Book Review: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

reasons-to-stay-aliveAfter reading Melissa Broder’s TMI memoir, So Sad Today, I really wasn’t up to reading another memoir, especially one dealing with the thorny topic of depression and other mental illnesses. Then I came across British author Matt Haig’s book Reasons to Stay Alive while browsing the stacks at my local library. I read the book jacket and decided to check Haig’s book out…

…and I’m glad I did. Reasons to Stay Alive might be one of the most important books I have ever read on the issue of depression and mental illness, and one I am happy to share with my readers.

On the surface, Haig has a pretty ideal life. His parents are kind, compassionate and loving. His girlfriend (now wife) Andrea sounds like a delightful woman, one who chose to stick by Haig through even his darkest mental terror. Haig is educated, well-traveled, good-looking and a successful author. What does he have to be depressed about?

Well, often depression has no reason to exist; it just does. And sometimes there are reasons why people are depressed, which is something Haig also describes in Reasons to Stay Alive. But Reasons to Stay Alive is Haig’s story and it is painful to read at times. I often had to put the book down because at times I related to Haig way too much and have the dried up tears to prove it, and because I felt so much empathy for his struggles.

For Haig, depression was just something that was thrust upon him, almost like being an innocent victim of a violent crime. He couldn’t quite pinpoint why he felt the way he did. Even everyday activities from getting out of bed to doing basic ever day tasks were too much to handle. For a moment, Haig considered committing suicide while vacationing in Ibiza.

I’m just glad he never took that final step.

From these suicidal thoughts to writing Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig chronicles his struggles with depression with clarity that both chills and helps the writer gain insight on the cruelty of depression and how it not only affects the sufferer but those who live with the sufferer.

Haig writes about his anxiety and panic attacks. He is fully honest in how depression affected him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He goes through a whole alphabet of emotions—sadness, rage, hopelessness, apathy, frustration, terror and other assorted less than ideal feelings. But he also writes of the glimmers of hope he gained and he acknowledged his suffering and went on a very difficult journey of recovery. And he does it without self-pity, psychobabble or being a self-absorbed narcissistic curator of TMI.

In Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig fully explains why depression is so misunderstood (even by those who suffer from it). With depression, one’s pain is invisible. You wonder what suffering from depressions says about you. You wonder why you can’t get out of bed, stop crying, worry tomorrow will be worse than today and beat yourself up for not being like everybody else.

Haig also describes certain aspects that some people with depression suffer from, including fatigue, low-self-esteem, irritability, crying jags, moving and speaking at a slower pace, and inability to experience pleasure.

Haig also tells the readers that people are depression are not alone. And names several notable figures who suffered from depression include Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, and Buzz Aldrin. Creative types also suffer from depression. These people include Halle Berry, Jon Hamm, Billy Joel, Emma Thompson and Tennessee Williams. Even the ever bubbly ray of sunshine, Dolly Parton, has issues with depression!

However, Haig leaves us hopeful, sharing both his journey and the journey of others on various Reasons to Stay Alive which include everything from kissing (yes, to lots and lots of kissing) and reading books (yes, to lots and lots of books). Ultimately, he shares with us 40 pieces how to not only live but thrive while dealing with depression and also offers names of books that may help those suffer from depression that can probably be found at both your local library, on-line and at your favorite bookstore.

Reasons to Stay Alive is at times hard to read; dealing with my own depression is bad enough. But I am eternally grateful for Matt Haig and his truly valuable book. Reasons to Stay Alive should be read not just by those suffering from depression, but those who love someone with depression. Actually, Reasons to Stay Alive should be read by everyone!


Writer’s Block (With a Dash of Brag Book)

reader-and-proudOnce again, we’re in the thick of autumn, and Bookish Jen is busier than ever. I’m back to teaching RE at my church and our film series started earlier this month. I’m on the film selection committee and I also write all the marketing materials.

