Sometimes Amazing Things Happen

“And when an incarcerated person with a mental illness is too ill to be cared for at Rikers they go, the men that is, to the "prison ward" on the 19th floor of New York's storied Bellevue Hospital, where they remain in custody while doctors, nurses, social workers and counselors treat them, under the watchful eyes of correctional officers, until they are well enough to return to jail.”
From Psychology Today

In her author’s note, Elizabeth Ford tells us that she measures her “success as a doctor not by how well I treat mental illness but how well I respect and honor my patients’ humanity, no matter where they are or what they have done.” Her book, Sometimes amazing things happen : heartbreak and hope on the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric prison ward, chronicles the ways in which she does exactly that, sometimes with a personal struggle, though most often intuitively. Dr. Ford begins her story at the outset of her career at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Bellevue, the oldest public hospital in the country, houses, on its top floors, “one of the most famous psychiatric wards in the world,” including the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward. The patients here are inmates of the New York City jail system, headquartered on Rikers Island. This is where Dr. Ford works for most of this memoir, and these inmates people her stories from that time. Dr. Ford details her interactions with her patients, providing them with humanity and respect. She is skilled at turning even her most extreme outrage to empathy, aided by her capacity to listen well. “If you listen to the story long enough, you can figure out why these patients behave so badly. Then you can try to fix it.”

Ford has two young children, and like many parents, she struggles with a work-life balance, and at times finds herself unable to leave her patients’ suffering behind. Her own unraveling during her second pregnancy causes her to scale back on her work and leave Bellevue for a period of time. When she returns in 2009, it is to become the first female Director of the Forensic Psychiatry Service at Bellevue. She is continually challenged by the caring of her patients, by episodes of violence, by her frustration with the criminal justice system, but she faces these crises with boundless compassion and determination. Today, Dr. Ford is the Chief of Psychiatry for Correctional Health Services for New York City’s Health and Hospitals.

Similar medical memoirs include, No apparent distress : a doctor's coming-of-age on the front lines of American medicine by Rachel Pearson, and Admissions: life as a brain surgeon by Henry Marsh.

Fantastic Children's Non-Fiction

When Planet Earth Was New - by James Gladstone & Katherine Diemert -
This starkly beautiful picture book introduces very young readers to the geological history of planet Earth. Beginning with the very early development of the solar system, billions and billions of years ago, 'When Planet Earth Was New' shows the earth as it passes through various geological epochs, through the beginnings and the evolution of organic life, and into the human-dominated present. You'll find a great appendix at the end, giving a wealth of additional details. This little gem is a great way to show your child the basics of geological and biological history, years before they will first learn it in the classroom.

Pocket Full of Colors: the magical world of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire -by Amy Guglielmo & Jacqueline Tourville-
The authors chart the course of the life of Mary Blair, the creative talent behind Disney classics like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Mary's creative instincts and professional ambitions collide with gender discrimination in the highly male-dominated work-spaces of mid-century America. Mary perseveres though, and single-handedly drags the Disney Studios from it's black and white past, and into the lush colors of it's storied golden age.

While there is much to love in this slender book, as and adult, my favorite part of 'A Pocket Full of Colors' is how carefully the illustrator captured the various incarnations of Mary's personal style, from Betty Page bangs, to late 50's June Cleaver pearls, and finally into ultra-trendy 60's Mod. This beautifully illustrated, audaciously colorful picture book is a great way to introduce your little one to biographies.

Yum! MmMm! Qué rico! : Americas' sproutings - by Pat Mora -
Featuring vibrant, warm colors and a playful style, Pat Mora manages to pack an enormous amount of quality content into a tiny little picture book. 'Written as a series of haiku, Yum! MmMm! Qué rico!' teaches kids about the history of many of the great foods that originated in the Americas (chocolate, corn, peanuts, potatoes, and many more). Be sure to check out the fun and informative histories of each food item, always in small print on the left-hand side of every page. Your child will be both educated and entertained.

Poison : deadly deeds, perilous professions, and murderous medicines - by Sarah Albee -
Written for more advanced readers, this book is sure to satisfy kids with a passion for chemistry, history, spy-craft, or maybe just anything morbid. While the author is careful to state that 'Poison' is not an exhaustive index of poisonous materials, at nearly 200 pages, Sarah Albee manages to cover an enormous amount of ground. Your child will learn about how humans have wrangled with chemistry throughout history, focusing on the where, when, and why of how people have come into contact with dangerous chemical compounds. Be sure to check it out!

