My Favorite Books of 2016



I know it’s almost half way through February, but I decided to write about my favorites of all the books I read in 2016.  I read other good books too, but, looking back, these were the ones I enjoyed the most.  I’m sure you’ll find some common themes and maybe some authors you’d like to try.


North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both by Cea Sunrise Person

The author of this book is an amazing person who survived having almost no consistency or anyone to count on growing up.  And she had to grow up long before she was an adult chronologically.  Person’s happiest memories were those of her time spent with her extended family living off the grid in Canada’s wilderness.  But it all felt apart way too soon.  This book is a can’t-put-down story that is very well written.  I’m glad the author survived—her strength blows me away!


Dietland by Sarai Walker

This book is a crazy combination of revenge fantasy, fantasy-fantasy, and reflection on our culture and its attitude towards obesity and how we absorb those attitudes and hate ourselves.  It’s a novel and a very surprising one.  This book was one I didn’t want to stop reading!


The Giver Quartet Omnibus by Lois Lowry

This edition includes all four books in The Giver series.  I’d already read the first three, but not one right after the other.  Reading them consecutively cleared up some of my confusion about what happened in the second and third books and how it tied together.  The Giver, has to be one of the most profound books I’ve ever read and I think many people would agree.  I usually stay away from dystopian fiction, but this series is different.  The wisdom and people and relationships are the stars, not radiation, zombies, and destruction.  Once you read The Giver I’m pretty sure you’re going to want to read the next books.  It feels like an imperative to find out what happened to the people in the book.


People Farm: A Largely True Story of Exploitation, Redemption, and Organic Sex in a Therapy Cult of the Early Aquarian Age by Steve Susoyev

This is a story about an Eden and like all Edens, it was corrupted.  It’s a story about what absolute power did to one man and what giving away their power did to many people.   It’s a story about the idealism of the sixties, something we might need a little of (and I did say little!) now.  And it’s the story of Steve Susoyev and what happened to him when he thought he found the answers he’d been looking for.


The Mother of God by Luna Tarlo

The author of this book experienced something incredible rare.  But not precious or extraordinary.  More like destructive and depressing.  Her son started a cult and came to be regarded as a messiah.  She joined his cult and then left his cult.  Reading this compelling book is not really fun, it’s more like not being able to look away from a train wreck.   But I read it because I wanted to understand Tarlo’s unique experience.


Church of Marvels: A Novel by Leslie Parry

A novel set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, this book brings together strangers trying to survive.  The Church of Marvels is a Coney Island sideshow, but it’s burned down and the mother of two young women burnt with it.  A baby is found in a privy.  A woman wakes up in an asylum.  Everything and everyone comes together in this compelling story and it’s hard to stop ready even if it is 2:48 a.m.


 Between Gods: A Memoir by Alison Pick

The author finds out her heritage is not what she was led to believe it was.  She feels she has to choose between the god of her family’s past and the god she was raised to believe in.  She’s trying to finish a book.  She’s engaged, but is she committed?   Because it comes through her father’s side of the family and not her mother’s, Pick jumps through hoops set up by the established religion to become what she feels she already is:  Jewish.   Her frustration is palpable.  There’s a quietness about this book that makes it engaging and powerful.


King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel by Jonathan Kirsch

Kirsch is a Jewish scholar who has written several books about the Old Testament—and one about the last book in the New Testament, Revelations—that are informative, interesting, and eye-opening.  I have never been bored reading a book by Jonathan Kirsch.  I just hope he plans to write more.  I’ve read all but two.  When he reveals something and you see it, there’s this feeling of why didn’t I see that before?  It was always there!  He’s good that way.  This book is about King David, one of the most controversial and complicated people in the Bible.  It’s hard to understand why David was favored by God when you read about all the wrong things he did.  It’s another mystery we’re expected to take at face value and accept.  I used to do that with the Bible.  Every word of it.  I don’t anymore.  If you’re at all interested in how the Old Testament was written and put together and what it contains, I highy recommend Kirsch.


The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

This book is for fans of Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer or the movie directed by Sean Penn.  Into The Wild tells the story of Chris McCandless who turned away from his family and society.  He eventually decided to live off the grid in Alaska, where he starved to death.  Both the book and movie do an excellent job of telling who, what, when, and where—but there’s a puzzling lack of anything about why.  Now Carine McCandless has given us the missing pieces about her brother’s motivation. The family would not reveal what they knew to Krakauer or Penn.  Now Carine has decided to let the world know what led to Chris’ journey away from all that was familiar and into the wild.



Memoir Excerpt: Halloween

Chance dressed up as a clown
We loved Halloween!  We’d rush home from school, eat an early supper, change into our costumes, and hit the street–always with Mom or Dad in tow.   Each of us came home with a huge grocery bag full of candy, enough to last at least until Thanksgiving.  But one year I got a big surprise…

Today’s Halloween, so I run home as fast as I can to get on my costume.  Mommy has a costume, too, but she won’t tell me what it is.  We have to hurry up and go trick-or-treating.

