Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Book Rant

I am mad. Really, really mad! Not mad in the way that Sarah is mad at lots of things, but mad at one thing in particular: a book. A book I haven't even read, but just its mere existence is maddening!

And I realize that the very fact that I'm so mad, I'm blogging about it, and that might cause the blasted book to get more attention than it deserves (ANY attention is more than it deserves - can you see how mad I am?) makes me even madder!

So DON'T GO THERE! I will not post the link to this book, because I want it to disappear from the face of the earth, and a book has to really, really, really get under my skin to make me (who is NOT in favor of censorship) wish death on its very literary (and I use the term loosely) reality.

Okay. [deep breath] Let me start at the beginning.

It started with an e-mail. The subject said "[TITLE] by Jewish Author."

Now, I'm Jewish. I'm an author. I was intrigued. So I opened it.

That was a mistake.

It was a news release about a book that was published back in 2002, and apparently has been promoted with spam-like e-mails, such as the one I received, and flyers posted on walls.

First off, the flyer thing? NOT a good way to promote a book. But that's not important. Nor is it particularly important that the publisher of this book is an e-publisher who will publish pretty much anything and everything you send them. And although it's HIGHLY unfair, it's also unimportant (except perhaps to my fragile ego) its Amazon.com rank is higher than Destined to Choose. Those rankings are always misleading anyway, right?

Second, why am I getting this e-mail? Am I supposed to go out and buy the book? (NOT likely - did I mention it made me mad?) Is it just because I'm Jewish and an author? Or maybe just because I have a working e-mail address? Maybe that's unimportant, too.

Third is why I'm mad, and is the MAIN reason for this post.

The book is allegedly a memoir, allegedly non-fiction (though I reserve judgement on that), and is about a woman who grows up in a family where the parents have a mental illness. That part doesn't make me mad. Lots of kids grow up in families where one or both parents are dealing with a mental illness, disorder, addiction, or other difficulty, and while this DOES affect the children and DOES affect the family dynamics, said families CAN also deal with it in a healthy way. And even when the parents don't, the children can still grow up and deal with their histories.

It can be painful and hard work and take years of therapy. But even that isn't what made me mad.

What made me mad was THIS:

What happens to children of the mentally ill? This is from the e-mail I received, the book description on the (e)publisher's website, and the description on Amazon. Doesn't sound so bad, does it? It gets worse, trust me.

The description of "what happens to children of the mentally ill" includes the following: psychological imbalances, haunting, madness, twisted, incomprehensible, fearful reality, madness (again), brutality, abused, neglected.

The description on the publisher's site continues, talking about the target audience: The depth of understanding into family dynamics of the emotionally disturbed will aid not only the practitioners [in educational and psychological communinties] but also their current and future patients. Schools and universities are another audience for [TITLE]. This rare glimpse into living with the mentally ill offers insights not gained through standard textbooks.

Where do I even start with how WRONG this is?

Let's start here: the use of the term "the mentally ill" is obsolete and has been for well over ten years. If you use it, please stop now. It is offensive because it defines people by their illness. We don't say "the cancerous" or "the heart-diseased" and we really shouldn't even say "the diabetic." Instead, we say "cancer survivors" or "people with cancer" or "people with heart disease" or "people with diabetes." We should also say "people with mental illnesses." They are people. They are not their illness.

Further, it is common knowledge - or it darn well should be - that every, EVERY mental illness from depression to schizophrenia to OCD to social anxiety is a brain disorder. It is a chemical imbalance. Most cases can be treated with medication; some are aided also by behavior/talk therapy. Those cases that cannot be treated with medication are due to the unique chemical imbalances of those brains involved or the still-evolving understanding of brain chemistry and how medications affect it, not because of a lack of chemical or biological cause of the illness itself.

This book perpetuates the fear and misunderstanding of those with mental illnesses, and leads readers and potential readers to believe that ALL or at least MOST children of parents with mental illnesses will endure a horrific, nightmarish childhood. This is simply NOT TRUE.

Children endure horrific, nightmarish childhoods for all sorts of reasons: abuse (having nothing to do with mental illness), pedophiles, messy divorces, death in the family, domestic violence, bullies, religious extremism and/or fundamentalism, and so on. Yet this book attempts to say that "children of the mentally ill" are doomed from the start.

Not just this one child. All children. The book description says so itself: "What happens to children of the mentally ill?" THIS does.

But that is wrong. WRONG. Oh, so very wrong. THIS is an (alleged) memoir of one person's childhood, who cannot possibly speak for all children who grew up with a parent who had a mental illness.

And to add insult to injury, there is nothing that indicates there's anything about this book - or author, who only goes by her first name - that's Jewish, despite the "Jewish Author" teaser in the e-mail subject line.

It's maddening. And not in the mentally ill sort of way, but in the this-book-is-likely-to-cause-great-harm sort of way. Because now people with mental illnesses have even more reason to be afraid to speak up. And this book wants society to become even less tolerant.

The e-mail I received? I bounced it, and added the sender to my spam list. The book? No thank you. Not in a million years.
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