It’s no mystery to readers of Read Yourself Happy that I love foxes. The logo has a fox in it, a lot of images I make for the blog involve foxes. I make heavy use of the fox emoji on Twitter. I find foxes to be beautiful and intriguing creatures and have long been drawn to them.
Therefore it would shock nobody that I eagerly bought Adele Brand’s The Hidden World of the Fox. A short book at just 193 pages, Adele Brand uses years of research and her own observations to unlock the secrets of these elusive creatures. As Brand lives in the United Kingdom, the book focuses a bit on British foxes, but most of the information is universal.
I couldn’t have asked for more from this book. I wanted fox facts and stories, and I got exactly that. Her anecdotes about her neighborhood foxes and the urban foxes she tracked down in the middle of London were delightful.
Aside from personal anecdotes, there are also plenty of hard facts and information for fox lovers and wildlife lovers more generally. With chapters focusing on the evolution and dispersal of foxes, what they eat, how humans have changed their behavior, and more, I walked away from The Hidden World of the Fox more informed and even more in love with these beautiful creatures.
I know this is a short review, but there’s really not much else that I can say about it. If you love foxes like I do, or if you want to know more about these creatures that live all over the world (literally), then I 100% recommend Adele Brand’s The Hidden World of the Fox.
Obit is a deeply personal collection of poems written by Victoria Chang about her grief over her mother’s illness and subsequent death along with her father’s stroke and dementia. It’s moving and somber. I had planned on reading this in a single sitting, but had to put it down and walk away a few times before I could read further.
Told in the form of short obituaries, she tackles the way grief makes you feel, the struggle of taking care of aging and sick parents, explaining grief to your children, and so much more.
One of the reasons I struggled so much with this collection is due to the death of my own mother back in 2010. Even a decade later (which honestly feels unreal), the grief is still a raw wound. These poems opened that wound and made me feel some of the same pain I felt all those years ago.
“Subject Matter” is one of my favorite poems:
Subject Matter – always dies, what
we are left with is architecture, form,
sound, all in a room, darkened, a few
chairs unarranged. The door is locked
from the inside. But still, subject
matter breaks in and all the others rise.
My mother’s death is not her story. My
father’s stroke is not his story. I am
not my mother’s story, not my father’s
story. But there is a meeting place that
is hidden, one that holds all the maps
toward indifference. Can pain be
separated from subject matter? Can
subject matter take flight and lose its
way, peck on another tree? How do
you walk heavily with subject matter
on your back, without trampling all the
Thanks to the publisher for the permission to reprint this poem.
There were a few poems in this collection that didn’t speak to me, but that’s true of any collection. It’s hard for me to recommend this collection to everyone because it is difficult. If you can handle it though, it’s a beautifully crafted and honest collection.
Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee
Nonfiction | Self-Help | Psychology
Published by Harmony
Released March 10th, 2020 Goodreads | Amazon
If there’s one book that I’ve read this year that I would encourage everyone to read, it would be Celeste Headlee’s Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving. Even though we’re only halfway through the year, I’m confident that this book will still be my top non-fiction recommendation of the year come December.
No one can deny that Americans, and citizens of numerous other nations, are extremely overworked. Most of us rarely stop moving, even after we punch out. We’re always busy and we rarely take time to relax. I’ve talked on the blog before about job-related burnout, and I’ve experienced it for years (especially back when I was working two jobs!).
In Do Nothing, Celeste Headlee makes the case that Americans are too focused on productivity and efficiency, to the detriment of our happiness and health. Rather than working 40+ hours a week and constantly striving to be the best member of your team, she suggests that we slow down and set aside time to relax, have hobbies, and truly rest.
Before I talk about all the reasons that I love this book and its purpose, I do want to mention that the idea of voluntarily taking time off from work or just simply working less comes from a place of privilege. Obviously, if you’re struggling to put food on the table and pay bills, you’re not going to be able to do it. The reason I rated this book 4.5 stars rather than 5 is due to this book not being practical for everyone.
There are several points that Headlee discusses in her book that are important. First, the tradition of a 40-hour workweek is outdated. This isn’t anything new – there have been plenty of studies that show that workers who work fewer hours are just as productive and are happier at work. The “standard” work week, as we know it, was invented during the Industrial Revolution to maximize the profits of business owners and milk as much productivity out of their workers as they possibly could.
