Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: Anne’s Colors and Anne’s Numbers by Kelly Hill

January 30th, 2019

I am an absolute sucker for embroidered illustrations.

"Anne's Colors"

Not that I knew these books were illustrated in needlework when I requested them from the library to read as part of Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge.

All I knew was that they were board books based on the Anne books – and that I hadn’t read them yet.

"Anne's Numbers"

Now that I have read them, I want the original needlework from each page framed in my bedroom. They’re great. I’ve flipped through the pages time and time again, wondering if I could trace the designs onto fabric and replicate them. Is that a violation of copyright? Even if I’m just intending to use them in my own home?

It really doesn’t matter because I don’t have time to embroider myself a set of Anne illustrations. But I still wonder.

Someday.

"Pink cheeks" with image of Gilbert pulling Anne's hair

For now, I’m thrilled to be able to use the illustrations to share my favorite Anne-ecdotes with my children (who are as yet much too young for the real thing!)

Tirzah Mae is utterly delighted to hear of an orange-headed girl who smashed her slate over a teasing boy’s head – and of a friend who accidentally made her friend sick by giving her WINE instead of juice!

"Red cordial" with image of Anne and Diana at a tea-table

“Remember the girl who made her friend sick by ACCIDENT?” she’ll ask me. “She wasn’t trying to make her sick, she just accidentally gave her the wrong drink.”

If you can only obtain one, choose Anne’s Colors which illustrates specific stories from Anne of Green Gables. Anne’s Numbers, while charming, consists mostly of Anne in non-specific nature settings.

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel adapted by Mariah Marsden and illustrated by Brenna Thummler

January 15th, 2019

“They” say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And maybe “they” are right – for most people.

For me?

"Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel"

The written word is my heart language. Pictures are generally lost on me. So much so that the only way I can dream of understanding a movie (even if I’m paying it my full attention) is if I’ve got subtitles on.

Perhaps it’s needless to say that graphic novels aren’t really my thing.

But when the time came around for Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, I searched the library for something I hadn’t read – and found this little (229 pages) graphic novel.

I read it in about three sittings (give or take) and adored it.

Marsden does an excellent job of shortening Anne’s speech while keeping its “Anne-ness” intact. Thummler does a great job of depicting the setting, actions, and emotions of the various scenes. It’s all well done.

Anne smashing the slate over Gilbert's head

I’m fairly certain, though, that my enjoyment of this adaptation has everything to do with it being an adaptation of a familiar story. Would I have understood what was going on if this was my first exposure to Anne? I doubt so. Would someone else? Possibly. But even as much as I enjoyed this adaptation, I wouldn’t recommend it as a first exposure to Anne. Montgomery herself should be allowed to introduce her own character.

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge


Rating: 4 stars
Category: Graphic Novel adaptation
Synopsis: Anne of Green Gables in graphic novel format. Done well.
Recommendation: Fun for fans of Anne, possibly also a nice option for a struggling-ish reader who has already heard Anne read aloud (Maybe?) Not a suitable substitute for actually reading L.M. Montgomery.

Book Review: French Twist by Catherine Crawford

January 5th, 2019

Catherine Crawford was raising her children to be spoiled brats until she discovered, almost entirely by chance, that there was another way.

She had invited another family over for dinner and was shocked to find that this family’s kids were polite, helpful, and actually pleasant to be around.

This family happened to be French, which tickled the Francophile Crawford’s fancy, and next thing you know Crawford was trying a radical(ish) experiment in French parenting.

It’s just the sort of thing I usually like. A parenting memoir-slash-project memoir. Except I couldn’t make myself like Crawford, her children, or the French.

Now, I realize that Brooklyn parenting is a whole lot different than Middle-American parenting – but I find it hard to believe Crawford really needed to go French to learn that she is the boss (not her kids.) Just about anyone who works with children could tell her that structure works wonders for children. And the importance of family meals? Seriously? You didn’t know that?

Surely Crawford’s Catholic parents, having raised nine of their own children, could have told her that you don’t raise pleasant children by bargaining with them and rewarding them with toys every time they do something that most people would consider common courtesy. But no, Crawford must go French.

And then there’s how the French apparently actually parent. They drink alcohol while pregnant. They don’t breastfeed (at least, not for longer than three months). They shame their kids. Schoolteachers rank their students on a daily basis and announce those rankings to the class. Parents aren’t welcome at school. Their job is to make sure kids get homework done, period.

Eh, I’ll pass.


