all the no fun to get to the joy. That’s the same with toddlers and teenagers.

So has All Joy and No Fun made me a better parent? Yes. Although Senior says she does not want to make the reader into a better parent, just more relaxed and aware of the process. That to me is a vast improvement in my state of mind and outlook on day-to-day life with my tiny caveman dictator (and bundle of joy). Now that I am taking fewer anxiety-laden guilt trips (you know, those trips that go absolutely nowhere), I may actually have the mental energy to read a book about being a better parent!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff

July 23, 2014

The Secret Life of SleepEver have a difficult time falling asleep? Wake up in the night and fret over hours of lost rest? Millions and millions of Americans struggle with sleep issues every night, adding one of the most basic human functions to an ever-growing list of things that perpetuate anxiety in our frantic modern world. It’s no wonder that the sleep aid industry grows exponentially every year. But are we looking at sleep (and sleep problems) through the wrong lens? Kat Duff approaches the subject in a particularly interesting manner. Through an equal mixture of memoir, anecdotes, history, and scientific research, she explains the importance of sleep in our daily lives for both our physical well-being and our societal norms.

Our sleep patterns have changed quite drastically since the beginning of humanity, when our long ago ancestors slept in short shifts of light sleep, one long deep sleep, and intermittent periods of wakefulness. Even during Medieval times, people cherished this long tradition of midnight waking, using the time for quiet contemplation, visiting with family, or practicing various creative outlets. This sleep schedule changed the most dramatically only as recently as the Industrial Revolution, when sleep became condensed into one long stretch to increase productivity for Western workers. Before this time, no other animal –including humans- tried to regulate their sleep so meticulously, and we have had an immense amount of difficulty as a species in this practice.

Sleep issues are not limited to adult workers, however. Duff also addresses similar societal changes in how parents approach the act of sleeping in raising their children, how teenagers and college students binge-sleep on the weekends, and how all kinds of factors of sleeping habits during youth can result in different traits and manifestations in later life.

The next time you have difficulty falling asleep, consider picking up this book and take comfort in feeling that you are not alone. In addition to knowing a little more about the history, culture, and science of sleep, you might walk away with some insights into handling your own sleepless nights, both emotionally and physically.

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Crabwalk by Gunter Grass

May 14, 2014

crabwalkbookcover.phpI happened to stumble onto Crabwalk when I was researching the sinking of the German ocean liner MV Wilhelm Gustloff, which was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine in January 1945 while evacuating civilians from the Courland Pocket in German-occupied Poland.   The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is the largest disaster in maritime history, with 9,343 dead, including about 5,000 children.   Gunter Grass weaves the historical sinking of the liner and the real life assassination of Swiss NSDAP leader Wilhelm Gustloff, who the liner was named after, into a fictional narrative.

The novel is told from the viewpoint of journalist Paul Pokriefke, who was born on the night the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk.   His mother, Tulla , was one of the few who was saved when the ship sank in the frigid waters of the Baltic. Tulla has been obsessed with the sinking for her entire life, even though she became an ardent Communist in East Germany. She was not very nurturing or affectionate towards her son, who she has continually berated for neglecting what she calls his duty to write a definite account of the disaster.   His own life has been rather dysfunctional, and he is estranged from his wife and son, Konrad, called Konny.    Tulla dotes on Konny  as the one who will rightfully commemorate the Wilhelm Gustloff.    Konny has created a website dedicated to the liner and its sinking.

In his efforts to understand his mother and, indeed, his own life.   Paul has devoted much of is life to researching the sinking of the ship.   His musings jump back and forth from the past to the present, “scuttling backward to move forward” as Grass puts it.   There is a great deal of information about the actual sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, much more than is found in most of the historical accounts of the event.  Grass dedicates a substantial part of the novel to the outfitting of the ship and the career of the man who sank it, Captain Alexander Marinsenko. As a history buff I found this all very interesting.   I was unaware of the circumstances of the assassination of the Swiss Nazi Wilhelm Gustloff until I read this novel.   Gustloff was shot by David Frankfurter, a young Jew who had witnessed the rise of Nazism in Germany.  After killing Gustloff, Frankfurter turned himself in saying ‘I shot because I am a Jew”.