What else? Well, the Xmas holiday will be here soon so I’m going to be busy making everything from baked goods to jewelry to bath and beauty products. A local charity is hosting a craft fair and I want to donate some handmade beaded earrings. I already made a couple of pairs that are quite lovely.

And of course, there is this blog. I just finished reading a terrific memoir by a very talented British writer, and my review should be posted sometime next week. I’m also taking another one for a team and a book by a couple of conservative female pundits should be up before election day. I also have a couple of novels I want to read and review.

As for the dash of brag book? Well, this month marks my third year of blogging at The Book Self. It’s been a thrilling ride. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog and follows me. I also have to thank the publishers and authors who have sent me books to read and review, and my guest reviewers who have shared their thoughts on the books they read. I also want to thank Milwaukee’s library system and to book stores, both indie and larger outlets, for all the great reads. I can’t make it without any of you!!!!

Book Marks

kitty book

Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls and Sex, deftly explains Trump’s unforgivable remarks about women.

And Raw Story appropriately rips apart KKK Barbie, The Blaze’s Tomi Lahren, on her comments regarding Trump.

To cleanse the palate. Did you know there is a restaurant named The Writing Room in New York City? Well, now you do!

Why Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery is so timely.

Lovely tribute to the late Gloria Naylor.

Funny writers choose the books that make them laugh.

Everything writers should know about Amazon Publishing.

New York Public Library’s iconic Rose Reading Room re-opens.

Chicks on the Right are like totally pissed off because Tor Publishing won’t accept submissions reflecting European culture.

Girl on the Train author, Paula Hawkins, on what she thinks of the film adaptation.



Retro Review: Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz

slaves-of-new-yorkHas it really been thirty years since Tama Janowitz’s collection of short stories Slaves of New York was released? I read it a several years after its initial release, and to me, a young girl who grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, Slaves of New York and Janowitz just defined the Big Apple to me, the way her WASPy peers Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney and their literary offerings never did. But then again, as a dorky, most definitely non-WASPy kind of girl, this shouldn’t surprise me.

Imagine a Pre-Guiliani New York of the 1980s. This was before Times Square was completely cleaned-up and Disney-fied, Donald Trump was just a loud and tacky business man, not the GOP candidate for president (yes, a much kinder, simpler time), “greed is good” was the mantra of every yuppie sporting slicked back hair and suspenders, the World Trade Center defined the Manhattan skyline and “Sex and The City” and “Girls” weren’t notions in the heads of Sarah Jessica Parker and Lena Dunham.

Slaves of New York is a collection of intermingled stories of struggling and hustling painters, designers, performance artists, writers, and other creative types. One creative type we meet is Eleanor who is in her late twenties and trying to make it as a jewelry designer. She lives with her boyfriend, Stash, who is a graffiti artist, temperamental and only fleetingly devoted to Eleanor, sometimes going for days without speaking to her for some minor infraction on her part.

As a jewelry designer, Eleanor feels she is a failure and is frustrated by her lack of artistic and professional success. Furthermore, she desires more of a commitment from Stash, marriage, but that is isn’t about to happen any time soon.

And even though Eleanor knows she should fully break free from Stash, find someone better and concentrate more on her jewelry designs she doesn’t. Her relationship with Stash isn’t just about love; it’s also about having a place to live. Eleanor can’t afford to pay rent all on her own; yes, the rent is too damn high!

Another slave of New York is Marley Mantello, the protagonist of five of Janowitz’s tales. Marley fashions himself of a genius painter, on the verge of being the “next big thing.” What he lacks in actual talent and skill, he makes up in sheer bravado and being a legend in his own mind. He pays no mind to those who merely orbit his universe. Yes, Marley is unbelievably obnoxious and best to be ignored if one runs into him. But there are times when tragedy befalls him, and he shows a true humanity that makes you feel a smidge of compassion, like when his sister commits suicide.

Other stories between the covers of Slaves of New York include a man who claims to be rich and takes unsuspecting women “jewelry shopping “at Tiffany’s. Why he does this, he can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s just easier to pose as an eccentric man of considerable means, rather actually be the poor guy he actually is.