Rating: 2 stars
Category: Parenting Memoir
Synopsis: The author attempts to turn around her parenting by applying “French” advice.
Recommendation: I didn’t hate reading this, but I clearly didn’t like it either. Skip it.

Book Review: No Milk! by Jennifer A. Ericsson, illustrated by Ora-Eitan

January 23rd, 2018

Reviewed by Tirzah Mae:

“There was no milk because he didn’t know that you need to squeeze the cow’s udders for the milk to come out. Because he was a city boy.”

No Milk!

And that’s the gist of it.

Truly a delightful little book, although it isn’t quite as explicit as Tirzah Mae’s explanation makes it sound. Parents of city boys and girls (like my own city-born Tirzah Mae) will have to explain why all the things the city boy tried resulted in “No milk!” and why “A little pat? A little squeeze? A little tug? Could it be?” finally produced milk.

A favorite of Tirzah Mae and Louis alike (and I don’t hate it, so there’s that.)

Book Review: For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope

November 20th, 2017

What makes for a good marriage? What combination of inborn traits, behaviors, and life circumstances makes for marital longevity and bliss?

Sure, there are plenty of people willing to opine based on their personal experiences with marriage, or perhaps on their experiences counseling married couples or divorcees. But what does the science say?

Ostensibly, that’s what Tara Parker-Pope set out to explore in For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.

And, if you do a cursory reading of her book, you’ll come to certain conclusions about the best marital model. Mainly, you’ll come to think that an egalitarian, 50-50 marriage is the way to go. It is clearly the best option. That is, if you fail to read page 254 carefully. There, a couple of paragraphs belie the drumbeat of “egalitarian is best” to which the entire rest of the book marches:

“It’s often a surprise when people learn that a traditional marriage, which is marked by the male breadwinner/female homemaker roles, is widely viewed as the most stable marriage. It had the lowest divorce rate in the studies by Dr. Hetherington. But just because these marriages are stable doesn’t mean they always are the most happy.

For a traditional marriage to thrive, both partners have to be happy with their individual role, perform it well, and feel respected by the other partner for the contributions they make to the marriage and family. If one partner changes, particularly if the wife decides she wants to work outside the home, the marriage can be stressed, often beyond repair.”

I love how shocked Parker-Pope is (and how she attributes her own shock to “people”) that experts on marriage stability regard the traditional marriage to be the most stable model (you know, based on things like… data.) I also love how quickly she jumps to discredit that result. I mean, it may be the most stable, but clearly one couldn’t actually be, you know, happy in a marriage like that.

When I read that second paragraph, I can’t help but think that the things she’s arguing make for a happy traditional marriage are things that make for a happy marriage altogether. Even if both spouses work, they will be happiest if both are happy with their individual role, perform it well, and feel respected by the other partner for the contributions they make to the marriage and family. And if one partner changes, perhaps maybe if a woman decides she wants to stay at home with the children? The marriage is stressed – not necessarily by the desire, but by the change in family dynamics that must be navigated before a new equilibrium is reached.

Now, does this mean that Parker-Pope’s book is not worth reading? Not really. I found it to be interesting. It sparked lots of conversation with my husband (always a nice thing whether or not the topic of discussion is marriage – but it’s especially nice when a book about marriage enables conversation with your spouse.) There was other information that is applicable even if you reject the pervasive belief that egalitarianism is the best model for marriage (for instance, did you know that couples with MORE conflict tend to have stronger marriages? It’s really in how conflict is brought up and managed that makes the difference.)

I don’t think this is a great book to read if you feel like your marriage is in trouble. It’s not terribly practical in that regard. I also don’t think it quite succeeds at the subtitle’s aim of discussing “the science of a good marriage” (given its failure to look any deeper at the most stable model of marriage – the two paragraphs above are literally ALL that is said about traditional marriage.) But if you’re like me, in a happy and functional marriage and eager to continue learning and growing within that marriage, I think this could still be beneficial (or at least interesting).


Rating: 3 stars
Category: Marriage
Synopsis: Attempts to discuss what the science says about successful marriages (that don’t end in divorce), but without really regarding a traditional marriage as a viable option (and therefore leaving out an entire area of inquiry that seems rather important to this reader.)
Recommendation: Interesting information, probably not helpful for a struggling marriage.

Book Review: Show Them Jesus by Jack Klumpenhower

May 20th, 2017

Kids need the gospel too.

Jack Klumpenhower’s thesis is simple, obvious, and only rarely acted upon.

