Review: Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom

I started this collection with the intent of re-familiarizing myself with Yalom’s unique wisdom and forthright regard with his patients. And thankfully it started off promising enough by including some much-needed humor to lighten the air between doctor-patient:

Almost able to hear his joints creaking, I took his heavy battered briefcase, held his arm, and guided him to his chair.
“Thankee, thankee, young man. And how old are you?”
“Eighty years old,” I answered.
“Ahhh, to be eighty again.”

This exchange pretty much summarizes the approach of this collection, being that the main theme surrounding each story circles itself on coming face to face with mortality and death anxiety. Plus, a major part is dedicated to dissecting dreams, which I never grow tired of reading through Yalom’s empathic and insightful observations.

“We all face aging in our own manner. I know I’m very old. There is no denying that eighty is old. I’m working less—I see far fewer patients now, only about three a day, but I’m still writing much of the rest of the day. I’ll tell you the truth: I love what I’m doing. I feel blessed to be of help to others, especially others who are facing the issues I’m dealing with—aging, retirement, dealing with the death of a spouse or friends, contemplating my own death.”

Honestly, the constant discussions surrounding death didn’t bother me, until a couple of stories into the book when it suddenly dawned on me that Yalom’s passing would mean no more new therapeutic content… His books read like free therapy consultations that are factually effective for me, so I was glad to have this reassuring read on hand when the thought passed my mind.

“Yes, I know my existence is drawing to a close, but the end has been there since the beginning. ”

The thing that came to bother me then about Creatures of a Day was the rushed nature of the shared exchanges. I realized about halfway through that my issue stemmed from the fact that the cases described were usually short-term sessions, so we don’t see a complete arc of the person’s life, like what I so cherished in Momma and the Meaning of Life & Love’s Executioner, where the stories span multiple weeks, months, etc… So with these ten stories, I was always left hanging midway, feeling like we were about to make progress in the patient’s life, but then being put to a halt because we’d reached the inevitable end. And that feeling of abruptness, with no real sense of closure, came to repeat itself nearly with every following story in this collection.

Knowing what the author is capable of by having read his previous short story collections – which all completely rocked my world – I felt like this wasn’t what I was seeking. Don’t get me wrong, Creatures of a Day still featured the familiar therapy sessions that I’ve come to seek solace in,  but I can’t deny that there just weren’t any major breakthroughs being uncovered for me, like what I’d gotten used to finding in the aforementioned books. I was in need of “a deep and true session” that “enlivens me.”

So then the seventh story, hoping for a tale full of closure and growth, turned my frown upside down with Sally and her sealed away box of writing.

“There are a lot of dark chapters in my life, darker episodes than I’ve conveyed to you, and there are a lot of dark stories in that box, stories that I may have mentioned, but only obliquely, in our therapy. I’m afraid of their power, and I don’t want to get sucked back into those days. I’m very frightened of that. Oh yes, as you know, my family looked good from the outside, but inside . . . inside there was so much pain.”

I felt the utmost empathy at that. And I like how this thought was shared by a previous patient as well. It’s as if a train of thought starts in a preceding story only to be completed by the following patient.

Perhaps, if I had known going into this that the book follows only short-term sessions, I would’ve felt more prepared and welcoming. But I do have to give credit to Dr. Yalom for always being able to “offer something of value even in a brief consultation.” It’s no easy feat when you consider the circumstances.

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Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

“And you,” Large Marge said. “What’s your story, missy?”
“I don’t have a story.”
“Everyone has a story. Maybe yours just starts up here.”

I was on the look-out for a novel set around quiet people, and The Great Alone looked like one to fulfill that promise with “the harsh, uncompromising beauty of Alaska.” Plus, the mention of exploring PTSD in the father figure piqued my interest.

The bonus was when I started reading the book and became quickly swept up in Leni’s life. She’s thirteen when the novel begins, about to enter another new school since her parents move the family rapidly from place to place (“in the last four years, she’d gone to five schools”), and she’s keen on drawing as little attention to herself as possible. My kind of girl.

Afterward, the storyline unspools easily as the family arrives in Alaska, at the notice of a letter, which leads to stories set on surviving the wilderness of Alaska and the dangers lurking inside their home.The Great Alone 1-- bookspoilsThe Great Alone 2-- bookspoilsTo get all I need off my mind, I’d like to share a list of things I took note of during my reading of The Great Alone:

(Spoilers from here.)

  • I have to start off on the right foot by featuring this all-encompassing quote on Leni’s bookish love (and mine, by default):

“Books are the mile markers of my life. Some people have family photos or home movies to record their past. I’ve got books. Characters. For as long as I can remember, books have been my safe place.”