Paul make the disturbing discovery that his son Konny has adopted the role of Nazi leader  Gustloff on his website..   His main opponent in many online debates is a young man called Wolfgang, who is not Jewish but argues from a Jewish perspective. Paul is very concerned about his son’s anti-Semitic posts, but Konny shrugs that it he does not hate Jews personally, he   Paul tried to establish a rapport with Konny, without success.   Tulla increasingly distances herself from Paul, who she calls a failure.

The reader can increasingly sympathize with Paul, who becomes further and further estranged from both his son and mother. His ex-wife seems to have little respect for Paul. Apparently his preoccupation with is career led to the dissolution of his marriage. Paul is unable to find solace or rapprochement with his son or mother.    Meanwhile, Konny has set up a meeting with Wolfgang at the site of a former Nazi memorial to Wilhelm Gustloff, who was recognized as a hero by the Nazi regime. Wolfgang spits on the ruins of the memorial.   Mirroring the original assassination of Gustloff, Konny shoots and kills Wolfgang, declaring “I shot because I am German.”  To Paul’s horror,  the imprisoned Konny becomes a martyr to Neo-Nazis.

There is also a rather enigmatic figure that Paul calls his “boss”, or “the old one”.  His boss urges Paul to write about the sinking of the ship because he himself failed to do so.   The boss may in fact be Gunter Grass himself, interjecting himself into the book.  The dialog between Paul and the “Old One” is intriguing.

Crabwalk  is a fascinating novel that juxtaposes past and present both on the larger historical and personal levels. The novel can be rather stilted and awkward at times, which may be the fault of a translator. And yet to me this merely added to the authenticity of the voice of the narrator. Crabwalk’s bleak narrative spirals down a path that is increasingly dark and fatalistic, though the reader is aware at all times that any decision along the way could have changed the course of events, both in the wartime tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff, and in Paul’s own life. Gunter Grass delivers a stunning affirmation that the past makes us who we are today, though this is not pre-ordained.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being by Martin E. P. Seligman

April 17, 2014

Flourish by Martin E.P. SeligmanLongtime psychologist Martin Seligman argues that there is more to mental health than the absence of mental illness. He is a proponent of a movement he calls “positive psychology,” which proposes a five-fold view of well-being
represented by the acronym PERMA: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. A rigorous scientist, Seligman packs his book with statistics and results from numerous experiments, showing that positive psychology really does make a difference in our life fulfillment.

For example, he makes the point that most of us have heard of PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder—but we need a better understanding of post-traumatic growth. Without a working knowledge of how to grow stronger through life’s adversity, we are apt to fear that every downturn in our mood is the beginning of depression or some other mental syndrome.

This book is the story of the positive psychology movement and how it is gaining ground in schools, universities, corporations, and the military. It is also filled with practical exercises for individuals to use, such as WWW: “What Went Well.” At the end of the day, think of three things that went well, and analyze how your personal strengths contributed to them going well. I tried this, and it really does help me to notice and build on the things in my life that are successful.

Seligman makes the point that some of the most accomplished people in history have had to struggle with depression and have come out stronger for it. Life is a balance. None of us are happy all the time, but well-being is more than happiness; it also encompasses growth, along with a positive sense of achievement and purpose in life. This book provides an excellent road map to point us in the right direction.

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Best New Books of 2013: Melissa O’s Picks

December 12, 2013

Here it is! My favorite blog post of the year. It is difficult to narrow down my favorite books of the year to only five, but here is a sample from all over the library. As you can see, I have wide ranging interests, so you never know what I might stumble across to share with you!

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber
This book combines the suspense of a crime drama, the anxiety many of us feel about going into the hospital, and a serial killer into a frightening edge-of-your-seat tale! This is the true story of Charles Cullen, a registered nurse who was implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients during his career and was finally arrested in 2003. The most terrifying aspect of the story is how he managed to be so successful as a serial killer.  For more information read a review of this book or check out the author’s website.

Nobody by Jennifer Barnes
Have you ever felt invisible, overlooked, or unimportant? Of course, it is all in your head. But what if it wasn’t? What if you COULDN’T be noticed? Meet Claire, a Nobody who does not know she is one. Until the day someone tries to kill her.  But how can he notice her when no one else does? And why would anyone care enough to want to assassinate her? With a nice mix of Sci-Fi, action, and romance this is a fun read.

