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#nonfiction books

In The Great Pretender, Susannah Cahalan wishes to write about mental illness and the ways that the system of psychiatry is broken. Her starting point was her own experience, when a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia almost kept doctors from finding her rare brain condition.

This book had a lot of potential to describe the true failings of past and modern psychiatry through the lens of Rosenhan’s famous study where several healthy people had themselves committed to mental institutions to see how they would be perceived. Unfortunately, I had to stop about a quarter of the way through, because Cahalan’s antagonism to psychiatrists is so heavy as to be irresponsible. I know many of the studies she references, and I have done a lot of reading about anxiety, about the history of psychiatry and mental illness treatment, and about misdiagnosis (particular in women). So, particularly for the studies I was most familiar with, I can comfortably say that her conclusions are often speculative, she wildly simplifies many circumstances or studies, and she presents many generalizations as fact. Cahalan’s bias is understandable given her personal experience, but has no place in a text that presents itself as a nonfiction historical account and analysis.

Cahalan had an immense opportunity with this book to dig deep into the stigma against the mentally ill. She had a thesis hiding under the muck: the idea that once you are labeled as schizophrenic or manic depressive or mentally ill in some other way, it is nearly impossible to prove sanity given the bounds of current mental health understanding; the idea that once labeled, everything else you do is filtered through the lens of what is in your file, and the possibility of misdiagnosis is rarely considered. The treatment of people in hospitals, the relentless boredom of mental health facilities, and other such issues, are under-examined as well. It’s all lost under Cahalan’s speculation and bias that cast psychiatrists as villains.

Early in the book, Cahalan acknowledges that she was once critiqued for unfairly providing mental and physical illness as a dichotomy between unreal and real. And yet she continues to perpetuate the idea that psychiatrists are plotting and making it up as they go along, and that insanity and sanity are in a clear binary. For example, in telling her own story she says that her family fought against her being diagnosed with schizophrenia—they said that “I was acting crazy, sure, but I was not crazy.” She writes that, “It wasn’t me. Something had descended upon me in the same way that the flu or cancer or bad luck does.” (Italics are Cahalan’s own in both cases.) This hit me hard as a prime example of the stigma against mental health that she later claims to be fighting against. My depression and anxiety aren’t me either, they are illnesses that I too cannot control. And she seems to ignore neurotransmitters completely—she mentions dopamine and other brain chemistry as new “terminology” without ever acknowledging that this is the physical basis for mental illness, dismissing a prime and necessary place for her to examine the link between mental and physical. At another point she writes: “When doctors diagnosed me with an organic illness (as in physical, in the body, real) as opposed to a psychiatric one (in the mind, and therefore somehow less real), it meant that I’d receive lifesaving treatment instead of being cordoned off from the rest of medicine.” (Again, italics are Cahalan’s own.)

I have been misdiagnosed before. Several times, in fact, although this time in particular was terrifying. It wasn’t as deadly as in Cahalan’s case, don’t get me wrong, and so I don’t claim to grasp Cahalan’s pain. But last fall, I came down with lightheadedness, the feeling that I was short of breath, my heart pounding, and a fullness in my chest accompanied by sharp pains in my left ribs. When a doctor X-rayed my chest and found that my lungs were fine, his immediate next step was to tell me it was my anxiety. So I’ve been there. I have had a medical professional tell me that my illness was mental. I understand the pain and stress that comes from that, and the anger that follows—the anger knowing that a medical professional sent me home, advising me to stop taking my antidepressants and to not trust my psychiatrist without getting a second opinion from a primary care doctor. The anger knowing he did all that while I had pericarditis, which the cardiologist I would finally eventually see said was easily diagnosable, but which had gotten worse by the week, and if it had gone on unchecked, could have developed life-threatening complications.

I know that kind of anger, and I would be fascinated to read Cahalan’s memoir. But here, Cahalan has brought that anger into a troubling place. She is projecting her anger onto psychiatry, blaming it and its methods for its inability to diagnose definitively, something that is not limited to the world of mental illness. Some of her best writing in this book is around the stigma of being mentally ill, and yet she seems to lack the ability to turn that inward onto her own analysis and judgment of the field. She doesn’t interrogate why the mental health field is so behind other medical ones—the lack of funded research, the stigma itself, the prejudices against those commonly labeled insane (such as the disabled, women, people of color, queer people). In her analysis of the Rosenhan study she fails to consider that committing yourself into a hospital because you are hearing voices would inevitably lead doctors to trust your own reporting of hearing voices, and that a doctor releasing a person with the diagnosis of “schizophrenia in remission” makes a lot of sense when the patient says “I was hearing voices, I’m not any more,” and seems sane.

