Book Review (ARC): Make it Scream, Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison

Searingly honest and often uncomfortably intimate, this collection of non-fiction stories or “essays”, are elevated not only by the assured nature of Leslie Jamison’s writing, but also by how emotionally invested she becomes with her subjects.

In non-fiction, the trend is to be “once removed” from what you’re writing about, but not so here. Jamison is fully immersed in the telling. She’s the shadow of the photographer in every photo, her own personality, longings, obsessions and addictions seeping through, often with incredible results.

Though not every piece was as compelling as my favourites (52 Blue, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live Again, Daughter of a Ghost, Museum of Broken Hearts), most – if not all – were blessed with Jamison’s rawness, her propensity for truth-telling, and her unflinching looks in the mirror. If her subjects are lonely or damaged or fraught with unseen hurts, well then, so is she. She’ll unwrap herself as surely as she unwraps them. This serves her better in stories where she can find a way in – in some, she still seems on the outside, trying to find a crack in the window.

In the best tales – mentioned above – there is a ribbon of understanding. Jamison’s empathy and desperate need to connect are beacons throughout the book – evident in one story about children who remember past lives. Where most journalists were dismissive of the claims, Jamison sought to cast aside her own belief system, opinions, or any other attitude that might reveal she was biased or had pre-conceived ideas – to do so, she felt, would be foolish and quick to judge:

It was more that I felt emotionally, spiritually and intellectually allergic to a certain disdainful tone that implied it knew better, that it understood what was possible and what wasn’t. It seemed arrogant to assume I understood much about consciousness itself – what it was, where it came from, or where it went once we were done with it.

Chased by her own demons – alcoholism, abandonment, guilt – Jamison tackles her subjects gently, peeling aside their armours and getting to the bloody truths with an unsparing eye and the brutality, the beauty, of language. Even as she shines the flashlight through the darkness, she seems to be saying, I can see you. You’re not alone. I know your story. I want to know your story.

Come here, I will tell of it.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

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book review: Lost Connections by Johann Hari

“The Internet was born into a world where many people had already lost their sense of connection to each other. The collapse had already been taking place for decades by then. The web arrived offering them a kind of parody of what they were losing—Facebook friends in place of neighbours, video games in place of meaningful work, status updates in place of status in the world. The comedian Marc Maron once wrote that “every status update is a just a variation on a single request: ‘Would someone please acknowledge me?”

– Lost Connections by Johann Hari

Some of the reviews for this book absolutely terrify me. But even worse are the responses.

Thanks! I guess I can skip this one!

Oh, snap. Was looking forward to it. I’ll give it a miss.

No, no, no. Nope! People, read this book. Please do not listen to reviews that are at best, shallow, and at worst, willfully ignorant. A lot of the negativity comes from people reacting exactly as Johann predicted they would, when presented with the idea that anti-depressant medications are a tool for Big Pharma to make billions, and have a negligible effect (if any) on the actual medical issues they are supposed to be treating. The reaction to this theory is – naturally – resentment, discomfort, disbelief or even anger. The prevailing sentiment seems to be, “but they work for me! Or they slightly work for me! Or they’ve worked for someone I know! How dare you!”, and that is not productive, nor is it solid evidence that Johann’s research is flawed.

Johann Hari talked to thousands of people while writing this book. Professionals and laypersons. Doctors from all over the world. Therapists. Patients. People suffering from depression and anxiety, and people with relatives suffering. He did his research. He’s made some very bold claims. And the glib reaction to those claims and theories in some of the reviews posted online really, really get under my skin. Mainly because I truly believe that this book could help save lives – and by that I don’t mean life, in terms of not dying, but life as in living. I believe this book could help people to live.

When speaking with these doctors and doing this research, Johann discovered the uncomfortable, inflammatory fact that most of the time, anti-depressants have a very small effect on depression. In some cases, they may not work at all. In others, they work, but then they stop working, and the dose needs to be doubled, tripled, quadrupled. The end result? Millions upon millions of people are on these pills, and these pills are draining into our wastewater, and pharmaceutical company executives are working at solid gold desks, and for what? What are we actually treating? Have we gotten to the root of the problem, or are we scratching futilely at the surface?

It reminds me of Febreze commercials. Stay with me! In the commercials, a dog will jump up on a couch and rub its wet dog smell** all over the cushions, and the woman (it’s almost always a woman), comes out of the kitchen smiling, with a spray bottle of chemicals, and spritzes the absolute shit out of the room. She smiles. Ahhh, that fresh scent of artificial lavender and spring breezes! But the smell isn’t actually gone. It’s just disguised. It’s been covered with a thin layer of whatever-the-fuck is in that spray bottle, and for a while at least, everyone is happy.

But underneath? The original smell is still there.

That’s what this book reminded me of. That rot – unless properly taken care of – will remain, and fester, and grow. We can try to medicate ourselves out of it, but at what cost? I should note here that I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for over a decade, and I’ve medicated, and I haven’t medicated, and recently, I came off the drugs for good. The withdrawal was beyond horrendous, but I got through it, and am now utilizing (through therapy) a lot of the tools Hari mentions in the book. Many reviewers found these tools troubling.

Yes, gardening isn’t possible for everyone. Sure, not everyone can get out into nature. Meditation might seem intimidating. Living more toward your actual values is a foreign concept. Perhaps a living wage is something Fox News told you is socialism, oh and thanks Obama! But these tools are real things that have actually helped real people, and to dismiss them outright is foolish, dangerous, and contrary to what I believe most human beings want – to live a meaningful, purposeful life that has moments of joy, moments of contentment, and moments of peace.

While I truly think that some reviewers read this with a closed mind – unable and unwilling to confront the ideas that Hari presents – I hope that the majority of people will carve out a space in their hearts for these simple, powerful concepts.

Connection. Family. Tribes. Values. Nature. And the bald truth that your pain is trying to tell you something.

Listen.

Answer it.

To order your copy of Lost Connections, click here. <—— You’ll thank me later.

**Note, I absolutely adore dogs and would happily give my life for mine. This is just an example. PLEASE BE NICE TO DOGGIES AND ALL OTHER FUR PEOPLE.