Three brilliant wordsmiths

As presented in delightfully rendered, craftily composed biographies of wordsmiths for children (of all ages).

Edward Estlin Cummings was born on October 14, 1894 and was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts by two supportive and creative parents, who introduced Estlin to the wonderful world of words and provided him with the space to use them magically. Estlin’s love of words was illuminated by his passion for drawing and painting, so that the poems he created used words for language and illustration. This very unique style of poetry is well known to any who are familiar with the works of e.e. cummings. In enormous smallness : a story of e.e. cummings, Matthew Burgess details cummings’ childhood and his journey to becoming a poetry pioneer. Kris Di Giamomo’s illustrations are the perfect match to both Burgess’s and cummings’ words. Words appear as pictorial representations of leaves on trees, clouds, the night sky.

cummings was greatly inspired by the outside world that he noticed as a child. So was William Carlos Williams, born in 1883 in Rutherford, New Jersey. Jen Bryant gives us Williams’ story in A river of words: the story of William Carlos Williams. As Williams grew older and had less time for outdoor pursuits, he realized that poetry instilled in him the same feeling as the sounds of the natural world. Unlike cummings, Williams did not find the poetry bursting out of him. He first tried his hand at writing like the famous English poets he had read in school, but found that this style could not convey the images he was seeing in his mind. He put aside rhyme and rhythm and “let each poem find its own special shape on the page.” Williams became a doctor to pay the bills, but often used his prescription pads for jotting down the lines in his head. After each day of work, he wrote to create the poems that are so well known and well loved today, poems about plums and wheelbarrows. Like Di Giamomo, illustrator Melissa Sweet demonstrates that pictures can be made with words.

Bryant and Sweet team up again in The right word : Roget and his thesaurus to give us the story of another great wordsmith. Born in London in 1779, Peter Mark Roget was a collector of words, and because of his accumulation, we have one of the most amazing, breathtaking books there is. The Greek translation of thesaurus is “treasure house,” and there is not a better word within it to describe it. As a child, Roget didn’t have many friends, but he had books, and reading them inspired him to make his own. He organized his words differently from cummings and Williams: he created lists. As he grew older he realized that there was always an ideal word to describe anything and that if those perfect words could all be found in one place, a book sure to provide the best word, than the world would be improved for it. Like Williams, Roget also became a doctor, but it was ultimately his wondrous compendium of words, the “Collections of English Synonyms Classified and Arranged,” that created his legacy. Bryant tells Roget's story in way that exhibits her own admiration for the thesaurus, and Sweet has once again used words as active, cheerful illustrations to show how letters can convey meaning on many levels.

The stories of these three scribes will appeal to word-lovers of any age, even help to create some new ones. And yes, I used a thesaurus to write this. I always do, regularly, repeatedly, and evermore.

Happy Birthday Mark Rothko!

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was an Abstract Expressionist painter, famously known for his color field paintings: six or seven foot canvases painted with large rectangle swaths of color. The subjects of his paintings appear simple, and often people view them with the thought “well, I could do that.” However, Rothko’s paintings are not necessarily about the technical skill involved, they are about the way the painting makes the viewer feel, the emotions that the work elicits in the observer, and about creating the illusion of spatial infinity. Abstract Expressionism as a movement came about in New York in the 1940s, and focused on the "sublime," defined as working to capture and portray the unspeakable, be it emotion, the divine, or the cosmic. For some abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, the art of their work is in the emotion expressed during the act of painting. For Rothko, the art is in the relationship between his painting and the viewer, in being overwhelmed by the sensation of the colors, and becoming emerged in the painting. The artist is known for saying the viewer should ideally experience his work from 18 inches away, as to become one with the painting. While our art prints are not to scale, they still do an excellent job of eliciting emotion and are available for check out here. (For the full viewing experience, be sure to check out Orange, Brown which is on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts!) To read more about the artist, check out this book written by his son, or this biography. You can also find books about Abstract Expressionism here.

Feeling Anxious?

The following memoirs are all unflinchingly honest and personal accounts of those grappling with anxiety and panic disorders.

In My Age of Anxiety : Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind, Scott Stossel reports with candor on his constant and continued battles with severe anxiety in many forms. Accessible, readable, funny, forthright and extremely well researched, Stossel’s book offers alternating personal accounts with examinations of anxiety as seen in past and present science and philosophy. Daniel Smith also looks at how writers, scientists and other thinkers have considered anxiety while delving deeply into his own in Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety. Like Stossel, Smith allows readers a very close look at his daily fears, and like Stossel bravely tackles the subject with much humor.