Other tales told include one of man, Victor, who suffers from a cocktail of ailments, neuroses and acid reflux being just a couple of them. Cora gets involved with Ray, not for love, but through him she can a cop a decent meal now and then and some free furniture for her new apartment. She should feel guilty, especially considering she’s graduate student of women’ studies; but hey, she’s just trying to survive. And in another tale, a spoiled, rich girl, after getting expelled from college and enduring a brief marriage, dabbles in prostitution and heroin (haven’t we all?).

But for me, Slaves of New York, is Eleanor’s story. Like me, Eleanor is from a small town, both befuddled and in wonderment the city and all it has to offer. She’s desperate to fit into the artistic, creative, madcap world that surrounds her, but finds herself coming up short. She’s such a naïve lass that she doesn’t realize a fashion designer she has coffee with is gay, which reminded me how shocked I was the first time I saw two guys making out at a party even though I had no problem with gay people. And I can only imagine the look on my face when I saw some ladies snorting coke in at a dance club bathroom; I’d seen Scarface on cable, for goodness sake! And aside to my mother, I have never done coke, okay?

We now live in very different time that existed in 1986. Business moguls are now rock stars, and rock stars aspire to be moguls. Google is a verb, people don’t want to be artists, but instead they want to be brands, and we let our social media define us. Yet, Eleanor’s tale is eternal. We want to be independent, desire success, express ourselves in a creative matter, and still want the stability and security we think only a marriage will offer. Sure, at times Slaves of New York is sentimental, dated read, but I still found it entertaining and can still relate to Janowitz’s debut.


Book Review: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder


I initially picked up Melissa Broder’s book So Sad Today because like me, Ms.  Broder suffers from depression, and I’m always interested in how other people with depression deal with this very misunderstood ailment. Even further, Roxane “Bad Feminist” Gay gave So Sad Today a very positive review. I value Gay’s judgment so I started this book with a great deal of enthusiasm.

And this enthusiasm quickly evaporated from the moment I read the first chapter of So Sad Today, “How to Never Be Enough,” in which New York-based Broder, went into great length her mother’s difficulty in breastfeeding Broder to Broder’s fondness of eating her boogers.

And from there So Sad Today became a den of shock and vulgarity detailing every stomach-turning aspects of Broder’s life (like her mad fetish for vomit) from her childhood turmoil to her very open marriage, and then some. Clearly other people’s struggles with depression are vastly different than mine and everybody has their freaky-deaky kinks and quirks. I’m not completely without empathy and I’m certainly not close-minded when it comes to other people’s idiosyncrasies. We all have them…

Furthermore, I’m now questioning Gay’s particular taste in literature.

But let us proceed further into the madcap adventures of Melissa…

In another chapter, named “Love Like You Are Trying to Fill an Insatiable Spiritual Hole with Another Person Who Will Suffocate in There”-or as I like to call it “Sexting for Crummies,” Broder shares sexually-graphic texts between herself and a total stranger that are so horrific my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets. I am no prude; I have read my share of erotica and once wrote an article about sex toys. But these sexts had all the erotic lure of a Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich gang bang. Sorry, but I just have to share a few of sexts between Broder and this up-standing feller:

Him: “I want to fuck you in an air duct, flattened out with our whole bodies touching, at first slow and careful, then really hard until I come in you and the bottom of the duct falls out and we into a boardroom meeting at Walmart, like into a bucket of fondue.”

Broder later sexts to this charming lad: “I want u to take a picture of yr cum on the screenshot of ‘Melissa Broder likes this’ and send it to me, and I want it signed by the cummer.”

Hmm, who says romance is dead?

But wait! There’s more! In chapter, Broder tells you about every dimension of her lady parts, including one labia is slightly longer than the other. Hmm, you don’t say? After reading this I do believe I could pick out Melissa’s yoni out of a line up (hmm, that’s a sentence I never thought I would write).

