Brightside Booklist: 4 True Life Stories To Read Right Now

October Brightside Booklist

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

Every month I find myself reading at least one book about death. Is it helping me to run faster from my fear of death? I don’t know, but I’m going to keep doing it until I figure it out. I picked this memoir up while I was on vacation (even when I’m having fun, I can’t have fun!). It’s a beautiful book written by the great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson who was diagnosed with cancer at 38. She writes about treatment, her thoughts on what is surely coming and whether or not to buy a new couch. It is this thread of the everyday, the mundane that I love about this book. Becoming sick and knowing that you’re are going to die doesn’t bring the day-to-day to an end. And everything that would normally seem simple, boring even, takes on a whole new meaning.

“It’s a complicated calculus. On the one hand, a basic cost-benefit analysis: How much money do I want to spend on something I may not be around to enjoy? On the other: Isn’t buying as expensive couch a kind of lovely expression of hopefulness? And after I’m gone, don’t I still want guests in my home to feel comfortable and stylish?”

“Also: an expansive bench that fits all of us. Something that will hold us through everything that lies ahead–the loving, collapsing and nuzzling. The dying, the grieving. Buying a sofa online, like many of life’s biggest decisions, takes research and trust, but mostly trust. As I lie here, with John’s chest rising and falling under my cheek, I realize that my careful calculations (How long do I have left? Who am I really buying this couch for? Am I getting a good deal?) are irrelevant. As in all things, I have to believe I’ll know what’s right when I see it.”

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir by Mark Lukach

Mark and his wife Giulia had THE perfect life (isn’t that how it always starts?). They marry, live in San Francisco and at age 27, Guilia has a psychotic break. It came out of nowhere and led to a toss-up of medications and hospitalization. After some trial and error, she recovers, their life carries on. She gives birth to their son and it all comes barreling back towards them.

I would say that 92% of books written on mental health are written from the point of view of the person coping with a diagnosis, but this book was different.  Mark’s love for his wife was obvious, but his candor was refreshing. If you have anyone in your life with mental illness, you will be able to relate to his desire to help her and his deep love. BUT you will also say, “YES!” at his frustration/irritation/feeling of been smothered by the act of caretaking. Watching it all unfold from the point of view of her husband and witness his evolution as a caretaker was what drew me in.

“I felt trapped by the impossibility of the situation. I didn’t trust Giulia to make her own decisions. I wanted to make them for her, which led to her resenting me for not trusting her. I didn’t want Guilia to resent me, but the only way to do that would be to allow her to make her own decisions, even it that included choices that could hurt or even kill her. It wasn’t going to work if I remained in charge, and it would be too risky if she was in charge.”

Yes, this book is about true love. Even more than that it is a book about what TRUE dedication looks like, even when you’re not sure you want to be dedicated anymore.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

Everyone remembers when Columbine happened. Everyone knows who Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were, but does anyone know who they REALLY were? Dylan’s mother, Sue, wrote this book in an attempt to bring all of what she knew, and more of what she didn’t know, to light about her son Dylan. I’ll let these quotes from the book speaks for themselves:

“Tom and I were loving, attentive, and engaged parents, and Dylan was an enthusiastic, affectionate child. This wasn’t a kid we worried or prayed over, hoping he would eventually find his way and lead a productive life. We called him “The Sunshine Boy”–not just because of his halo of blond hair, but because everything seemed to come easily to him. I was grateful to be Dylan’s mother, and loved him with my whole heart and soul.”

“The ordinariness of our lives before Columbine will perhaps be the hardest thing for people to understand about my story. For me, it is also the most important. Our home life was not difficult or fraught. Our youngest child was not a handful, let alone someone we (or others who knew him) would have imagined to be a risk to himself or to anyone else. I wish many things had been different, but, most of all, I wish I had known it was possible for everything to seem fine with my son when it was not.”

With One Shot: Family Murder and a Search for Justice by Dorothy Marcic

I met Dorothy, the author, through my good friend Sarah of the awesome, AWESOME blog, Yes and Yes. She new I would love this woman and when I finally met her, I did. She lives in NYC, is involved with theater and KNEW MISTER ROGERS (*faint*). It turns out she has a real-life true crime case in her own family and after living with not-quite-the-whole-truth for years, she goes back to reinvestigate the murder of her beloved uncle, Vernie. His second wife, Suzanne, plead insanity, but the insanity didn’t end there.

This book was not only a murder mystery, but a portrait of a family that can become completely unraveled after a stranger steps into their lives. Suzanne was manipulative, surly and loved to drink (she was described as someone who “drank like a dehydrated desert inhabitant”). This woman was like a tornado destroying not only Dorothy’s family, but everyone else she came in contact with. The discussion of the details of the case became repetitive at times, but reading about Dorothy having to “play nice” when interviewing Suzanne and the rest of her family was fascinating.

