Mental illness

Daughter of the Queen of Sheba

By Jacki Lyden

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As a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, Lyden has spent her adult life on the frontlines in some of the most dangerous war zones in the world. Her childhood was a war zone of a different kind. Her mother suffered from what we now call manic-depression; when Jacki was a child in a small Midwestern town, her mother was simply called crazy.

Also available on audio.

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Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History

By Helene Stapinski

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"As Stapinski writes, Jersey City was a tough place to grow up, except I didn't know any better. In this unforgettable memoir, Stapinski tells the heartbreaking yet often hilarious story of growing up among swindlers, bookies, and crooks. With deadpan humor and obvious affection, she comes clean with the outrageous tales that have swirled around her relatives for decades, and recounts the epic drama and comedy of living in a household in which petty crime was a way of life. The dinner Helene's mother put on the table (often prime rib, lobster tail, and fancy cakes) was usually swiped from the cold-storage company where Helene's father worked. The soap and toothpaste in the bathroom were lifted from the local Colgate factory. The books on the family's shelves were smuggled out of a book-binding company in Aunt Mary Ann's oversize girdle (or taken by Grandpa Beansie from the Free Public Library). Uncle Henry did a booming business as the neighborhood bookie, cousins did jail time, and Great-Aunt Katie, who liked to take a shot of whiskey each morning to clear her lungs, was a ward leader in the notorious Jersey City political machine.

"No backdrop could be more appropriate for the Stapinskis than Jersey City; a place known for its ties to the Mafia, industrial blight, and corrupt local officials, and the author ingeniously weaves the checkered history of her hometown throughout the book. Navigating a childhood of toxic waste and tough love, Stapinski tells an extraordinary tale that, unlike the swag of her childhood, is her very own."

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Call Me Anna : The Autobiography of Patty Duke

By Patty Duke and Kenneth Duran

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Patty Duke wrote this autobiographical account of her struggle for survival. Read about her firsts: the youngest actor to win an Oscar and the youngest actor to have a prime-time series bearing her own name, the many difficulties she faced as a child star, the tragic consequences of her long-undiagnosed illness, and her triumphs.

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Tchaikovsky: His Life and Times

By Wilson Strutte

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Whether he cared to admit it or not, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a hypochondriac, a manic-depressive and a man who, until only a few months before his death, was quite unable to come to terms with his own nature. He was also, quite clearly, a genius: one of the greatest composers ever to have lived, and an artist whose music conveys the very spirit of 19th-century Russia.

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Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog

Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog

"We have no dinosaur, it says on a hand-lettered sign outside a farm that puts on rattlesnake rodeos."

                                                                                                                                                                             --Werner Herzog

To find pleasure in  Conquest of the Useless, you must have at least a passing familiarity with the filmmaker Werner Herzog. Herzog has been writing and directing films for five decades, but only a few of his movies have broken into the American mainstream. The most well known here are the documentary Grizzly Man and the Vietnam War film Rescue Dawn (starring Christian Bale).

Each of Herzog's works oozes with a mood of effortless intensity, as if he has summoned the stress and obsessions of humanity like moths to a flame. Whether it's Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man's protagonist, who lived with and was inevitably eaten by bears) or Nosferatu (from Herzog's 1979 remake), the director is singular in his subjects' driven focus on their goals and desire, no matter how self-destructive they may be.

Philip K. Dick and History Unrealized

The late Philip K. Dick's works were one of the strongest influences on science fiction writers in the first decade of the 21st century, including the fields of alternate history and paranoid thrillers.

Keeper of the Night

Kimberly Willis Holt

Isabel, a thirteen-year-old girl living on the island of Guam, and her family try to cope with the death of Isabel's mother who committed suicide.

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I Don't Want to Be Crazy

By Samantha Schutz

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When Samantha Schutz arrives at college, she begins to suffer anxiety attacks that leave her mentally shaken and physically incapacitated. Told in poetic verse, this memoir tells the story of a young woman as she grows up, breaks down, and comes to grips with a psychological disorder.
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So B. It

By Sarah Weeks

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After spending her life with her mentally disabled mother and agoraphobic neighbor, Heidi hears a mysterious word in her mother's vocabulary and sets out from Reno, Nevada, to New York on a hunt for her past.
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Burning with Creativity: Authors Who Suffer from Mental Illness

You don't have to have a mental disorder to be a great author, but those lightning leaps of imagination and hours spent constructing fascinating stories, multi-layered in meaning and unique in style, can sometimes be linked to mental illness.

Many of the 20th century's great writers, including Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and William Styron, suffered from mental illness. During May, which is Mental Health Month, take a moment to examine the difficult lives of these writers.