Book Review: The Rules of the Tunnel by Ned Zeman

Title: The Rules of the Tunnel: A Brief Period of Madness
Author: Ned Zeman
Publisher: Gotham
Publication Date: August 4, 2011
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 978-1592405985
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

From the Publisher:

A journalist faces his toughest assignment yet: profiling himself. Zeman recounts his struggle with clinical depression in this high- octane, brutally funny memoir about mood disorders, memory, shock treatment therapy and the quest to get back to normal.

Thirty-five million Americans suffer from clinical depression. But Ned Zeman never thought he’d be one of them. He came from a happy Midwestern family. He had great friends and a busy social life. His career was thriving at Vanity Fair where he profiled adventurers and eccentrics who pushed the limits and died young.

Then, at age thirty-two, anxiety and depression gripped Zeman with increasing violence and consequences. He experimented with therapist after therapist, medication after medication, hospital after hospital- including McLean Hospital, the facility famed for its treatment of writers, from Sylvia Plath to Susanna Kaysen to David Foster Wallace. Zeman eventually went further, by trying electroconvulsive therapy, aka shock treatment, aka “the treatment of last resort.”

By the time it was over, Zeman had lost nearly two years’ worth of memory. He was a reporter with amnesia. He had no choice but to start from scratch, to reassemble the pieces of a life he didn’t remember and, increasingly, didn’t want to. His girlfriend was gone; friends weren’t speaking to him. His life lay in ruins. And the biggest question remained, “What the hell did I do?”

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, profane and hopeful, The Rules of the Tunnel is a blistering account of Zeman’s twisted ride to hell and back-a return made possible by friends real and less so, among them the dead “eccentrics” he once profiled. It’s a guttural shout of a book, one that defies conventional notions about those with mood disorders, unlocks mysteries within mysteries, and proves that sometimes everything you’re looking for is right in front of you.

My Review:

The Rules of the Tunnel: My Brief Period of Madness by Ned Zeman is an informative, yet entertaining memoir covering the author’s own personal struggles with depression.  Zeman writes with a uniquely stylish sense of humor throughout his book, one of the more memorable examples for me being his description of experiences with Adderall.  In this intriguing style, Zeman tells how his career and his life as a whole went from success to near obliteration as he succumbed to an illness that, through all the therapy, hospitals and treatments, was only defeated with the help of his friends. Readers will find his style to be influenced by his writing career as a journalist and that his approach is quite honest and does not embellish or sugar-coat his experiences with clinical depression nor with mental illness in general.  Perhaps the saying that “laughter is the best medicine” is  best portrayed by Zeman’s work dealing with mental illness and having a few laughs while conveying his own personal experience with such a serious illness.  I recommend The Rules of the Tunnel to all readers and especially to those not familiar with depression and how it impacts the life of the afflicted.

About the Author:

Ned Zeman is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he has covered a wide range of subjects: crime, politics, Hollywood, and outdoor adventure. He has also written for Newsweek, Spy, GQ, Outside, and Sports Illustrated. Two of his articles have been finalists for the National Magazine Award, and he cowrote the screenplay for Sugarland, the forthcoming film starring Jodie Foster. He lives in Los Angeles.

For more reviews of the book, please follow the TLC Book Tour.

I received an arc of TheRules of the Tunnel by Ned Zeman from TLC Book Tours to be a part of this tour and offer my honest review of the book. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned book.


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Book Review: Beautiful Unbroken by Mary Jane Nealon

Title: Beautiful Unbroken: One Nurse’s Life
Author: Mary Jane Nealon
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication Date: July 19, 2011
Paperback: 224 pages
ISBN: 978-1555975906
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

From the back cover:

As a child, Mary Jane Nealon dreams of growing up to become a saint or, failing that, a nurse. She idolizes Clara Barton, Kateri Tekakwitha, and Molly Pitcher, whose biographies she reads and rereads. But by the time she follows her calling to nursing school, her beloved younger brother is diagnosed with cancer, which challenges her to bring hope and healing closer to home. His death leaves her shattered, and she flees into her work, and into poetry.