  • I loved reading about the vast landscape of “the wild, spectacular beauty” of Alaska’s unfamiliar terrain. But I have to note the many, many descriptions… Personally, I’m not one for reading more than a couple of sentences on a character’s surroundings or the peculiar weather outside. I enjoy it more when the author spends time on dialogue, instead of useless descriptions that my eyes gloss over as it is. None of it seemed to amount to much; the words just passed through me.
  • On a brighter note, this leads me to talk about the characters. Three noteworthy relationships drove the story forward for me, including Leni with Matthew, Leni with Mama (aka Cora), and Large Marge with literally anyone because she’s that dynamic. Also, major bonus points for having a character in here named Natalie.

“I followed a man up here. Classic story. I lost the man and found a life. Got my own fishing boat now. So I get the dream that brings you here, but that’s not enough. You’re going to have to learn fast.” Natalie put on her yellow gloves. “I never found another man worth having. You know what they say about finding a man in Alaska—the odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

This a classic example of “How can I become so invested in a character by the end of the paragraph?”

  • My aesthetic is having Large Marge shut down entitled men. I’m still rattled by how she expertly handled Ernt Allbright’s volatile, moody, and sharp-tempered self.

“Sit down, Ernt,” Large Marge said.
“I don’t—”
“Sit down or I’ll knock you down,” Large Marge said.
Mama gasped.
Dad sat down on the sofa beside Mama. “That’s not really the way to talk to a man in his own home.”
“You don’t want to get me started on what a real man is, Ernt Allbright. I’m holding on to my temper, but it could run away with me. And you do not want to see a big woman come at you. Trust me. So shut your trap and listen.”

  • Speaking of which, I was counting down the pages till Ernt would be shown his way out of Alaska for good. He made everything and everyone hurt so deeply. I never trusted him to be alone with Cora. Winter is coming took on a whole new meaning with him in the picture. “You could always tell when Dad was gone. Everything was easier and more relaxed in his absence.”

So I was beyond thankful the moment the townsfolk intervened upon seeing his utterly abusive behavior towards his family. The magnitude of Large Marge and Mr. Walker stepping in to help Leni and her mom stayed with me ever since. Anyone daring to rightfully put Ernt in his place has my evergrowing admiration!

“You want to fight this battle?” Large Marge advanced, bracelets clattering. “If this young woman misses a single day of school, I will call the state and turn you in, Ernt Allbright. Don’t think for one second I won’t. You can be as batshit crazy and mean as you want, but you are not going to stop this beautiful girl from finishing high school. You got it?”
“The state won’t care.”
“Oh. They will. Trust me. You want me talking to the authorities about what goes on here, Ernt?”
“You don’t know shit.”
“Yeah, but I’m a big woman with a big mouth. You want to push me?”

In the wake of those words, I’ve never loved a character more than Marge Birdsall. Showing Cora and Leni that they have a support system around them was a grandiose moment.

I felt it even more acutely after having watched Jo Wilson’s centric episode in Grey’s Anatomy, focusing on domestic abuse.

  • Which brings me to my next point: The perceptive connection that bonds mother and daughter together like peas in a pod. “Two of a kind.” It was both agonizing and admiring to see them stick so fiercely by one another.

“Mama was Leni’s one true thing.”

They had the kind of relationship that required the simplest measure: “One always knew when to be strong for the other.” It was refreshing to see such an allied bond present between Cora and Leni.

“I’m your friend.”
“You’re thirteen. I’m thirty. I’m supposed to be a mother to you. I need to remember that.”

  • Which leads me to my favorite point in the book: The exhilarating rush of giddy, young love shared between Leni and Matthew in 1978. I loved this part of the book so much, I can’t bear to shorten it on my note. I haven’t felt such fierce dedication to a literary couple in months and months. All this time I was seeking for a book to just get me when it came to those first signs of infatuation; The Great Alone did it so right.

“Leni couldn’t help thinking how small they were in this big dangerous world, just kids who wanted to be in love.”

I went through all the stages with Leni, from seeking a friend to share her secrets and longings and bookish love with, to become so easily swept up in the intoxicating head rush that is all grown-up Matthew Walker. He got her like no one else did.

“She made lists in her head of things she wanted to say to him, had whole conversations by herself, over and over. ”

I actually ached when Leni and Matthew were separated for pages at a time because of circumstances beyond their measure. He was our light in the brutal darkness of Alaska.

“Night after night, week after week, she lay in her bed, missing Matthew. Her love for him—a warrior, hiking mountains, crossing streams—strode into the wild borderlands of obsession.
Near the end of July, she began to have negative fantasies—him finding someone else, falling in love, deciding Leni was too much trouble. She ached for his touch, dreamed of his kiss, talked to herself in his voice.

