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Book Reviews: January 2009

Editors note: Click the book title to order the book from and NAMI will receive a portion of the proceeds.

The Hour I First BelievedThe Hour I First Believed
By Wally Lamb (HarperCollins 2008 - 740 pages)

Best-selling author Wally Lamb's novels often encourage readers to support NAMI's work. A previous book, I Know This Much is True concerned a 40-year-old house painter whose twin brother struggled with schizophrenia.

His latest novel, The Hour I First Believed, is about Caleum Quirk, a teacher, and his wife, Maureen, a school nurse, who move to Colorado and get jobs at Columbine High School- where in 1999 two teenagers go on a murderous rampage. Maureen finds herself hiding in a cabinet next to the school library, where most of the students are killed. In the months that follow, she struggles with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and she and Caleum return to New England to an illusion of safety on his family's farm-where further tragedy unfolds.

While Maureen fights for recovery, Caleum finds old diaries and letters in the house that span five generations. From them, family secrets emerge, involving fear, anger, guilt, and grief, which influenced his own troubled childhood. The threads of the 740 page novel are at times confusing, but that's partly the point. Life is often tangled or disconnected, as people seek to find faith, meaning and recovery to rise out of the ashes.

On page 739, Lamb cites NAMI's Veterans Resource Center in encouraging charitable donations because of NAMI's focus on PTSD.

Wishful DrinkingWishful Drinking
By Carrie Fisher (Simon & Schuster 2008 - 163 pages)

Adapted from a one-woman stage show, this book is a memoir in the form of monologue. It is intimate, hilarious, sobering and sardonic. Ask people what they know about Carrie Fisher and most will say at least one of several things: i.e., that she is the daughter of “America’s Sweethearts” of the 1950’s, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds; that as a 19-year-old actor she played Princess Leia in Star Wars; that she was once married to singer/composer Paul Simon; that she is the author of Postcards From the Edge, and that she has struggled mightily with drug abuse and bipolar disorder.

That’s what the book is about. All of the above. Relative to mental illness, Fisher pushes the envelope of humor as only some who has lived with it can. “Having waited my entire life to get an award for something…I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill.”

“I’m apparently very good at it…It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic it would be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year.” But she’s also deadly serious. She compares fighting mental illness to fighting in Afghanistan—“though in this case the bombs and bullets come from the inside.” Besides the pills that a person has to take, “they should issue medals.”

“Being bipolar can be an all consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”

For the record, NAMI honored Fisher in 2001 with one of its highest honors, the Purdy Award, for person who has made a significant, national contribution in fighting stigma. Eight years later, she is still going strong.

Criminalization of Mental Illness Crisis and Opportunity for the Justice SystemCriminalization of Mental Illness Crisis and Opportunity for the Justice System
by Risdon Slate and W. Wesley Johnson (432 pages)

A broad range of issues are covered in this book, co-authored by NAMI leader Risdon Slate, who is chair of the department of sociology and criminology at Florida Southern College, and who has testified before Congress for NAMI.

It addresses specialized law enforcement responses, mental health courts and diversion, mental healthcare in jails and prisons, discharge planning and re-entry, as well as outpatient commitment, competency and the insanity defense.

NAMI policy director Ron Honberg also contributed a chapter.

Collaborative approaches to policies that are often driven by crises are discussed. It is both an excellent textbook for any course on mental health and a worthwhile source for any individual or policymaker interested in the intersection between the mental healthcare and criminal justice systems.