Category: Reviews


Monday Madness: The Center Cannot Hold

Posted 16 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Madness: The Center Cannot HoldThe Center Cannot Hold by Elyn R. Saks
Published by Hyperion on August 12th 2008
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, General, Personal Memoirs, Psychology, Psychopathology, Schizophrenia, Social Scientists & Psychologists, Women
Pages: 351
Goodreads
five-stars

Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she's an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She has managed to achieve this in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a "grave" prognosis -- and suffering the effects of her illness throughout her life.Saks was only eight, and living an otherwise idyllic childhood in sunny 1960s Miami, when her first symptoms appeared in the form of obsessions and night terrors. But it was not until she reached Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar that her first full-blown episode, complete with voices in her head and terrifying suicidal fantasies, forced her into a psychiatric hospital.Saks would later attend Yale Law School where one night, during her first term, she had a breakdown that left her singing on the roof of the law school library at midnight. She was taken to the emergency room, force-fed antipsychotic medication, and tied hand-and-foot to the cold metal of a hospital bed. She spent the next five months in a psychiatric ward.So began Saks's long war with her own internal demons and the equally powerful forces of stigma. Today she is a chaired professor of law who researches and writes about the rights of the mentally ill. She is married to a wonderful man.In The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks discusses frankly and movingly the paranoia, the inability to tell imaginary fears from real ones, and the voices in her head insisting she do terrible things, as well as the many obstacles she overcame to become the woman she is today. It is destined to become a classic in the genre.

This book is inspiring and fabulous. It’s a 30+ year journey of a woman eventually diagnosed as a schizophrenic who defeated the odds to achieve a graduate degree at Oxford, a J.D. from Yale Law, and eventually a tenured professor-ship (is that a word?) at USC Gould School of Law.


Through it all, she fights her diagnosis and the need for meds. Eventually, she finds peace only in the acceptance of her diagnosis and acceptance in the fact that she needed the meds. Still, she struggles to maintain her inner “self”. 

The Center Cannot Hold is truly an amazing story and a fantastic read.

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Classic Fail: Les Misérables

Posted 15 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Classic Fail: Les MisérablesLes Misérables by Victor Hugo
Published by Signet Classic Genres: Classics, Fiction
Pages: 1463
Goodreads
two-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

It has been said that Victor Hugo has a street named after him in virtually every town in France. A major reason for the singular celebrity of this most popular and versatile of the great French writers is "Les Misérables "(1862). In this story of the trials of the peasant Jean Valjean--a man unjustly imprisoned, baffled by destiny, and hounded by his nemesis, the magnificently realized, ambiguously malevolent police detective Javert--Hugo achieves the sort of rare imaginative resonance that allows a work of art to transcend its genre. "Les Miserables "is at once a tense thriller that contains one of the most compelling chase scenes in all literature, an epic portrayal of the nineteenth-century French citizenry, and a vital drama--highly particularized and poetic in its rendition but universal in its implications--of the redemption of one human being.

Les Misérables may be the hardest book I’ve ever read. 12% of this book is equivalent to a short novel and very – very – little has happened. I continued to march on.

When I was 1/3 of the way through the book I came to the part where Jean val Jean rescues Cosette from the Thenardier’s and the heartbreaking way in which they treat her. I think that the reaction would have been different had I read this before becoming a mother. It was simply painful.

I pushed my way through this beast and now it’s done. Another book checked off the bucket list. I hated most of this book. The only interesting characters were Jean val Jean and Eponine. 

It goes on and on and on. Hugo forever pontificates on undoubtedly important and interesting subjects — but he goes on so long and gets so abstract that it renders his points moot.

Tedious and awful. I’d recommend the film adaptation with Liam Neeson in it, though they totally remove the character of Eponine- which is lame, but other than that it’s quite good. The musical version with Hugh Jackman in it is fantastic as well – except you have to listen to Russell Crowe ‘sing’. 
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#877: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (2010 list)

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Fantastical Friday: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Posted 13 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fantastical Friday: The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Published by Harper Collins on June 18th 2013
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 208
Goodreads
five-stars

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

It sounds trite, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an instant classic! 

My sole problem with this novel is that it’s touted as an adult novel, when it’s really closer in form and structure to Coraline than American GodsIt’s YA lit in the tradition of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I predict that The Ocean at the End of the Lane will one day make it’s way onto summer reading lists everywhere. 


It examines the links between childhood and adulthood, things forgotten and things returned. Lots of good stuff. 

Read it. Now.

At a mere 181 pages, it’s a quick read, so no excuses!

What’s your favorite Neil Gaiman novel? 

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Throwback Thursday: The Bell Jar

Posted 12 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Throwback Thursday: The Bell JarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Published by HarperCollins Genres: Classics, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 416
Goodreads
five-stars

The Bell Jar chronicles the breakdown of the brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful Esther Greenwood, a woman slowly going under -- maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's demise with such intensity that the character's insanity becomes completely real, even rational -- as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.


First line: “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

This is the most powerful piece of literature that I have read in a long time. Reviewed as ‘a female Catcher in the Rye, I found it to be much more than that. This book spoke to me and affected me in ways that a book has not done in quite awhile. 

The way that Plath describes depression and her ‘descent into madness’ in unparalleled in anything else I have ever read. Since this book is semi-autobiographical I have to wonder if with today’s medicine and therapy techniques if Plath could have been saved.

“‘I wonder who you’ll marry now, Esther. Now you’ve been,’ and Buddy’s gesture encompassed the hill, the pines and the severe, snow-gabled buildings breaking up the rolling landscape, ‘here.'”

“How did I know that someday – at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere – the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again.”

“My mother smiled. ‘I knew my baby wasn’t like that.’
I looked at her. ‘Like what?’
‘Like those awful people. Those awful dead people at that hospital.’ she paused. ‘I knew you’d decide to be all right again.'”

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#422 – 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (2010)

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Worthy Biographies: Steve Jobs

Posted 12 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Worthy Biographies: Steve JobsSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Published by Simon and Schuster on September 10th 2013
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Business & Economics, Computers & Information Technology, General, History, Leadership, Macintosh, Personal Computers, Technology & Engineering
Pages: 630
Goodreads
four-stars

The phenomenal bestseller about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs from the author of the acclaimed biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than 100 family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson set down the riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing. Isaacson’s portrait touched hundreds of thousands of readers. At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs still stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering. Although Jobs cooperated with the author, he asked for no control over what was written. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. He himself spoke candidly about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues offer an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped Jobs’s approach to business, the innovative products that resulted, and his legacy.

 Comprehensive and well written – Walter Isaacson does not disappoint. He doesn’t pull punches when it comes to the mean and spiteful side of Jobs. But it is clear that the man was a genius in his own right, albeit a flawed one. 

Another reason this book is so enjoyable is that it’s also a history of modern computing. It would be impossible to discuss the rise, fall, and resurrection of Apple without speaking of Microsoft, Xerox, HP, and other companies that were instrumental in computing as we know it today. 

Fascinating read.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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