Throughout the book Melissa waxes on about eating disorders, suffering from anxiety, musings on gender differences like men want sex and women want love, more bodily function gross-outs and a very graphic exchange about getting a “vaginal massage” from an older man. Of her bat mitzvah, Broder muses, “I had this weird intuition that if I could just make it to my Bat Mitzvah I could both prevent the Holocaust from happening again and also get all my friends back.”

Gee, during my first communion I mused, “I wish I could dip this bland Body of Christ into some guacamole and end the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.”

But just as I was getting ready to toss this book, Broder gets very real and touched me as a reader that made me feel tender towards her, not tetchy. In the chapter, “I Told You Not to Get the Knish: Thoughts on Open Marriage and Illness,” Broder discusses her open marriage with her husband (who she refers to as Ron Jeremy). In their open marriage, Broder and Mr. Ron Jeremy agree they may have sex with other partners as long as they remain casual and don’t turn these encounters into full-fledged affairs, and for the most part, an open marriage works for both of them.

And in this chapter, also Broder discusses in heartbreaking detail Mr. Ron Jeremy’s very serious and debilitating disease and how it affects their marriage. Broder’s commitment to her husband is both challenging and proves she is capable of deep caring and compassion. I really wish she would have devoted her memoir on this aspect of her life and her fierce love and commitment to her husband.

Broder is a fairly decent writer and possibly a very nice person in real life. Apparently So Sad Today started out as an anonymous Twitter feed, which later turned into this very book. Broder claims to be very self-conscious, riddled with anxiety and constantly wonders what people think of her, so it’s baffling why she’d be so open to such extremes via her book. But then again, in a world where people get famous by doing a sex tape, opine about the most private moments in their social media and Instagram their butts, I should probably not be surprised Broder probably thought TMI was the quickest way to get published. Sure, more may be less, but in 2016 more is MORE and the fast track to fame and notoriety.


Book Marks

cropped-reading_is_coolBook Riot celebrates its 10th birthday with a collection of their most popular posts.

Here is an explanation of the 150 most mispronounced words.

New Times book reviewer outs author who wanted to remain anonymous.

Curious George turns 75 this year!

Art of the Deal ghost writer says Trump was not fond of the book title.

Tips on writing a treatment for your “reading to reels” book.

Books for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Niche book stores are finding a place in the complex world of book selling.

What makes a children’s book good? Find out!

Code words racists are using to avoid censorship.



Brag Book

dancing leslie knope

I sent a link my review of You Got to Be Dirty to both the publisher, Badger Wordsmith, located here in Wisconsin, who sent me a copy of the book. Thank you by the way, Badger Wordsmith.

I also sent a link to author Michael Grogan and he loved it and glad I got an education on a lifestyle I’m very unfamiliar with. He sent a link to 100 people on his email list, and posted a link to my review on his Facebook page.

Book Review: Let’s Spend the Night Together-Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.


“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.”-unknown

Years ago, when I was starry-eyed girl in a vintage frock and a pair of Doc Martens, I picked up a unassuming paperback book. That book was I’m With the Band written by Pamela Des Barres. I completely devoured Ms. Des Barres lusty tales of backstage romance. I couldn’t so much relate to the debauchery and drugs, but I could relate to being consumed by rock music and wanting to be close to the people who created it. Apparently Des Barres and I are not alone. And “Miss Pamela” has written about this in her latest book, Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

Say the word groupie and what do you think? Slut? Golddigger? Bimbo? Des Barres looks beyond that damning word and gets to heart of several women’s (and one man’s) rock and roll confessionals. And in an odd way, I found many of these women to be strong feminists, eschewing the “lifescript” and striking out on their own unique paths.