I’ve been teaching children for almost 20 years now (I know, I was very young when I started). I’ve seen a lot of different Sunday School curricula, a lot of different midweek programs, a lot of websites for teaching the Bible to kids. Almost all of them agree that the gospel is important.

But when push comes to shove, lessons are moral tales or informational lectures. Every lesson ends with a “what you should do” or “who you should be” – without necessarily pointing to who Christ is or what He has done on our behalf.

Klumpenhower diagnoses the problem:

“We’ve been dispensing good advice instead of the good news. Eventually kids will tire of our advice, no matter how good it might be. Many will leave the church. Others will live decent, churchy lives but without any fire for Christ. We’ll wonder why they’ve rejected the good news, because we assumed they were well grounded in it. In fact, they never were. Although we told them stories of Jesus and his free grace, we watered it down with self-effort – and that’s what they heard.”

He explains the necessity of the gospel:

“Only the good news fights both smugness and insecurity, declaring both that we’re horribly sinful yet more loved by God than we could dare imagine.”

He describes the freedom that can be found for teachers and parents in sharing the gospel:

“Don’t be discouraged. Kids will need correction sometimes, but our mission is not to hound or plead or talk them into anything – it’s to speak God’s word of salvation, peace, faith, and the righteousness Christ gives.”

And then he gives practical examples, one after the other, of how to incorporate the gospel into your teaching, your classroom discipline, your home.

Klumpenhower gives tips for finding the gospel in every Bible story (even those obscure Old Testament ones). He encourages teachers to ask three questions of the text: What is God doing for his people in this story? How does God do the same for us – only better – in Jesus? How does believing this good news change how we live? I enjoyed how Klumpenhower walked through the process of studying a passage with an eye to the gospel. Even for those who are not teachers (although, if you’re a parent, you are a teacher), the exercise of finding the gospel throughout the pages of Scripture is still beneficial. This is not contorting the Scriptures to fit a “gospel-focus” – this is reading the Scriptures as they were intended to be read. Jesus excoriated the Jews of his day in John 5:39 saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” If we are not finding Christ in every page of Scripture, it is because we are not looking. All of Scripture testifies to Him.

In case you were quick to come up with a counter-text, a passage that can’t possibly be about Jesus, Klumpenhower does describe a few different ways that the gospel can be showcased in Scripture. First, there’s the “what does God do in this story and how does he do it better in Jesus?” that I mentioned above. But there’s also the “what does this passage reveal about God’s nature – and how is that aspect of his nature more fully seen in Jesus?” And there’s the one we see fairly often in some of the darkest stories: “what human problem does this passage reveal that God solves by sending Jesus?”

When discussing New Testament stories and texts, Klumpenhower encourages teachers to see Jesus as beautiful and to portray him as such to their students. Not primarily as someone to be emulated, but as one to be worshiped. He relates a time when he asked some students to give reasons why Jesus was better than good works. The only reason they could come up with was that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. Now, that’s a wonderful reason why Jesus is better – but it certainly isn’t the only one. He made a goal of showing in every lesson that year why Jesus is better than the many things that compete for our love.

Going beyond the content of our lessons, Klumpenhower encourages teachers (and parents) to consider what their classroom culture and their responses to difficulties say about the gospel – and to intentionally align their classroom’s atmosphere around the gospel. He gives an abundance of tips and examples for how to to do this and what it might look like.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the inclusion of two little sections at the end of each chapter. The first section was “Questions You Might Be Asking”. Here, Klumpenhower addresses those questions I’ve heard or seen or asked a dozen times: “It sounds like you’re saying it doesn’t matter how we act as Christians. Don’t we still have to work hard to obey God?” “I understand some Old Testament passages are prophecies about Jesus. But aren’t you going too far in saying it’s all about Jesus?” “Do you really need that much context – like the whole book – when you’re going to teach one Bible passage? It sounds like a lot of reading.” The second section is “Show Them Jesus Right Away”. In this section, Klumpenhower offers immediate practical steps for teachers, parents, grandparents, youth leaders, song leaders, etc. to take to implement some of the concepts from the chapter. He always offers a practical step for parents and for teachers, the other positions are included as applicable.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I was highly impressed with this book – both with its thesis and with how Klumpenhower describes the process of actually showing students Jesus over the course of a class session. This would be an excellent book for Sunday school teachers and children’s ministry directors and kid’s club leaders to read together or individually. But it’s also a great book for parents (homeschooling or not) to read. The truth is, we ALL need the gospel – we need to set the gospel forever before our eyes. Klumpenhower’s excellent Show Them Jesus provides the rationale and the tools to do this – for ourselves and for our children.


