Little Panic – Amanda Stern

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Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: June 19th, 2018

Page Count: 400 (hardcover)

From the Jacket:

In the vein of bestselling memoirs about mental illness like Andrew Solomon’s Noonday Demon, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout, and Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mindcomes a gorgeously immersive, immediately relatable, and brilliantly funny memoir about living life on the razor’s edge of panic.
The world never made any sense to Amanda Stern–how could she trust time to keep flowing, the sun to rise, gravity to hold her feet to the ground, or even her own body to work the way it was supposed to? Deep down, she knows that there’s something horribly wrong with her, some defect that her siblings and friends don’t have to cope with.
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s in New York, Amanda experiences the magic and madness of life through the filter of unrelenting panic. Plagued with fear that her friends and family will be taken from her if she’s not watching-that her mother will die, or forget she has children and just move away-Amanda treats every parting as her last. Shuttled between a barefoot bohemian life with her mother in Greenwich Village, and a sanitized, stricter world of affluence uptown with her father, Amanda has little she can depend on. And when Etan Patz disappears down the block from their MacDougal Street home, she can’t help but believe that all her worst fears are about to come true.
Tenderly delivered and expertly structured, Amanda Stern’s memoir is a document of the transformation of New York City and a deep, personal, and comedic account of the trials and errors of seeing life through a very unusual lens.

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I just started this a few days ago, but once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up until 130 in the morning and then set my alarm early so I could read the last few chapters. I had so many emotions while reading this book and it opened so many questions for me. About who I am, how I was raised, my own anxiety, what kind of parent I am versus the one I want to be, how I interact with those around me, especially my wife. I’m not sure if reading someone else’s memoir should make one introspective, but this one resonated with me in so many different places and ways that it did. Amanda’s life is incredible and the courage with which she opens herself up in such an honest and raw way is humbling. I loved reading this book. I loved learning about her life and how she interprets the world, especially as a child.

Little Panic opens in Amanda’s elementary school classroom, where the students–all except for her–have earned watches by learning to correctly tell time and are now playing a game to test their knowledge. Amanda’s best friend Melissa has been asked to sit out the game and help her catch up so she can join the rest of the class. As she asks frantic–and in my opinion, very valid–questions to make sense of it, Amanda can feel her friend’s frustration that she does not get it and her desire to just go join the game. My reaction to this first chapter was visceral and heartbreaking and plunged me back into my own childhood school experiences. While the writing style and language change as she gets older, it is perhaps these first chapters, written in this simple, honest, and straightforward voice that are my favorite.

After her parents divorce when she was only 2, Amanda’s mother move her and her siblings into a townhouse in the city that backs up to a shared outdoor space referred to as the secret garden by the residents. It is in this idyllic space that much of the story unfolds and Amanda shares the dichotomy of her life safely ensconced in her garden and the many terrors she faces on the street side. There are so many things to be afraid of on the street side, but it is the disappearance of Etan Patz from a bus stop near her house and the ensuing search for him that helps to shape and sharpen her many anxieties. I grew up without a knowledge of this case and the slow revelation of facts throughout the story added an air of mystery not resolved until the book concludes.

Little Panic spans Amanda’s childhood up through the present time. She discusses her deep attachment to her mother, the turbulent connection with her father, the relationships she has with her siblings, her failed romantic relationships, and everything in between. Interspersed with memories and anecdotes are questions from the many psychological tests she took and notes and observations from her doctors. I’m not a psychologist, but I do hold a degree in psychology and was so incredibly frustrated by the fact that no one suggested a panic disorder until she is 25 years old. As a child, she’s always trying to find something wrong with her on the outside that will help everyone understand what is wrong with her on the inside. Receiving her diagnosis doesn’t magically fix her, but it does finally give her the words needed to voice her anxiety.

