White Magic by Elissa Washuta (Tin House 2021)
Reviewed by Stacy Pratt
“When you don’t understand the meaning of something you read, whose fault is it? Yours or the writer’s? It has to be someone’s fault. Everything does. Anyway, I just ask because this is my book. Do you think I understand everything in this book? If I don’t, can you?” (Epigraph Footnote #4)
The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir by Sherry Turkle (Penguin 2021)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
My mother kept secrets and spoke to me in a kind of code. Nothing was straightforward. From childhood, I had to figure out how to read her mind, to intuit the contours of her reality. If I developed empathy, at first, it wasn’t so much a way to find a connection as a survival strategy. (xx)
Secrets, taboo topics, and mystifying family tensions set the stage for Sherry Turkle’s memoir, The Empathy Diaries. Her memoir is a transformational journey from an anxiety-infused childhood to an adulthood devoted to psychological insight and excellence in scholarship. Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Professor of Social Studies, Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her highly regarded books, especially Reclaiming the Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age and Alone Together, probe the psycho-social impact of the digital world.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
When Lori Gottlieb’s book, You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, came out, I kept it at arm’s length. As a psychologist in practice for 40 years, I what I thought would be the show-offy tell-all of another therapist.
Why would Gottlieb choose to write her story if not to appear in a good light? Wouldn’t she be self-aggrandizing? Wouldn’t the book reek of fake pseudo-modesty to keep the reader from judging her too harshly? Might her attempts at endearing us be, in fact, manipulations designed to keep us from taking a more penetrating look?
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (Harper Perennial 2018)
Reviewed by Janyce Wardlaw
Morgan Jerkins has put her crafty finger on everything it is to be a black woman in her collection of essays, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America. Each essay is a raw anecdote revealing to the untrained heart what the world has infused into a black girl to make her want to be white, question all she knows to be true, or doubt her worth. All the hot buttons are pushed for us in these pages, as Jerkins pulls back the curtain on sexuality, men, hair, Black Girl Magic, and much more.
Ugly Feelings by Sianne Ngai (Harvard University Press 2007)
Reviewed by Ingrid Carabulea
The power of literary criticism lies in its ability to shape the way we view texts and engage with the world, often through the use of analytical lenses like psychoanalysis, feminism, etc. Ugly Feelings by Sianne Ngai, however, asks that we view texts through an emotional lens, a focus not often emphasized in literary criticism.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang (Graywolf Press 2019)
Reviewed by Claudine Mininni
Esmé Weijun Wang’s illuminating essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias, details her tumultuous relationship with schizoaffective disorder. In her opening essay, “Diagnosis,” Wang writes:
Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy. Craziness scares us because we are creatures who long for structure and sense; we divide the interminable days into years, months and weeks.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (Counterpoint 2019)
Reviewed by Yollotl Lopez
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot is like balloons filled with paint exploding against a white canvas — c. Heart Berries is Mailhot’s debut memoir told in a cyclical narrative touching upon her experience as a writer, mother, mental health patient, and partner all informed by her identity as a First Nations Canadian living in the U.S. It is the story of love, and loss, but most of all it is a story about storytelling. Mailhot writes:
“Things were created by story. The words were conjurers, and ideas were our mothers” (105).
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
If “cat got your tongue” is the euphemism for not finding your words, then “a ghost in the throat” is its opposite. Author Doireann Ni Ghriofa defines it best in her titular combo of auto-fiction and essay as she explores her need to write about Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill, the eighteenth-century noblewoman and poet of Ireland’s classical keen, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire. Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, or The Lament for Art O’Laoghaire, is Chonaill’s account of the romance and death of her husband, and is taught in Ireland’s literature curriculum as one of the greatest poems written in the country’s history. However, Ghriofa points out that this is one of the few texts written by Chonaill herself. How can someone so famous have little to no other accounts written about them? Ghriofa’s book chronicles her search for the story surrounding Chonaill’s life while intertwining her own experience of hardship and motherhood during her years of research. Her prose does its best to put into words the yearning need to give voice to the silenced artists of the past.