Monday, April 22, 2013

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of AnxietyMonkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel B. Smith
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The first quarter or so of this book is very funny, describing his severe anxiety in general. It becomes markedly less funny and dangerously boring when the author talks at great length about how he went to college and was basically saved by reading Philip Roth (ugh). Even though he keeps insisting his own family is nothing like Roth's, he winds up blaming a great deal of his problems on his mother (she's too anxious herself, the atmosphere at home was too chaotic, &c &c). He says his father's anxious too, but his father never appears in the book.

More seriously, then he goes on to detail a terrible article he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly in 2001 about ECT. I remember that article, and the controversy about it, even though that was over ten years ago. I bought this book on Kindle so there was nothing on the cover flaps or back that might have warned me this is the same author (I'd be curious if there's anything on the hard copy that might connect him with the article). If I'd known, I might not have even bought the book. That article represented a terrible low for the Atlantic's journalism in general and psychiatric journalism in particular. No, I'm not exaggerating. Yes, I know about pro-ECT books written by people who claim they benefited from ECT (I own several). This is deadly serious. I detest Peter Kramer's book about Listening to Prozac, for his shallow and superficial emphasis on cosmetic psychopharmacology, for the same reasons. It's why I detested Frey's "memoir." These are diseases that kill people, and the suffering experienced by people with mental illness demands the most scrupulous research and writing, the best possible thought. Claiming you were victimized by mentally ill people who have actually gone through ECT because they made you feel bad -- I have absolutely no respect for that.

If you want to read a memoir about severe anxiety which starts off very amusingly, descends into boring autobiography and then is infuriatingly defensive ("I hadn't killed anyone or knocked anyone up. I hadn't even acted maliciously"...."I was a junior editor twenty months out of college. All I'd wanted was to write and be published")* -- then get this from the library.

His (shitty) article -

People respond -

Liz Spikol -

Linda Andre's book detailing how she felt he mispresented her in the article -

*This reminded me of the infamous defense the same magazine mounted when the internet blew up about a writer who wanted to get, gasp, paid for his work -- "a young journalist in her first week on the job was part of the collateral damage" -- well why the fuck are the "young journalists" fresh out of college fucking up? Because they're cheap labour, that's why, and until someone outside your magazine calls them on it, this kind of incompetence can just slide. Because you're not willing to pay for quality.

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