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I was ecstatic beyond words when Amanda reached out to me to see if I would be interested in reviewing her book. One of my favorite parts about the book community on Instagram are the connections I’m able to build not only with the other readers of the books I love, but their writers too! Of all of the author interactions I’ve had, my exchanges with Amanda have been some of my favorite. She is incredibly kind and thoughtful and has written a truly incredible account of her life growing up in New York City with an undiagnosed panic disorder. I’ve read a lot of reviews about this book, and several suggest that anyone with anxiety read this book. While I think there are many reasons why a reader with anxiety would find maybe a sense of community here, they’re not the only relevant audience. I think Little Panic should be required reading for anyone sharing their life with a person who suffers from panic disorders–parents, partners, healthcare professionals, even friends–as it provides invaluable insight into an anxious mind.

The hugest thank you goes out to Amanda and Grand Central Publishing for this copy in exchange for my honest review.

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My Life With Bob – Pamela Paul

51AH2wluMeL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Publication Date: May 2nd, 2017

Page Count: 256 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

Imagine keeping a record of every book you’ve ever read. What would this reading trajectory say about you? With passion, humor, and insight, the editor of The New York Times Book Reviewshares the stories that have shaped her life.

Pamela Paul has kept a single book by her side for twenty-eight years – carried throughout high school and college, hauled from Paris to London to Thailand, from job to job, safely packed away and then carefully removed from apartment to house to its current perch on a shelf over her desk – reliable if frayed, anonymous-looking yet deeply personal. This book has a name: Bob.

Bob is Paul’s Book of Books, a journal that records every book she’s ever read, from Sweet Valley Highto Anna Karenina, from Catch-22 to Swimming to Cambodia, a journey in reading that reflects her inner life – her fantasies and hopes, her mistakes and missteps, her dreams and her ideas, both half-baked and wholehearted. Her life, in turn, influences the books she chooses, whether for solace or escape, information or sheer entertainment.

But My Life with Bob isn’t really about those books. It’s about the deep and powerful relationship between book and reader. It’s about the way books provide each of us the perspective, courage, companionship, and imperfect self-knowledge to forge our own path. It’s about why we read what we read and how those choices make us who we are. It’s about how we make our own stories.

So many times while reading My Life With Bob I thought to myself, oh my god, she’s me! We are the same! Pamela Paul gets it. She really and truly understands what it means to have a passion so deep for the written word, that it shapes and defines your life.

I have loved reading for so long that I cannot remember a time before. It is just fundamentally who I am: a bookworm. I have always struggled to find other people who live and breath reading the way I do. Most of my friends growing up thought books were a boring waste of time. Every year without fail, I was the only person in my class who considered the annual Read-In (a day where we brought our sleeping bags, snacks, and books, and read ALL DAY) a day as exciting (if not more so) than Christmas. I mean really, what is more exciting than that? Not until I was almost 30 did I realize there is an entire online community of people I could share this love with. I was also incredibly lucky to find a fellow book lover to marry.

In My Life With Bob, Paul weaves the story of her life, incorporating all of the books that defined each period. The books that got her through adolescence, young adulthood, college, first love, first heartbreak, career choices, death and grief. She even touches on the struggle to find time for reading without guilt now that she is a mother. That’s something I struggle a lot with, and it was such a relief to know I’m not alone. She’s kept track of all of this in her Book of Books, or Bob, for short. This is such a fantastic idea that I wish I could go back in time and start one when I initially learned how to write. However, I’m a firm believer in, better late than never, so I started one after reading just a few pages of her book.

My very own Bob!

While reading, I found myself wanting to underline entire passages, and would have if not for the fact that the copy I was reading belonged to the library. I have since added it to my Amazon wish list so I can fulfill this desire in the future.

I’ve included many memorable passages from the book in the quotes section at the bottom of this post, but I also wanted to call out some of my favorites here. These sentiments spoke directly to my soul, and reflect what I’ve always felt to be true. None more so than this:

People like me open books and inhale the binding, favoring the scents of certain glues over others, breathing them in like incense even as the chemicals poison our brains. We consume them.

