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wmtc: what i’m reading: your heart is a muscle the size of a fist, by sunil yapa

If only Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist could be required reading. Everyone who has ever scoffed cynically at protesters. Everyone who has ever seen a mainstream news report showing a burning car, over and over and over, but not showing … . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: your heart is a muscle the size of a fist, by sunil yapa

wmtc: what i’m reading: the evil hours, a biography of post-traumatic stress disorder

The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an outstanding book — meticulously researched, but written in a compelling, accessible style, and with great humanity and compassion.

Author David J. Morris unearths the social and cultural history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the fourth most common psychiatric disorder in the US. He surveys the potential treatments. He explores the role of social justice in our understanding of PTSD.

But above all, Morris confronts the meaning of trauma, in society and in his own life. Morris was a U.S. Marine stationed in Iraq. After narrowly escaping death, he returned home questioning everything he thought he knew — and eventually having to face the reality of his own trauma. Morris’ dual role as both researcher and subject give this book a unique power as history, social science, and personal essay.

People have known for centuries, for millennia, that traumatic events produce after-effects, but different cultures in different eras have explained those effects in different ways. The modern history of trauma is linked to the carnage of 20th Century war. And our current understanding of PTSD owes everything to the Vietnam War, and the experience of returning veterans who publicly opposed the war.

In this way, the history of PTSD encompasses a history of 1960s and 1970s peace activism, especially of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group that began a sea-change in the culture of the United States. As a student of peace, I found this part fascinating.

Taking this even further, Morris links PTSD and social justice. Powerless and marginalized people are more likely to be traumatized by one or more of the four principal causes of PTSD: war, genocide, torture, rape. Taking a social and cultural perspective forces us to confront a world that causes these traumas. In this view, PTSD is not so much an illness as a moral condition brought on by the worst of human society.

The United States Veterans Administration (VA) sees it quite differently. To the VA, PTSD is strictly a medical condition. And this matters greatly, because research about PTSD is almost entirely funded and controlled by the VA. Explaining trauma as purely medical or biological doesn’t address the causes at all. In fact, it does the opposite — it normalizes PTSD as a natural consequence of unavoidable circumstances.

As for treatment, Morris surveys what’s out there and finds most of it useless. VA hospitals and insurance companies prefer therapies that can be “manualized” — made uniform, with a certain number of treatments and little or no emotional engagement from the therapist. Statistically, these types of therapies appear to be useful — until one learns that the numbers don’t include all the patients who drop out! Talk about cooking the books: everyone for whom the treatment isn’t working or, in many cases, is actually worsening their symptoms, is simply ignored.

Morris himself feels that therapeutic talks with an empathetic person with some training goes further than neuroscience can. “What they [the VA] seem to want instead,” Morris writes, “is mass-produced, scalable, scripted therapies that make for compelling PowerPoint slides.”

Readers of this blog may know that I have PTSD. Much of The Evil Hours brought a shock of recognition — the feeling that someone else is expressing your own thoughts, saying exactly what you’ve been thinking all along. Morris perfectly articulates how trauma plays out in one’s life, the depths of change it brings about.

Morris writes: “We are born in debt, owing the world a death. This is the shadow that darkens every cradle. Trauma is what happens when you catch a surprise glimpse of that darkness.”

In the immediate aftermath of my own trauma, while trying to write about my experience, this is exactly the image I fixated on. We are, all of us, dancing on the edge of a great precipice, usually unaware of how terrifyingly close we are to that edge. Then something happens, and we understand it, not in some theoretical way, but immediately and profoundly, perhaps in a way humans are not equipped to understand. We talk about “the fragility of life” but we don’t know what that is — until we do. Then we spend a lifetime trying to live with the knowledge.

“One of the paradoxes of trauma,” writes Morris, “is that it happens in a moment, but it can consume a lifetime. The choice of how much time it is permitted to consume is usually in the hands of the survivor.”