Rating: 5 stars
Category: Children’s ministry
Synopsis: Why children need the gospel and how to communicate the gospel to them in all our Bible teaching.
Recommendation: Are you a parent, a grandparent, an uncle or aunt? Do you teach children in Sunday school, midweek clubs, or youth groups? This book will challenge and encourage you to clearly communicate the gospel to the children you work with in everyday life. Highly recommended.

Reading board books from 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey

March 15th, 2017

Anita Silvey has selected what she considers the 100 best books for children, from birth to teenage years. The first five books Silvey selected for her collection are board books. We’ve checked them out of the library and enjoyed reading them through together – although we enjoyed some significantly more than others :-)

Goodnight Moon written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
I know people love this book. But I just can’t bring myself to even like it. I read this to myself to say that I did, but elected to not read it to my children (lest they like it and I end up stuck reading it aloud ad nauseum.

Board books

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing written and illustrated by John Burningham
Not long after reading about this title in Silvey’s book, I chanced upon a paperback copy at a library book sale and snapped it up. I enjoyed the gentle story of the children and the various animals that joined Mr. Gumpy on his outing (after having been warned not to horse around) – but I thought the illustrations were rather lacking. Then I happened upon the board book version at the library and picked it up to read to Louis – and the illustrations were much better. Once I compared the two, I realized that the colors do in fact show up a little differently, but the main difference was that I had been reading our copy to Tirzah Mae at naptime under a dim lamp in her room – and was reading the board book to Louis in the quite bright library!

Louis reads "Freight Train"

The Very Hungry Caterpillar written and illustrated by Eric Carle
I expected Tirzah Mae to enjoy this more than she did, but I’m wondering if maybe it’s a timing issue. I enjoy The Very Hungry Caterpillar and think we’ll probably pull out the copy we own later on when Tirzah Mae is showing interest in numbers, or when it’s monarch time and we’re inundated with caterpillars feasting on our milkweed.

Tirzah Mae plays with her "Freight Train" activity

Freight Train written and illustrated by Donald Crews
This was already a favorite of Tirzah Mae’s and mine – and we were thrilled to check it out of the library again. We’ve been reading it and doing activities with it and reading it again. It’s one of a selection of books Tirzah Mae has memorized and “reads” to herself frequently. This definitely deserves a place on any such list.

Carrot Seed

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson
When I first read this book’s spare text, I wasn’t sure what to think or whether I liked it. Silvey describes this book as having a “believe in yourself” message – a message I happen to despise. But that isn’t really the message. The message is about the benefits of hard work and patience even when others doubt there will be any outcome. That’s a message I can get behind. Besides, I had to learn to like this book since Tirzah Mae likes it rather a lot. She loves the simplicity of the text and illustrations – and it can’t hurt that all the illustrations are orange, her favorite color.

Book Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

January 17th, 2017

Theology tells us that man is depraved (Definition: “morally corrupt, wicked”). Every human is born with original sin. Yet despite man’s depravity from birth, the world is not wholly evil – it does not, has not degenerated into utter chaos and anarchy. Why is this?

Theology has an explanation for that as well. Common Grace is the grace of God that is present for all men, whether they believe the gospel or not. Common grace is responsible for all the good that unregenerate sinners do, and for the restraint of evil through means such as conscience or societal constraints.

But what if man’s innate evil were NOT constrained? What if it had free will to do whatever it chooses without fear of conscience or law?

If this were true of the whole world, surely the world would not last long – everyone would murder everyone and, after a brief period of chaos, all humanity would be obliterated (and that’s just speaking of the natural course of unrestrained sin, without discussing God’s judgment upon sin.)

But what if it was just one man who was evil without constraint? What if, indeed, one were able to split himself into two, with one half unrestrained evil and the other half still the restrained recipient of common grace?

This is the premise of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (even if Stevenson chooses not to couch it in such explicitly theological terms.)

Does this surprise you?

It certainly surprised me.