Beautiful Unbroken details Nealon’s life of caregiving, from her years as a flying nurse, untethered and free to follow friends and jobs from the Southwest to Savannah, to more somber years in New York City, treating men in a homeless shelter on the Bowery and working in the city’s first AIDS wards. In this compelling and revealing memoir, Nealon brings a poet’s sensitivity to bear on the hard truths of disease and recovery, life and death.

My Review:

Beautiful Unbroken by Mary Jane Nealon is a touching, and at times heartbreaking, memoir that chronicles her experiences as a nurse in a variety of settings from being a traveling nurse to working within shelters and clinics within New York City.  Nealon writes with feeling in her well-crafted stories of her experiences while providing a clear background of her own personal family tragedy that lead her to become immersed in her poetry and to pursuing a profession in nursing.  With a life and career’s worth of experiencing disease and death while bringing hope, compassion and the promise of recovery to some who have crossed her path, this is a moving memoir from someone who has witnessed more tragedy than most.  Nealon captures the essence of each of the individuals with whom she meets along her journey of healing and oftentimes, through her caring and sympathy for each patient, readers will come to realize that amidst the very tragic certainty of death, she gives reason to celebrate life and set aside the sorrow, if only for a brief while.  Inspiring, touching, beautiful, moving, and motivating are words that I think capture the very positive influence this memoir will have on readers and while Nealon’s experiences have been extremely difficult and some readers may find some of the subject matter depressing, I found inspiration and recommend Beautiful Unbroken to readers as well as book discussion groups.

To learn more about author Mary Jane Nealon, please visit her website.

I received a complimentary arc of Beautiful Unbroken by Mary Jane Nealon from Graywolf Press. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.


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Book Review: One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina

Title: One Day I Will Write About This Place
Author: Binyavanga Wainaina
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication Date: July 19, 2011
Hardcover: 272 pages
ISBN: 978-1555975913
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir


From the Publisher
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Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him. This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colorful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother’s beauty parlor, black mamba bicycle bells, mechanics in Nairobi, the music of Michael Jackson. In this vivid and compelling debut memoir, Wainaina takes us through his school days, his mother’s religious period, his failed attempt to study in South Africa as a computer programmer, a moving family reunion in Uganda, and his travels around Kenya. The landscape in front of him always claims his main attention, but he also evokes the shifting political scene that unsettles his views on family, tribe, and nationhood.
Throughout, reading is his refuge and his solace. And when, in 2002, a writing prize comes through, the door is opened for him to pursue the career that perhaps had been beckoning all along. Resolutely avoiding stereotype and cliché, Wainaina paints every scene in One Day I Will Write About This Place with a highly distinctive and hugely memorable brush.

My Review:

One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina is a moving and inspirational memoir that gives readers a poignant glimpse of life from the 1970s and beyond in Kenya.  In his literary debut, Wainaina writes about his childhood, his family, his own personal experiences as he explores Kenya, and his career aspirations.  Drawing from parallels between various periods of turmoil in Africa and his own self-image, Wainaina gives readers a vivid portrayal of his life in Kenya, and although raw and mature-themed at times, these scenes are meant to capture his emotions and not downplay the intensity of the moment.  In very descriptive prose, Wainaina brings the realities of his life and the lives of those around him into the hearts and minds of his readers.  Seeking comfort and escape through reading, Wainaina had been assembling and organizing thoughts for this debut though much of his life and the outcome is an exceptionally well-written, heart-felt and honest portrayal of his life experiences.  I strongly recommend One Day I Will Write About This Place to all adult readers as well as discussion groups.

About the Author:

Binyavanga Wainaina is the founding editor of Kwani?, a leading African literary magazine based in Kenya. He won the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing, and has written for Vanity Fair, Virginia Quarterly Review, Granta, and the New York Times. Wainaina directs the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College.

