The 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
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.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Published by HarperCollins Genres: Classics, Fiction, Literary
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.'”
#422 – 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (2010)