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D. P. Birkett RSS Feed (Suffern, NY USA)

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They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life
They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life
by Oliver James
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.51
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Down memory lane, February 18, 2012
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There is a certain sense of nostalgia in this resurrection of classical Freudian theories that are no longer taken seriously by mainstream psychiatry. Perhaps they are not taken seriously enough. It is good to be reminded of the important work of Bowlby and Ainsworth.

Explaining why we are the way we are always has some interest, and we cannot expect scientific certainty. An explanation based on childhood experiences is interesting in a way that other explanations are not. It also gives us the hope of resolving our issues with talk therapy.

James divides personalities into the secure, the wobblers, the clingers and the avoidants. Each is the result of a particular type of upbringing, and he offers questionnaires to help to show the reader what his or her parents did wrong. For very opposite points of view you might read Judith Harris's "The Nurture Assumption" or Nettle's book on Personality

The book also contains psycho-biographies of living people the author has sometimes met. This is no longer considered ethical by professionals, although the writer is not apparently a practicing clinician and these people were not his patients.

To some extent the psycho-biographies improve readability, although at the expense of plausibility. The evidence for his theories is often stated as "studies have shown" without any references. There are a lot of references but they are hard to track down, being numbered within the chapter, which leads you to numbers at the end of the book that then lead you to a list of names in alphabetical order. The name sometimes turns out to be that of a book, without a page number.

His views on schizophrenia are especially controversial. Suggesting that schizophrenia is due to wrong parenting in early childhood is no longer fashionable and makes many people angry. Did we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Did we reject scientific evidence because of pressure from NAMI? I don't think so, even after reading this book. The scientific evidence is dealt with fairly by Julian Leff, among others in Wing's "Schizophrenia, towards a New Synthesis" (my copy is a 1978 edition, but the evidence James cites is mostly older than that)

It is true that identical twins are not fully concordant for schizophrenia. That has to mean that heredity is not the full story, so it seems reasonable to look for an environmental cause. So far one has not been found. The main problem with looking for a case in early childhood is that schizophrenia does not strike until the late teens of early twenties, and many victims have been through a normal adolescence. Intuitively it seems more likely that a disorder due to very early childhood environment would start earlier in life.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 28, 2015 4:46 AM PDT

We Need to Talk About Kevin tie-in: A Novel
We Need to Talk About Kevin tie-in: A Novel
by Lionel Shriver
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.37
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good wombs have borne bad sons, January 27, 2012
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This is a compelling story told in the voice of a mother whose son has committed a mass killing at his high school. The narrator is a sophisticated elitist, the editor of travel books that pour scorn on package tourists and unadventurous stay-at-homes. She is clever and sarcastic. In the end there is a suggestion that there is a link between her elitism and a Nietzschean (did I spell that right) contempt for the common herd that drives her son to exult in cruelty.
Can fiction explain things about human motivation that straight biography cannot? What went on in the minds of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold? What must it have been like to the parent of one of them. Several books have tried to give us answers.
I came to this after having read Dave Cullen's and Jeff Kass's books about Columbine and Peter Langdon's " Why Kids Kill" and Mark Ames's "Going Postal." None of those had the answers and neither did this, but it kept me reading.

The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)
The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Hardcover
260 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars The Ending Makes Sense, January 9, 2012
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The initial premise is intriguing. Tony Webster, the first person narrator, gets left some money and a diary by the mother of an old girl friend, Veronica. The diary is that of Adrian, the friend for whom Veronica dumped Adrian. Veronica refuses to let him have the diary. There's a clever twist (rather O. Henry, as one other reviewer noted) at the end that will have you going back to re-read.
It's a good plot but the main thing is the quality of the writing. Tony is a sad sack, full of regrets about having missed out on all the fun of the sixties. He makes a strong case for "life's a bitch then you die" and he's so full of penetrating insights and smart remarks that it's hard to argue with which makes the book a tad depressing, although there's a lot of subtle humor.
I'd have to agree with what Geoff Dyer said in the New York Times book review about suicide as a plot device. This has two, which is above the allowed quota. Barnes used suicide very cleverly in "Flaubert's Parrot." (That's a plot spoiler by the way if you haven't read "Flaubert's Parrot" and "Madame Bovary")