One notable super groupie portrayed in Let’s Spend the Night Together is former burlesque dancer, Tura Satana. Exotic Satana (known as Miss Japan Beautiful) met a young Elvis Presley and claims to have taught the King of Rock and Roll how to move on the stage and in bed. To me, anyone who taught Elvis how to dance and how to give head deserves to be canonized. According to Satana, Elvis even proposed to her. Of course, we all know Elvis ended up marrying Priscilla, but that hasn’t stopped Satana from wearing his diamond engagement ring to this day.

You’ve probably heard of Cynthia Plaster Caster. She gained notoriety for casting the erect penises of famous rock stars, most notable being Jimi Hendrix. We even get a photograph of “recovering groupie” Plaster Caster holding the rock legend’s casted member also known as the “Penis de Milo.” In this chapter, Plaster Caster tells how as a shy artistic girl, she came up with her unique art form and how they were nearly stolen by Frank Zappa’s former manager.

Bebe Buell may be best known as actress Liv Tyler’s mom. But back in the day, she was also the alluring arm candy of such rock notables as Rick Nielson, Todd Rundgren and Liv’s daddy, Steven Tyler. Buell much prefers the term “muse” to “groupie.” And though that might sound pretentious, Buell does have a point. Many of these women aren’t necessarily easily disposable objects. Look at your music collection. Many of your favorite songs were probably inspired by girlfriends, lovers and wives.

I was very intrigued by Lexa Vonn. Ms. Vonn founded the LA-based publicity machine the Plastics. Vonn and her fellow glam-goth lovelies do a lot more than hang around backstage offering sexual favors. They are very instrumental in promoting up and coming rock acts. Ms. Vonn also works as a burlesque dancer and rock journalist, and confesses to having a very strong friendship with Marilyn Manson.

There are other notable groupies in Let’s Spend the Night Together. Cassandra Peterson, who you probably better as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, spent some time in the groupie trenches. So did belly dancer extraordinaire, Princess Farhana (born Pleasant Gehman). Actress Patti D’Arbanville shares her stories as does Gail Zappa, the widow of Frank Zappa. And boy groupie Pleather gives rock and roll girls what they’ve got coming. And yes, “sweet, sweet” Connie Hamzy, celebrated in the   Grand Funk Railroad’s song “We’re an American Band” (“Sweet, sweet Connie, doin’ her act/ She had the whole show and that’s a natural fact.”) also has a chapter. I’ll spare you the details on her shenanigans. You have to read it to believe it.

However, not all groupie stories are created equal. I found heavy metal groupies Patty and Lisa tiring and tedious, but that could be because heavy metal is not my thing. And somehow I couldn’t share Tina King’s pride and joy in giving Kid Rock a blow job. Kid Rock, people!

Let’s Spend the Night Together also gives intimate glimpses of the men who play the devil’s music. Apparently Kurt Cobain liked to dress up in women’s clothing, and Billy Idol likes to have stuff shoved up his butt. Who knew? However, I’m still trying to understand the appeal of Faster, Pussycat’s Taime Downe. He is name-dropped quite a bit in the book.

In the end, I found Let’s Spend the Night Together to be a fun, juicy read. I often stayed up way past my bedtime going from chapter to chapter. Des Barres gives her subjects a great deal of dignity and respect, and writes in a wonderfully breezy “just between us girls” style. You’ve got another hit, Miss Pamela!

Book Marks

  • audreyhepburnreading400

Human shit stain, Ted Nugent, says something horrible about Minnesota mall stabbing victims.

Find out what separates a good writer from a bad writer.

I really liked Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter With Kansas? So I definitely want to read his latest book, Listen, Liberal.

Mayim “She’ll Always Be Blossom to Me” Bialik is slated to write a self-help book for girls.

It is “Banned Books Week.” Time magazine questions examines what banned books say about our culture and what we fear.

Reading favorites that feature animals as the main character.

How one woman is using the power of books to change the lives of troubled youth.

Writers and the struggles with cultural appropriation.

Avid Goldberg’s memoir Avid Reader examines the golden age of publishing.

UK’s The Guardian claims navel-gazing and self-absorption is not feminism. AKA “Bring Me the Head of Lena Dunham.