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Title details for Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker - Wait list

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

WOW, what a book.   It took me about a week to finish this book, but each time I put it down, I could not stop thinking about it.  In fact, if I was reading it before going to bed, several times I ended up dreaming about it – it was that good, that thought provoking, that well written, that emotional.  As you can see by the cover, this book is one of Oprah’s Book Club picks, so you have confidence going into the book that it should be a good one.  Fair warning, it’s a gut wrencher but well worth your time.

The Galvin family consisted of 12 children, 6 of them developed schizophrenia.  It was like a row of dominoes, Donald, the oldest , with his all american good looks & athleticism, during college, began a steep and steady descent into madness, with five of his brothers following in his footsteps. Kolker takes the reader right into the home of the Galvins to experience the chaos and confusion about what was happening to them. While 6 of the children have no mental illness, not one family member walks away from their home unscathed.  Kolker also explores the scientific piece of schizophrenia, mostly in laymen terms, so the reader has better knowledge of  schizophrenia as a disease without getting lost in the extensive history of the brain.  The matriarch of the family, Mimi Galvin, is one of the  survivors of this brutal truth, until her death late in life, and she is not to go unnoticed.  Despite every obstacle and roadblock thrown at her, she remained steadfastly committed to the care and support of her sick sons, even at the expense of losing her well children. Imagine if you were once a healthy young man, facing down the terrifying consequences of schizophrenia. Imagine if you were not mentally ill, surrounded by siblings struggling with mental illness and worrying, will you be next. Imagine being a mother to both and trying so very hard to protect them all.

Andrew’s Top Ten Books of 2017

1. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina

This is my first time reading this gargantuan novel, and I have to say it is one of my favorite novels I”ve ever read.  The book feels so close to life, and each character is so robust, so vivid, and so memorable.  A must read for novel-readers of all stripes.  

2. Night of Fire – Colin Thubron

I loved almost every aspect of this novel.  It centers around a house fire that kills each of the house’s inhabitants, and each chapter begins with the fateful fire and one character’s experience of the fire (each chapter also ends with the character just before death or even during death somehow). But the majority of each chapter is taken up with narrating pivotal moments in the lives of each character, often having to do with love affairs or familial relationships or friendships.

3. The Black Prince – Iris Murdoch

This is a disturbing, funny and very dark novel about a retired English tax-collector who wishes to get away to write his “great novel,” but he gets progressively more embroiled in life, in the messiness and cacophony of life – and at a certain point he falls ridiculously and disturbingly in love with his best friend’s daughter.  

4. A Living Covenant: the Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism– David Hartman

Living Covenant: The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism

A wonderful book about productive ways to interpret various aspects of Judaism so as to make it into a living practice. Hartman is an astonishingly fertile and strong thinker, and I loved seeing him wrestle with his own Jewish influences, as well as work to make Judaism something viable for modern times.

5.  Why Buddhism is True: the Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment – Robert Wright

Although the title is kind of noxious, this was a fascinating book about the relationship between evolutionary psychology and mindfulness meditation.  

6.  The Dream Colony: A Life in Art – Walter Hopps

Hopps was a famous curator of 20th century art – he was the first to put on a show of Pop Art, and he curated some amazingly early and deservedly famous shows of Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. But aside from all of his accolades, Hopps himself, in all of his zaniness, was such a fabulous and engaging storyteller, that the book was difficult to put down. He also had a seemingly photographic memory of the shows he put on, so we’re really given insight into what it was like to curate some huge and important shows of American art.

7.  Family Lexicon – Natalie Ginsburg

Family Lexicon (New York Review Books Classics) by [Ginzburg, Natalia]

This book takes place in Italy during the 1920’s and World War II.  It is a memoir of sorts, about Ginsburg’s family.  Her family, especially her father, is hilarious and memorable, and I found the book to be funny, wry, and sad.  Although the historical background proves to be momentous to the story, we are presented more with the minutia of Ginsburg’s family’s everyday life rather than history on a grand scale.      

8. Building Stories – Chris Ware

This is an absolutely amazing graphic novel, in design and content, about the inhabitants of an apartment building in Chicago.  It especially focuses in on one inhabitant, a woman who lives alone and works at a florist, and then later catches up with her and her family life.  The work is not irreverent in the way Ware’s early work is – it is quiet and serious and lovely.  I loved and was moved by every frame.

9.  Making Sense of Madness: Contesting the Meaning of Schizophrenia – Jim Geekie and John Read\

There should be more books like this. The book is accessible, humane, and challenging, and primarily written for the lay person. As someone with a family member who had schizophrenia, I felt I was able to understand the illness better.  The authors are skilled at communicating complicated concepts in non-clinical terminology. There is also a great chapter on the subjective experience of madness, using excerpts from client interviews.

10. Invisible Now: Bob Dylan in the 1960’s

This was the best book I’ve read so far about Dylan.  It focuses on Dylan’s body of work in the 60’s, and challenged me to think anew about my favorite musician.