Fiction Ruined My Family
Fiction Ruined My Family
by Jeanne Darst
Edition: Hardcover
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warning to wannabees, December 22, 2011
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In part this is another set of rueful reminiscences by a stand-up female comic. Chelsea Handler and Laurie Notaro come to mind. That's not knocking it. I like that kind of book and I liked and enjoyed this one.
It also addresses the problems of the link between creativity and alcohol and the dilemma of someone who wants to make a living in the arts. Compete dedication is needed for success and yet very few will be successful. The author's father gave up paying work to pursue his dream of being a writer of fiction. Her mother was an alcoholic smoker with ludicrous (often outrageously funny) aristocratic pretensions.
Darst herself had both literary ambitions and a drinking problem. The moral of the story is really the wrong one. She has succeeded. So don't let your kids read this.

The Best American Short Stories 2011
The Best American Short Stories 2011
by Geraldine Brooks
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.41
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91 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quick review for busy people, December 17, 2011
This is a time-saving review for busy readers. I've marked the locales up front. Geographical diversity is strong this year. (In fact the American connection is tenuous in some cases). The editors grumble about the use of present tense and child's point of view, so if you're irritated by those I've marked them as PT and SPOV to save you time.
There are deaths in only ten, which is a low, score for this collection, although Tom Bissell has a church full of bones and Steven Millhauser has a town full of ghost, which raises the necro-count. Richard Powers was the only one to use the second person narration style. Seven of the stories are from the New Yorker. Here are the potted plots:

Nigeria: Outgrowing the first wife.
South Carolina: Dead mother, live parrot. PT.
Rome: Should we raise the kids Jewish?
Manhattan: Addict suicide. PT.
Israel: Homicidal Holocaust survivor.
Boston: Jilted babysitter rejects kid.
Manhattan: Cancer, lost girl friend, dying dog.
North Dakota: Town hibernates.
Corpus Christi,Texas: Fantasies of the girl next door.
Ireland: Surrogate child. PT, CPOV
Bergen County, New Jersey: Dungeons and dragons. PT, CPOV
Chicago: Gay actor's career skids.
Maine: Old house memories.
New England: Phantoms. PT.
Texas Badlands: Doctor's head injury. CPOV.
Atlantic City: Dead mother. CPOV.
Wotton-on-the-Wold: Old book. PT.
Manhattan: Korean-Jewish-Jamaican triangle, PT
Large Workroom: Designer drugs
Brno: Killing rabbits. CPOV
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 17, 2015 1:16 PM PST

By Nightfall: A Novel
By Nightfall: A Novel
by Michael Cunningham
Edition: Hardcover
63 used & new from $1.47

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Closeted in the Loft, November 6, 2011
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This review is from: By Nightfall: A Novel (Hardcover)
This is set in rarified reaches of Manhattan, with an excursion to even more rarified Fairfield County, a trip on the L-train to darkest Brooklyn and flashbacks to the unspeakable Mid-West.
Peter, the present tense SPOV protagonist, is a 44- year-old art dealer. We are never quite sure how much fun is being made of the kind of art he deals in. Cunningham is too smart an author to play for easy laughs. Peter has problems. On the plus side he has a high end business, a slim elegant magazine editor wife and a downtown loft. On the minus side his brother died of AIDS; he needs a lot of vodka and Klonopin© to get through the night; his estranged 20-year-ol daughter is not slim and elegant enough. Into the mix comes a visit by his wife's 23- year-old drug-addicted (cocaine and multiple) brother.
The sex is explicit and bi-. The plot is ingenious and believable and flows naturally from the characterizations. This is subtle and brilliant entertainment but anything by Michael Cunningham has to suffer by comparison with "The Hours." (My heart bleeds for the poor guy).

