“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Sharing Stories - The Psychopath Test - GUEST

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Leeds Book Club will be participating in the Arts and Minds Network's new project on raising awareness of mental health issues.

This review is provided by long term LBC Guest Star Super Star +Laura Woods @WoodsieGirl! Hope you enjoy as much as I have!

Visit Laura's blogs HERE and HERE


I agreed to review Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test for Leeds Book Club’s Mental Health Reading Challenge our of partly selfish reasons: it’s been on my shelf for some time, waiting to be read, and I’d heard loads of good things about it! So I’d be lying if I said this challenge wasn’t just a tiny bit about bumping this book up my reading list…

Mainly though, my attention was caught by the aim of the project, which is all about raising awareness of mental health via discussion about the realities of mental illness versus their portrayal in books. This issue is very close to my heart: although I am fortunate enough never to have had any
mental health problems myself, several of the people who are dearest to me have. Without going into too much detail (they are not my stories to tell), I feel I have a vested interest in promoting more discussion and awareness of mental health, if only to make life that little bit easier for people who are living with depression, addiction, anxiety, or any other form of mental illness. After all, if you are not personally close to anyone with mental health issues, then your impression of mental
health is likely to be formed from the “madwoman in the attic” tropes in fiction, or the “just mad enough for TV” characters that populate “reality” television (more on that later…)

So, what does The Psychopath Test tell us about mental illness? Well…

They say one out of every hundred people is a psychopath. You probably passed one on the street today. These are people who have no empathy, who are manipulative, deceitful, charming, seductive, and delusional. The Psychopath Test is the New York Times bestselling exploration of their world and the madness industry.

When Jon Ronson is drawn into an elaborate hoax played on some of the world’s top scientists, his investigation leads him, unexpectedly, to psychopaths. He meets an influential psychologist who is convinced that many important business leaders and politicians are in fact high-flying, high-
functioning psychopaths, and teaches Ronson how to spot them. Armed with these new abilities, Ronson meets a patient inside an asylum for the criminally insane who insists that he’s sane, a mere run-of-the-mill troubled youth, not a psychopath — a claim that might be only manipulation, and a sign of his psychopathy. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud, and with a legendary CEO who took joy in shutting down factories and firing people. He delves into the fascinating history of psychopathy diagnosis and treatments, from LSD-fuelled days-long naked therapy sessions in prisons to attempts to understand serial killers.

Along the way, Ronson discovers that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their most insane edges. The Psychopath Test is a fascinating adventure through the minds of madness.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this book. I really wanted to like it: Ronson has an engaging, witty style, and his subject is genuinely fascinating. However, I couldn’t quite get what the book was supposed to be about. It came across more as a collection of loosely-themed articles rather than a cohesive whole: one minute Ronson is promising to explore the proliferation of psychopaths at the top of society; the next, he is discussing the often controversial history of psychiatric assessments, and casting doubts on the existence of psychopathy at all. It comes across as if he simply starting looking into areas that caught his interest then wandered off when something more interesting came along – which I suspect is much how it was actually written!

Slightly chaotic structure of the book aside, the actual content is fascinating. From a mental health perspective, probably the most interesting sections are those that deal with how mental
health problems are actually measured and diagnosed: how do we determine what constitutes mental illness? What is actually “normal”? The “psychopath test” of the title was developed by
Robert Hare, and consists of a checklist of behaviour types. Examples include “superficial charm”, “grandiose sense of self-worth” and “lack of remorse or guilt”. A person is “scored” against each of the described behaviours, depending on if they match or partially match, and if they score above a certain level they are classed as a psychopath.

If that sounds like a worryingly simple process for determining someone’s mental status: well, it is. One of the criticisms the book raises is that actually, it’s not quite as simple as dividing the world into psychopaths/not psychopaths. This type of checklist diagnosis is prevalent across mental health treatment, and Ronson outlines some convincing arguments that this approach to mental health has led to a lot of basically “normal” people being filed into neat mental health diagnosis boxes when reality is a little more complicated than that. Ultimately, he goes back to the search for psychopaths with the perspective that perhaps it is not helpful to have that kind of cut off point: the psychopath test divides psychopaths from non-psychopaths based on how many boxes they tick, but everyone will tick some – and probably more on some days than others. Isn’t it more realistic to understand that everyone exists in shades of grey?

The other notable part of the book for me was the section in which Ronson talks to a woman who worked as a TV producer, booking guests for a programme that isn’t named but sounds suspiciously like Jeremy Kyle. She describes how she worked out early on that the best guests for the show were “the right kind of mad” – mad enough to make entertaining, car-crash telly, but not mad enough that they’d go off and hurt themselves or someone else afterwards. To shortcut this process, she used to ask potential guests on the phone what kinds of medication they were on: anything to treat psychosis or schizophrenia was out (too mad) but depression medication meant they were in (just mad enough). It’s a despicable story, and outlines just how morally repugnant these programmes are. But it made me wonder about the people who watch them: it’s easy to point the finger at the
producers of these programmes, but they wouldn’t make them if there wasn’t an audience for them.

I did enjoy The Psychopath Test, although not as much as I’d expected to. I’ve heard lots of people rave about how great it is, and how funny: I didn’t actually find it funny at all, but that might be because I was reading it with a critical eye towards its portrayal of mental health issues! I’d like
to read more of Jon Ronson’s work: I do like his journalistic style, although I think I’d rather read shorter articles by him than a full book.