The names “Dr. Jekyll” and “Mr. Hyde” are so well-known, so frequently thrown around to mean simply two separate personalities that I believed this book to be about multiple personality disorder. In fact, I’m almost certain I read something once that described J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smeagol/Gollum character a continuation of the literary fascination with multiple personality disorder typified by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Yet this book is quite emphatically NOT about multiple personality disorder. It’s about unrestrained sin and trying to find a way to avoid the struggle Paul describes in Romans 7:21 “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” Except that Dr. Jekyll wants to find a wholly natural solution to this problem (apart from the supernatural answer God gives to the problem of sin at work in our bodies: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25a ESV)

Discovering that this book was not what I’d expected was an altogether pleasant surprise. Also a pleasant surprise, this is a short book, coming in right around 100 pages, and quite readable. As a result, I highly recommend it to people such as myself – people who are pressed for time but who want to think deeply about the human condition and who desire to be “well-read”.


Rating: 5 stars
Category: Classic fiction
Synopsis: Dr. Jekyll tries to separate his “evil” side from his “good” side, with unexpected results.
Recommendation: Highly recommended

Cookbook Review: Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals

January 11th, 2017

While I enjoy complicated techniques and fancy ingredients on the occasion, I generally have three priorities in cooking. I like my recipes cheap, quick, and tasty.

Which is why I’ve been selecting cookbooks from the “quick” section at my local library.

Rachael Ray features prominently in this section, and I chose Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for my first foray into the world of Ray.

Rachael Ray book cover

The Recipes

With 500 or so recipes, this book doesn’t skimp like some do. The recipes are divided into 4 broad categories: Everyday, Parties, Date Nights, and Kid Chefs. Each recipe contains a side-bar “menu” that includes the entree and suggested sides (recipes for sides may or may not be included depending on their complexity: “Green salad and Crusty Bread” does not have a recipe.) Some recipes include a little blurb with recipe descriptions or personal stories, but not all recipes do.

I tagged quite a few recipes in the “everyday” section as interesting (most of the party recipes were a bit too fancy for me, see above) – and I tried three recipes altogether.

Our family loves curry, so I was eager to try Ray’s “Curry in a Hurry”, which used golden raisins and mango chutney for sweetness (rather than the coconut milk we often use in our curries). I tried it with green curry paste and added extra vegetables (green peppers and sweet potatoes if I remember correctly.) We found that it was INCREDIBLY mild and quite sweet. I suppose we shouldn’t have been terribly surprised – green curry paste is much milder than red curry paste, so we’ve often felt the need to add more green curry to recipes (especially those written for the generic American). Also, both sweet potatoes and bell peppers tend to be sweet vegetables, so… Even so, while the idea was interesting, the reality wasn’t even compelling enough for me to try modifying it for future use.

The second recipe we tried was “Mamma’s Broccolini and Ricotta Pasta”, which was very easy to put together, but lacked something in oomph. Perhaps it was because I used frozen brocccoli instead of broccolini (does broccolini have a stronger flavor?), but we ended up loading this with Parmesan cheese (not in the recipe at all) to give it a bit more flavor – and still found it pretty bland. Sad day.

The third recipe we tried was much more successful. “Chili for ‘Veg-Heads'” is a vegetarian chili recipe with three different types of beans (black, red kidney, and refried beans) as well as peppers and onions. I love me a vegetarian chili, but Daniel likes to have meat in his meals, so I added a pound of ground beef but otherwise made this as written. Daniel conceded that it was good enough to use as a base for developing our own recipe (hooray! I’ve tried a half dozen or so chili recipes over the course of our marriage, none of which merited such high praise – the most common complaint Daniel has had is that my veggie-loaded chilies are too sweet.) As written, the chili is VERY mild (do I sense a theme?) – so most of our modifications have involved adding heat by mixing up the pepper types and/or quantities. I’ve included our favorite rendition below.

Overall thoughts

From the recipes we tried, it appears that Ray really does deliver on the 30 minute promise. Even with cutting up vegetables, I was able to complete the recipes we tried in half an hour. So that’s good. As far as my other two priorities: cheap and tasty? Eh. Many of the recipes call for unusual ingredients, which are generally more expensive (both because they’re harder to find and because you’re more likely to have ingredients left over that you can’t figure out how to use.) As far as taste goes, the three recipes we tried all ended up on the bland side. Then again, we tend to like highly seasoned dishes – so your results may vary.

As far as health goes, I was not tremendously impressed with the suggested menus, which were starch-heavy and vegetable-poor. Skip one of her starches and add an extra vegetable side (or two) if you want a balanced meal. Also, Ray apparently has no idea what constitutes “healthy”, so just ignore anything she says about health (thankfully, she mostly avoids discussing it.)