Suspect by Robert Crais
This is a must read for any mystery, action thriller, or dog lover! A new favorite, this book grabbed me from the first pages as it brings together two damaged souls: a cop and a former war dog. Both are recovering from devastating injuries. Both have lost their partner. Can Scott and Maggie help each other heal? And will they ever be able to protect and serve again? You cannot help but root for this duo as they fight to solve the mystery of Scott’s partner’s death.

The Elite by Kiera Cass
The second book in Cass’s dystopian series (after The Selection) immerses you in political intrigue, romance, and … reality TV? Torn between two loves, America Singer is vying for the hand of Prince Maxom even as she is drawn back to her first love. But this prince doesn’t woo his princess in the way you would expect. He selects his bride through a televised competition. Think “The Dating Game” meets “The Real Housewives!” A fun read and I am looking forward to the next installment.

Frozen In Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of WWII by Mitchell Zuckoff
Two stories are woven together in this suspenseful retelling of a tragic and heroic rescue effort from WWII.  The book begins with the November 5, 1942 crash of a US cargo plane in Greenland. The rescue effort saw another plane crash, and the vanishing of a Grumman Duck amphibious plane. The modern day quest for those lost men and the retelling of the months long rescue is a riveting tale. What made it more special is describing the book to my grandfather, an Army lieutenant throughout war, and having him recall hearing about these lost men over 70 years ago.

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

May 15, 2012

Dr. Groopman is the chair of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The idea for this book came to him when he realized his interns, residents, and medical students did not readily think deeply about their patients’ symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis. Frequently, the students’ conclusions were correct, but when they weren’t, there was potential for things to go terribly wrong.

Using real-life examples, Groopman explains a physician’s thought process and how it may be flawed. As patients, we expect our doctors to be infallible. We want to believe that each illness presents in a very precise way that is easily recognized by our doctor, and our physician wants to earn our trust by being quick and decisive. Of course, not all symptoms are easy to diagnose and not all patients respond to an illness in the same way.

Add to this the fact that medicine is a business.

To be profitable, a doctor must see more patients in less time. “On average,” the book jacket reads, “a physician will interrupt a patient describing her symptoms within eighteen seconds.” This doesn’t give much time to hear the whole story, and, much as we don’t like to admit it, doctors are human. Feelings, first impressions, and assumptions can affect their diagnoses.

So what can the reader do to ensure their doctor considers all the possibilities and comes to the correct diagnosis? In an entertaining and highly readable way, Dr. Groopman gives specific advice on how to communicate with your physician and advocate for yourself (or a family member) without putting your doctor on the defensive.

And, while I consider this book an essential read for patients, How Doctors Think is also directed (perhaps mostly so) at doctors. Groopman knows the challenges of working in the medical field—he himself has made some of the same errors he examines in his book. The author approaches each example with sensitivity and explains how successful physicians have learned to adapt their methods to minimize errors. The best doctors, he shows, have learned what guides Dr. James Lock, chief of cardiology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, through the diagnosis process. “What we know is based on only a modest level of understanding,” says Lock. “If you carry that truth around with you, you are instantaneously ready to challenge what you think you know the minute you see anything that suggests it might not be right.”

Lock’s philosophy is the basis of Groopman’s thesis in How Doctors Think, and the first step for patient and doctor as they start on their journey to wellness.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Sybil Exposed: the Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan

May 11, 2012

I’m of the wrong era to have been obsessed with Sybil and her multiple personalities, and have never read the book or seen the movies, but I always have an interest in reading books about mental health, and this one was recommended highly to me.

I think we all know the basic premise of Sybil: a young woman, while under psychiatric care, manifests some 16 personalities, ranging from Ruthie (a baby) to Peggy Lou (assertive and angry) to The Blonde (an optimistic teen.) The book was released in 1973 and helped popularize the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (then called multiple personality disorder.)