I received a complimentary arc of One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina from Greywolf Press. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.


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Book Review: Broken Birds by Jeannette Katzir


Title: Broken Birds, The Story of My Momila
Author: Jeannette Katzir
Publisher: PJeannette Katzir; First edition
Publication Date: April 2, 2009
Paperback: 336 pages
ISBN: 978-0615274836
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

From the Author:

World War II has long since ended, and yet Jaclyn and her brothers and sisters grow up learning to survive it. Having lived through the Holocaust on the principle of constant distrust, their mother, Channa, dutifully teaches her children to cling to one another while casting a suspicious eye to the outside world. When Channa dies, the unexpected contents of her will force her adult children to confront years of suppressed indignation. For Jaclyn and her siblings, the greatest war will not be against strangers, but against each other.

My Review:

Broken Birds by Jeannette Katzir is a memoir unlike others I have read, it is almost two separate memoirs told as one. In one part, the reader is taken into the dark days of the Holocaust, which is vividly portrayed through the eyes of Channa Perschowski, and Nathan Poltzer. As one would expect, the subject matter is very bleak and grim, and yet against odds, Channa and Nathan both survive the Holocaust and eventually meet in the United States, where the second storyline comes in, one of love, hope, and a future. Channa and Nathan marry, have five children or as Channa refers to them, her five fingers. The reason I say it is a memoir in two parts is because I believe it could very easily have been two very complete memoirs as I would have very much liked to have read about the struggles Channa, a girl from Poland and Nathan from Czechoslovakia experienced leading up to the war, during Nathan’s internment and Channa’s service in the Jewish resistance and after. Following my train of thought the second memoir could then have gone further into their lives post-World War II battling their own scars and the difficulty transitioning into “regular” life after experiencing the Holocaust.
However, Katzir chose to make Broken Birds one memoir and she truly does an exceptional job in bringing into the story both WWII and after. The reader learns a lot about their family and the struggles each faced. Katzir writes a beautiful, touching and emotional memoir of Channa, Nathan, and their legacy passed down to their children. Little Birds easily pulls the reader into the story, but it is a difficult and often painful read. After surviving the camps and finding love and having a family, all is not well, the siblings bicker and fight something dreadful, and this is not a spoiler, there is oh so very much more. I went over this book twice hoping to find the answers to why the adult siblings behaved in such an appalling manner, I did not come away any more clear on that score the second go round, which again leads me to conclude this would have been quite a remarkable two part memoir, but I shall not go down that road again.
As it stands, Broken Birds is beautiful, rich in detail, meaning, and at times a rather sad and depressing memoir. I applaud Katzir for being able to put such difficult family stories together cohesively and I am very glad I read the book, yet I do not believe it is a book everyone will enjoy. I do believe those who chose to read this stunning memoir will be changed, as most Holocaust memoirs change a reader, however the book overall is dark and I want readers to know that upfront. As a whole I would recommend Little Birds to those who enjoy memoirs and think this book would make an intriguing discussion group pick.

About the Author:

As a child of Holocaust survivors, Jeannette Katzir’s life has been a study of the lasting effects of war. Inspired by her own family experiences, Katzir has dedicated years to in-depth research of the impact of World War II on survivors and their children. She currently resides in the Los Angeles area , not far from her two children and grandson, with her husband.

Jeannette Katzir has informed me that she has a fiction the fiction prequel is in the works.

To learn more about the book or the author please visit Jeannette Katzir’s website.

I received a complimentary copy of Broken Birds by Jeannette Katzir from the author to offer my honest review of the book. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned book.


