Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Skeleton Cupboard

The Skeleton Cupboard:
The making of a clinical psychologist
By Tanya Byron
Published by Macmillan, May 2014

Tanya Byron is a well-known British clinical psychologist who has appeared on many tv shows about child psychology and problems with children. In her 20+ years of clinical practice, she has met people of all ages with all sorts of mental health issues and problems, and it is her early training placements  covering the period 1989 - 1992 which are the focus of this book. In many respects she was thrown in the deep end, sometimes feeling only remotely supported by her clinical supervisors and  basically left to learn how to put her theoretical knowledge into practice and actually help her patients. 

The fact that she was so often able to do so in cases involving familial sexual abuse, transgender issues, sexual dysfunction issues, families struggling to come to terms with the impending death of sons from AIDS, anorexia and  dementia amongst many others is a testament to her own resiliency of spirit, determination and patience. Not everyone can be helped and not everyone actually wants to be helped, however. Dealing with such heart-rending and often tragic circumstances is draining and learning a certain degree of detachment from the clientele is a skill which is necessary but very difficult to learn, as this brutally honest memoir demonstrates. The cases she describes are vividly portrayed and her own thoughts and feelings about her experiences are laid bare for the reader, as are some distressing yet formative experiences from her own life. As a young clinician, she struggled to avoid allowing her work experiences to overwhelm her through maintaining her network of close friends, but on occasions her own immaturity and "nit-picking" of her supervisors did, I must admit,  irk me a little.

Many stories of tragedy and abuse are written by the person who suffered; this is the only book I can recall which has actually been written  solely from the therapist's point of view. I am sure that both clinical training placements and supervisory support have changed in the intervening years, but this remains a remarkable look at this period in Professor Byron's career, and the cases she describes will stay with me for a long, long time. Individuals described have of necessity been thoroughly anonymised, amalgamated and details changed to protect confidentiality, by the way, as I would expect in a book of this nature.

Not an easy read, and in places incredibly distressing, but a worthwhile one nevertheless for anyone with an interest in mental health issues.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The New Enemy

The New Enemy
(The Liam Scott series no 3)
By Andy McNab
Published by Doubleday, Jan 15th, 2015

Liam Scott might be young, but he has seen and lived through more than most people could ever imagine in their entire lives. Having survived two tours of duty in Afghanistan and shown aptitude for gathering Intelligence, his superiors have supported and encouraged his application to go on the Light Reconnaissance Commander's Course.

The course in the UK is gruellingly bad enough, but when the training in Kenya starts, he finds himself teaching members of the Kenyan Defence Force some of the things he has just learned as they fight against a vicious terrorist group based in Somalia. A simple "intel" gathering exercise mission about these terrorists unearths essential information which means the patrol goes back out to the danger zone and into almost unimaginable horrors when they are set up, ambushed and captured by the terrorists.

I've read the first two books in this series but this is by far the best, compelling me to read it in one session, my heart pounding along with Liam Scott's as he battles to save both his own  mission members and the Kenyan captives  held hostage by the Al Shabaab extremists.

Captivating, gripping and exhilarating, don't be put off by the publisher's "Young Adult/Teen" categorisation - anyone who enjoys action-packed adventure or military fiction will be sure to enjoy this book.  I'm just left wondering how on earth Andy McNab can top this story as he continues to chronicle Liam Scott's army career......

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Monday, January 19, 2015

When Books Went To War

When Books Went To War
By Molly Guptill Manning
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
December 2nd, 2014

The Nazi desire to control the minds of the German populace was quite remarkably terrifying. Books deemed demeaning or inimical to "true German" thoughts and beliefs were destroyed, especially books by Jewish authors, for fear they would pollute the pure minds of Germans.  Books by Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, Jack London and many others were destroyed in orgies of book burnings which were broadcast on TV and radio. 

Ordinary German citizens were careful to make sure they had nothing in their homes which could make them open to criticism on this front, and during the Second World War, 100 million books were destroyed in Germany. The destruction of proscribed books was shortly followed by the imprisonment and destruction of people whom were deemed a threat to Nazi Germany and its desire to rule Europe.

The need for books to accompany American troops as they journeyed to and travelled within Europe, to lift their spirits, boost morale and occupy their time, was quickly recognised. This remarkable book outlines the story of how the Government, librarians, publishers and authors worked together to make this a reality. Raymond L. Trautman, a reserve soldier who had a library degree, experience of running bookstores and knew how the book industry operated, and Althea Warren, who was allowed leave of absence from her post at Los Angeles Public Library, were the initial key players. Supported by the Red Cross and wholeheartedly backed by the general public, America's largest book drive was soon underway, collecting new books and second-hand books for the troops.

The importance of the printed word in sustaining troops was recognised and the American Government agreed to authorise the printing of both books and magazines out of the war effort budget. Publishing companies found that it was too expensive and difficult to produce so many quality hardback books, due to a shortage of raw materials, and the birth of the mass market paperback edition was born.

A huge variety of fiction (both classic and modern) and non-fiction to suit all tastes and reading abilities was commissioned and many authors were delighted to be told their books had been chosen to be re-published in this special edition for the troops. Feedback from the troops about which titles they particularly enjoyed or found helpful was disseminated back to the authors, many of whom  took pains to answer each and every letter they received. Reading the accounts of how much these books meant to the front-line armed forces is both heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure, and when you consider that 120 million new books were printed for the troops, it was a remarkable and highly successful undertaking, yet so few people are aware it even happened.

