“The Noonday Demon,” Part 3

the noonday demonWhen Andrew Solomon writes that people “attribute their pain to external factors” (347), sometimes they’re right, poor or not.  I’m highly skeptical of this idea that the problem is always internal; claiming that changing the internal will change the external is usually true but we also need to be very careful (a lot more careful than Solomon was, in my opinion) not to start blaming the victim since that’s where this line of thinking can go all to easily.  One thing I will agree with, though, is that “we have been trying to solve the problem of poverty by material intervention at least since biblical times and have in the last decade tired of such intervention, realizing that money is not a sufficient antidote” (360).  What is?  These people, part of the “When Helping Hurts” team have some ideas. Continue reading “The Noonday Demon,” Part 3

“The Noonday Demon,” Part 2

the noonday demonContinuing with my thoughts on Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon, he dismisses “chronic poisoning” too easily in the “Alternatives” chapter; it’s not just one’s house that may or may not harbor harmful off-gassing and poisons, we are pumping the air, soil, water, food (GMOs anyone?) full of toxins and foreign substances.  Even if you do manage to live in a relatively clean home, you cannot avoid the relentless deluge of chemicals and poisons rampant in our world (and their constant mismanagement by the government).  He also claims, “If you have depression and try an exotic treatment and think you are better, then you are better” (137).  This can lapse into blaming the victim: all you have to do is think you are better and you are better!  If you’re better, it’s because you don’t think you are, as if depression does not drastically affect how you think in the first place.  But what qualifies Solomon to make such statements as, “Depression is a disease of thought processes and emotions, and if something changes in your thought processes and emotions in the correct direction, that qualifies as a recovery” (137)?  Not only does this again reinforce the idea that people who are depressed are so because they want to  be (especially without further specification on what *causes* disordered thought processes), but do we know enough about depression to definitively make such statements?  What of otherwise happy people who report being “suddenly struck” with a depression, like Frank on page 162?  Also, what is the “correct” direction?  Is hopelessness in the face of helplessness at a world thoroughly destroying itself an “incorrect” response?  Why all this pressure to be constantly happy?  Later he writes, “depression is a bodily affliction and the physical helps” (141).  Well, which is it: a thought disorder or a physical disease?  Not that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive but it’s not clear if Solomon conceptualizes it as both. Continue reading “The Noonday Demon,” Part 2

“The Noonday Demon” by Andrew Solomon, Part 1

the noonday demonPerhaps it was because I just happened to be in the middle of this book when Robin William’s died (and thus, there was much talk of “battling demons”) but I had some difficulty with this book, so my review is going to span four posts.  Mental illness is an issue that I care very much about, which is why I’m bothering to spend the next two weeks discussing this book and putting off my next series. Let’s dive in:  There were parts that were insightful, thought-provoking and funny.  There were other parts that were, in my opinion, offensive, contradictory reinforcing of painful stereotypes that are hindering our society in moving forward on caring for those who struggle with mental illness.  I’ll start where Solomon starts: the title.  He explains his choice of “the noonday demon” on page 293; but I still find it lacking.  Do we say that cancer patients are afflicted with “tumor demons?” Not only is such talk trivializing a very real, very dangerous illness, but it’s totally inaccurate medically (and at least over simplistic spiritually) and prevents people from seeking and/or receiving appropriate help. Continue reading “The Noonday Demon” by Andrew Solomon, Part 1

“Far From the Tree” by Andrew Solomon

13547504Solomon’s meticulous and impeccable detail is a bit arduous at times, but it is this detail that conjures such vivid pictures of the lives of the parents and children he discusses.  He intersperses the personal stories he spent ten years gathering in interviews with exposition on the condition of the chapter (e.g. autism, schizophrenia, deafness, etc.) artfully; sometimes I would have liked a bit less exposition and more personal story but the connection between the two was always clear even as he toggled back and forth.  It’s likely that you will be personally touched by this book; whether you have children or not, and whether you have someone in your life with one of the conditions he discusses or not (though it’s likely that you do), this book is an invitation to reflect on deep questions of identity, disability and love.  In that way, this book is sorely needed.

Continue reading “Far From the Tree” by Andrew Solomon

“No Easy Answers” by Brooks Brown


While I take a break between my old series on popular phrases and the new one I’m hoping to start in the next few weeks, I’m going to catch up on some reviews of books I’ve been reading lately – in part to practice for my new (volunteer) position reviewing books for Seattle’s award-winning street newspaper Real Change.  It’s a great paper that keeps readers informed of social justice issues, the struggles of the poor and homeless in this city and advocacy/activism opportunities for those with a heart toward the least and the last of society.  But I digress.  It’s book review time: Continue reading “No Easy Answers” by Brooks Brown

Clash of the Couples, aka, I’m going to be in a book!

Clash of the Couples2-01Now, before you think Clash of the Couples is about sex, let me explain.  A few months ago, I saw a call for submissions on the website of Blue Lobster Book Co., asking for stories about your funniest spats or most absurd fights.  The desire was create a funny, light-hearted anthology proving that couples fight about more than just kids, money and sex.  “Perfect,” I thought.  “Mark I fight about everything!”  Including math.  So I wrote up our never-ending fight about calculus, submitted it and, within two weeks, heard that my story was accepted! Continue reading Clash of the Couples, aka, I’m going to be in a book!

Raging with Compassion

51C8bCfVLGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We interrupt our regularly scheduled “thoughts about phrases” programming – because it’s midterms – for a brief book review interlude.  I’m swamped with papers, projects, presentations and another writing deadline so today, I would just like to offer my brief thoughts on a text I was assigned to read for my “Theodicy” class.  “Theodicy,” for those that are unfamiliar with the term, is basically “the problem of evil.”  One common formulation of it comes to us from Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, which I will paraphrase: “If God can stop evil (as in, is all-powerful) but does not, then God is not good.  If God wants to stop evil (as in, is all-loving) but cannot, God is not really God (something else would be more powerful, namely, evil).  If God can stop evil and wants to stop evil, whence then this evil?” Continue reading Raging with Compassion