I can feel the pain oozing out of this text.

But my most cherished moment came back when she first realized the switch in her mind:

“It didn’t take Leni long to know that she was in trouble. She thought about Matthew constantly. At school she began to study his every move; she watched him as she would a prey animal, trying to glean intent from action. His hand sometimes brushed hers beneath the desk, or he touched her shoulder as he passed by her in the classroom. She didn’t know if those brief contacts were intentional or meaningful, but her body responded instinctively to each fleeting touch. Once she’d even risen from her chair, pushed her shoulder into his palm like a cat seeking attention. It wasn’t a thought, that lifting up, that unknown need; it just happened. And sometimes, when he talked to her, she thought he stared at her lips the way she stared at his. She found herself secretly mapping his face, memorizing every ridge and hollow and valley, as if she were an explorer and he her discovery.”

Scouring my neverending notes for a scene that captures the easygoing nature between the two was quite tough, but then I found this:

“But in her mind, he was Matthew, the fourteen-year-old kid who’d showed her frogs’ eggs and baby eagles, the boy who’d written her every week. Dear Leni, it’s hard at this school. I don’t think anyone likes me … And to whom she’d written back. I know a lot about being the new kid in school. It blows. Let me give you a few tips …
This … man was someone else, someone she didn’t know. Tall, long blond hair, incredibly good-looking. What could she say to this Matthew?
He reached into his backpack, pulled out the worn, banged-up, yellowed version of The Lord of the Rings that Leni had sent him for his fifteenth birthday. She remembered the inscription she’d written in it. Friends forever, like Sam and Frodo.”

cries actual tears of joy 

It’s scary to put on paper, but they changed something within me. The state of utter fragility and vulnerability that their love put them in stopped me cold and made me think twice of its power.

As I read, I was reminded of this tentative song I recently discovered:

  • So you could only imagine my devastation to the unexpected (supposed) ending of Matthew being hurt beyond repair when all he was trying to do was save Leni…

“I’m the reason he’s hurt. He tried to save me. It’s my fault.”
“He couldn’t do anything else, Leni. Not after what happened to his mom. I know my son. Even if he’d known the price, he would have tried to rescue you.”

I’ve never felt such visible pain and hurt and rage. My mind was so overrun with thoughts and emotions; I felt like I was in a zombie state when I dared to get up from the book. In the wake of all the hurt we went through with Leni, everything seemed so banal in the real world. Returning to the Outside felt like involuntary breaking off the rural spell we’d been under.

“A girl needs to be strong in this world.”

I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I was supposed to move on like nothing happened after we left Matthew, unsure of what the future held for him. I was so damn invested in every single moment shared between Matthew and Leni; it hurt more than I could bear to merely think of him without her. So I was pretty much left numb after that. I honestly couldn’t have cared less, reading about everything that occurred to the characters in the aftermath. All I wanted was justice for Leni’s kind, grief-stricken Matthew.

“He’d been drowning for all of these years without her, and she was the shore he’d been flailing to find.”

In hindsight, I should’ve known who I was dealing with before entering the novel. After all, I did read The Nightingale two winters ago. And coupled with the fact that I read 400 pages of this newest release in a single day, my reading experience took quite the toll on me. What is fresh air? But as the saying goes “Hindsight is 20/20. Everyone has a clear view from the rearview mirror.”

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Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

“If only I were as good at life as I am at the internet.”

I was so overly eager for any new John Green book-related content that I made the mistake of reading the excerpt shared on Buzzfeed last month. I say mistake because when I opened up the book weeks after having read the first two chapters, I only had this vague recollection that certainly wouldn’t help to continue from where I’d started. Rereading was key.

To give you a bit more background on why I was so eager: Back in 2014, John Green was one of the first authors I’d read that introduced me to the magic of books. I owe a lot to his writing that sucked me in so completely, only to leave me craving for more by the last page, which then led me to look up what next book would satisfy that particular hunger. And here we are today.

Despite all the above, I still went into Turtles All the Way Down with little to no expectations as to what was to come. I knew that though I had history with TFIOS, when I look back on certain scenes, I can’t help but feel shivers of disgust (like when the “two very privileged caucasian Americans who have never known starvation, genocide, or physical abuse” kissed in the Anne Frank house, which Ariane tells like it is in this article). So if anything, I was apprehensive as to what this newest work would contain.

It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

I feel like the only way I can accurately describe the heart of the book is by borrowing this phrase: Captures the everyday moments of teens’ lives and then sets fire to those moments, heightening them until they become metaphor.

“True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice in the matter.”

