Tag Archives: non-fiction

PUT AWAY THE RAZOR by Carolee Kassman

*Author provided a copy in return for a fair and honest review

If you find yourself facing a hard, dangerous journey, it pays to get the advice from someone who’s traveled the same road and lived to tell the tale.

Put Away the Razor. Surviving Suicidal Thoughts and Beating Back Depression One Day at a Time

Put Away the Razor. Surviving Suicidal Thoughts and Beating Back Depression One Day at a Time

Suicidal Depression is about as hard as it comes life-wise. PUT AWAY THE RAZOR begins with some scary statistics–there are over 1 million suicide attempts in the U.S. each year, and more than 105 people commit suicide each day. When all you can see ahead of you is a dark, yawning abyss and instead of stepping away from the edge, you are drawn to those depths, you need guidance from a soul who knows exactly what you’re going through. Carolee Kassman struggled with her first suicidal thoughts in the 6th grade and knows from experience how–day by terrifying day–it IS possible to turn from death and toward life.

PUT AWAY THE RAZOR is a short, practical, purpose-driven book. That purpose is to help dangerously suicidal people stay alive–even for just another twenty-four hours. It offers a four-step plan to strengthen and support the suicidal/depressed person and provide a way back from the edge if things do go wrong. Central to Kassman’s plan is a transformation in thinking–the ability to counter destructive thoughts with positive ones. What do you live for? Who do you impact in your life? What’s the silver lining in the current troubling situation?

Using unvarnished examples from her own experience, Kassman encourages depressed people to acknowledge how they’re feeling rather than trying to deny or minimize sadness. This kind of honesty can help a person identify the particular triggers that send them into a downward spiral. If you know your triggers you can handle situations that arise before they get out of control. For example, if exhaustion is a trigger, find a way to rest, even if it means admitting to others that you’re not coping as well as everyone thinks. This leads to another tool in Kassman’s survival kit: gathering a support team, lifeguards who can come to your rescue at those times you are going under.

Even with its call to ask for needed help and build support, PUT AWAY THE RAZOR isn’t about considering yourself a victim or waiting around to be rescued. It’s about taking control. Pointing out the strong link between mental illness diagnoses and suicidal behavior, Kassman urges those who live with these illnesses to take a proactive stance toward their own health. They need to learn what works for them and what doesn’t, so that they can ask for and receive treatment that drills deeper than mere symptom control and truly addresses the root causes of their illness.

Personally, I consider Kassman’s most valuable insight to be the simplest: that a person doesn’t have to solve “depression” or “anxiety” or any other huge issue to stay alive. All you have to do is live TODAY. If you have TODAY, you can begin to deal with the other stuff a bit at a time, by making use of Counter Thoughts, emotional honesty, your personal lifeguards, and taking control of your larger health/emotional issues.

With its combination of straight talk and believe-me-I’ve-been-there compassion Carolee Kassman’s PUT AWAY THE RAZOR is a powerful resource for those who feel they have no one to turn to and nothing to live for.

LIVING WELL, SPENDING LESS

Financial blogger Ruth Soukup offers advice for getting the most out of life without going broke.

Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life

Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life

I was surprised at the depth of this book. There’s more here than tips on how to get stuff cheap or cut your grocery bill, though that kind of information is included. But the author also shares her own personal demons–clinical depression bad enough to lead to hospitalization, compulsive overspending. She makes clear the link between emotional conflict and overbuying, clutter and excessive spending, and offers a good discussion on the philosophy behind moderation.

On the practical side, there are plenty of questions and exercises to help readers define The Good Life as it relates to their own lives. Soukup shows how to take steps toward gaining control of your wants, so that you meet your needs and build a solid money management style. The tone throughout is conversational and approachable. There’s a definite Christian slant, but it doesn’t cross the line into preachy and it doesn’t diminish the book’s value to those with a more secular view of the world.

A useful book about the meaning of money and the power it exerts.

LOVE THE HOME YOU HAVE by Melissa Michaels

Lifestyle blogger Melissa Michaels explores what home means to each of us and how we can find pleasure and comfort in even the most imperfect living spaces.

Love the Home You Have

Love the Home You Have

The organization of this book is a bit scattered. Overall there’s a nice exploration of how our expectations and the need to impress others can undermine our happiness at home. The author writes from a definite Christian perspective, but it doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of less religious readers. The 31-day challenge provides an opportunity to explore and deepen your relationship to your living spaces.

Personally, I found too much focus on interior design tips. The book is at its best when it discusses the meaning behind “home” and how to re-frame your view of where you live and make the most of what you have.

Review: IF YOU WERE ME AND LIVED IN CHINA

A short, beautifully illustrated introduction to China for young readers.

