Sunday, November 22, 2020

There You Go, October Part 2

 As I was saying in my last post, I read 5 books in October. There was also a DNF:

3. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family - Robert Kolker. Nonfiction. I was fascinated by this book for the same reason I was drawn to The Devil in the White City.  I'm sure there's a proper name for this technique, but I call it "the two-track narrative". On one track, you have a large (12 children!) seemingly picture-perfect family living in Colorado. As the children (10 boys and 2 girls) get older, darkness begins to dominate this sunny portrait. Exactly half of the children, once they reach adolescence, begin to show signs of schizophrenia. Questions emerge. Blame is assigned. Ignorance and misinformation abound. Treatment is substandard and almost as injurious as the disease. On the other track, Kolker traces the origins of schizophrenia appearing in medical journals. Doctors and scientists struggle to understand the disease. Success happens in fits and starts, but understanding slowly lurches forward in time to help the surviving boys, now in their 60s and 70s. Kolker is an amazing journalist. His in-depth examination of the non-afflicted children, as well as their mother and father is poignant. He is also palpably sympathetic to the scientists going in the right direction, but facing roadblocks. Hidden Valley Road is packed with so much information, but the book is a clear, smooth, fairly fast read. Highly recommended.

4. The Able McLaughlins - Margaret Wilson. Novel. The 1924 Pulitzer Fiction winner hasn't aged as well as some of its contemporaries. The storyline seems stale and soap-opera-ish to modern readers, and has embarrassing notes of melodrama. There's one character/one chapter that is so well-done that it feels as if they were accidentally dropped into this clunker. The use of occasional flash-forwards is interesting, but awkward. I finally decided that the Pulitzer judges must've been drunk that year. 

5. Dust Tracks on a Road - Zora Neale Hurston. Memoir. Here's what I wrote on Goodreads:

Frustrating and fascinating. Dizzying mashup of lovely lyrical writing and sometimes starchy academic writing. Quicksilver. Can't be pinned down. Always a sense of playfulness. Alice Walker was right: Zora Neale Hurston was a genius of the South. Speaking of Walker, the last chapter of The Color Purple seem like a loving homage, an echo, a conversation with the last lines in Dust Tracks on a Road.

And... This is...this was? the DNF:

Everything is Figureoutable - Marie Forleo. Self-help. I can't help but feel a little sorry for self-help book writers. They happen onto a choice bit of advice, and it's so pure and pristine that it can be distilled down to one sleek and shining phrase. Then for some reason, they take this thing of beauty and decide to strrrrrrreeeeeeecchhhh it out into a whole book. Sometimes it works, as with Eat Stop Eat, Brad Pilon's book about intermittent fasting, and One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, Ph.D. Sometimes, it very decidedly does not work as in Gary Keller's The One Thing and Marie Forleo's Everything is Figureoutable. Keller's book suffers from the stretch problem and not very good writing. Forleo's writing is also bad, but more than that, it feels dishonest, glib, and self-promotional. There's something about the tone in her writing that causes me to associate her with Rachel Hollis, and that's not a good thing. Anyway, my takeaway from Forleo's book is to just treasure her mom's sound advice (everything is figureoutable) and discard the rest.


Jeane said...

I think I read about Hidden Valley Road on another blog. Did one or two of the sisters in it get molested by older brother and/or father? If so, unfortunately that makes it harder for me to pick up what sounds like a v interesting book.

Bybee said...

Yes, that's the one.

james chester said...

I was sorely tempted by Hidden Valley Road, but didn't buy the hardcover and have not seen a paperback yet. It does sound like a fascinating read.

Care said...

Ah, self help books that need filler to make a book... Just do a Ted Talk!