Soon I can hop the Hogwarts Express to L.A.

Photo from Universal Orlando Resort

In book-related news that is the thrill of my day, I read that Universal is definitely going to expand its theme park in Los Angeles, a project which will finally bring Harry Potter and Hogwarts to California.

Having lived East of the Mississippi for years, I visited Florida for most of my theme-park needs: Disney World (ah, I miss you, Epcot!) being the biggie. And then as soon as I moved to California, a mere three hours from L.A., the Universal Studios theme park in Florida added the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And since then, I have been jealous of every friend still back East who’s gotten to visit Hogwarts in person. Sure, I’ve concocted butterbeer using Internet recipes (whoa, is it super-sweet or what!), but that is not even close to being able to replicate the experience.

What cracks me up in the article from the L.A. Times is the notion that Universal was hoping at one time to build houses on the backlot. What the heck kind of shortsighted notion is that???! Muggles.

Thank goodness, that uninspired idea was shot down, and we get Harry instead on the West Coast.

Construction begins this summer. Only question is: HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO FINISH? Let’s hope someone waves a wand and gets it done speedy-quick. This will be almost as big as a book-release midnight party.

Farewell to E.L. Konigsburg

FrankweilerSo I just read that E.L. Konigsburg, author of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, died. I can’t let this opportunity pass to write a short thank-you to her for that charming book, which I enjoyed so much as a young reader and which I have enjoyed just as much reading with my own young ones.

In a day when it’s easy for anyone to publish, and books for young readers are particularly hot items, we’re surrounded by thousands and thousands of choices for reading. I love to read the great new books that are coming out and contributing to the best of all genres, but there are some classics that still hold a special place in my heart, and Mixed-Up Files is definitely one of those. It’s a clever premise, one that any child who’s had those moments of wanting to run away can relate to, but which makes the destination very cool: two kids pack up and escape to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they manage to live secretly for a short time. Even now, it gives me little butterflies of excitement to think about the notion of being able to live in that awesome museum!

Then there’s the element of mystery added in to the story: is a statue the museum’s acquired for a bargain price actually the work of Michelangelo? And then there’s the interesting character Mrs. Frankweiler, who knows more than she lets on. All in all, the book is so fun to read, particularly because it’s so good at letting the reader step into the shoes of the characters and step off on a flight of fancy. It’s just the right setting for letting the imagination run wild. And personally, I’ve always loved museums, especially art museums, and my daughters love them too, so reading this story together doubled the pleasure.

Thank you, Ms. Konigsburg, for creating this story. I expect I’ll enjoy reading it to my grandkids one day too. And that is what makes a classic.

Glad to read about others’ experiences with mental illness

So I was appreciative this week to receive a book to review called Pros of Prozac: A Faith-Based Memoir of Overcoming the Stigma. Given my experience in book reviewing and my personal interest in mental health issues, this book was a welcome read.

Pros of Prozac

It’s a little slip of a book, just over a hundred pages, which the author says is mostly intentional, so someone interested in the topic can just get a quick overview of her experience. So I read it in one sitting this afternoon. Beca Mark writes about her experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her first child, struggling with mood and depression, and finally deciding to seek professional help and take medication for her depression. It took 15 months to choose to take Prozac, and Mark discovered two things: one, why did she wait so long while suffering so much? and two, she realized that she had actually been struggling with depression her whole life but hadn’t known it until Prozac made her feel really good and really herself.

Mark’s experience is actually what I would call fairly straightforward. She was really struggling, and then struggled with just the concept of taking medication because of the stigma it has in our society (and the real lack of open discussion of the topic in her otherwise close-knit, very large family), and then finally decided to give in and take the medicine. And in fairly short order, she just felt a whole lot better. And she has felt consistently better in the years she’s been taking it, which I’m guessing is probably about five. She makes clear that it hasn’t made her life easy-peasy or super-simple or solved all her problems. It has simply made her more able to think clearly and be motivated and to just be her best self. As I put it, it’s helped her to be able to cope in the way that most “normal” people (i.e. those who don’t have depression or other mental-health struggles) do.

Mark says this is a faith-based memoir, but it’s really not very heavy on the faith angle. I think her beliefs and the culture that surrounds those faith beliefs give a frame to her story, but even those who don’t consider themselves very religious can find a lot of value in her story. All in all, this is really a simple tale, and one that seeks simply to provide some basic information and encouragement to those who may find themselves struggling emotionally but feeling hesitant to accept that there might be a “label” for what they’re experiencing and that medication might help. Our culture at large still places stigma on mental health issues, as well as taking psychiatric medication. And individuals within faith communities may very well sometimes compound that stigma by saying that if a sufferer could just be more self-reliant or more faithful, they wouldn’t suffer.

I heartily support Mark’s goal to contribute to the general discussion and bring this topic “out of the darkness” into the light of day. The more those of us who do struggle with emotional challenges really talk openly about this and show that we’re pretty normal, typical, “good” people, and not weird or weak or something negative, the more others will be better educated, aware, and accepting — and supportive. And, even better, the fewer the number of people who do suffer from mental health issues will feel marginalized or hesitant to seek treatment. Mark really doesn’t want more people to suffer in silence and without treatment. Why should they? It’s pointless to suffer when there is help.