If You Were Me and Lived in...China: A Child's Introduction to Culture Around the World

If You Were Me and Lived in…China: A Child’s Introduction to Culture Around the World

This book attempt to give children a brief, flavorful introduction to the geography and culture of china. Each two-page section takes on a specific aspect of the nation…geography, history, food…and included boxed text and a lavish illustration. The text presents Chinese terms along with a bracketed phonetic pronunciation. By the end of the book, the reader has a nice handful of useful Chinese vocabulary words and phrases.

I did find the text a bit cramped and the text boxes dark, especially in contrast to the light, bright and generously proportioned illustrations. illustrations. I read the book on a new tablet with back lighting and I had to almost squint to make out some of the text. Part of the issue is likely the black font is enclosed in a burnt orange text box. A paler color would’ve worked better. And taking the font up even one or two points would have made a big difference.

Overall a fun and informative book.

Finding Your Natural Audience

A review of Intentional Practice & the Art of Finding Natural Audience ( a framework for artists and professionals) by Marc Zegans.

Intentional Practice & The Art of Finding Natural Audience: A Framework for Artists and Professionals (Intentional Practice in the Arts and the Professions)

Buy this book on Amazon

Artists and professionals don’t have to choose between their integrity and making a living.

In this article, Marc Zegans offers a thoughtful approach to facing market realities while maintaining artistic/professional ideals. Since it is relatively short, I can’t go into as much depth as I normally might or readers could be tempted to take the summary in place of the article. That would be a shame. Zegans sets out a clever program for using one’s core beliefs to both create their best work and reach those who will be most receptive to that work.

Zegans process of intense practice manages to meld intuition with practical method. The bridge between art and audience is a series of diagnostic questions that keep the artist in tune with the message/intention his art conveys and aware of those who share the intention and are therefore the “natural” audience for that message in the form of a book, painting, or music CD. Further, readers learn how even their natural audience is made up of distinct types of individuals. Zegans calls them champions, collectors, and visitors. Understanding the differences between these “fans” helps the artist further hone and direct her message.

I will say that the language Zegans employs is a bit more formal and academic than some artists might be used to. Artists and professionals are so used to getting marketing tips in bite-sized, bullet-pointed blog posts and newsletter features where they can scan the sentences in bold type and glean the major points in a minute or two. This article requires close reading and focused attention. Further, putting the advice it offers into practice is an ongoing process. So, it’s good that the article is short–since you’ll likely have to come back to it multiple times as you fine tune your audience-finding efforts.

A somewhat demanding but valuable primer for artists and professionals preparing to face the marketplace.

Review: THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP

Life works better when everything is in its place.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

I approached this book more as a cultural study than a how to manual. I enjoyed the peek it gives into contemporary Japanese life–like the idea of collecting little “fortunes/blessing” tokens from shrines and monasteries. How they can pile up and actually become powerless after a year as the luck is used up. Little cultural details like this are more interesting than much of the tidying advice. Not that there aren’t some useful tips on tackling your mess. Kondo’s assertion that it’s better to have one huge clear out than to try to do it piecemeal has a lot of merit.

Kondo’s authorial voice was the biggest negative for me. Her tone tips the balance from enthusiastic to strident. I’m not sure I believe she’s been a fanatical tidier since age five. Or the part about making “studies of organization” at age eight. It’s just a little too outlandish. And the long, long section on “how to fold” got tedious.

I did enjoy Kondo’s ideas about the spirit inherent in inanimate objects, and how that spirit impacts our daily lives. Also, her focus on understanding what our stuff really means to us is important. We give our clutter such power over us, over our mood and our self-image. Kondo’s book is a good reminder that our personal space and the things we allow into it matters.

What Matters in the End

Atul Gawande’s BEING MORTAL is a penetrating and insightful exploration into how modern medicine’s focus on extending life at all costs can lead doctors and other carers to harm those they want to serve.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

The author begins his discussion with a detailed look at how modern society deals with aging. He points out that this isn’t just a matter of the locus of care of the elderly and infirm shifting from the extended family to professional caretakers. It’s an overarching attitude that aging is a disease to be fought rather than a natural process that needs to be accommodated in a way that preserves the older person’s general well being. Too often, elder care focuses on health and safety to the exclusion of personal satisfaction–even if it means stripping adult human beings of their independence and freedom of choice. Treating old people like children or prison inmates to keep them “safe” (from falls, from advancing chronic illness, from failing to take their medicine) undermines their happiness and quality of life. Gawande points out that the assisted living movement, designed to solve a lot of these conflicts, has been damaged by its own success. It is so profitable that corporate overseers want to maximize returns even if it means they chip away at their original mandate–to focus on the independence and day-to-day satisfaction of residents.

