Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hey You! Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is... HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE

Every month, around hump-day, I'll feature a recent read - a novel or memoir - that somehow moved me to tears or joy or frustration. Of course, my featured pick will relate to the meanderings of the head, the heart and their intersection.

In addition, I will apply one final, important criterion: this book will be a debut work, preferably published by a small press.

Why these constraints? Because new writers are the first to be neglected in the new economy. Because small presses are folding - or on the brink. Because new authors and small publishing firms take inordinate risks without the resources or attention.

I walk my talk - I will BUY my books, and buy them from an INDEPENDENT BOOK-SELLER. I challenge you to do the same - support the little guys.

January's pick up is the first book read in 2009: HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE by Michael Greenberg. Published by Other Press. Let's get to it, shall we?

Enjoy. Peace, Linda

NB: And if you know of other offerings which fit my bill, please - make a recommendation.

"I feel like I'm traveling and traveling with no where to go back to."

HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE is the true tale of a father's experience watching his 15-year old daughter suffer a psychotic break. A taut, spare tale told over the time frame of a single, sweltering summer in New York City, this unflinching memoir gives an honest portrait of bipolar disorder from the inside and out. Greenberg adeptly balances his daughter Sally's descent into madness and her treatment travails with his own horror as a parent realizing his child is deathly ill.

As a mental health researcher, the story rings true. The author did his research on the condition and doesn't lead the reader down faulty paths. (You cannot imagine how many times I find - in edited books from the big houses - grossly erroneous medication descriptions and spellings).

As a parent, I appreciate Greenberg's honesty. So many stories - true and otherwise - about mental illness sugarcoat the condition. Indeed, bipolar disease is the disease du jour in many social circles, a popular excuse used by celebrities and non-celebs alike to excuse bad behavior. Conversely, the author avoids demonizing the disease, another frequent failing of like-minded novels and memoirs.

As a writer, well... wow. Greenberg brings his small cast of characters to life: the bohemian ex-wife crafting cakes in Vermont, a landlord with literary aspirations, the author's brother struggling with his own mental maladies, the unorthodox shrink, the young shoteh whose manic visions confound his Hasidic family. And then there's Sally, the winsome teen who inhales Shakespeare, churning out her own poetry, convinced genius is childhood, a genius lost as we age. But central to the story is Michael Greenberg himself, a generous narrator who pours his hurt and bafflement and frustration on the page like Chinese tea leaves muddled in a saucer.

Greenberg's prose sings throughout, in ways large and small. In the opening:

It's something of a sacrilege nowadays to speak of insanity as anything but the chemical brain disease that on one level it is. But there were moments with my daughter when I had the distressed sense of being in the presence of a rare force of nature, such as a great blizzard or flood: destructive, but in its way astounding too.

HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE is an important book, one to place on the bookshelf alongside Jamison's AN UNQUIET MIND and Kaysen's GIRL, INTERRUPTED. It provides a sensitive detailing of the horrors and gifts of manic-depression.

Read it.


About the author: MICHAEL GREENBERG is a columnist for the Times Literary supplement (London), where his wide-ranging essays have appeared since 2003. His fiction, criticism, and travel pieces have been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, Bomb, The Village Voice, and the Boston Review. He lives in New York. This is his first book.

About the press: OTHER PRESS "attracts authors who are guided by a passion to discover the limits of knowledge and imagination. We publish novels, short stories, poetry, and essays from America and around the world that represent literature at its best. Our nonfiction books--should they be history, current events, popular culture or memoir--explore how psychic, cultural, historical, and literary shifts inform our vision of the world and of each other."

I like OP's catalogue - ballsy, important, lush offerings, fic and nonfic alike.

More Reviews:


  1. I like the concept, Linda. The focus on debut works and, when practical, small press. I look forward to seeing these on a monthly basis.

  2. I love your philosophy, Linda. And thanks for the recommendation. It looks like a wonderful book--will get my hands on it asap!

  3. Terrific piece. Great approach. You do us a kindness by doing this legwork for us. Many thanks.

  4. Gotta save literature, Jon. The agents and big houses sure won't... Mary, thanks for popping by. Congrats on your own debut @ Press 53... terrific house our of my home' state (go heels!)... Thanks Greta. I love blogging, love doing the research... the day job, ya know? Peace, Linda

  5. Right on Linda! I really like this concept, and the way you're doing your part to put your money where your mouth is and support new authors and small presses.

    Whenever I can't find books from local independent bookstores, I get them from Powell's, which is a huge (they literally have maps of the store when you go in, and in general, you really need them, that store is enormous) independent bookstore in Portland, and they sell online. There's also lots of author interviews and such on the site, so if ever you are looking for something and not finding it locally, that's an idea.

    Hurry Down Sunshine sounds really good. I really liked the way you evaluated that, bringing in your particular expertise, and also looking at the writing and the characters. And as always, your own writing sparkles. I loved the imagery of the tea leaves.

    Can't wait to read more reviews!

  6. Good idea Linda, I look forward to more insightful reviews. Gillian

  7. Thanks G! I look forward to writing them... Peace, Linda

  8. Damn. You're so right. We ALL should. Okay. First, awesome review-going to go check it out. Second, damn. One book a month, 1st time authors, independant bookstore. Um, I call dibs on romcoms. :)

  9. Kelley, you got the romcoms - I'll review yours when it comes out. Thanks for the kudos... now, go buy a book. Peace, Linda