The Evil Hours may be very useful for people who are figuring out how to stop PTSD from consuming any more of their lives. It is certainly a must-read for anyone interested in the effects of trauma on the human mind. . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: the evil hours, a biography of post-traumatic stress disorder

wmtc: labour day readers’ advisory: books and movies that celebrate labour

I spoke to a customer yesterday who was visiting from Denmark. He described himself as a trade-unionist, and he came to the library, looking for me, to learn about our strike!He also said he had read a book he loved, and was looking for more like it. H… . . . → Read More: wmtc: labour day readers’ advisory: books and movies that celebrate labour

wmtc: what i’m reading: the deserters, a hidden history of world war 2

No one knows exactly how many US soldiers deserted from the Vietnam War, nor how many young men resisted conscription by going either to jail or to another country. The most conservative account puts the number at about 50,000, the highest at about dou… . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: the deserters, a hidden history of world war 2

wmtc: awful library books and why we remove them from our shelves

A while back, I blogged about weeding, every library’s not-so-dirty little not-so-secret. Daniel Gross, writing in The New Yorker, looks at weeding, too – from a library-users’ revolt in Berkeley, California to the hilarious Awful Library Books blog: W… . . . → Read More: wmtc: awful library books and why we remove them from our shelves

wmtc: what i’m reading: every exquisite thing by matthew quick

I recently had the pleasure of reading an advance reading copy of Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. Quick – a/k/a Q – is the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, which I have not read, but now will.Every Exquisite Thing combines a few… . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: every exquisite thing by matthew quick

wmtc: what i’m reading: reckless: my life as a pretender by chrissie hynde

I’m a big fan of The Pretenders, but more than that, I’m a Chrissie Hynde fan. To me, she has always been the epitome of the female rock frontman. She’s the whole package – guitar player, singer, songwriter, commanding stage presence, pure rock image, … . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: reckless: my life as a pretender by chrissie hynde

wmtc: the great weed of 2016: the results are in

Goodbye.A while back, I announced that Allan and I were going to try weeding our books and CD collection. A few months passed until we could find the time, but we’ve done it. Seven boxes of books and three boxes of CDs will be leaving our lives.Last Se… . . . → Read More: wmtc: the great weed of 2016: the results are in

wmtc: what i’m reading: the invention of air by steven johnson

How do we know that the oxygen exists, and that oxygen is different from carbon dioxide? Well, we know it because we’ve been taught those facts. But how did that knowledge enter the scientific record? Air is invisible to our eyes. How did humans first … . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: the invention of air by steven johnson

wmtc: what i’m reading: ghettoside: a true story of murder in america

When we think of gun violence in the United States, chances are we think of mass shootings. These horrific events which occur with such regularity seem, to much of the world, mostly preventable. The public nature of the shootings, and the often tragica… . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: ghettoside: a true story of murder in america

wmtc: remembrance day: 11 anti-war books

Remembrance Day readers’ advisory: eleven books to help us contemplate the reality of war, and thus oppose it.

1. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

2. War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, Christopher Hedges

3. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

4. The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang

5. Regeneration, Pat Barker

6. . . . → Read More: wmtc: remembrance day: 11 anti-war books

wmtc: what i’m reading: thoughts on "go set a watchman"

I wasn’t planning on writing about Go Set a Watchman, the surprise second – or possibly first – novel by Harper Lee. I am among the legions of readers who were shocked, thrilled, and confused at the sudden appearance of this book, and I didn’t think I’d have anything noteworthy to add to the conversation. . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: thoughts on "go set a watchman"

wmtc: what i’m reading: dead wake: the last crossing of the lusitania by erik larson

On May 7, 1915, the gigantic luxury ocean liner Lusitania – an engineering marvel, the fastest ship of its era – was hit by a torpedo shot from a German “U-boat” submarine. The ship had nearly completed its crossing from New York and was in sight of the Irish coast.

Eighteen minutes later, . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: dead wake: the last crossing of the lusitania by erik larson

wmtc: the great weed of 2015?