Second, we as a culture are constantly working to improve our productivity and efficiency, even when those things actually make more work for us. Think about it – how many of us use a plethora of apps every single day to track our food, water intake, moods, steps, to-do list, etc? All of this takes time, and while there are benefits to these things, it’s taking away from our precious leisure time. We also take our work home with us through email on our phones and having to be available whenever our bosses need us. We’re not really relaxing if we’re on call 24/7.
Third, and possibly most importantly, Headlee discusses in length the effect that social isolation has on the human psyche. More and more people prefer texting or email over real life social interactions, and that is linked to growing rates of depression and loneliness. No one talks to their neighbors or have backyard barbecues or game nights.
These, along with several other incredibly important issues, are all addressed in length by Headlee. She argues her points succinctly, with plenty of evidence to back up her claims. Everything in the book is easy to understand and is something that most of us likely already know subconsciously, but that desperately needs to be said.
The one thing that I took away from this book that I think will have a lasting impact on me is the suggestion that we can work enough to provide the lifestyle we want, rather than constantly striving for more. I’ll admit it’s not something that has ever crossed my mind consciously but make so much sense. When I picture my future, I don’t see being a manager of a huge company and having an embarrassingly large house (although it’s okay if that’s what you want!); I simply want a modest home with enough land to grow food, be able to take trips occasionally, and not worry about paying my bills or putting food on the table. I’m okay with not being at the top, I just want to be comfortable enough to enjoy life. It’s such a simple concept, but one that’s also easy to forget.
If I haven’t made it clear yet, read this book!I rarely call a book life-changing, but changing our lifestyles to become healthier, happier people is something that we should all be striving for. Work consumes our lives, and few people are actually fulfilled by their jobs – let’s work instead towards the goal of learning to enjoy our leisure time.
Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my opinion.
2020 has definitely been the year of self-help books for me. My mental health has been poor for most of the year, and I’ve felt stuck and trapped in my life. So, I’ve been reading at least one self-help book at all times.
When I saw a description of this book, I reached out to Shambhala for a review copy, which I am very grateful to have received. The book itself is super cute; small enough to fit in a pocket, bright pink and yellow, and just adorably designed. The book is definitely marketed to women though, which I feel was a mistake since the information in the book is meant for everyone.
Once I started reading How Not to Be a Hot Mess, I was instantly surprised that it’s influenced by Buddhist philosophy. I probably shouldn’t have been considering it’s published by Shambhala Publications, but the book hadn’t been marketed as being influenced by Buddhism. I was a practicing Buddhist for years and still try to live by Buddhist principles, and feel that it would have been a selling factor for the book if they had advertised that aspect a bit more.
The advice in the book won’t be anything new if you’re familiar with Buddhism or if you regularly read self-help. Mindfulness meditation, generosity, having a healthy sex life, not taking mind-altering drugs… all the usual stuff.
However, if you are new to these concepts, this book will for sure help. Devon and Craig Hase explain the topics clearly and with plenty of examples from their own life. There are guided meditations to practice as well.
Overall, for what it is this book is good. Due to my past and interests, I didn’t learn anything new, but again, it will be beneficial to people wanting to know how to incorporate Buddhist concepts into their daily life. It’ll make a great gift for your friend or family member that is going through a rough patch.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
Nonfiction | Self-Help | Personal Development
Published by Harper Collins
Released September 13th, 2016 Goodreads | Amazon
“In my life, I have given a fuck about many people and many things. I have also not given a fuck about many people and many things. And like the road not taken, it was the fucks not given that made all the difference.”
Self-help books have become a staple of my TBR, primarily because, despite being almost 33, I’m still trying to figure my life out. As are many people. A lot of self-help books are all the same: manifesting good vibes, having faith in something, etc.. For some people that’s fine, and sometimes, depending on where I’m at in my life, it’s fine for me as well. More often than not though, it’s not enough.
I DNF-ed The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck last year because I was turned off by the edginess/cringiness of the author saying “fuck” in every sentence. Cursing in no way bothers me, but it’s obviously a ploy to stand out and catch people’s attention for this book.