Andrea Petersen was a student at the University of Michigan when she suffered her first panic attack. In On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety, she recalls how she went from doctor to doctor, one misdiagnosis after another to realize that her physical pain was caused by debilitating anxiety. She was eventually diagnosed with several different anxiety disorders.

Petersen chronicles her anxiety on a very personal level, but also takes us through myriad treatments, both past and present, as well as the physiology and genetics of anxiety disorders.

These accounts of crippling anxiety mixed with studies of this common and misunderstood mental illness have the potential to offer considerable help to anyone suffering from anxiety or close to someone who is.

Dying: A Memoir

At the age of 50, Cory Taylor was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. She wrote Dying: a Memoir 10 years later, in an energetic rush of creativity, right before her death, when the melanoma had spread to her brain. This perceptive output, at such a time, is astounding, and as readers we are its lucky recipients.

“Despite the ubiquity of death, it seems strange that there are so few opportunities to discuss dying,” says Taylor as she works to establish a conversation around death. “Death is a taboo subject, absurdly so. It is tidied away in hospitals, out of public view, the secret purview of health professionals who are generally unwilling to talk about what really goes on at the bedsides of a nation.” Taylor strives to change this, in part by taking control of the dialogue around her own death, and by taking control of her death itself. She begins the book by telling us that she has just purchased her own euthanasia drugs. She doesn’t know that she’ll use them, but it comforts her to know that she can dictate her end. She doesn’t try to convince us that dying isn’t hard, or sad, but nor does she shy away from the fact that it is unavoidable. “No, there is nothing good about dying. It is sad beyond belief. But it is part of life, and there is no escaping it. Once you grasp that fact, good things can result.” When addressing the fear that she admits to feeling, she adds, “I haven't died before, so I sometimes get a bad case of beginner’s nerves, but they soon pass.”

Taylor moves away from the topic of death for one section of this slim volume to highlight some memories from her interesting childhood spent in Australia and Fiji. This exploration highlights an understanding of her parents, their relationship to each other, and to her, that perhaps she was recognizing in an end-of-life reflection. But even in looking back at her life experiences, Taylor does not fall prey to sentimentality, nor is she mired with regret. “I don't have a bucket list because it comforts me to remember the things I have done, rather than hanker after the things I haven't done. Whatever they are, I figure they weren't for me, and that gives me a sense of contentment, a sort of ballast as I set out on my very last trip.”

Taylor writes beautifully, and it is sad to think we won’t get more from her, but we are fortunate to have this.

Add this to the ranks of When Breath Becomes Air, Being Mortal, and The Bright Hour, the books we read to try to gain insight on and understanding of the inevitable end we all face. Cory Taylor eloquently bestows both to us.

“And that is what I’m doing now, in this, my final book: I am making a shape for my death, so that I, and others, can see it clearly.”

Fifth Avenue Press Book Release Reception: AADL's Local Publishing Imprint

The Ann Arbor District Library is pleased to announce the release of nine literary works under our new Fifth Avenue Press imprint. Join us to hear readings and meet our debut group of authors, buy their books, get them signed, and enjoy light refreshments!

Our local authors have something to offer for just about every reader. For younger children, we're releasing two picture books and an Ann Arbor-based comic for all ages; for adults, we're publishing a book of poetry, two memoirs, a murder mystery, and a collection of humorous and historical Ann Arbor stories!

Technical Solace: a book of poetry, by Rebecca G. Biber
Ginger Stands Her Ground: a memoir, by Virginia Ford
Tales From the Dork Side: a memoir, by R.J. Fox
Michigan Moon: a picture book, by Meg Gower
Takedown: a murder mystery, by Jeff Kass
Chad Agamemnon: a comic book set in Ann Arbor, by Carolyn Nowak
The Book of Ann Arbor: An Extremely Serious History Book, by Rich Retyi
A Monster on Main Street: a picture book set in Ann Arbor, by Emily Siwek
Light From the Cage: 25 Years in a Prison Classroom, by Judy Patterson Wenzel

Plus, author Debbie Taylor will offer a sneak peek into her forthcoming 2018 Fifth Avenue Press picture book: Over in Motown!

For more information about Fifth Avenue Press or to submit your work visit

How to Be a Muslim: An American Story - Memoir by Haroon Moghul

Memoir is a “tricky genre to review”, asserted Roxane Gay during an author event for her most recent title Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium this past Friday.