With the 1944 Soldier Voting Bill, known as Title V on the statute books, accusations of political propaganda and potential censorship as well as the morality of some titles became a strongly contentious issue, and eventually it was deemed better to avoid publishing a title at all rather than censoring and expurgating it for publication and affecting the ideal of free speech and freedom of the press. It is fascinating to see the lists of titles which were printed in Appendix B, and I now have an additional list of books I hope to read in the near future.

This was an amazing read, and a superb addition to my bookshelf.

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The Simple Life Devotional

Wanda E. Brunstetter's The Simple Life Devotional
Published by Barbour Books, November 2014

Everything about this book, from the layout and design, the background colour of the pages, the decorative touches and photographs, is a delight to the eye. 

The devotional content, which is even more important, is based on the Amish way of life and of looking at things, which can certainly help those of us who do not live the Plain Life but are faced with the stresses and burdens of a very different way of living. 

Short and sweet, and therefore much more likely to be sustainable as a book of devotional reading,  we are treated to anecdotes, sayings, quips, recipes (oh my, the recipes! Yum!) as well as short Biblical quotations for two whole months worth of daily readings to amuse, challenge you and make you think what you need to work on  as you progress on your life's pilgrimage to Christ.

A delightful book indeed.

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

My Secret Life in Hut Six

My Secret Life in Hut Six: 
One Woman’s Experiences at Bletchley Park
By Mair & Gethin Russell Jones
Published by Lion Books, July 2014

Imagine discovering that your beloved elderly mother hadn’t just worked for the Foreign Office during the Second World War, as she modestly admitted, but that she had been one of the team at Bletchley Park who were tasked with helping to identify and crack the secrets of  the Germans’ coded Enigma machine messages…
Looking through a recently published book about Bletchley Park and its vital role during the war, Gethin Russell Jones  saw a photograph which showed his mother, Mair, as a young woman, and gradually he unearthed the full story of his mother’s work which she had faithfully kept secret for so many years after signing the Official Secrets Act.  
Once others were publishing their recollections of this work, she finally felt able to tell her son the full details about the rather bizarre way she was head-hunted at Cardiff University where she was studying Music, German and History, and her quite remarkable life and experiences working at Bletchley Park. Her background from the small village of Pontycymer in the Garw Valley in South Wales was a marked contrast to the majority of the other “BP” workers, and it took some time before she felt at ease with her co-workers and with her task. 
A deeply devout Christian, Mair would likely have become a missionary after her time at Mount Hermon Missionary Training College in London  if the war had not supervened; her time in London ministering to those in the East End and supporting Jewish refugees had a marked impact on her, as did the death of a dear friend whose family was killed by a German bombing raid on Cardiff. The pacifism of some of her Christian friends was not for her, she felt very deeply that to allow Hitler to continue with his actions was unconscionable and that he must be stopped. She was both happy and proud to play her part in the war effort, despite the tensions it caused with some members of her family and her first landlady when she initially arrived at BP.
Despite the vital importance and complexity of their work, they were told remarkably little  on a day-to-day level about how their work was so significantly changing the course of the war in favour of Britain and her Allies, which must have been incredibly dispiriting and seems to have been very short-sighted of the “top brass” in charge of the team.  Quite how Alan Turing’s “Bombe” worked always remained a bit of a mystery to Mair, who admitted she was not particularly mathematically inclined!
Secrecy and discretion were held to be paramount and Mair witnessed two of her colleagues being hauled over the coals and then publicly and summarily dismissed for discussing information that had been passed on to them by other people, even though this had been done in the confines of the works canteen at BP.
She became friends with another new recruit, Joan, and safely ensconced in her new and much more friendly lodgings, she began to relax and really enjoy her work. Her ongoing courtship with Russ, who was studying to be ordained into the Baptist ministry, continued to flourish despite their long periods apart and blossomed into an engagement. Ill-health due to the poor working conditions at BP plagued many people and Mair became desperately ill with pneumonia towards the very end of the war. She was sent home to recuperate, but was then discharged from her duties at Bletchley Park and free to marry her beloved Russ and raise her large family.
I found the final few chapters where Gethin takes his mother back to Bletchley Park and her work being publicly honoured by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to be immensely moving. She kept her silence for over sixty years, and I am glad she was finally able to tell her story.
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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Growing Up Amish

Growing Up Amish:  A Memoir
By Ira Wagler
Published by Tyndale House, 2011

Growing Up Amish is a bit of a misnomer.
Having finished it today, the one thing that seems very obvious to me is that the author didn’t do very much “growing up” when he was living Amish; most of his growing up seems to have occurred long after he finally (after many short-lived periods living away) and completely left both the Amish faith and Amish way of life behind him.

 Ira Wagler acknowledges many times that he did not behave well towards many people, especially his poor fiancee, but I still do not truly get the sense that at that particular time in his life he ever put the needs  of anyone except himself first and foremost.  

Reading this book was fascinating and absorbing, but I also read with an inexorable sense of impending train-wrecks of relationships and friendships. He always wanted more than his community, way of life or family could give him, hence his painful and difficult attempts to walk away from his loved ones.

It was in many ways a profoundly sad book which has left me feeling very thoughtful about my own friendships and relationships on this New Year’s Day of 2015. Most of my books I will read multiple times, but I don’t think I will be reading this one again because it made me feel so desperately sad.
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