I recently gave it another shot, listening to the audiobook on Scribd. Once I got through being annoyed with the style of Manson’s words and all the “fucks,” I ended up having an amazing experience with this book. In fact, I’m planning on buying a physical copy soon just so that I can read it again.
The thing that I like about The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, especially as compared to a lot of the other personal development and self-help books that I’ve read, is that it focuses on taking personal responsibility for your actions and how you respond to difficult and stressful situations. Most of us are guilty of, at some point in our lives (and some more often than others) of blaming the world or someone else for everything wrong in our lives. Sometimes it is someone else’s fault, but as Manson frequently points out in his book, the way you react to your problems is more important than anything else.
Manson has a way of making his points easy to understand and uses a lot of great examples from his personal experience to sell his ideas to readers. It works well. Listening to the audiobook was like having a serious, sit-down conversation with a mentor about getting my life together. I feel like so many people can benefit from an experience like that.
My absolute favorite part of the book is how he discusses in length the fact that you are not special. It’s even the name of one of the chapters. Coddling people is not good, and there are so many parts of society where that is happening. Participation trophies, thinking your problems are unique, etc. are leading to a culture where people don’t know how to deal with problems, losing, or any kind of disadvantage.
Obviously, Mark Manson’s approach will not appeal to everyone. It’s worth it to give it a read (or listen, the audiobook version is really good) if you think this book might help you.
Have you read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck? If so, what were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
Emotional Detox for Anxiety: 7 Steps to Release Anxiety and Energize Joy by Sherianna Boyle
Nonfiction | Mental Health | Self-Help
Published by Adams Media
Expected Publication: December 24th, 2019 Goodreads | Amazon
Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinions.
I read a lot of self-help and mental health books because it helps me stay on track in my own life. Managing bipolar disorder and anxiety is difficult, and I’ll take all the help I can get. Which is why I jumped on the opportunity to read and review Sherianna Boyle’s Emotional Detox for Anxiety.
This book is the follow-up to Boyle’s Emotional Detox, but specifically targeting people with anxiety. She proposes that by using the C.L.E.A.N.S.E. method people can treat the underlying causes of “painful emotions in general and anxiety in particular.” C.L.E.A.N.S.E. stands for:
I can’t say that this is the book that has helped me the most, but there’s a lot of great advice for people suffering from anxiety.
Sherianna Boyle is very thorough in breaking down anxiety, starting with describing what anxiety is and what the underlying causes often are, and ending with step-by-step instructions for following the C.L.E.A.N.S.E. method. I appreciated that she delved a bit into the science of anxiety, such as when she discusses the connection between inflammation in the body and anxiety in the mind.
Some of Boyle’s advice is expected, such as meditations and creating a healthier environment for yourself. However, some people might find the advice in the book a little hippy-ish or “woo-woo,” so keep in mind that if you try to avoid that sort of thing, this book might not be the best option for you. Think humming, visualization practices and manifesting, and opening your third eye.
None of the information in this book is necessarily revolutionary, and most of the components of Boyle’s C.L.E.A.N.S.E. method is also incorporated in other forms of anxiety treatment, but if you’re someone who hasn’t found a way to handle your anxiety and you want to try something new, it won’t hurt to read this book and give Boyle’s method a shot. It didn’t help me personally, as I’ve found that sound therapy/meditation and manifesting do nothing for me, but everybody is different.
One slightly-weird aspect of this book that I feel the need to mention is that the author seems to bring some of her own baggage into it. I have no idea how often Boyle brings up the fact that her husband had an affair and it caused her pain, but it’s a lot. It was enough that I started to get annoyed with it. There’s nothing wrong with writing about your own experiences; in fact, it’s good to do so! She just overdid it and left me wondering if she shouldn’t practice her C.L.E.A.N.S.E. method a bit more herself.
While I did discover a lot of information in this book, it’s not going to be one that I find myself coming back to in the future. I made the effort to internalize the new-to-me information, and I feel that I have nothing more to get out of this book. As I mentioned before, however, everyone is different and copes in their own way. If Emotional Detox for Anxiety sounds like a book that might help you, grab a copy and give it a shot!
The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat and Fierce Edited by Angie Manfredi
Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Body Positivity | Young Adult
Published by Amulet Books
Released September 24th, 2019 Goodreads | Amazon
Note: I received a free, unsolicited edition from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion.
