Book Review: Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson

Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 5, 2021
Source: Borrowed
Two teens. Two diaries. Two social panics. One incredible fraud.

In 1971, Go Ask Alice reinvented the young adult genre with a blistering portrayal of sex, psychosis, and teenage self-destruction. The supposed diary of a middle-class addict, Go Ask Alice terrified adults and cemented LSD’s fearsome reputation, fueling support for the War on Drugs. Five million copies later, Go Ask Alice remains a divisive bestseller, outraging censors and earning new fans, all of them drawn by the book’s mythic premise: A Real Diary, by Anonymous.

But Alice was only the beginning.

In 1979, another diary rattled the culture, setting the stage for a national meltdown. The posthumous memoir of an alleged teenage Satanist, Jay’s Journal merged with a frightening new crisis—adolescent suicide—to create a literal witch hunt, shattering countless lives and poisoning whole communities.

In reality, Go Ask Alice and Jay’s Journal came from the same dark place: Beatrice Sparks, a serial con artist who betrayed a grieving family, stole a dead boy’s memory, and lied her way to the National Book Awards.

Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries is a true story of contagious deception. It stretches from Hollywood to Quantico, and passes through a tiny patch of Utah nicknamed “the fraud capital of America.” It’s the story of a doomed romance and a vengeful celebrity. Of a lazy press and a public mob. Of two suicidal teenagers, and their exploitation by a literary vampire.

Unmask Alice . . . where truth is stranger than nonfiction.

I love my job, but it can be a little monotonous sometimes. I code medical charts for an insurance company, and sometimes it’s really interesting and other times it’s 5,000 mind-numbing pages of nothing. So to keep my sanity, I’ll listen to something while I work. Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s an audiobook, sometimes it’s a podcast. One of my favorite podcasts is You’re Wrong About, and I’ve listened to almost all of the episodes. A few months ago, Sarah did a series on Go Ask Alice with Carmen Maria Machado and Rick Emerson. By the time it was done, I knew that I absolutely had to read this book.

Honestly, my mind is blown.

I never read Go Ask Alice when I was growing up. I definitely remember it always being on the shelf in my library’s YA section, but nothing about it really appealed to me. For good reason, it seems, based on what I learned in this book.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but this is an absolutely crazy story. For the first maybe 80% of the book, the author splits his story into so many seemingly unconnected threads. It’s clear that they’ll come together somehow, and I was just wondering how the different stories and different people connected. And when they did? Like I said, my mind was blown. You can maybe imagine a little bit of what happened when you hear that Go Ask Alice is a work of fiction. But the layers of deception, the way that it spread, and the effect that it had on society is almost unbelievable.

This is such a well-written and engaging account of what happened. It’s a story that feels more like fiction since it’s so crazy that a grown woman could behave so badly. It’s like the Bad Blood of publishing. I really can’t recommend it enough, regardless of whether you’re familiar with the source material.

P.S. I’m now reading Go Ask Alice and at roughly 30% in, I can say I’m not at all surprised to find out all of it was a lie.

Have you read Unmask Alice? Have you gotten any good recommendations from a podcast?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields

Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
Rating: ★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: December 1, 2019
Source: Borrowed
A kinder, more compassionate world starts with kind and compassionate kids. In Raising Good Humans, you’ll find powerful and practical strategies to break free from “reactive parenting” habits and raise kind, cooperative, and confident kids.

Whether you’re running late for school, trying to get your child to eat their vegetables, or dealing with an epic meltdown in the checkout line at a grocery store—being a parent is hard work! And, as parents, many of us react in times of stress without thinking—often by yelling. But what if, instead of always reacting on autopilot, you could respond thoughtfully in those moments, keep your cool, and get from A to B on time and in one piece?

With this book, you’ll find powerful mindfulness skills for calming your own stress response when difficult emotions arise. You’ll also discover strategies for cultivating respectful communication, effective conflict resolution, and reflective listening. In the process, you’ll learn to examine your own unhelpful patterns and ingrained reactions that reflect the generational habits shaped by your parents, so you can break the cycle and respond to your children in more skillful ways.

When children experience a parent reacting with kindness and patience, they learn to act with kindness as well—thereby altering generational patterns for a kinder, more compassionate future. With this essential guide, you’ll see how changing your own “autopilot reactions” can create a lasting positive impact, not just for your kids, but for generations to come.