Can you imagine spending hours trying to charm a woman who may or may not have killed your uncle?

*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

What have you read lately? Let me know! If you want a FULL list of the books that I recommend, check out this link to 52 of my favorite books.

**And, as usual, you can click on the links to go to Amazon to purchase the books. It doesn’t cost you any extra, I just get a few pennies sent my way.

How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath, Part I

“You ruined this for kids. I will applaud when you die.”

Who was the recipient of these words, you ask? John Wayne Gacy. What did he ruin for kids, you ask (besides their lives)? He ruined clowns and Eric Hickey, Ph.D. wanted to make sure Gacy knew that the whole world now hated clowns, thanks to him. I would like to add that I’m not sure this was a concern of Gacy’s. If you spend your life wondering how you’re going to bury 27 boys under your house, clowns are the least of your concerns, but maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I attended an all-day training called Mass Murder: Psycho-Behavioral Profiles, Incidents of Bifurcation, Manifestos and Best Practices in Prevention presented by Dr. Eric Hickey.  This training had absolutely nothing to do with my job, but I willingly handed over $100 to listen to this forensic psychologist/expert talk to me for 8 hours. Luckily, it wasn’t just me (because that would be weird), but there were about 75 people there, all on the edge of their seats in anticipation of hearing about psychopaths, sociopaths and how the Unabomber has terrible grammar (really, it’s true).

How To Tell If You'e A Psychopath, Part I: Click here to read about why murderers do what they do and other facts (i.e., the Unabomber had TERRIBLE grammar)!

I have had several people ask me what I learned so I compiled a list of some of the most interesting tidbits:

  • There are various types of mass murder (domestic, workplace, school, bifurcated, stranger, terrorism, psychological coercion and copy cat).
  • When women are involved in domestic murder, it’s typically due to them being mentally ill, psychotic or overwhelmed. Men? They commit domestic homicide primarily as a result of a breakdown between himself and his wife/partner (according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice). A woman named Khoua Her from St. Paul, MN and a man named Ronald Simmons are examples of these types of domestic killings.
  • Stranger mass murders involve, you guessed it, people killing people they don’t know. Dr. Hickey included a story about five boys in South Korea  that went frog hunting in 1991 and never came back. The area that the boys went to was searched over 500 times and they weren’t found until 2002 when a man stumbled across their graves. Dr. Hickey was called into the case to help determine how the boys died.
  • Psychological coercion mass murders are things like Jim Jones getting everyone to “drink the kool-aid” and Heaven’s Gate. HOW or WHY anyone would believe that by killing themselves they would get a ride on a sweet spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet is beyond me. In case you were unaware, the guy in the lower right corner of the photo is Marshall Applewhite, leader of Heaven’s Gate. Why anyone would listen to THAT guy is beyond me.
  • Most mass murderers have kept some sort of diary of sorts before the killings  including manifestos, blogs, diaries or letters. All of these include one or more of these themes: ego survival/revenge, pseudocommando mindset of persecution/envy, thoughts of obliteration, nihilism, entitlement or a heroic revenge fantasy (Knoll, J.L., IV (2012), Mass Murder: Causes, Classification, and Prevention).
  • Most mass murderers such as James Holmes and the Columbine shooters had at least 2 of these themes in their manifestos, but Elliot Rodger met all six of them.
  • Finally, I’ll end it (excuse the unsavory pun) with bifurcation. I had never heard of it before, but it completely makes sense (in an I’m-a-lunatic kind of way). This means that someone commits murder at one location and then moves to another.  Usually, the first murders are used as a distraction such as setting off bombs to force police attention in one location and then moving somewhere else to commit the “bigger” crime, like Anders Breivek. Ever heard of the Bath Massacre? Yeah, I hadn’t either. When I think of mass murders, my mind jumps to modern day episodes, not 1927 Michigan. Andrew Kehoe was an already angry dude who was elected treasurer of the school board. When people didn’t agree with his thrifty ways, he bombed the school building, killing 45 people and injuring 58. At least 38 kids were killed.

It should be noted that most discussion of these perpetrators revolves around them being mentally ill, but that is not always the case. I found it terrifying that Dr. Hickey stated that only approximately 40% of mass murderers have a diagnosed mental illness. They rest of these people have some sort of psychopathy, which is based on control and power. In my next installment of “How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath” I’ll share the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath and how they figure out where a criminal falls on the scale between the two.

Just for fun, let me ask you a question. Would you say that Jeffrey Dahmer was mentally ill? Would you call him a sociopath or a psychopath? I’ll give you a hint: my answer was wrong.