In applying Mark’s story to my experience, I find that mine is a bit more complex. (She does say that mental illnesses are complex in cause, etc.) Because I have bipolar issues, finding medications and treatments to keep me on an even keel can be trickier. Antidepressants help the most, but they tend to “poop out” after a year or two. I’m in that spot right now, I think. I have been on a number of different medications over the years, and it hasn’t been as “simple” (that’s relative, I know) as being able to get on Prozac and stick with it for years. I would like that a lot if it were that comparatively simple.

When it comes to the faith angle, I just wrote that there really isn’t a lot of it in here, so this book is really accessible for everyone. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more, personally. I have written about how my faith informs and is affected by my mental issues, too, and I don’t think Mark really digs into that as much as I have, even.

But bottom line: a good read, particularly for those who are “new” to the idea of having possible emotional struggles, and one that’s simple and straightforward and encouraging. Kudos to Beca Mark for putting her story out there and just being honest. The more of us who do so, the better.

If you love Goodreads, what do you think about Amazon’s buyout?

Amazon-Goodreads comboSo I learned the other day through a publishing-news email that is buying Goodreads. Since I read voraciously and use Goodreads as a simple way of keeping track of what I’ve read and want to read, this news popped out at me. On one hand, I thought, yes, it will be handy to be able to tie together some information from the two places because, yes, I do use Amazon a lot and I have a Kindle. But on the other hand, I did have to agree with some writers, like Rob Spillman on, that this is not necessarily great news. As much as I do like using Amazon, I concur that I don’t want it pushing its way into the Goodreads community. Because that’s what Goodreads feels like: a cozy little reading community. It’s a library in which we can all mosey in and out, chatting quietly with each other about what we’ve read recently and getting and giving feedback. Now, it’s indeed going to feel like the Big Brother of Book Sales is going to be looking over our shoulders the whole visit, listening in and taking notes

truman show angles

(well, really, more like recording all our interactions via cameras on every wall, maybe in all kinds of other places, “Truman Show”-style).



Nope, I’m not thinking I’m liking this. Sometimes it’s still nice to have neutral places to visit and gather information (and people have to ask why I don’t watch any television news! ha!). And Goodreads has been great for that. Now, not so much. What’s also a little disturbing is that I don’t see any mention of this looming takeover anywhere on Goodreads. You’d think that the site would be sharing this news in a clear, obvious spot on its site, but nope. So I’m guessing most Goodreads users still have no idea this is happening. And that doesn’t seem quite right, either.

So. Time for someone to start up a new site that is actually neutral again? Any takers?

So glad I could help

Few things give me greater satisfaction than having friends (or even just acquaintances) come to me as a resource when faced with questions relating to mental health. Perhaps in part it’s nice to know that, despite my sometimes quirks or slightly “off” behavior, they still consider me a valuable source of information and even wisdom. It’s nice to be valued, to be needed, to be seen as able to dispense tidbits of guidance. It’s even better to feel that maybe, just maybe, everything I’ve gone through can help someone else, that I can maybe help cut short the long journey for them just a little, provide a quicker route that still gets them to a good destination.

I can tell you about my therapists, my psychiatrists (i.e., medicine-dispensers) and medications, the books I’ve read, the ups and downs and ins and outs. I can talk about the wacky ways my mind is able to play tricks on me, despite my hyper-awareness that it can, and a sort of vigilance about trying to think clearly and navigate life from a kind of emotionally handicapped state. I can share the surreal-ness of dealing with others who have been in worse shape than I have ever been, of their living in (and trying to reason from within) realities that just don’t line up with the reality the rest of us know. I can look back on my own experiences and say, “I wish I could have seen the whole picture from the beginning, because I would have gone right to ___.” Man, does it feel good to think that I might be helping someone jump over hurdles with relative ease and speed that I’ve had to walk around, re-jump, and move around countless times.

Again, in this latest discussion, a friend and I agreed that it would make life so much better for everyone if all of us could just open up about our real challenges. Most of us have something, a weakness or an addiction or a habit or an illness, whatever, that we find embarrassing or shameful somehow, that we would really rather NOT talk about. And there are plenty of stigmas left in our culture about lots of problems, including mental illness. It just doesn’t help that there aren’t really clear-cut answers (let alone even questions) about how our minds and emotions, etc., work. The science is much clearer with other health problems. So it makes mental illness still hazy and misunderstood and even a little scary for people who don’t have to face it head-on regularly. If just more of us SPOKE UP! Whatever your shame, your stigma, your weakness, your difficulty, just talk about it. Yeah, unfortunately, you’re probably still going to be judged and misunderstood by some, maybe many. But you could help so many others.

oven mitt

I feel so weak and so isolated sometimes, and then nervous about talking about my experience. Because like most everyone, I just want to be liked, to be understood, to be respected and appreciated. And that stigma can put a big roadblock in the way of that satisfying goal. But I want to help other people. I want to pave the way for less stigma, for more understanding, even for better science (somehow). So, I talk. I write. I blog. I’m open. It can be nerve-wracking and painful. But I’m doing it anyway. Because I’m glad I can help. So call me or write if you have questions or need advice for a family member or friend. Reach out. Sometimes you might need oven mitts, but pretty much I’ll always be happy to talk, if I can help someone else.