SD Alternative

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” - Dr. Seuss

Happy Mania, Famous Suicides, World on Fire, The Death of Why

Couple canned book reviews from

Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire
What a title, right? This is about two brothers whose father kills himself while being held for observation at an institution. The older brother, who also struggles with depression, and is also eventually the father of two young boys, reflects on things like the fact that he, at 12, was already away from home at a reform school when their father died, while his younger brother, at 9, had been used to their father going away and coming back his whole life, and hadn’t been allowed to see the body at the funeral, and so maybe on some subconscious level believed his father would come back this time, too.

Parts of this book are almost too sad to bear, but in other places the narrator obviously tries to pull back and adopt a level-headed and rational tone. The narrator’s unfinished doctoral thesis/novel, which shares a title with the book, is written in this mode – it’s a quite interesting work that tries to cut through all the bullshit Orientalism AND legitimate Japanese cultural baggage surrounding suicide, and to consider individual cases from a historical point of view while also taking into account modern American psychological theories. In other words, it’s a very level-headed work on a difficult topic. And so is this book! The book as a whole talks a lot about memory and the psychic damage that can occur when you don’t know your own history – how uniquely American that is. Anyway, recommended.

Happy Mania
This is about exactly what the title says it is about. The main character is on a quest for perfect, delirious happiness with a perfect partner forever and doesn’t care about many black pits of utter despair she must fall into to get there. She has a series of disastrous relationships, because she is OBSESSED with love, but also believes (with reason) that there is something wrong with her, and that therefore there is something wrong with any guy who likes her. And so she only goes after guys who are uninterested in her – and she THROWS herself at those guys, and sleeps with them right away, and then becomes obsessed and misses work to stalk them, which, considering they were never that into her in the first place, works about as well as you might expect.

She’s got two close friends: her roomate Fuka – who’s also had her share of one night stands, but is older, and a pillar of sanity compared to the main character – and Takahashi, the guy at the bookstore where she works who likes her. He seems to be a genuinely nice guy, too, notwithstanding his White Knight complex. While the main character shows absolutely NO self awareness as she careens from relationship to relationship and job to job, her two friends comment quite perceptively about how Shigeta is self-destructing again -_-, giving you hope that the author is not nearly clueless as the character and so maybe, MAYBE, this won’t all end as badly as you suspect.

Anyway, this manga would be quite depressing if it wasn’t a comedy. ^^ Actually, it made me wonder about the state of mental health services in Japan – at one point Shigeta ends up at the hospital, where the doctor prescribes her…. a brown paper bag. You know, for breathing into when she starts to hyperventilate. ^^ At another point, she goes home to see her mother and sisters, who are JUST LIKE SHE IS and similarly untreated. (But at least they live in a house.) At least, Japan seems to have some established cultural practices that help the troubled, like regular trips to climb mountains or pray at temples, and places where you can study to be a ceramist or whatever in an atmosphere of disciplined routine – something the narrator does, and which doesn’t help her, but which might help someone more settled.

World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability
If only I’d finished this book by Amy Chua before all that stuff about Tiger Moms got blasted across the internet, I could have contributed more to the discussion. :p Anyway, it’s again exactly what it says it is: a book about how the free market creates winners, often belonging to an ethnic minority, but democracy gives collective power to (often disenfranchised) ethnic majorities. And about how this situation is inherently unstable. It’s an obvious but also very sensitive thesis – what better way to bring about the instability she is describing than to point it out – which Chua can get away with because her husband is Jewish and she herself has ethnic-Chinese relatives in the Philippines.

I was most interested in her section on Brazil, because there’s been a lot of talk about development in that country, but reading this I wonder, is it really the whole country that benefiting from the development? (I’m still not sure one way or the other.) But best sections of the book are probably the ones on Jewish oligarches in Russia – very VERY sensitive topic, given Russia’s antisemitic past and present – and on the Chinese in SE Asia. Haven’t reached the end of the book yet, so I’ll have to keep going to find out whether Chua ultimately proposes any answers for this problem, or whether this will be another book, like THE DEATH OF WHY, that is better at describing a problem than proposing a solution.

While I’m on a roll, I might as well cover THE DEATH OF WHY by Andrea Schlesinger:
Picked this up on a whim for R, who is always asking “Why???” XD This is a book about a weakness of American culture, where we are fixated on having answers and forget to cultivate a spirit of thoughtful inquiry, and so we never learn as much as we could, and lots of damage is done, especially to our understanding of others and to the democratic process. She’s got a really good case for the problem, but not such a good case for her proposed solution, which is to read more newspapers in the classroom, unplug ourselves from the ‘net, or otherwise roll back the clock on technological advances that just ain’t going to go away. She does make a very good case for bringing back Civics classes, especially over kind-of-bogus financial literacy classes. Personally, I was bored senseless by elementary school civics classes, but if they’d been taught more like labs, as Andrea proposes, maybe I’d have paid more attention. (Probably not. As the oldest child of a stable family, I was a pretty big believer in the status quo.)

Currently about halfway through Out by Natsuo Kirino. Picked up the second book in Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy and Andrew Solomon’s Noonday Demon – because the bookstore didn’t have Skippy Dies. And for my next trick, I’ll pick a book that has nothing whatsoever to do with depression.