How is this book for browsing? As mentioned above, some recipes have little blurbs, others don’t – which means you often have to read through a recipe in order to get a sense of what it’s like. You may or may not enjoy that. There are full-page photographs every 5-6 pages (or so, I didn’t actually count), and smaller photos more frequently than that – but a fair number of the photos are of Ray rather than the food, which I find HIGHLY disappointing.

Overall, I am not impressed with Rachael Ray (based solely on this cookbook – I don’t have any other knowledge of her or experience with her.) She fails at two of my primary criteria for recipes (cheap and tasty) – and provided a sub-par recipe reading experience. Again, your results may vary.

Sample Recipe: Chili for Veg-Heads
Liberally adapted by Rebekah Garcia :-)

  • 1 lb ground beef or pork
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or 4 tsp pre-potted minced garlic)
  • 1 tsp beef base
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 quart diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups black beans (drain and rinse if using canned)
  • 2 cups kidney beans (drain and rinse if using canned)
  • 1.5 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1.5 Tbsp chili powder
  • 0.5 Tbsp Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
  • 2 cups refried beans
  1. Brown ground beef or pork. Add onions, peppers, and garlic and saute until onions are translucent.
  2. Add rest of ingredients and heat through. Serve with your choice of chili toppings.

Book Review: Winter Blues by Norman Rosenthal

January 3rd, 2017

My mother took me to the doctor nearly every year of high school. I listed off the same complaints: decreased energy, depressed mood, weight gain, dry skin, general malaise. We asked that the doctor check my thyroid. Thyroid disorders run in my family after all. The doctor would ask more questions, would order a lab draw. A few days later, I’d get the results and discover that there was nothing wrong with me.

Every November, when the letter came announcing my normal lab results, I’d wonder what was wrong with me – because there clearly WAS something wrong with me, whatever the lab results said.

And then, one year in college (if I remember the timeline correctly), the doctor gave me a depression questionnaire and announced that there was in fact something wrong with me.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

I started taking an antidepressant, and within a couple of weeks I felt better (by winter standards) than I’d felt for years. By summer standards? Me on an antidepressant still didn’t come close. But it was enough to convince me that this was indeed my problem.

Since the diagnosis of SAD ten or so years ago, I’ve experienced a couple of episodes of major depression and have read about depression in general. But I haven’t read any books on Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Winter Blues

Until this year. This year, I read Norman E. Rosenthal’s Winter Blues – and it changed my life.

Dr. Rosenthal was the researcher who first described seasonal affective disorder, a cyclic form of depression which varies throughout the year based on light exposure. Winter Blues describes the discovery of SAD and its features, discusses the diagnostic criterion for SAD (including a number of charts to help patients understand their own seasonal patterns), and details the treatment of SAD using phototherapy, psychotherapy, and pharmacotherapy. Additionally, Rosenthal includes a variety of case studies of seasonality throughout history, in modern times, and in language and poetry.

It is the section of phototherapy, the area where Rosenthal did a great deal of research, that changed my life. After reading the section on phototherapy (sometime in October), I ordered a Lightphoria 10,000 Lux Energy Lamp from Amazon (link is to Amazon, not an affiliate link). I’ve been using the light (which is smaller than ones described in Rosenthal’s chapter on phototherapy) approximately 30 minutes daily since the light arrived on Halloween. For the first winter in almost fifteen years, I have had the energy to work steadily throughout the day without collapsing into overwhelmed-ness. Interestingly enough, while the lights had a significant impact on my energy level, it did not fix my mood. My mood continued to decrease through November until I initiated my usual winter antidepressant. The combination of the two modes of treatment has resulted in the best winter I’ve had for at least a decade, maybe even two. My mood and coping has been so markedly different that my family remarks on the change.

Using my therapy light
Using my therapy light while working on this blog post

This is not to say that I am an unequivocal fan of this book. Rosenthal’s language can be a bit flowery for my taste at times (at least for what is essentially a self-help book. Give me the facts, I say.) More distressing, while much of Rosenthal’s discussion of treatments is evidence-based, he recommends that SAD sufferers limit carbohydrates despite having only anecdotal (versus empirical) evidence of that strategy’s effectiveness.

Overall, though, I recommend Rosenthal’s Winter Blues for sufferers of SAD and those who suspect they might have some form of seasonality. Sections of this book may also be helpful for family members and friends of those with SAD.


Rating: 3 stars
Category: Medical/Psychology – Self Help
Synopsis: Rosenthal describes seasonal affective disorder and its treatment with an aim to help sufferers cope.
Recommendation: Recommended for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder or possibly for sufferers’ close family and friends.

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