The (Other) F Word is the type of book that I wish I had discovered in high school. It would have given me more confidence and shown me that it’s okay to love your body, regardless of its size.
I’m fat. For most of my life, I’ve been overweight. I was the fat kid in school, and I’ve always had an unhealthy relationship with food and my weight. It’s been worse in the past few years, as I lost a drastic amount of weight in my early twenties (over a hundred pounds) and then gained it all back. That experience caused a great deal of discomfort with my body, as I felt like it betrayed me. I viewed it as a win when I lost the weight (which happened during a bipolar manic episode where I literally became obsessed with exercise in a shockingly unhealthy way), and as I gained it back (starting with a depressive episode) I felt like an absolute failure.
It’s only relatively recently that I’ve started learning how to love my body again and this collection of essays helped to give my confidence a boost. While The Other (F) Word is technically meant for teenagers, everyone struggling with their weight or who identify as fat will get some benefit from reading it.
It would take too long to review each essay, but suffice it to say that I gained a lot from reading through this entire collection. There’s advice for where to find clothes that actually fit well, self-care information, powerful motivators, and so much more. There is a wonderfully great amount of inclusivity here in terms of race, gender, sexuality, size, and ability, which is incredible to see.
I’m so glad that many of the essays brought up the fact that doctors and health professionals aren’t always welcoming to fat people. While I’ve been fortunate enough to find a doctor that doesn’t treat my weight as something bad, I have friends who have gone through absolute hell to receive treatment for serious medical conditions. In one case, the doctors automatically assumed that the pain she was experiencing was a result of her weight, and she had to fight to get them to take her seriously. It’s atrocious to me that people have to deal with that kind of treatment from a medical community that is supposed to be there to help, and I’m glad that it’s something that received attention in some of these essays.
If you’re anything like me, it’s inspiring to know that there’s a community of people who look like you who are living their best life and loving their bodies. They know they don’t have to conform to what society and the media believe to be beautiful because they already know that they’re beautiful and wonderful. This collection is one that I can see myself coming back to over and over again when I have any negative thoughts about body image or just when I want to be inspired. I would recommend The (Other) F Word to everyone.
Note: I received a free copy of this book from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion.
Here’s a fun fact that very few people know about me: I’m obsessed with planes. It started when I took my first flight on a small plane from Asheville to Charlotte, NC. As soon as I felt the plane take off from the runway I was absolutely hooked. I’ll take any chance I can to fly these days, and the thrill of being in the sky never gets old. When I’m unable to find a reason to fly, I’ll resort to watching cockpit videos on YouTube or, as in this case, reading about flying.
When FSB Associates reached out to me to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing York’s memoir, of course I said yes! I’ll never become a pilot myself, so I’ll eagerly live vicariously through their words. The book was also pitched to me as a memoir about a pilot being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and having to overcome that diagnosis in order to become a pilot.
While there were parts of the memoir that I genuinely enjoyed (basically every moment she was in the air), it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
Multiple sclerosis is mentioned only twice in the book – once when she is given the possible diagnosis and again, in the epilogue, when she finds out that she definitely has the disease (which is after she becomes a pilot). So while it’s not exactly a memoir about overcoming a debilitating disease (which I’m glad of, because she was able to do something she loved), it is instead a memoir about a woman learning to become a pilot, starting from the very bottom.
The book can essentially be summed up into two parts: First, some interesting stories about successes and trials up in the air, with airplanes that aren’t always functioning as they should. Second, the author’s account of a bad relationship with her very selfish flight instructor.
I learned a lot about how difficult it is to be a pilot. I had no idea that banner-pulling was so dangerous. She dealt with several hard situations very bravely, including essentially running out of gas and trying to land the plane in a snowstorm with an iced-over windshield.
Reading about the boyfriend that she had during the part of her life that she writes about was infuriating. Not towards her, but towards how uncaring and selfish he acted. There were times when I wished I could punch him through the page.
I feel bad about rating someone’s memoir only 3.5 stars, but I wish there had been so much more! I wanted to know more about her job flying with the airlines, and how she dealt with the multiple sclerosis diagnosis. I want to know that eventually, she was in a great relationship with someone way less douchey than her former flight instructor.