“Hi, Lizzy!”  I yell as I run past their house.  Lizzie is sitting on their stoop with an old bum.  I wonder who he is.

I run up the stairs.  “Mommy!”  I run in the kitchen, no Mommy.  I run in the bedroom and bathroom and living room.  Where is she?  My clown costume’s on the couch and my make-up’s on the kitchen table with my wig.  Where is my Mommy?

I run downstairs and knock on Ina’s door.  She doesn’t know where she is.

I run next door.  “I can’t find Mommy!  Do you know where she is?”

“You can’t find your mommy?”  Lizzy laughs.

“Do you know where she is?” I ask.

“You really can’t find her?”

“Where is she?”

Lizzy looks at me.  The bum looks at me.  His clothes are dirty and his face is dirty and his hair is dirty.

“Hi, Leslie,” the bum says.  The bum’s not a bum, he’s my mommy!  “I told you I was dressing up, too.”

Mommy and Lizzy laugh.  I laugh too.

I grab her hand and pull her up.  “Come on!  I need my costume on!  Let’s go!”

“Let’s go trick-or-treating!”  She laughs as we go upstairs to our apartment.




A Small Mouse in a Shrinking Blue Room



A couple of years ago, I could barely stop crying.  When I wasn’t crying, I was on the verge of crying, using every bit of effort to keep the tears inside.  Over and over, every day.  Not only did I fight the battle of tears every day, I fought suicidal thoughts every day.  My brain badgered me—why bother living?  What’s so great about it?  Living is more trouble than it’s worth.  My daughter, my parents, my family, my friends.  Those are good reasons to live, I’d reply in this battle of attrition my brain was fighting against my soul.  Why should you have to stay alive because of them?  Because I love them and they love me!!  NOW SHUT UP!!

I spent a lot of time wondering who would win.  My soul that wanted to live?  My brain that wanted to die?  I felt like a prisoner of war, waiting to find out who would win and when I could go home.  Where ever that might be.

I told my psychiatrist and he put me on a drug called Saphris.  Saphris is an atypical antipsychotic that, when used in conjunction with anti-depressants, helps with depression.  It helped me.

I remembered again what living without an internal war about living and dying felt like.  It felt good—especially after months of my consciousness being a battle ground.

Like many people with mental illness, I get my insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace.  It seemed to show up just in time, just when I had to stop working and go on disability.

This year I had to change companies.  My old insurance would no longer be available.  But I found a good policy.  And maybe it is a good policy.  But I’m not getting off to a very good start in my relationship with this new company.

My new company does not cover Saphris for depression unless I have bipolar disorder.  Which I don’t.  My doctor found an effective drug for me and he’s not allowed to prescribe it.  Unless I can pay for it myself.  But a five hundred dollar a month drug isn’t possible on monthly disability.  I pay my premium, yet I’m denied the drug I need.

My doctor told me that the Healthcare Exchange policies base what they approve and don’t approve on a contract.  It doesn’t matter what he says.  It doesn’t matter than I was so full of suicidal thoughts that I couldn’t think about much else.  It doesn’t matter what I need.   What matters is their contract.  Nothing else.  In other words, profit matters and I don’t.

I told my doctor I felt like a little, tiny mouse being crushed and he said he felt like a clerk, not a doctor.  They aren’t allowing him to practice medicine the way he sees fit.  He has to do what they tell him to do.

He encouraged me.  He helped me.  Which didn’t prevent a flood of tears when I got in my car.  They told him they might approve other drugs in the same category and tonight I’ll start my Seroquel journey.  I wonder where that path leads?  To improved mental health or deterioration?  I’ll be finding out.  Seroquel is sedating, which I don’t need.  It has more negative effects on diabetes, which I also don’t need.  It makes people gain weight.  I’m already obese and I don’t need to gain weight.   I do need Saphris.  But even though a skilled doctor who’s known me over ten years says I should have it, a person  in some state, somewhere, who has never met me or any of the other people he or she denies medication to, says no.  So no it is.

I’m trying to have a positive attitude.  I’m trying to do the best I can within the system, since it’s the system I have to function in.   I’m not wealthy.   If I was wealthy I would be able to take the medications that help me the most.  That would be the only consideration.  Shouldn’t that be the only consideration for all people?  Not just rich people?

I’ll keep you posted about where this new “adventure” takes me.


Here are a couple of resources for any one experiencing suicidal thoughts.  You can call 911.  Don’t be embarrassed.  You don’t have be dying to call 911.  They want to prevent injuries, not treat them after they happen, if possible.

The National  Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-784-2433.  Again, you don’t have to be on the verge of killing yourself to call this number.  Like a leader of support group told me, this line is for preventing suicide.  So you don’t have to have a knife in your hand or a noose around your neck.  If you feel like hurting yourself, call this number.  I’ve called it before when I needed help in the middle of the night.  It’s good to know there’s someone to talk to when everyone else I know is asleep.

The best book I’ve read on this topic is called How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying To Kill Me:  One Person’s Guide to Suicide Prevention by Susan Rose Blauner.    This book helped me more and made much more sense than any other book I’ve read on the subject.