Benzo-Wise: A Recovery Companion

Skippy Dies: A Novel
Skippy Dies: A Novel
by Paul Murray
Edition: Hardcover
7 used & new from $3.05

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vocations, October 16, 2011
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This review is from: Skippy Dies: A Novel (Hardcover)
Career goals are unsatisfactory for everyone in this novel, set in a school in Dublin. Business is soul-killing. Teaching is what you do if you can't succeed in business. The priesthood is the worst thing of all. So what's a kid to do? Dying young is the best way out, and is what 14 year old Skippy does. His friend Ruprecht takes refuge in food. His beloved Lori becomes anorexic and his rival Carl does drugs. Howard Fallon, the other main protagonist, is in deep despair because he is pushing 30 and contemplates a steady job and living in a nice house. That's enough to drive any man to drink.
It's not as depressing as that makes it sound. Apparently single-sex religion-based schools are not oases of decorum and deference to authority and there's a lot of lively action and sharp humor, mainly at the expense of the over-thirties, who are all inept, unperceptive, pompous, hypocritical, pedophilic, stupid or materialistic
It's told in seamless MPOV and all in present tense except for one flashback scene. The long digression about theoretical physics, cosmology and Irish folklore and the First World War pad it out to over 600 pages and had me skipping (sorry) pages but others have praised them as the best part of the book so it's different strokes for different folk.

Absurdistan: A Novel
Absurdistan: A Novel
by Gary Shteyngart
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.92
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nyet kulturny, October 5, 2011
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This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Paperback)
The book contains a lot of sex and violence and has some libelous stereotyping of certain ethnic groups. Belgians are portrayed as corrupt and drunken. American oil executives are portrayed as wearing black socks and dress shoes with Bermuda shorts.
Misha Borisovich Vainberg, the first person narrator, is an overweight alcoholic Russian millionaire. He yearns to become American, and gets embroiled in lethal Caucasian politics so as to get a fake passport.
There are direct references to Goncharev's "Oblomov" and to Lermontov's "A Hero of Our Times" (Lermontov described adventures and misadventures among the wild tribes of the Caucasus; Oblomov stayed in bed and did nothing). Many of the venal Russian characters could have come straight out of Bulgakov or Gogol. It is mordantly funny and bitterly comic.

We the Animals
We the Animals
by Justin Torres
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.00
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mama's bad boys, September 29, 2011
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This review is from: We the Animals (Hardcover)
Stories about growing up as the youngest of three sons of a Puerto Rican father and white mother in upstate New York. The narrator is seven at the beginning and assumes that his softness and weakness are due to his being the baby but comes to realize that he is gay.
There is a lot of brutality, and one theme is the sexual bond between the brutalizer and his victim. The father is both admired and hated. Episodes where he is charming and caring are counterbalanced by deadpan passages showing him as an alcoholic, work-shy, wife-beating neer-do-well. The hardworking mother holds the home together. They have a house with a yard, bicycles and a car although they go hungry when she lapses into depression and inertia. As the narrator's sexuality burgeons the narrative changes from first person plural to singular. He hangs around the bleak bus station, vaguely hoping to pick up men, and also perhaps to leave for New York City. The bus for New York City cannot leave and he does not achieve sexual fulfillment. (I don't know if the symbolism was intended; it would be interesting to find out from the author.) In the end the conflict between his sexual desires and his need for his family's approval (again I may be over-interpreting) is too much for his sanity.

Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth
Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth
by J. A. MacGillivray
Edition: Paperback
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Digs up a lot of dirt, September 17, 2011
This is a biography of the excavator and controversial rebuilder of the alleged "Palace of Minos." The account of the findings and imaginative reconstructions at Knossos is long and detailed. For some readers that might be the primary interest of the book but for others it could get tedious. I'd recommend Chadwick's "Decipherment of Linear B" if you're only going to read one book about prehistoric Crete.
MacGillivray has interesting things to say about the role of archeology and philology in racism. The coda at the end brings us up to the decipherment of Linear B.
One gets the impression that the biographer does not like Arthur Evans very much. To some extent his achievements were the results of circumstances, and his reputation was inflated. He was a childless man of immense wealth, was waited on hand and foot by servants, and able to pursue whatever interested him. We almost feel jealous, but then there is the issue of his sexuality. The conflict between his impulses and his need for public approval must have been a torment. Cyril Connolly in "Enemies of Promise" suggested that homosexuality was a help to creativity because it stopped people from being encumbered by family obligations. MacGillivray also offers more Freudian explanations of the possible links between sex and archeology.

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