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Book Review: The Memory Palace by Mira Bartók


Title: The Memory Palace
Author: Mira Bartók
Publisher: Free Press
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 978-1932961133
Genre: Biography, Memoir

From the Publisher:

” People have abandoned their loved ones for much less than you’ve been through,” Mira Bartók is told at her mother’s memorial service. It is a poignant observation about the relationship between Mira, her sister, and their mentally ill mother. Before she was struck with schizophrenia at the age of nineteen, beautiful piano protege Norma Herr had been the most vibrant personality in the room. She loved her daughters and did her best to raise them well, but as her mental state deteriorated, Norma spoke less about Chopin and more about Nazis and her fear that her daughters would be kidnapped, murdered, or raped.

When the girls left for college, the harassment escalated—Norma called them obsessively, appeared at their apartments or jobs, threatened to kill herself if they did not return home. After a traumatic encounter, Mira and her sister were left with no choice but to change their names and sever all contact with Norma in order to stay safe. But while Mira pursued her career as an artist—exploring the ancient romance of Florence, the eerie mysticism of northern Norway, and the raw desert of Israel—the haunting memories of her mother were never far away.

Then one day, Mira’s life changed forever after a debilitating car accident. As she struggled to recover from a traumatic brain injury, she was confronted with a need to recontextualize her life—she had to relearn how to paint, read, and interact with the outside world. In her search for a way back to her lost self, Mira reached out to the homeless shelter where she believed her mother was living and discovered that Norma was dying.

Mira and her sister traveled to Cleveland, where they shared an extraordinary reconciliation with their mother that none of them had thought possible. At the hospital, Mira discovered a set of keys that opened a storage unit Norma had been keeping for seventeen years. Filled with family photos, childhood toys, and ephemera from Norma’s life, the storage unit brought back a flood of previous memories that Mira had thought were lost to her forever.

The Memory Palace is a breathtaking literary memoir about the complex meaning of love, truth, and the capacity for forgiveness among family. Through stunning prose and original art created by the author in tandem with the text, The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists—or is lost—between them.

My Review:

Beautiful, at times heart-breaking, The Memory Palace is a story about the ties that bind a family together, illness that can separate or bring a family together and the love between sisters, and mothers and daughters. Myra and Rachel Herr changed their names as adults to try to keep their mother from finding them. Norma Herr a severe schizophrenic, ultimately ends up homeless and for seventeen years the only contact she had with her children was through her younger daughter Myra, now Mira Bartók, and only through letters which were never sent directly to Mira’s home. Rachel, now known as Natalia, the older of the two chose to have no contact with their mother, at least not until they learned Norma had been hospitalised with terminal cancer. While Bartók could have written solely about what a dreadful childhood she and her sister had or their hardships or her mother’s life exclusively based on her journals, Bartók instead takes her memoir to another level where she does share with the reader pieces of her childhood, the responsibilities her older sister had to take on, Norma’s life from what was witnessed or written in journals and extrapolates these memories to the reader while describing herself as an adult traveling the world, learning, drawing, painting, living. The Memory Palace is an incredibly beautiful journey through various memories, lessons lived and learned, deep sorrow as well as joy and family. I truly enjoyed reading Bartók’s story, I took away a lot more than I thought I would, I learned and yearned to walk through an art gallery as well as attend an opera. A quest for truth, beauty, art, and knowledge are prevailing themes in Mira’s and Norma’s lives, each go about it differently to be certain, yet the desire is always just below the surface. I believe The Memory Palace would be a brilliant choice for a book discussion group as each page if filled with something to be shared and discussed. I rarely read entire books out loud to my husband, but I did share The Memory Palace with him and highly recommend it to all readers.

About the Author:

Mira Bartók is a Chicago-born artist and writer and the author of twenty-eight books for children. Her writing has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies and has been noted in The Best American Essays series. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she runs Mira’s List (http://www.miraslist.blogspot.com), a blog that helps artists find funding and residencies all over the world. The Memory Palace is Mira’s first book for adults. You can find her at: www.thememorypalace.com.

I received a complimentary copy of The Memory Palace by Mira Bartók from Shelf Awareness and Simon & Schuster to review. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.


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