However, Haroon Moghul so creatively crafts his story that there were no tricks for me in this writing. Moghul’s memoir How to be a Muslim: An American Story artfully weaves insightful personal reflection on faith, leadership, and bipolar disorder with dry hilarity and punny chapter titles that are often nods to the musical magic of Green Day, Cat Stevens, and Jay-Z. The book makes for an emotional rollercoaster of a read as Moghul deftly describes his struggle with his two selves: the outer, public figure Haroon who was “thrust into the spotlight” as an NYU campus leader post-9/11, and the inner, personally and spiritually tormented Haroon vacillating between“amateur atheism” and God-consciousness.

Moghul addresses themes such as hypocrisy, the spectrum of mental health, bigamy, and monogamy in wildly entertaining and thought-provoking ways. Free of tired, apologetic “Intro-to-Islam” tropes, Moghul instead relies on the religious/spiritual and philosophical framework of poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, who wrestled with Islam and the West as well as the “self” and society prior to the decisiveness of the 9/11 moment. Indeed the amorphous unit that is popularly perceived of as the “Muslim World” experienced dissonance, along with richness and cosmopolitanism prior to that moment.

Any child of the 90’s will appreciate Moghul’s apropos references to the decade’s sartorial sensibilities (JNCO jeans, anyone?) and the memorable music of Mariah Carey. Besides suggesting to read Moghul’s reference A First-Rate Madness by Nasser Ghaemi, I cannot provide a reader advisory, “If you like ‘x’, you’ll also like ‘y’” because this book occupies a place of its own. Read it.

The Bright Hour

Nina Riggs’ stunning memoir, The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, was written in the last two years of her life. At the age of 37, with two young boys and a dying mother to care for, Riggs was diagnosed with breast cancer, “just a spot,” that accelerated rapidly to become terminal. This astonishingly moving, never maudlin book, is not filled with the sadness that one might expect to find in these circumstances, but instead is made up of episodes, small and large, presented to us in Riggs’ forthright and humored tone. Riggs, once a poet, writes of hours and days simply and eloquently, reminding us that these moments are the ones making up her life, no matter their content. This book is infused with anecdotes from the front lines of motherhood and marriage, which just happened to be peppered with “dispatches” from the world of a fast-moving cancer and its treatments. Riggs is no stranger to the disease. Her mother has been living with and dying from cancer for the past 8 years. As her mother passes her last days in hospice she relays her regrets for Riggs, that she (Riggs) had been nicer and seen a dentist more often. This pairing of the profound with the trifling details of everyday runs throughout Riggs’ memoir and lends itself to the poetry of Riggs’ words. “I’m terrified. I’m fine. The world is changed and exactly as before. There are crows in my hair. I have no hair.”

Riggs is brave to face cancer with as much acceptance and wit as she does. One wonders if some of her bravery stems from the precept passed down through generations by her great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “always do what you are afraid to do.” Riggs looks to, and sites, Emerson often, as well as the French philospher Michel de Montaigne, and finds comfort in their viewpoints toward the natural world, life, and death. There are moments though, when Riggs finds it difficult to summon courage and understanding, and they are heartbreaking, as when she thinks of leaving her children. “Their very existence is the one dark piece I cannot get right within all this. I can let go of a lot of things: plans, friends, career goals, places in the world I want to see, maybe even the love of my life. But I cannot figure out how to let go of mothering them.”

Also heartbreaking is that we will never get more writing from Riggs. This book reads as if she is in conversation with her reader, often in the present tense, imbued with humor and fine points, so that when it’s over we are left mourning the book’s conclusion as well as the life of its writer.

New from David Sedaris

Theft by Finding: Diaries: Volume One is the newest publication from best selling author and humorist David Sedaris.

For nearly four decades, David Sedaris has faithfully kept a diary in which he records his thoughts and observations on the odd and funny events he witnesses. This is the source material for the remarkable essays which have delighted fans for many years. Often read from at live shows, fans have been waiting for a chance to read more of the diaries, which developed into a collection of major turning points in Sedaris' life.

Sedaris came to prominence in 1992 when National Public Radio broadcast his essay "SantaLand Diaries." He published his first collection of essays and short stories, , in 1994. Each of his subsequent essay collections became New York Times Best Sellers. Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air on NPR, featured an interview yesterday to discuss the challenges of publishing his diaries directly, without crafting them into a humorous tale.

"Sedaris is caustically witty about his bad habits and artistic floundering. Even when he cleans up his act, falls in love, and achieves raving success, Sedaris remains self-deprecating and focused on the bizarre and the disquieting. A candid, socially incisive, and sharply amusing chronicle of the evolution of an arresting comedic artist." - Booklist starred review

Reserve your copy today and peruse the collection to enjoy his other books and recordings!