4/5 Stars: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker

This book was powerful. It’s a non fiction written about an American family that had 12 children (the oldest born in 1945, youngest in 1965) – 6 of them developed schizophrenia. The book goes into incredibly graphic detail about the family and their happenings, if you’re struggling with mental health this might not be the book for you. It also touches on subjects of self harm, violence, and rape.

I found the entire thing fascinating, and the author did an incredible job of melding together both the stories from the family, and the medical side of things. It spoke passionately about the human beings involved, and clearly about the genetic research, and science behind it all. This was one of those rare books I couldn’t put down – but had a few flaws that are not exactly the fault of the author but more due to the subject. Of course over time family members have passed, and near the end of the book the relationship between the daughters and the mother is a point of contention for me. There is huge emphasis on the history and grudges that has nothing to do with the rest of the schizophrenia that was supposed to be at the forefront. The book also paints Mimi (the mother) in a less-than-favourable light, when it’s not her perspective that we hear from, so we can only guess at her reasonings and decisions. Because this part of the book relies on the daughters’ accounts of things, it feels a bit uneven. In any case, this is certainly a book that makes you think, and hopefully gives you a deeper understanding.

4/5 stars

Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

15451058¬†As I mentioned in my previous post, this year I want to branch out from my typical genres. I want to explore books that others recommend to me, and not just those that I stumble across in my travels. On that note, I joined a book club set up by Emma Watson on GoodReads, and the first book on the shelf was this one. I don’t read a lot of non fiction. In fact I’m pretty sure the non fiction books I have read I could count on both hands. I didn’t go into this book club expecting anything other than having my mind and perspective opened up a little bit, and that’s exactly what the book did.

It’s a telling of the life of Gloria Steinem, and it just so happens to take place during a time in the world when the movement for equality was just starting out. What I found fascinating about this book was not the particular details about her life, nor her history growing up – but her interactions with others. Some of the sections of the book really made me think about things in a different way, see a new perspective, and that’s what I loved about it.

In one section that really moved me and opened up my mind, Gloria is talking with the American Indian and Alaskan Native Caucus.

“As one Native delegate said, “Other Americans have histories and families and gene pools in their home countries. If French or Arabic is forgotten in America, it’s still being spoken somewhere. We have no other country. If our languages are wiped out, they can’t come back. If we disappear here, that’s it.””

This quote really stood out to me. It was something I had never thought of before, and clarified why being able to keep their culture was such an important thing. The next moving quote is when Gloria is describing the lives of the various taxi drivers she had listened to over the years. This entire chapter was particularly moving for me, but one conversation stood out from the rest. She’s driving around New York City after 9/11 and talking with a taxi driver.

“There were also anonymous graffiti that had appeared as if by contagion all over New York with the same message: Our grief is not a cry for war. “Thats how New Yorkers feel,” the driver said. “They know what bombing looks like, and they know what hell it is. But outside New York, people will feel guilty because they weren’t here. They’ll be yelling for revenge out of guilt and ignorance. Sure, we all want to catch the criminals, but only people who weren’t in New York will want to bomb another country and repeat what happened here.””

Wow. Now, I know this quote probably doesn’t capture how 100% of New Yorkers felt, but that quote is so incredibly powerful and spoke to me on a level that I hadn’t anticipated.

It’s hard to describe how I felt as I read through this. It reads less as an autobiography and more like a novel, if that makes sense. It didn’t feel like what I was reading could possibly be real, or have possibly happened, and yet, it did. She teaches us to take the time to listen and makes the point time and again that ‘listening circles’ are powerful. All in all it was not what I was expecting (but then again, what was I expecting is hard to pin down) and quite an enjoyable read that really made me think.

4/5 stars