What’s your favorite memoir? Do you enjoy flying? Let me know in the comments!!
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinions.
I’m fascinated by morbid science, questionable ethics, and interesting medical cases. This is why I reached out to Algonquin Books to ask for an ARC of this book and was thrilled when I received it in the mail. Who Says You’re Dead is a collection of medicine’s ethical dilemmas and insights into the difficult choices that medical professionals are forced to make.
The scenarios in the book cover a wide range of situations. Here are just a few:
Would it be ethical for a doctor to be present during the torture of prisoners to ensure that the prisoner doesn’t die?
Should lithium be added to the water in areas with a lot of suicides?
If a patient creates a lot of havoc at a doctor’s office and starts harassing other patients, should the doctor’s office be able to ban her? What if they’re the only place for miles around that can offer the particular treatment she needs in order to live?
Should employers be able to conduct DNA testing on potential new hires?
If a child is suffering from a terminal illness and near-constant pain, should the parents have the right to decide to end their child’s life?
This book was very engaging, and it was fun discussing the scenarios with others in order to see where we stood on certain issues. After reading Who Says You’re Dead, I’m very glad I’m not one of the people responsible for making these sorts of decisions. I can’t imagine having to face extremely hard ethical dilemmas like these every day.
Writer Jacob M. Appel pulled these scenarios from real events, which makes this book even more captivating. Appel is a bioethicist and is able to offer a lot of insight into these hard situations.
The chapters are incredibly short, at most being four pages. I do wish there had been more information given for a lot of the questions, as I was left wanting to know so much more about many of them.
One aspect of the book I did like, however, is that Appel doesn’t provide definite answers to what should be done in any of these scenarios. Just like in real life, there isn’t always one correct answer. Decisions often take place on a case-by-case basis where a lot of different factors have to be considered. The author presents all the options a doctor or medical professional can make and leaves it at that.
If you’re the type of person who binge-watches television shows like House or finds yourself fascinated by medical dilemmas and ethics, you’ll love this book. I’m glad to have read it as it gave me a great deal of insight into situations I had never considered before.
Will you be adding Who Says You’re Dead to your TBR? What are your favorite medical-related non-fiction books? Let me know in the comments!
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
Non-Fiction | Memoir
Published by Knopf
Released March 5, 2013 Goodreads | Amazon
I’ve never had a book destroy me emotionally as much as Wave did. I can’t imagine anyone reading this and not bawling throughout it. It took me a week to get through this memoir that is under 300 pages because it was so draining and sad.
Wave is a memoir written by Sonali Deraniyagala about the loss of her entire family during the Boxing Day Tsunami in Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004. She was the sole survivor of her family that she was staying at her hotel with – she lost her two young children, her husband, and her parents, as well as a close friend.
I remember watching the news when the tsunami happened, and it was so surreal and horrifying that, at first, I thought it must be for a movie trailer or a simulation of some kind. Then it dawned on me that the news channel was showing live feeds from Sri Lanka and 13 other countries that were affected. This was really happening.
Living in the mid-Atlantic states, I’ve thankfully never lived through a major disaster, man-made or natural. I have no idea what living through such horror is like, but Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave will show you. The book begins with the wave hitting, and then follows Sonali as she realizes that her family is gone, along with the coastline that she grew up on and loved.
As can be imagined, Deraniyagala descends into depression, and it was heart-wrenching to read her memoir when it came to the times she wished herself dead or would drink so much in the hopes that she wouldn’t wake up in the morning. We read along as she encounters everyday objects that remind her of her husband or children, and as she is distraught at strangers renting her parents’ now-empty home.
I read a lot of sad books, and I’ve dealt with depression for most of my life. I’ve also lived through the premature death of my mother. None of it prepared me for a memoir like this. There was so much pain in Deraniyagala’s words that at times I considered DNF-ing the book because it was too hard. In the end, I decided to finish the book, taking days in between reading it when I needed to recover.
More than 230,000 people died in 14 countries due to this earthquake and tsunami. This book is a way to remember that horrific event all these years later. As difficult as it is to read, I believe that it is a book that should be read, if only to remember all those people who died suddenly as a wall of water overtook everything it encountered.
