Greetings Challenge Readers!
Welcome to the final month of our 2022 Online Reading Challenge. This month we’re reading books that talk about coping with mental illness and the isolation and stigma that surrounds it.
Our main title this month is Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. In this book, the author explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best. It’s about “taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. This is a book about embracing everything that makes us who we are – the beautiful and the flawed – and then using it to find joy in fantastic and outrageous ways.
Our alternate titles are: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. This is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Beautiful and gifted, with a bright future, Esther Greenwood descends into depression, suicidal thoughts, and madness while interning at a New York City magazine.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living.
Be sure to check the displays at each of our buildings for copies of these titles and many more!
It is a particularly exciting experience to read a popular book while it’s popular, and I often am either too stubborn to be swayed into reading mainstream books or too far behind on my TBR list to add a brand new one. That was not the case with Jennette McCurdy’s memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, which came out at the beginning of August and is already a smash hit. I was enthralled with the former Nickelodeon star’s book and devoured it cover to cover.
Maybe my childhood memories of watching McCurdy in iCarly fueled my ambitious reading speed, but the memoir itself stands strongly on its own apart from her child-stardom. Spanning the time she was just around 6 years old to her late twenties, McCurdy details the obsessive pressure her mother placed on her to be an actor. The fervor with which she wanted her daughter to be famous quickly developed in teaching her to “calorie restrict,” which horrifically evolved into a life-long string of eating disorders of which McCurdy will never completely be free. Her mother also exhibited many signs of undiagnosed mental illness, manifesting most profoundly as hoarding and obsessively restricting her own diet.
McCurdy’s memoir moves linearly, a narrative choice that punches home the notion that mental illness itself does not follow a linear path of recovery. So much of the book is about the years of her adolescence and early adulthood she spent sinking farther and farther into a hole of self-loathing and self-destruction. McCurdy’s life up until her mid-to-late twenties was riddled with addiction and bulimia, all the while smiling for Nickelodeon as if her life wasn’t crushing her day after day. And then her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The death of McCurdy’s abusive parent was unsettling and complex, a barrage of relief that she was free from the abuse but also sorrow that her mom was dead. Beyond this particularly warped brand of grief, she not only lost her mother but had to watch her slowly and viciously die. She posits the years of her life after her mother’s death almost as a renewal, as it was the first time in her life that she had full control of her body and her career.
Cathartic and achingly candid, McCurdy’s memoir is a solid portrait of survival and the moxie it requires to laugh at and in spite of your trauma. If you have been considering giving I’m Glad My Mom Died a read, I highly recommend it!
This title is also available as an eBook on Libby.
I’ve reviewed one of Roan Parrish’s earlier works before and while I loved it, it had some issues. I’m happy to report that in her more recent Garnet Run series many of my complaints have been fixed! The first in a duology, Better Than People is a sweet romance for animal lovers and mental health advocates alike.
Jack is a prickly artist who has surrounded himself with a menagerie of animals, finding their company more enjoyable and trustworthy after a recent betrayal. Unfortunately, he can’t find his usual joy in taking care of them after breaking his leg in an accident. He’s going to need help – his least favorite situation to be in. Enter Simon, a man burdened with crippling shyness soothed only by the company of animals and his recently-widowed grandmother. But that’s his problem: his grandmother is terribly allergic to animals, keeping him from having a pet of his own. Having Simon walk Jack’s dogs (and cat) solves both their immediate problems AND their underlying loneliness, as a business arrangement blooms into love. But there’s a reason they both prefer animals to people; can their love triumph?
Being a shy animal lover myself, I really sympathized with the characters in this case, and I appreciated that Parrish’s take on anxiety and shyness is NOT “they need to get out more”, but rather a compassionate observation that some people are just built differently and have different social needs. To have Jack respond empathetically to Simon and listen to what he needs was exactly what I, as an anxious mess myself, needed to read.
If you take comfort and company from animal friends, if you find other people difficult to navigate sometimes, and if you like stories of supportive, affirming love (with spicy scenes mixed in), this may be the book for you.
Trying to improve your mental, physical, or emotional health? Your library provides a wide variety of resources to help you adjust your lifestyle, whatever your goals. Check out these recently published nonfiction books on wellness:
Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab focuses on emotional wellness, and the ways we can improve our mental and emotional health by establishing reasonable boundaries for ourselves.
Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety by Drew Ramsey describes the data that suggests dietary changes can impact mental health, as well as physical health.
The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Martina Slajerova is all about the famous and well-recommended diet and lifestyle that supports physical health as well as emotional health by encouraging sociability.
The Dance Cure by Peter Lovatt suggests using dance to support not only your physical health but emotional and mental health as well.
Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home by Becky Rapinchuk suggests ways your home environment can affect your wellness, such as using natural cleaning products to avoid harsh and harmful chemicals.
Or browse our related Libguides, curated by our librarians:
Mental Health Guide
Learning Collection Resources
Things to Do While Social Distancing – Exercise and Meditation
You might also like these other wellness resources from credible sources:
Get a holistic picture with the 8 dimensions of wellness as defined by the American Library Association Allied Professionals Association
Make a customized wellness plan from the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Move Your Way activity planner
However you do it, be sure to make time to take care of yourself!
We all know that exercise is good for physical health, but recently, a wealth of data has proven that exercise also contributes to overall mental well-being. Routine exercise alleviates stress and anxiety, moderates depression, relieves chronic pain, and improves self-esteem.
In this inspiring book, 8 Keys to Mental Health Thru Exercise, Christina Hibbert, a clinical psychologist and expert on women’s mental health, grief, and self-esteem, explains the connections between exercise and mental well-being and offers readers step-by-step strategies for sticking to fitness goals, overcoming motivation challenges and roadblocks to working out, and maintaining a physically and emotionally healthy exercise regimen.
This book will help readers to get moving, stay moving, and maintain the inspiration they need to reap the mental health benefits of regular exercise. The 8 keys include improving self-esteem with exercise, exercising as a family, getting motivated, changing how you think about exercise, and the FITT principle for establishing an effective exercise routine. (description from publisher)
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.