Blurbs for the Mental Health Reading Challenge
We’d be delighted to invite you to join us – if you’d like to offer a review of one (or more) of the books on the list, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter (@leedsbookclub).
All blurbs are from Amazon.
Feb: The Silver Linings Play Book – Matthew Quick
A heartwarming debut novel.
“Aawww shucks!” NPR’s Nancy Pearl said. “I know that’s hardly a usual way to begin a book review, but it was my immediate response to finishing Matthew Quick’s heartwarming, humorous and soul-satisfying first novel . . . This book makes me smile.”
Meet Pat Peoples. Pat has a theory: his life is a movie produced by God. And his God-given mission is to become physically fit and emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure him a happy ending—the return of his estranged wife, Nikki. (It might not come as a surprise to learn that Pat has spent several years in a mental health facility.) The problem is, Pat’s now home, and everything feels off. No one will talk to him about Nikki; his beloved Philadelphia Eagles keep losing; he’s being pursued by the deeply odd Tiffany; his new therapist seems to recommend adultery as a form of therapy. Plus, he’s being haunted by Kenny G!
Mar: The Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson
They say one out of every hundred people is a psychopath. You probably passed one on the street today. These are people who have no empathy, who are manipulative, deceitful, charming, seductive, and delusional. The Psychopath Test is the New York Times bestselling exploration of their world and the madness industry.
When Jon Ronson is drawn into an elaborate hoax played on some of the world’s top scientists, his investigation leads him, unexpectedly, to psychopaths. He meets an influential psychologist who is convinced that many important business leaders and politicians are in fact high-flying, high-functioning psychopaths, and teaches Ronson how to spot them. Armed with these new abilities, Ronson meets a patient inside an asylum for the criminally insane who insists that he’s sane, a mere run-of-the-mill troubled youth, not a psychopath—a claim that might be only manipulation, and a sign of his psychopathy. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud, and with a legendary CEO who took joy in shutting down factories and firing people. He delves into the fascinating history of psychopathy diagnosis and treatments, from LSD-fueled days-long naked therapy sessions in prisons to attempts to understand serial killers.
Along the way, Ronson discovers that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their most insane edges. The Psychopath Test is a fascinating adventure through the minds of madness.
Apr: I had a black dog – Matthew Johnstone
There are many different breeds of Black Dog affecting millions of people from all walks of life. The Black Dog is an equal opportunity mongrel. It was Winston Churchill who popularized the phrase Black Dog to describe the bouts of depression he experienced for much of his life. Matthew Johnstone, a sufferer himself, has written and illustrated this moving and uplifting insight into what it is like to have a Black Dog as a companion and how he learned to tame it and bring it to heel.
Jeanette Winterson’s novels have established her as a major figure in world literature. She has written some of the most admired books of the past few decades, including her internationally bestselling first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents that is now often required reading in contemporary fiction.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a memoir about a life’s work to find happiness. It’s a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser, waiting for Armageddon; about growing up in an north England industrial town now changed beyond recognition; about the Universe as Cosmic Dustbin.
It is the story of how a painful past that Jeanette thought she’d written over and repainted rose to haunt her, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother.
Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a tough-minded search for belonging—for love, identity, home, and a mother.
Jun: Poppy Shakespeare – Clare Allan
Highly original and darkly funny, Clare Allan’s debut novel explores the relationship between N., a patient in a mental institution, and Poppy Shakespeare, a new and disturbingly Â’sane’ arrival who finds herself having to feign mental illness in order to be released.
There are 25 residents at the Dorothy Fish, one for each letter of the alphabet – the Â’X’ chair is vacant. The day hospital sits on the bottom floor of an impossibly tall tower, stretching so high into the sky that its uppermost residents can see right round the world and back in through the window behind them. The system is simple: the crazier you are, the higher up the tower they put you.
When Poppy Shakespeare arrives, N. has already been at Dorothy Fish for thirteen years, and spends her days quietly, smoking in the common room and swapping medication with her fellow patients. But what happens in the next six months will change both of their lives forever.
In this inventive and brutally comic novel, Clare Allan captures the familiar and sometimes terrifying idiosyncrasies of a modern institution, asking the question: who is mad and who is sane? And who gets to decide? By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Poppy Shakespeare is a significant achievement of voice and insight.