Overall, I’m deeply disappointed with this book and ultimately stopped reading it at page 140 because I did not want to feed my brain misinformation, and so felt I was getting frustrated without getting anything out of the text. Her bias against psychiatry and her bias, to be frank, against mental illness as something “unreal” were so pervasive that they inhibited my ability to enjoy the text. Once I realized how much that bias was also impacting the facts, this ceased to be a useful read.

whilereadingandwalking
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The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward, is a fantastic read about the #BlackLivesMatter movement, about being black in today’s America, studying legacies, the past and future. Essays focus on everything from NYC’s Know Your Rights murals to newly discovered slave burial grounds in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to what it’s like to walk a city in America vs. in Kingston as a black man to James Baldwin’s legacy and his home in France. Readable and deeply compelling throughout. It’s a necessary read. 

whilereadingandwalking
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I love a good novel, but I also really like nonfiction books and all the information I can get from them, so here’s a list of some great greats!

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Originally posted by gameraboy1

Autobiography

A Zoo in my Luggage” by Gerald Durrell

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” by Austin Channing Brown

Naturally Tan: A Memoir” by Tan France

Mercury and Me” by Jim Hutton

Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Shakur

LGBTQ+

Stonewall” by Martin Duberman

This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson

Fun Home: A family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel

Boy Erased: A Memoir” by Garrard Conley

Redefining Realness” by Janet Mock

Bookish

When Books Went to War” by Molly Guptill Manning

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader” by Anne Fadiman

Diary of a Bookseller” by Shaun Bythell

The Year of Reading Dangerously” by Andy Miller

I’d Rather Be Reading” by Anne Bogel

Animals

American Wolf” by Nate Blakeslee

The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery

The Animal Dialogues” by Craig Childs

Among the Bone Eaters” by Marcus Baynes-Rock

In the Company of Crows and Ravens” by John Marzluff and Tony Angell

Pets

Shelter Dogs” by Peg Kehret

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World” by Bret Witter and Vicki Myron

Wesley the Owl” by Stacey O’Brien

Alex and Me” by Irene M. Pepperberg

Homer’s Odyssey” by Gwen Cooper

Plants

The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben

“The Little Book of House Plants and Other Greenery” by Emma Sibley

“The Emerald Planet” by David Beerling

Wicked Plants” by Amy Stewart and Briony Morrow-Cribbs

Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Ocean

Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea” by Steve Jenkins

The Brilliant Deep” by Kate Messner

The Perfect Storm” by Sebastian Junger

The Unnatural History of the Sea” by Callum Roberts

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle” by Claire A. Nivola

Children’s/Young Readers/YA

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag” by Rob Sanders

Americanized: A Rebel Without a Green Card” by Sara Saedi

Alice Paul and the Fight for Women’s Rights” by Deborah Kops

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings” by Margarita Engle

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women” by Lisa Charleyboy and Beth Leatherdale

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It’s, like, utter depravity.

*** 

Today, I rave about The Unknown Darkness, by Gregg O. McCrary and Mindhunter, The Anatomy of Motive, The Cases That Haunt Us, and Law & Disorder by John E. Douglas. Get ready for FBI profiling, hideous murder, and the death penalty!

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“I was what the violence directed against integration was all about. I was what they hated and wanted to destroy. And that was the biggest puzzle in the world to me because I had absolutely nothing.”

For the first ten years of his life, Gregory Howard Williams believed he and his brother Mike were white. But when their mother leaves their alcoholic father, he carts his sons to Muncie to live with his family—who, it turns out, are black. As Greg comes of age, he will have to learn what it means to live under the weight of prejudice. He struggles to belong—his light skin hinders his desire to fit in with the black community, but any attempt to pass as white would risk discovery and violence. Williams fights for success at every turn, battling his drunken father’s schemes, prejudice from coaches and teachers, and ever-looming poverty and hunger. It is a fascinating, complex memoir about race politics that deftly exposes the ways people’s outlooks can change when they realize a person is black, ways both subtle and drastic.