We in this latter group like to own books, we’re the worst – preferring some editions over others, having firm points of view on printings and cover designs. We’re particular, and we’re greedy. We want an unreasonable number of books and we don’t like to throw them away. Some of us develop an almost hoardish fear around letting go of a book, even after it’s been read and reread. Throwing away or lending a book to an unreliable reader inevitably leads to regret. It is lovely to share books, but they need to come home. I have known many people to maintain years-long grudges over unreturned books. Who can blame them? (You with my Daniel Kahneman. You know who you are.)

But also:

It’s not exactly about escape. It’s about experiencing something I would otherwise never have the chance to experience. […] Books answer that persistent question, “What is that really like?” By putting you in the place of a character unlike yourself in a situation unlike your own, a good book forges a connection with the other. You get to know, in some way, someone you never would have otherwise known, to live some other life you yourself will never live.

You would think that as we age, tales of other people’s suffering wouldn’t tug at us so insistently. In fact, the opposite can be true. The triggers are more numerous and more readily accessed, the losses felt more acutely. When you read about an injured child or an ignored brother or an estranged parent, you can more easily intuit their pain. Nostalgia goes from being a light feeling of deja vu to something more primal and raw. The span of history constricts as decades-old horrors no longer seem quite so distant.

The book is full to bursting with beautiful passages like these.

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Final Thoughts: My Life With Bob is a love letter to books and the act of reading. It is a beautifully rendered memoir full of wisdom about how we change as we grow up, have experiences and learn about the world around us. Paul was so smart to think to keep a record of her reading, and she truly has a treasure. I really cannot recommend this one to my fellow book lovers enough. My only complaint was that it did not include more pictures of her Bob, but I totally understand her reasoning for that. Do any of you keep track of books this way?

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Memorable Quotes:

This is every reader’s catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing.

Well into adulthood, I would chastise myself over not settling on a hobby—knitting or yoga or swing dancing or crosswords—and just reading instead. The default position. Everyone else had a passion; where was mine? How much happier I would have been to know that reading was itself a passion. Nobody treated it that way, and it didn’t occur to me to think otherwise.

Books gnaw at me from around the edges of my life, demanding more time and attention. I am always left hungry.

Whenever one of us introduced an old favorite, we savored the other’s first delight like a shared meal eaten with a newly acquired gusto, as if we’d never truly tasted it before.

February 2017 Wrap-Up

February was a pretty decent month for reading. It was crazy times around here while we prepared for the birth of our 5th and last baby, and had a few false alarms that sent us rushing to the doctor. The fact that I’m posting this wrap-up in June should give you a solid idea of what life has been like with 4 kids and a newborn.

There’s a 3-way tie for favorite reads of the month between The Nix, A Conjuring of Light, and Furiously Happy.

Screen Shot 2017-06-14 at 7.31.40 PM.pngThe Nix – 5 crowns

The Nix is an incredibly timely read and joined my list of top all time favorite books. This multigenerational family saga is full of sharp insight about politics and behavior in America. The more I think on it, the more I find to love about it. Definitely check it out!

 

 

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A Conjuring of Light – 5 crowns

Oh I was so excited to finally have a conclusion to the A Darker Shade of Magic series and Schwab did NOT disappoint. I loved every minute of it and even though I didn’t want it to end, the conclusion brought a fitting ending to these beloved characters.

 

 

 

 

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Furiously Happy – 5 crowns

This is without a single doubt the funniest book I’ve ever read. It brought me to tears, breathless from laughter on more than one occasion. I want to find Jenny Lawson and convince her to be my best friend forever.

 

 

 

The whole line up….

 

 

The Raven Boys – 5 crowns

The Smartest Kids in the World – 4 crowns

The Dream Thieves – 5 crowns

Blue Lily Lily Blue – 5 crowns

The Regional Office Is Under Attack – 3 crowns