I have so much my mind is eager to spit out, so I think a list is in order (mild spoilers ahead):

  • Let’s start with Aza, who surprised me so much with her strong will and great depth of character. Her thought process and spirals gave me a keen insight into the works of the mind and expanding my view on things. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was having my own thoughts staring back at me from the page. From staring down the rabbit hole that is social media stalking your crush (#exposed), to vocalizing my exact fears on the reality of dating:

“I’m really not looking to date anyone.” I know people often say that when secretly looking for a romantic partner, but I meant it. I definitely felt attracted to some people, and I liked the idea of being with someone, but the actual mechanics of it didn’t much suit my talents. Like, parts of typical romantic relationships that made me anxious included 1. Kissing; 2. Having to say the right things to avoid hurt feelings; 3. Saying more wrong things while trying to apologize; 4. Being at a movie theater together and feeling obligated to hold hands even after your hands become sweaty and the sweat starts mixing together; and 5. The part where they say, “What are you thinking about?” And they want you to be, like, “I’m thinking about you, darling,” but you’re actually thinking about how cows literally could not survive if it weren’t for the bacteria in their guts, and how that sort of means that cows do not exist as independent life-forms, but that’s not really something you can say out loud, so you’re ultimately forced to choose between lying and seeming weird.”

  • Green’s style has grown and matured a lot for me with his newest work. It’s equal parts dark, hilarious, and achingly real. Plus, the dialogue is amazing. Speaking of the latter, the main reason why is thanks to the effervescent Daisy, who’s a force to be reckoned with, from writing her own Rey/ Chewbacca fanfiction to her inspiring directness.

“Have you ever gotten a dick pic?” she asked in lieu of saying hello.

I feel like she and Ilana Wexler would get along perfectly. Actually, I’ve never been sure of something.

“I mean, how am I supposed to react to a semi-erect penis as fan mail? Am I supposed to feel intrigued?”
“He probably thinks it’ll end in marriage. You’ll meet IRL and fall in love and someday tell your kids that it all started with a picture of a disembodied penis.”tumblr_inline_ovwvvl3htk1tsgfd5_540John Green isn’t afraid to let loose with his newest work. And I’m digging it.

  • Speaking of which, the direction the author took with Aza’s mental illness felt like the most honest portrayal I’d read in ages.

“I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.”

“I would always be like this, always have this within me. There was no beating it. I would never slay the dragon, because the dragon was also me. My self and the disease were knotted together for life.”

  • I got educated on such a vast array of topics, without ever feeling like I was lectured. The random history and science lessons really give away who the author of this novel is. From the history of Indianapolis (the setting of the book), to the genetically distinct creature called tuatara, to this weird parasite called Diplostomum pseudospathaceum. I can’t deny how utterly fascinating John Green made all of his swift lessons.

“What I love about science is that as you learn, you don’t really get answers. You just get better questions.”

  • The bits of romance seemed slightly off-kilter with the flow of the story at first, but it just so happened that I was in the rare mood for a budding romance to indulge in. Actually, it turned out to be quite nice, since it first and foremost focused on two teens taking comfort in talking with someone that gets them to a whole new level.

“In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt.”

  • The fact that we get to read inserts from Davis’s blog post & poetry entries, and Daisy’s successful fanfiction. The particular Davis piece below rang in my ear for a very long time.

“The next one stopped me cold:

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
—WILLIAM JAMES

I don’t know what superpower William James enjoyed, but I can no more choose my thoughts than choose my name.

The way he talked about thoughts was the way I experienced them—not as a choice but as a destiny. Not a catalog of my consciousness, but a refutation of it.
When I was little, I used to tell Mom about my invasives, and she would always say, “Just don’t think about that stuff, Aza.” But Davis got it. You can’t choose. That’s the problem.”

  • On a totally separate note, I couldn’t help but think of Richard Campbell Gansey III from The Raven Boys when Davis was first introduced, thanks to his obscene amount of family money.

“You mean, when a movie comes out in theaters, it . . . also comes out at your house?”

I never thought we’d have someone upstage Gansey… And yet here we are.

  • But what came quite unexpectedly was how connected I felt to Noah, who’s the 13-year-old brother. We see him truly struggle with the fact that his dad up-and-left with no clue of his whereabouts. But what hit most was the fact that Noah had no one to cry out to. Davis is barely getting by on his own, so his younger brother has to figure things out by himself. And reading that just took a piece right off me.

“It’s all right to be scared, Noah.” And then he turned his face away from me and started sobbing. “You’re okay,” I told him, lying. “You’re okay. He’ll come home.”


Though the premise is set to be about making “connections that crack open the long-dormant case of Russell Pickett’s disappearance,” Turtles All the Way Down is at its core a character-driven novel, favoring the development of the characters’ relationships with one another, which is how I like ’em. All this to say: I’m beyond eager to see what Green has next in store for us.

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