Author Debbie Nathan re-examines the famous case under a new lens, and posits that not only was the diagnosis a hoax but that Sybil’s psychoanalyst, Dr. Connie Wilbur, had been searching for a patient with multiple personalities to make her famous. Shirley Ardell Mason (referred to as Sybil in the resulting book and movie in order to protect her identity) was in her 20s when she began seeing Dr. Wilbur, and her condition quickly declined. Although Mason had always had some amount of psychological issues, the 16 personalities that developed over time came about only while under psychological supervision.

Nathan’s research into Mason’s story is extensive, and, although Dr. Wilbur’s case files are sealed, documents from the archives and library of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice are used to support Nathan’s theory. The resulting book tells an alternate history of the still famous story and discredits aspects of the field of psychology, especially as relating to multiple personality disorder. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and now have plans to go back and read the original book Sybil and then watch the 1976 version of the movie starring Sally Fields.

Find and request this book in our catalog.

The Journal of Best Practices: a Memoir of Marriage, and Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to be a Better Husband by David Finch

April 30, 2012

I first heard of this book while listening to All Things Considered on NPR, as they interviewed author David Finch and his wife, Kristen. The conversation was so captivating that I requested a copy of the book as soon as we purchased it.

The Finch’s marriage had been tanking and their communication was abysmal, until one day Kristen, a speech therapist and autism expert, sat her husband down and asked him to honestly answer a series of seemingly strange questions. His score and its meaning surprised him, so Kristen offered to answer the same quiz and scored 8 out of a possible 200 points. Finch had earned 155 points, suggesting that he had Asperger Syndrome, a condition on the Autism spectrum.

While most people might feel set back by such a diagnosis, it was freeing for Finch. The problems that he was having in both his work and personal life had a name, and that emboldened him to make a conscientious effort to fix those problems.

Finch took notes on everything he needed to change about himself, notes that eventually became his Journal of Best Practices. Each best practice became a chapter in the book, and prompted him to remember things such as:

• laundry: better to fold and put away than to take only what you need from the dryer,
• give Kristen time to shower without crowding her, and
• parties are supposed to be fun.

A lifestyle change is never easy, and this one was no exception. Some best practices were larger than others, and all took continued work on the part of Finch, and exceptional patience on the part of Kristen.

Finch tells his story with humor and grace, pointing out his flaws and showing how he worked through them. This is a really interesting (and fairly quick) read, and one that definitely helped me better understand Asperger Syndrome.

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Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

February 21, 2012

Are you a fan of Polish science fiction? Do you fantasize about visiting the old stomping grounds of Stanislaw Lem – Lviv? Krakow? Do you venerate his name? If none of this applies to you, it is hereby suggested that you give Stanislaw Lem’s strange and hypnotic novel Solaris a chance.

When Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, after an extended and exhausting journey through space arrives to the planet Solaris, he is expecting a warm welcome. He has been sent to the planet to investigate the situation there, but instead of being received by fellow human beings his vessel is automatically transported to an empty hangar for spaceships, and the space station seems empty. When he begins to familiarize himself with the space station, what he sees bear witness of destruction and disintegration. Something unusual is going on here, and the process is not yet over. Kelvin becomes part of this process when he encounters a woman from his past – a woman he loved but lost to suicide.

But to describe the plot will not do Solaris justice. The inner and outer events are equally important and there is not necessarily a clear distinction between the two, and Solaris is a deeply psychological and philosophical tale about – well, read and find out for yourself, for this novel is on the most fundamental level a collaboration between the author and the reader and the reader’s will and ability to create meaning.

Stanislaw Lem once said that Solaris was an adventure in his career. He never planned the book, and he never thought that he could write a book like Solaris. The novel, he explained, came into existence through a process of self-organization.

Solaris was published in 1961 and Lem’s reputation as an author eventually began to grow, initially in the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany). Ultimately his fiction spread over the world and Solaris was filmed three times (twice in the Soviet Union – the second time around by Andrey Tarkovsky – and once in the U.S. by Steven Soderbergh). His books were translated to more than 40 languages and sold more than 30 million copies. Poland has a proud literary tradition, so it is not surprising that Polish authors every now and then reach international recognition. Lem’s themes tend to center on alienation, the problems of communication, and the relationship between mankind and technology. All this makes him an author that has endured the test of time, but Solaris especially reflects a speech by John F. Kennedy in 1960. “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier […] the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.”

Welcome to our  time. And Solaris.

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