An essential, must-read for all parents—now more than ever.

I’ve been a parent for all of two months, but I’m trying really hard to be the best mom I can be. Part of that means that I’m trying really, really hard to be an empathetic parent, not a reactive one. I don’t like being yelled at and I don’t like yelling, so I don’t want to do it to my kid. Sure, he’s only a couple months old at this point, so there’s not much yelling to be done, but I’m sure he’ll test my patience pretty frequently as he gets older. I’d seen Raising Good Humans recommended pretty frequently, so I figured I’d check it out from the library.

This isn’t a bad book. At times, it can be pretty enlightening. But unfortunately, anyone who’s taken more than a moment or two to think about how their actions might affect other people is unlikely to be surprised by a lot of the talking points. Is it really that surprising that we should treat children like we would want to be treated? Or that we should put our phones down and try to be more present for them? There’s some advice in here about stepping away until you’re calm enough to handle the situation, and, I mean… yes, that’s good advice. But it’s also exactly what the pediatrician tells you about your crying baby.

There were some parts that I liked. The advice on how to make your home more Montessori-like, and therefore more child-friendly, was interesting, and I hope that I’ll be able to implement some of the suggestions as my son grows up. Some of the suggestions of phrasing will also be helpful as time goes on, such as “First we do (responsibility), then we can do (fun thing).”  I also liked the author’s commentary on ways to compliment your child and ways to express negative emotions in a healthy way.

Overall, am I mad that I read this? No. I got a couple good pieces of advice. But would I recommend it? Probably not. You can get a lot of the same information from parenting blogs and magazine articles, and it won’t take nearly as long to get through it.

Have you read Raising Good Humans? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Cribsheet by Emily Oster

Cribsheet by Emily Oster
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Source: Borrowed
From the author of EXPECTING BETTER, an economist’s guide to the early years of parenting

With EXPECTING BETTER, award-winning economist Emily Oster spotted a need in the pregnancy market for advice that gave women the information they needed to make the best decision for their own pregnancies. By digging into the data, Oster found that much of the conventional pregnancy wisdom was wrong. In CRIBSHEET, she now tackles an even great challenge: decision making in the early years of parenting.

As any new parent knows, there is an abundance of often-conflicting advice hurled at you from doctors, family, friends, and the internet. From the earliest days, parents get the message that they must make certain choices around feeding, sleep, and schedule or all will be lost. There’s a rule–or three–for everything. But the benefits of these choices can be overstated, and the tradeoffs can be profound. How do you make your own best decision?

It’s no surprise that being a new parent comes with a lot of new anxieties. After all, you’re responsible for this brand new life! Who thought it was a good idea to let you take this helpless baby home from the hospital? As my OB put it, it feels illegal that they just let you take a baby home from the hospital without even asking you if you know what you’re doing!

As an already very anxious person, I can’t say I was particularly surprised when I spent my son’s first six weeks worrying about literally everything. Was he gaining enough weight? Was he crying too much? Was he sleeping enough? It felt like everything was wrong all the time, and then I logged onto Twitter and saw another new mom tweet pretty much the same thing. One reply recommended this book, and so here we are.

The biggest thing I can say about this book is that it’s very easy to read. For a book that’s about breaking down data and research studies, I think that’s huge. This book doesn’t feel like nonfiction. It feels more like sitting down with your really knowledgeable friend and having them tell you, in a very non-biased way, all the pros and cons of a decision. It covers everything from rooming in at the hospital to sleep issues to potty training. About 75% of the book was relevant to me as a brand new mom, with a few chapters at the end that didn’t quite apply yet (but were nice to think about for the future).

This is not a book of parenting advice. It will not tell you whether you should sleep train or if you should breastfeed or formula feed. What it will tell you is whether the data says that sleep training works and whether it shows any long-lasting damage from letting your child cry it out while sleep training. It will tell you what the data says about the implications of formula vs. breast milk and if there’s any measurable difference in children over time. The author will also tell you about her personal experience with the decisions she made with her two children.

This book made me feel a lot better because, spoiler alert: turns out there’s not much you can accidentally do to screw up your kid. Every decision has its positives and negatives, and you can just do the best you can with the information you have. If you’re struggling with new parenthood, I’d recommend giving this book a try.

Have you read Cribsheet? What’s the best nonfiction book you’ve read recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 14, 2020
Source: Borrowed

In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

A first-hand witness to countless holiday meals and family interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for re-gifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.