The memoir is vivid, intensely empathetic and detailed, emotional and readable. Williams tells the story of all the people in his young life with so much understanding and complexity, from his father—charming, persuasive, destructive—to his brother to the inspirational Miss Dora. This book is a must-read, with content warnings for sexual assault, racist violence and prejudice, and domestic abuse.

whilereadingandwalking
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It’s, like, cool motive, still murder?

***

Today, I rave about Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History, by Tori Telfer, and Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters, by Peter Vronsky. I discuss murder through poison, gripe about murder apologists, and forget the names of all the major players (in particular, Aileen Wuornos).

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বইয়ের নাম : আড়ালে আততায়ী

লেখক : চিত্রদীপ চক্রবর্তী, হিমাদ্রি সরকার

প্রকাশক : বুকফার্ম, কলকাতা

প্রকাশকাল : প্রথম প্রকাশ, ডিসেম্বর ২০১৯

ধরন : ক্রাইম ডকুমেন্টারি

পৃষ্ঠা সংখ্যা : ১৮৪

মুদ্রিত মূল্য : ২৫০ টাকা

ব্যাক্তিগত রেটিং : ০৮/১০

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5/5 stars
Recommended for people who like:
history, nonfiction, WWII, SOE, spies, biographies

Helm’s book dives into the secrets and truths of Vera Atkins and the SOE’s F-Section. She notes the difficulty in finding information on the subject when Vera was such a closed book and often only kept information in her head, rather than on paper. I enjoyed following the trail of Vera and various F-Section agents as Helm described her research and the struggle to find living, reliable eyewitnesses 60+ years after the end of WWII. While the information about Helm’s research could very easily have been disruptive to the flow of the story, I enjoyed reading about the interviews she conducted and the files, letters, and photographs she found from one source or another. These chapters also lent themselves to the cyclical nature of Vera’s overall story–many of the things in her child- and young adulthood circled back around during or after WWII, and many of the things that she did during or shortly after WWII came back around later in life.

Vera’s life during WWII is almost entirely focused on the F-Section, as one would expect. Getting to ‘know’ the inner-workings of SOE during that time was interesting. Though this novel is about Vera, I enjoyed Helm’s focus on some of the SOE agents parachuted into France. I think the biography would’ve been much drier had she omitted agents like Violette Szabo, Henri Déricourt, and Nora Inayat Khan. The training, parachuting, and operating of these agents in France, and the subsequent search for those who went missing, is an integral part of Vera’s story, and it is one that requires the occasional divergence from Vera herself in order to tell the story of those missing agents. I also think that, as Helm hypothesizes, that the knowledge of what happened to agents Vera sent out formed the basis for her reactions and personality for the rest of Vera’s life.

As thoroughly as I enjoyed reading about F-Section, I must say I am appalled at how badly SOE was played by the Nazis. While I understand the 'fog of war’ excuse that multiple interviewees, and even Helm herself, suggested, I still cannot understand how someone in the intelligence community could read a muddled or insecure/improperly secured wireless transmission and just accept it as 'business as usual.’ That being said, I do not then believe the conspiracy theories that arose after the war. Helm spent time delving into both explanations, the 'fog of war’ and the conspiracy theories, and went with the former to explain SOE’s blunders. She also noted that many of the people working SOE, particularly F-Section, were not necessarily trained for this type of work, which is a more acceptable excuse for the mistakes made than 'these people in intelligence got muddled because War.’

Vera’s life immediately following the war takes up most of the book and once more focuses heavily on F-Section’s agents. Many of F-Sections agents, particularly the women, didn’t come back after the end of the war, and it was Vera who campaigned for them to be searched for. She ends up traveling to France and Germany researching the missing agents to determine what, exactly, happened as the spy networks collapsed and agents went missing. Helm describes Vera’s journey as one of determination and controlled reactions. This part is also where Helm firsts brings up the idea that Vera detested being wrong and would take great lengths to prevent herself from being seen as having done or said something wrong. This is also where the audience is shown Vera’s more ruthless, cold side. Both of these come back to bite Vera later in life, as the secrecy and cover-ups of the SOE led to conspiracy theories about SOE and even Vera herself–one person who knew her before SOE suggested she might be a Nazi spy, and multiple people from wondered if she was a spy for the USSR.