You will not be surprised to learn that Allan and I own a lot of books. And CDs. And even LPs! Many, many hundreds of each. We have culled our collection a bit over the years, out of necessity, but living in houses for the past 10 years, we expanded again without much thought. Now . . . → Read More: wmtc: the great weed of 2015?

wmtc: what i’m reading: the doubt factory, a young-adult thriller by paolo bacigalupi

A thriller about public relations? And for teens? It sounds improbable, and The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi is an improbably terrific book. Marrying a somersaulting plot with heart-pounding suspense to an unabashed political agenda and a hot love story, Bacigalupi has delivered a stunning youth read.

On the political front, we contemplate “the . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: the doubt factory, a young-adult thriller by paolo bacigalupi

wmtc: what i’m reading: soul made flesh: the discovery of the brain and how it changed the world

The ancient Egyptians, when preparing a body for mummification, carefully preserved the heart, liver, lungs, and other vital organs in special canisters, now known as canopic jars. The brain was yanked out and throw away as trash. A millennium or two later, human knowledge of the workings of the brain was every bit as . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: soul made flesh: the discovery of the brain and how it changed the world

wmtc: what i’m reading: plainsong trilogy by kent haruf

I’ve recently read three books by Kent Haruf: Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction, also known as the Plainsong Trilogy.

These novels are set in the rural US west, in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Plainsong is a small, quiet, poignant story, about how some unrelated people come together to form a chosen family. . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: plainsong trilogy by kent haruf

wmtc: rtod

Revolutionary thought of the day: Scargill’s got the megaphone and he launces intae one ay his trademark rousin speeches that tingles the back ay ma neck. He talks about the rights ay working people, won through years of struggle, and how if we’re denied the right to strike and organise, then we’re really nae better . . . → Read More: wmtc: rtod

wmtc: what i’m reading: wild by cheryl strayed, zeitoun by dave eggers

I’ve just finished two truly excellent works of nonfiction: Wild and Zeitoun. Both books read like fiction, with clean, clear writing and page-turning suspense. Both document almost unbelievable, out-sized events, in one case likely unique, in the other – horribly – anything but. I highly recommend both books.

I didn’t expect to like Wild. Something about . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: wild by cheryl strayed, zeitoun by dave eggers

wmtc: what i’m reading: fallingwater rising, biography of a building

In the prologue to Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America’s Most Extraordinary House, author Franklin Toker writes, “Put this book down now if you can’t live without the old myths about Fallingwater. But take comfort in the fact that a Fallingwater history shorn of miracles can still be thrilling.”

Toker examines . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: fallingwater rising, biography of a building

wmtc: holden caulfield, ponyboy curtis, and my teen book club

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

Recognize it?

For me it’s one of the most memorable final sentences ever written.

I just finished re-reading The Catcher in the Rye, possibly for the first time since reading it (twice) in high school. I remembered it in a theoretical way, but . . . → Read More: wmtc: holden caulfield, ponyboy curtis, and my teen book club

wmtc: joseph mitchell, master writer of the master city

My desire is to get the reader, well, first of all to read it. That story [“The Bottom of the Harbor”] was hard to write because I had to wonder how long can I keep developing it before the reader’s going to get tired of this. Here and there, as I think a fiction writer . . . → Read More: wmtc: joseph mitchell, master writer of the master city

wmtc: what i’m reading: salt sugar fat by michael moss

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss is an excellent addition to a bookshelf that includes works by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marian Nestle and others who write about the health of our food and the un-health of the industrial food system. Moss lifts the curtain on the giant . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: salt sugar fat by michael moss

wmtc: what i’m reading: three books by richard ford

I’ve been meaning to read Richard Ford for years – actually, for decades. Both the 1986 novel The Sportswriter and 1995’s follow-up Independence Day have been languishing on The List since they were published. When Canada came out in 2012, and reviews made me want to read it, it was time to dig up those earlier titles and finally discover . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: three books by richard ford

wmtc: what i’m reading: the golden compass by philip pullman

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, has been on my to-read list since it was first published in the mid-1990s. Although I generally don’t read fantasy fiction, after reading an outstanding review in The New York Times Book Review, I was very intrigued. Thanks to the Teen Book Club I facilitate at the library, I . . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading: the golden compass by philip pullman