The second part of the book deals with care of the terminally and chronically ill. Here technology has become a two-edged sword. It allows people to live longer through new medications, diagnostic procedures and surgical advances. But in doing so it urges people to look for “the next new cure” even when the risks far outweigh the benefits and might make one’s last days more miserable than necessary. Gawande suggests that doctors treating the terminally ill ask patients what is most important in their lives. What do they most want to continue to do as long as possible? What are they willing to risk or give up to attain that goal? These are also the questions patients must ask themselves when an eager medical professional suggests yet another potentially toxic drug or risky procedure. Ironically, studies of cancer survival rates show that these heroic measures either don’t add to survival times or at most add a few weeks to a few months.

What I like about Gwande’s approach is that he never makes blanket statements about how doctors or patients should approach illness/aging. He simply suggests that people take the time and trouble to consider what the patient/older person’s personal goals are. It may well be that they want to try anything and everything to live as long as possible. But it’s just as possible that they don’t. That a comfortable, well-lived “now” is more important to them than squeezing every minute out of life.

A New Look At Old Las Vegas

A Las Vegas comedian/entertainer explores the colorful life of Willie Martello and his El Ray Club.

The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club

The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club

This tongue-in-cheek look at a little known chapter of Nevada history is meticulously researched and chock full of first-person accounts from Willie Martello’s family, friends and business associates. The author’s treatment of his subject is even handed and gives us a good sense of the charming, funny guy whose Big Plans for the desert town of Searchlight, NV crumbled under their own grandiosity. Andy Martello ( no relation to Willie!), a collector of memorabilia, stories, and friends is supremely present in his work. The story of how he came to write the book–and the challenges he faced completing it–are as fascinating as the main tale. He’s honest about his struggles with his material and the struggle to find a balance between his role as “objective” chronicler of history and a human being who truly admires his subject and has an emotional stake in rehabilitating the guy’s image.

And Willie Martello had his issues. Funny thing is the prostitutes (far fewer than you’d imagine) and financial recklessness (if this fellow had soundly reinvested a FRACTION of the money that came his way <>…) didn’t leave me with a negative impression of this larger-than-life character. There’s a certain sweetness and optimism that makes up for all of his excesses. Except for the burros. Nothing funny about selling wild creatures (under BLM protection, no less) to some anonymous guy on his way to Idaho. He might have ground them up for dog food for all anyone knows. Yes, the burro incident ticked me off. Were Willie still around, I’d go over to his assisted living facility and tell him exactly (and with plenty of profanity) what I think about that one.

Burro-gate aside, however, I like the Willie Martello I met in KING OF CASINOS, and consider his story a one-of-a-kind addition to the Nevada historical record

Live Your Best Life

Straight forward advice about getting over the obstacles keeping you from the life you want.

Take Action! and Build the Life you want (Action for a better Life Book 1)

Take Action! and Build the Life you want

This brief primer on moving ahead in your life is written in a warm, friendly tone that makes the reader feel as if the author is speaking directly to him or her. The chapters are well organized and build upon one another. De Jong begins with the question, Why Don’t More People Live The Lives They Want? and proceeds to explore how to make sure your beliefs help rather than hurt, getting into a positive state of mind, setting appropriate goals, and making change a part of your daily life. Each concept is illustrated by stories from the author’s own life, and the chapters end with action steps that help put theory into practice. There’s also a free companion workbook (available from the author’s website) to reinforce new habits.

A succinct method to develop a life plan or get the one you have back on track.

Healing can be Messy

A volume of short, life-based pieces about love, pain, survival and transformation.

Broken Pieces

Broken Pieces

This is a book the reader needs to take on its own terms. The essays/poems are loosely organized. Trying to impose a thematic/chronological structure on them is a sure way to become disoriented.

BROKEN PIECES isn’t pretty. It isn’t polished commentary. Thompson is not looking back on the events of her life with measured objectivity. Her subject matter (sexual abuse, dating violence, broken trust) can be difficult to face head on, but her voice is clear and honest. It’s as if she’s allowing us to observe the workings of her brain as she process experiences which can only be taken in small bites. We become caught up in her personal and beautifully imperfect storm of anger, confusion, love, despair, and ultimately, acceptance.

I can’t say I enjoyed this book. “Enjoy” just isn’t the right word. It misses the whole point, I think. BROKEN PIECES made me sad and angry and even a little embarrassed…as if I were eavesdropping on someone’s intimate conversation with her younger self or maybe “collective self” is a better word–the sum total of all the different Rachel Thompsons that had to live and break to create the one living right now.