Every single one of us knows that poverty exists. You may have even experienced poverty yourself. The fact that there are people and families that are trying to get by on less than $2.00 a day is a little less known because many of these people fall under the radar in America.
Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer’s nonfiction book about these families is both eye-opening and disheartening. In a country where we pride ourselves on our standard of living and consumerism seems to rule our habits and thoughts, it’s shameful learning about people who are skipping meals or turning to prostitution just to make sure their children have something to eat come dinnertime.
The authors took a look at families in a few different areas, from the south side of Chicago to the rural areas of Tennesee. There were examples of people whose only income was from donating plasma a few times a month, or of a family with nearly twenty people under one roof, all just trying to just survive.
By the end of this book, I found that I was angry at the systems in place that are supposed to be helping people like this.
Something that I don’t talk about very often is that I spent two years at university studying political science and dropped out because the idealism I’d always had turned into cynicism at realizing that there’s not enough that one person can do to change things. This book reminded me of that. Yes, there are definitely ways to help, such as donating food to a food pantry, volunteering time or money to organizations that bring food to low-income areas, and more, but those things are minuscule in the grand scheme of things. For people to get out of that sort of severe, hard-to-fathom poverty, it’s going to take a lot more, and a lot of help from local, state, and the federal government.
Read Yourself Happy is not a place where I want to get political. This is a space for literature and wellness. Therefore, I’m not going to get into any long rants about the state of our country and social programs. Suffice it to say that this book left me in tears and that no one should have to resort to some of the extreme measures that the people interviewed for this book has. In a country of relative wealth and plenty of resources, it’s a disgrace that there are people working trying to survive by selling their SNAP benefits or turning to illegal means because they literally have run out of other options.
Today there is no state in the Union in which a family that is supported by a full-time, minimum-wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent without being cost burdened, according to HUD.
This book does a great job of looking at America’s social programs throughout the last few decades, such as Welfare and TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). It also shows how it’s not a matter of people not having jobs – most of the people interviewed for this book want to work, but they either don’t have access to a job or get fired for trivial reasons because they work for companies that do not have their workers’ welfare in mind.
Not only do they pay low wages, but those who work them are often subject to variable hours and are seldom offered benefits such as affordable health insurance, paid vacations, or retirement plans.
Another thing the book does very well is by showing the reality of this kind of poverty. Things such as having to stand in line for hours to try to get government aid, and even then not be guaranteed to be seen that way. Also, while SNAP is a great benefit for people, it doesn’t turn into cash for them to pay their electric or water bills. Also, the mental strain on people living like this can be extreme:
Rae likely suffers from the effects of what researchers refer to as “toxic stress,” defined as “strong, frequent, or prolonged activation of the body’s stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection of a supportive, adult relationship.” She is on near-constant high alert—never knowing when a new threat may emerge or an old one may reappear. And she is always dealing with crisis in one form or another. Exposure to toxic stress affects people mentally and even physically. It can impair “executive functions, such as decision-making, working memory, behavioral self-regulation, and mood and impulse control.” It “may result in anatomic changes and/or physiologic dysregulations that are the precursors of later impairments in learning and behavior as well as the roots of chronic, stress-related physical and mental illness.” Toxic stress can literally wear you down and, in the end, kill you.
I think this is an important book that everyone should read, and I think books that discuss poverty in America, including what’s come to be called “the working poor” (people who work 40+ hours a week and are still below the poverty line), should be required reading in high schools and universities throughout the country. If you pick this book up, prepare to be infuriated at the conditions that the poorest in America have to live with.
I’ve written many times on Read Yourself Happy about my struggle with depression, anxiety, and my recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. As far back as middle school, I was suffering from depression and didn’t receive any mental health care until 2018, nearly fifteen years too late.
When I saw Dr. Margaret Robinson Rutherford’s book, Perfectly Hidden Depression, available for review on NetGalley, I instantly downloaded it. Part of my goal for Read Yourself Happy has always been to promote wellness, specifically where mental health is concerned.
In this new book, due to be released in November 2019, Rutherford talks about an obscure form of depression marked by completely hiding your symptoms and being a perfectionist. Whereas with normal depression, people will notice your lethargy or increasingly sad moods, people with Perfectly Hidden Depression (or PHD, as she calls it in the book) outwardly show no signs of being depressed.