Helm offers a good overview of SOE operations in both England and France, SOE’s reactions after the war to missing agents, and how the Gestapo, SS, and concentration camp systems handled captured agents, particularly if they were women. Vera’s life is very much a mystery, but one that Helm was able to trace across countries, times, and people, finding pieces of evidence here and there that could point to who Vera really was. The addition of 'agent stories’ helped round the book out, providing readers with the same knowledge Vera had about them before, during, and after the agents went to France. I liked the book and thought it was a well-rounded account of Vera’s life that included both bright moments and dim ones, and gave attention to both her admirers and her critics.

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বইয়ের নাম : বাবু ও বারবণিতা

লেখক : দেবারতি মুখোপাধ্যায়

প্রকাশক : বুকফার্ম, কলকাতা

প্রকাশকাল : প্রথম প্রকাশ, ডিসেম্বর ২০১৯

ধরন : ক্রাইম ডকুমেন্টারি

পৃষ্ঠা সংখ্যা : ১৬৬

মুদ্রিত মূল্য : ২২৫ রুপি

ব্যাক্তিগত রেটিং : ১০/১০

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Hey everyone and welcome back to Fem Recommends. The series on my blog in which I (Fem) recommend you things. (Bet you thought I forgot about this. Ha! I didn’t)

Today in Fem Recommends: Non-fiction Books

I will recommend you some of my favourite non-fiction books I’ve read. The links will take you to the book’s Goodreads page.

The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ash Hardell (They’re credited as Ashley Mardell but they changed their name.)
This book takes a closer look at (almost) all things LGBT, from definitions to personal anecdotes, links to helpful video’s and more.

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History by Sam Maggs, illustrations by Jenn Woodall
This is a book all about (you guessed it) girl friendships that changed history. A fun and informative read featuring friendships in art, science, activism, sports and politics.

Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager, illustrations by Zoe More O'Ferrall 
An inspiring read about queer people who changed the world. Featuring the stories of Alan Turing, Frida Kahlo, José Sarria and many more.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs, illustrations by Sophia Foster-Dimino
If you want to read a book all about badass women in history, then this is the one for you. Featuring the stories of Ada Lovelace, Ogino Ginko, Brita Tott, Mary Sherman Morgan and many more kickass ladies.

That was it for today. Thanks for reading. If you have any suggestions for a future Fem Recommends please let me know.

Bye y’all! (stay hydrated)

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বইয়ের নাম : রঙিন চশমা

লেখক : মুহম্মদ জাফর ইকবাল

প্রকাশক : অবসর প্রকাশনা সংস্থা, ঢাকা

প্রচ্ছদ : ধ্রুব এষ

প্রকাশকাল : প্রথম প্রকাশ,

ধরন : আত্মজীবনী

পৃষ্ঠা সংখ্যা : ৯৬

মুদ্রিত মূল্য : ১২৫ টাকা

ব্যাক্তিগত রেটিং : ১০/১০

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Here are some recs for prompt 30 of the Diverse Reading Challenge 2020. 

30. A nonfiction book by an LGBT+ author or author of color

Note: I have not personally read any of the following books, but they are all on my to-read list. 

Gender Queer: A Memoir - Maia Kobabe 

A graphic novel and memoir, it recounts the author’s journey of self-identity, and what it means to be nonbinary and asexual. 

Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature - Emma Donoghue 

A non-fiction novel, it analyzes love between women in Western literature, and how that has changed throughout history. 

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry - Imani Perry

A biography of Lorraine Hansberry, a well-known author and activist. 

Queer Japan: Personal Stories of Japanese Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals - Barbara Summerhawk

An anthology of personal stories from Japanese LGBTQ+ people. 

Queer X Design: 50 Years of Signs, Symbols, Banners, Logos, and Graphic Art of LGBTQ - Andy Campbell

An illustrated history of the symbols, art and graphic design representing LGBTQ pride and activism over the last 50 years.  

If you would like to join the Diverse Reading Challenge 2020, please follow the tumblr! Spread the word! Submit recs of diverse books you love!

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