Numerous pundits, armchair psychologists, and journalists have sought to parse Donald J. Trump’s lethal flaws. Mary L. Trump has the education, insight, and intimate familiarity needed to reveal what makes Donald, and the rest of her clan, tick. She alone can recount this fascinating, unnerving saga, not just because of her insider’s perspective but also because she is the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families.

One of these days, Donald Trump will learn that making a big fuss and trying to stop the publication of books about him only makes people want to read them more. Too Much and Never Enough would never have been on my radar if Trump hadn’t tried to block its publication, but I’m really glad that it got so much publicity and that I was miraculously able to get it from the library so quickly.

Donald today is much as he was at three years old: incapable of growing, learning, or evolving, unable to regulate his emotions, moderate his responses, or take in and synthesize information.

It’s no secret that I have some criticisms of our current president, and I’ve read many, many books about his presidency. Where Mary Trump’s book differs from the rest is both her background in clinical psychology and her knowledge of him in a personal context over the years.

I hope this book will end the practice of referring to Donald’s “strategies” or “agendas,” as if he operates according to any organizing principles. He doesn’t. Donald’s ego has been and is a fragile and inadequate barrier between him and the real world, which, thanks to his father’s money and power, he never had to negotiate by himself. Donald has always needed to perpetuate the fiction my grandfather started that he is strong, smart, and otherwise extraordinary, because facing the truth—that he is none of those things—is too terrifying for him to contemplate.

There are a lot of interesting little facts in this book about the dysfunction that is the Trump family. I was not at all surprised to learn what a toxic environment Fred Trump created. I almost felt bad at times, but then I remembered that a lot of people grow up in toxic families and don’t go on to become racist, misogynistic leaders of the “free” world.

The fact is, Donald’s pathologies are so complex and his behaviors so often inexplicable that coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests that he’ll never sit for. At this point, we can’t evaluate his day-to-day functioning because he is, in the West Wing, essentially institutionalized. Donald has been institutionalized for most of his adult life, so there is no way to know how he would thrive, or even survive, on his own in the real world.

Honestly, this book was incredible. I don’t have a lot to say about it other than I’d highly recommend it if you’re interested in more background in the life and childhood of the president of the United States.

Have you read Too Much and Never Enough? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: So You Want to Talk About Race & Stamped from the Beginning

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source: Borrowed

In this breakout book, Ijeoma Oluo explores the complex reality of today’s racial landscape–from white privilege and police brutality to systemic discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement–offering straightforward clarity that readers need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Editor at Large of The Establishment Ijeoma Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N” word. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.

Oluo is an exceptional writer with a rare ability to be straightforward, funny, and effective in her coverage of sensitive, hyper-charged issues in America. Her messages are passionate but finely tuned, and crystalize ideas that would otherwise be vague by empowering them with aha-moment clarity. Her writing brings to mind voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, and Jessica Valenti in Full Frontal Feminism, and a young Gloria Naylor, particularly in Naylor’s seminal essay “The Meaning of a Word.”

This book was very, very good, to the point that I don’t really have anything to say about it. Oluo provides facts about and examples of racism, educates the reader on intersectionality and privilege, and shares a number of questions to think about in order to move forward.

Two quotes stand out for me:

“There is no neutrality to be had towards systems of injustice. It is not something you can just opt out of.”

“What am I thinking that this conversations says about me? Has my top priority shifted to preserving my ego?”

I think that everyone should read this book. And please, if I ever say anything racist or insensitive, don’t be afraid to call me out.

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Americans like to insist that they are living in a post-racial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, racist ideas in America have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit.

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti–Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and anti-racists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W. E. B. Du Bois to legendary anti–prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading pro-slavery and pro–civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much–needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers tools to expose them—and in the process, reason to hope.

Stamped from the Beginning is, I think, another book that everyone should read. It’s incredibly interesting, going deep into the history of racism in the United States. Kendi brings up many historical figures and analyzes their behavior to show whether they were segregationists, assimilationists, or anti-racists.

While this book was well-written and definitely well-researched, it’s also very, very dense. At nearly 600 pages (or 18 and a half hours on audio), it takes a long time to get through and left me feeling absolutely exhausted. This is a book that you need to dedicate some time to, but it’s worth it.

Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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