For people who are perfectionists, how others perceive you is incredibly important, and showing your vulnerability is not an option. You might hide your symptoms so well that even the people closest to you might have no idea what you’re really going through.
The book is perfect for people who think they might be experiencing this sort of depression and want to do something about it. Each section of the book is followed by a journal prompt to help you reflect on yourself and your own habits. I like that with a book such as this one, you’re able to move at your own pace and spend plenty of time on the prompts and reflections. There are also real-life stories about Dr. Rutherford’s patients and how they learned to deal with PHD.
I do not have what Dr. Rutherford calls “Perfectly Hidden Depression;” my depression is of the more typical variety. However, if you recognize that your perfectionism is causing you to internalize your depression and you want a way out of that suffering, I highly recommend this book.
I feel the need to preface this review by admitting a bit of bias.
I have a massive crush on Michelle Obama.
When Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008, I was in college studying political science. I was surrounded by politics and I staunchly supported Obama. His presidency wasn’t perfect, but there was a great deal of good that happened during his eight years in office.
Michelle stole the spotlight from Barack, at least from where I was standing. I’ve always been immersed in food movements that promote local, healthy, farm-to-table ways of eating. Michelle was such a wonderful supporter of healthy eating as well as helping children to create healthier habits. She is also known for encouraging women and people of color to believe in themselves. For these things, I became a bit of a fangirl.
I tried to put those feelings aside when reading Becoming, although, if anything, learning about her life and her story made me appreciate Michelle Obama even more.
Michelle Obama was born into a normal family in a less-than-perfect part of Chicago. She wasn’t born into wealth. The main aspect of her story that impacted me was how the things that happened to her could happen to anyone. All of her success came from hard work.
However, she regularly recognized all of the people that helped her get to where she is now:
“I’d been lucky to have parents, teachers, and mentors who’d fed me with a consistent, simple message: You matter. As an adult, I wanted to pass those words to a new generation. It was the message I gave my own daughters, who were fortunate to have it reinforced daily by their school and their privileged circumstances, and I was determined to express some version of it to every young person I encountered. I wanted to be the opposite of the guidance counselor I’d had in high school, who’d blithely told me I wasn’t Princeton material.”
Especially when discussing her extended family, she speaks about how policies of discrimination can have lasting effects on people of color and the areas in which they live. When the opportunities of one generation are hampered, the next couple of generations will suffer disadvantages as well. This is a point that is easily forgotten in this day and age, but there are still plenty of communities facing such latent effects of discrimination.
“This particular form of discrimination altered the destinies of generations of African Americans, including many of the men in my family, limiting their income, their opportunity, and, eventually, their aspirations. … These were highly intelligent, able-bodied men who were denied access to stable high-paying jobs, which in turn kept them from being able to buy homes, send their kids to college, or save for retirement.”
Obviously, much of her memoir involves Barack Obama, and the story of how they met and fell in love was heart-warming and eye-opening. I enjoyed the mention of the car Barack owned when they first started dating, which had a hole in the passenger side floor through which Michelle could see pavement. It’s just one more thing that makes the Obamas relatable to the average person.
This entire memoir is an inspiration for people that believe or feel as though they don’t belong. From her childhood on the south side of Chicago to her days as First Lady of the United States of America, she offers candid insights into her life, the life of her family, and how anybody can have the kind of success that she did.
While great strides have been made for equality over the last several decades, things are far from perfect. In 2010, the US Census reported that 19% of Americans lived with some sort of disability. The official definition of disability in the United States includes any mental or physical impairment that limits one or more major activity. This can include everything from anxiety disorders and depression to multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Even in our modern society that, for the most part, tries to embrace all kinds of diversity, disabled people can still feel marginalized. One way we as a culture can overcome that sort of marginalization is through literature, especially memoirs.
Here are 8 books written by people that are living with a disability.
Shane Burcaw is actually the inspiration for this post. Back when I still used Tumblr, I followed Shane Burcaw and read Laughing at My Nightmare as soon as it came out. Shane has spinal muscular atrophy and his experience with the disease is the focus of both books. Despite the difficulties he has to deal with, he has such a wonderful sense of humor and maintains a level of positivity that is inspiring. Shane and his girlfriend Hannah have a great Youtube channel that you should check out called Squirmy and Grubs.