Jul: 01 – Birthday Letters – Ted Hughes
Formerly Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II, the late Ted Hughes (1930-98) is recognized as one of the few contemporary poets whose work has mythic scope and power. And few episodes in postwar literature have the legendary stature of Hughes’s romance with, and marriage to, the great American poet Sylvia Plath.
The poems in Birthday Letters are addressed (with just two exceptions) to Plath, and were written over a period of more than twenty-five years, the first a few years after her suicide in 1963. Some are love letters, others haunted recollections and ruminations. In them, Hughes recalls his and Plath’s time together, drawing on the powerful imagery of his work–animal, vegetable, mythological–as well as on Plath’s famous verse.
Countless books have discussed the subject of this intense relationship from a necessary distance, but this volume–at last–offers us Hughes’s own account. Moreover, it is a truly remarkable collection of pems in its own right.
Jul: 02 – Ariel – Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s famous collection, as she intended it.
When Sylvia Plath died, she not only left behind a prolific life but also her unpublished literary masterpiece, Ariel. When her husband, Ted Hughes, first brought this collection to life, it garnered worldwide acclaim, though it wasn’t the draft Sylvia had wanted her readers to see. This facsimile edition restores, for the first time, Plath’s original manuscript — including handwritten notes — and her own selection and arrangement of poems. This edition also includes in facsimile the complete working drafts of her poem “Ariel,” which provide a rare glimpse into the creative process of a beloved writer. This publication introduces a truer version of Plath’s works, and will no doubt alter her legacy forever.
Aug: Tender is the night – F Scott Fitzgerald
In “Tender is the Night”, Fitzgerald distilled much of his tempestuous life with his wife Zelda, and the knowledge of the wrecked, fabulous Fitzgeralds adds poignancy and regret to this tender, supple and poetic portrait.
To the just-fashionable French Riviera come Dick and Nicole Diver – handsome, rich, glamorous and enormous fun. Their dinners are legend, their atmosphere magnetic, their intelligence fine. But something is wrong. Nicole has a secret and Dick a weakness. Together they head towards the rocks on which their lives crash – and only one of them really survives.
Sep: Day – A L Kennedy
Alfie Day, RAF airman and former World War II POW, never expected to survive the war. Now, five years later and more alone than ever, Alfie finds himself drawn to unearth those strange, passionate days by working as an extra on a POW film. What he will discover on the set about himself, his loves and the world around him will make the war itself look simple.
Funny and moving, wise and sad, Day is a truly original look at the intensity and courage to be found in the closeness of death, from one of Britain’s most iconoclastic and highly acclaimed young writers.
Oct: Notes from an exhibition – Patrick Gale
When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies painting obsessively in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children are left to unravel a legacy of secrets and emotional damage.
Nov: A life too short – Ronald Reng
Why does an international footballer with the World at his feet decide to take his own life?
On November 10, 2009 the German national goalkeeper, Robert Enke, stepped in front of a passing train. He was thirty two years old.
Viewed from the outside, Enke had it all. Here was a professional goalkeeper who had played for a string of Europe’s top clubs including Jose Mourinho’s Benfica and Louis Van Gaal’s Barcelona. Enke was destined to be his country’s first choice for years to come. But beneath the bright veneer of success lay a darker story.
In A Life Too Short, award-winning writer Ronald Reng pieces together the puzzle of his lost friend’s life. Reng brings into sharp relief the specific demands and fears faced by those who play top-level sport. Heartfelt, but never sentimental he tells the universal tragedy of a talented man’s struggles against his own demons.
Dec: Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre ranks as one of the greatest and most perennially popular works of English fiction. Although the poor but plucky heroine is outwardly of plain appearance, she possesses an indomitable spirit, a sharp wit and great courage.
She is forced to battle against the exigencies of a cruel guardian, a harsh employer and a rigid social order. All of which circumscribe her life and position when she becomes governess to the daughter of the mysterious, sardonic and attractive Mr Rochester.
However, there is great kindness and warmth in this epic love story, which is set against the magnificent backdrop of the Yorkshire moors. Ultimately the grand passion of Jane and Rochester is called upon to survive cruel revelation, loss and reunion, only to be confronted with tragedy.