Thursday, August 30, 2012

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

These books are, that is.

Like, (I'm gonna use Chandler Bing voice for a minute:) these books could not be any more different. Oh  no, now I've lost everyone who was born after 1990. Well you see, kids. Once upon a time there was this haircut named Rachel...

Never mind.

Can you tell I'm sick? I'm sick. My brain is doing little hoppity hops from one thing to another, and my nose is running like a GIANT NOSE THAT RUNS. My nose is such a tool, y'all. I currently have two wads of Kleenex shoved up thar' to try to stop up the yuck.

I'll move on. You're welcome.

Let's talk books, mmkay?

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

This one was a walk-n-listen for me, a sometimes drive-n-listen. The narrator was not, in fact (I checked), Stanley Tucci. But he had a Stanley Tucci-esque quality about him which made listening a bit more fun to imagine. Monkey Mind is Smith's journey through the origin, manifestations and treatment of his anxiety. Though he doesn't give his specific diagnosis in the book, I would venture to say it's Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. Or really, I don't know if you have both if it's called some other thing and frankly I'm sick so I don't want to look it up. But as someone who has faced her own share of panic attacks, I could relate.

Sorta. I mean, this is someone whose entire life has been shaped by anxiety. His mom is a therapist, he is Jewish -- he claims both, in addition to the wiring of his brain, have contributed to how he has handled trauma and anxiety in his life. There was also a long (and descriptive) passage about a sort of inciting sexual incident he experienced in his teenage years. So there's that.

I liked this book, and then I didn't. It wasn't that I felt it didn't deal with anxiety honestly. It did, and that was what I appreciated about it most. I found his descriptions of the physical sensation of panic to be fascinating. He describes his as an "icicle in his chest," and I think I'd go more for a grey, cold pool. But to each his own [description of unmanageable fears]. I began to strongly dislike this book when it ventured into some of his specific habits (like, disgustingly, nail-biting). I had to skip ahead in a few parts like that one because I was driving and didn't want to barf in my new car.

But unfortunately this book didn't seem to end up anywhere. And perhaps that's because with anxiety there's no story arc. You can't "cure" anxiety so much as you can acknowledge that it already moved into your home and then you figure as long as it's there you better work out a way to live with each other. So maybe that's why it kind of stopped being interesting to me. The last hour or so was kind of meh. I didn't feel a strong sense of resolution, and while that works in some cases, in this case I actually wanted to have some sense of finality.

My recommendation: I'm not sorry I read it, but I don't know if I can recommend it, really. Only if you're anxious and you want to see what other people have to say about it.

Most Talkative: Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture by Andy Cohen

Just today I was teaching my AP kids about reading with purpose. For instance, when you're reading a passage on the AP English Literature test, you don't want to just, let's say, read it for fun. Its meaning will not make itself known to you without some work. You have to read it to find things, to make connections and dissect the passage's construction. But (as I told them) sometimes you just also want to read to be entertained. So before you get all disappointed in me for reading this piece of delicious cotton-candy fluff, please remember that I read about 10 books for school this summer, most of them very serious (E says, "wrist-slitting" literature). So I needed to just read to be entertained and not think too hard. And I was. And I didn't.

Not that I'm ashamed. I love me some Andy Cohen. I love all the kitchy, voyeuristic nature of the Real Housewives series. I have a hard job. I read hard books. I like to unwind when I watch my TV at night. So yeah, I love Watch What Happens Live. And Top Chef. And RHOC and RHONY, etc. And, HELLO? Meryl was on WHHL recently. Enough said.

Did this book have lots of behind-the-scenes Bravo channel gossip? Mmhmm. But it was also a really nice, honest autobiography. Cohen grew up wanting to be the next serious news anchor. He interned for CBS in the 90s and cut his interviewing teeth interviewing the soap stars he idolized. I love stories about how people end up where they end up. And this one was actually way better than expected.

I listened to this as an audiobook, too. I hate to say how surprised I was that it held my interest, but it did exceed my expectations.  I found myself wanting to walk more frequently because it was so funny. That's always the mark of a good book--if it can make me forget I'm exercising. It felt like WWHL in my ipod. Cohen was just as entertaining as the narrator as he is on TV.

My recommendation: Yes, if you're a Bravo fan like moi. Pure pop culture fun.

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