It isn’t a new book by any means, but I found the themes and the writing of the short stories in The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings so timeless that it could be.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her stories about a hundred years ago. If you think of authors who lived at the turn of the 20th century to be stodgy, you may be as surprised as I was by Gilman’s candor and (sometimes) humor about gender identity, mental health and social norms. These themes are very much hot-button issues today.
“Herland” is the story that most made me want to check out the book, but I enjoyed all of them. In this utopian fantasy, a group of three male explorers set out to find a secret, all-female civilization rumored to exist in the seclusion of the forest. Their tantalizing visions of what they hope to encounter is not exactly what they actually find!
For a different -but no less interesting- take on the all-female society theme, you may want to check out the graphic novel Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan.
Cartoonist Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me is an honest, funny graphic memoir that explores her life following her diagnosis with bi-polar disorder. As an artist, Forney had mixed emotions about her diagnosis, ranging from excitement over joining what she called “Club Van Gogh” (the idea that creativity and great art come from mania) to frustration over the long road to recovery and finding the most effective drug cocktail. Forney never holds back in both words and illustrations, letting the reader join her in her head and get an idea of what it is to be an artist with bi-polar disorder.
Forney uses a combination of new illustrations and samples of the sketches that came from different times during her journey to recovery. The illustrations from her lowest depressive times are detailed, darker, and incredibly different than the cheery, simple cartoon illustrations that populate the rest of the book. While the book can come off as a tad self-indulgent and Forney’s journey is obviously her own, this is an excellent read for anyone that is looking for insight into what the recovery journey may look like for a person diagnosed as having manic depression. Even if it is just to help you feel like you’re a part of Club Van Gogh and no longer alone. When you’ve finished Marbles, I would suggest picking up the beautifully illustrated graphic memoir, Stitches: A Memoir by David Small or the unsettling account of a high school relationship with Jeffery Dahmer, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf.
Naomi Levy wrote Hope Will Find You as she was in the midst of her daughter’s health crisis. Spending much of her time in doctor’s waiting rooms, and trying to deal with the uncertainty of the diagnosis, Naomi began, unsurprisingly, to show signs of depression. She’d suspended her enjoyment of life and her career as a rabbi.
This book is a series of very short chapters that chronicle her climb out of that despair. She gains wisdom from other rabbis, mentors and, most of all, Noa, her daughter. Noa suffers from learning and physical disabilities, that may or may not be fatal. She is incredibly positive and energetic, and she is the one who actually comes up with the title.
One of Naomi’s breakthroughs is a realization that she can’t let her fear of the unknown destroy the happiness she can enjoy with her family and friends now. As Naomi lets go of her crippling fear, she is able to go back to work and even starts a new congregation.
Not only is her story inspirational, the book is a fascinating glimpse into Judaism and the Jewish principles of faith.