There are a lot of books about autism out there, but this one is written in a unique way. It’s told from both the perspective of a child with autism and his mother. While we often hear about autism from the outside, if you’re really interested in what it’s like living with autism, this is a great book to pick up.
This autobiography by Helen Keller is near the top of my TBR list right now. I can’t even begin to imagine the difficulties of being born with both blindness and deafness. Keller overcame her disability and thrived, and is truly an inspiration.
With advancements in science in the mid- to late-1900s, polio has become a disease of the past in developed countries. Reading memoirs such as Anne Finger’s is still important, however, in order to remember how the disease worked and how people lived with it.
There are two medical conditions that terrify me over all others: strokes and aneurysms. Dr. Taylor had a stroke at the age of 37 and lived to write about the experience. Due to Dr. Taylor being a Harvard-educated brain scientist, she has some unique insights into the experience. Thankfully she made a full recovery.
While William Styron is best known for his acclaimed literary fiction, in this memoir he writes about his depression and suicidal tendencies. For those of us (myself included) living with long-term and severe depression, we’ll probably recognize many of the symptoms that Styron discusses. However, this memoir would also be a good choice for people who want some insight into how people with depression and mental illness feel.
Do you know of any memoirs that I left out? Let me know in the comments.
The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke by Andrew Lawler
History | American History | Nonfiction Goodreads | Amazon
Published by Doubleday
Released June 5, 2018
My father has always read non-fiction history books and has a vast collection on a wide variety of topics. While I was at his house on Christmas, I asked to borrow a book he’d just finished reading, Andrew Lawler’s The Secret Token. I’d been wanting to read more non-fiction, and local history seemed like a great place to start.
I grew up in North Carolina, just below the Virginia state line, and close to the Albermarle Sound and the Outer Banks. As a result, we learned about the lost colony of Roanoke in school, the legend of Virginia Dare, and tales of the Native Americans that originally occupied our strip of land. It wasn’t unheard of to find Native American pottery or arrowheads.
The Secret Token is a great overview of the colony of Roanoke and all the mystery surrounding it. More than that, however, it is a history of the first settlers to come to the North Carolina coast. Contained within the pages are plenty of centuries-old maps, paintings, and illustrations, including some of John White’s fascinating illustrations.
This book, more than anything else, reminded me how boring the legend of the Lost Colonists of Roanoke is, for lack of a better term. There are so many more interesting mysteries throughout history. With the evidence presented in this book, along with the evidence you can find everywhere else concerning these settlers, I feel as though it’s fairly obvious that if any of the settlers survived, they more than likely settled in with the local Native American populations.
That said, I very much enjoyed learning more details about North Carolina history and about the 1500s in general. When we learn about American history, it typically starts with the 1600s, after Jamestown was founded in 1607. It’s rare to get this glimpse into the failed colonies and settlements that came before, and of the earlier interactions between Europeans and Native Americans.
Andrew Lawler delves into many expected topics, such as the legend of Virginia Dare, the first European born in the Americas, and I appreciated how he discussed what Virginia Dare came to mean to white Americans, which wasn’t always a good thing (for example, white supremacists have evoked her image as pure whiteness destroyed by nefarious savages). That’s not a topic you’re going to learn about in an American classroom.
It was also interesting to learn about the people still searching for the truth of the lost colonists, and how they have to navigate through multiple scams and tricks throughout the past, such as forged stones. Lawler also discusses the difficulties of determining if a found artifact is indeed from the Elizabethan settlers of the late 1500s, or if it’s actually something that was left behind from the second wave of European settlers and traders in the 1600s.
This book is not only about what little we know about the Lost Colony, but also about why Americans have been obsessed with it throughout our history:
“The country was hungry for an origin story more enchanting than the spoiled fops of Jamestown or the straitlaced Puritans of Plymouth, neither of which measured up to a romantic legend like England’s King Arthur and France’s military hero Roland, leaders felled by overwhelming odds but whose sacrifice helped forge a common identity. Roanoke, with its knights and villains and its brace but outnumbered few facing an alien culture, provided all the elements for a national myth.”