As for the book’s portrayal of mental health issues: it raises some interesting points, but overall I think it’s quite a shallow look at the “mental health industry”. Of course, it’s not really meant to be an in-depth academic tome! It’s probably a good way to stealth-educate someone who hasn’t thought too much about mental health overall, but just wants a good entertaining read – there’s definitely some interesting, worthwhile observations about mental health overall in it.

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Chat with Peter Bullimore
Mental Health Reading Challenge
Blurbs for the books!

Podcast with Tom at Arts and Minds Leeds

Write Up's

Dec - Jane Eyre - GUEST
Nov - A life too short - GUEST
Oct - Notes from an exhibition - GUEST
Sep - Day - GUEST
Aug - Tender is the Night - GUEST
Jul - Ariel - GUEST
Jul - Birthday Letters - GUEST
Jun - Poppy Shakespeare - GUEST
May - Why be happy when you can be normal - GUEST
Apr - I had a black dog - GUEST
Mar - The Psychopath Test - GUEST
Feb - The Silver Linings Play Book - GUEST

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Table of Contents - Guest Stars

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Monday, 11 March 2013

The Rosie Project-Review

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The Rosie Project

Every now and then I get sent books that already have a fair bit of hype attached. Some of this you can ignore as publicists being good at their jobs, but when two days after receiving The Rosie Project I read in the paper that it had netted debut author Graeme Simsion a very cool £1.2 million advance and produced frenzied bidding from publishers world wide you have to start to think-is this book I'm holding something that's going to be big?

The answer is yes, yes it is. Look at this cover, because I guarantee in three months time you'll be seeing it everywhere. A wonderful, life-affirming book that will appeal to millions this is the story of one mans mission to find happiness, or at least to figure out what happiness actually means.

Don is the thirty-nine year old genetics professor who knows exactly how long it takes to do anything, has his meal time schedule written on his whiteboard and only ever listened to Bach in order to calculate the mathematical irregularities in it. Living alone, with few friends, when his neighbour Daphne finally succumbs to her Alzheimer's and tells him he should look for a partner as he would make a wonderful husband Don takes her literally, Don takes everything literally, and begins a quest to find a wife.

Potential candidate Rosie is immediately stricken off Don's list. She smokes, she's always late, she works in a bar and she rips up his schedule. However she is also beautiful and fun and as Don's carefully managed and structured life begins to unravel she encorages his journey of self discovery as Don slowly figures out why exactly he feels so alone and different to everyone else, why emotions confuse him and why no one else seems to live as logical a life as his.

This beautiful book is simply told, with Don's character spot on. Readers will be reading in quiet frustration at Don's seeming inability to do anything as he should; in first chapter, where Don goes to lecture on the genetics of people with Asperger's. The dramatic irony of Don telling a crowded room that most adults living with the condition have no idea that they are makes this book a clever commentary on our perceptions of neurobiological disorders and how we treat those different to ourselves.

The will-they-won't-they romance between Don and Rosie is sweet and lingering, but it is Don't relationship with himself that leaves the lasting impact. Everyone will compare this with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which I believe is an unfair comparison-whereas Christopher is aware of his limitations and is also a teenager with a family and social networks, even if he doesn't necessarily participate in them,  this is a grown man with a successful life who is confused by the world he wishes to be more involved in this is a grown up book about grown ups and, rather than Christopher grown-up, Don is such a good character in his own right I hope he becomes just as famous.

The book is in places charming, hilariously funny (the comic timing to some lines is impeccable) and very very readable, the first third is the slowest but as soon as Rosie, who is a bit mixed up and annoying in places-very Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook (who will probably get the part as soon as America nicks it and gets film rights and turns them all into from California), and Don get together everything becomes nose-to-spine. If you have ever shipped Penny and Sheldon, you will love this book.

This is going to be a massive bestseller, because it is the sort of book that you will read and then recommend to all your friends, so I wanted to get in there first and say YES it is worth the hype, I loved it, I loved Don and I can't wait for the world to meet him.

The Rosie Project is out in April, you should pre-order, it is marvellous.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Happy Library Day

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Poetry Challenge 2013

Here at Leeds Book Club, we're always looking for new poems and poets...well I say we...me mostly. 

This year, we've invited our friends from the blog and tweet sphere to share their favourite poems. 

Hope that you enjoy these!

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Mrs Phelps from Roald Dahl's Matilda
Librarian par excellence!
Illustration by Quentin Blake


“… a book indeed sometimes debauched me from my work….”
– Benjamin Franklin

If librarians were honest,
they wouldn’t smile, or act
welcoming. They would say,
You need to be careful. Here
be monsters. They would say,
These rooms house heathens
and heretics, murderers and
maniacs, the deluded, desperate,
and dissolute. They would say,
These books contain knowledge
of death, desire, and decay,
betrayal, blood, and more blood;
each is a Pandora’s box, so why
would you want to open one.
They would post danger
signs warning that contact
might result in mood swings,
severe changes in vision,
and mind-altering effects.

If librarians were honest
they would admit the stacks
can be more seductive and
shocking than porn. After all,
once you’ve seen a few
breasts, vaginas, and penises,
more is simply more,
a comforting banality,
but the shelves of a library
contain sensational novelties,
a scandalous, permissive mingling
of Malcolm X, Marx, Melville,
Merwin, Millay, Milton, Morrison,
and anyone can check them out,
taking them home or to some corner
where they can be debauched
and impregnated with ideas.
If librarians were honest,
they would say, No one
spends time here without being
changed. Maybe you should
go home. While you still can.
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This poem was suggested to us by the wonderful +Laura Woods (@WoodsieGirl) to celebrate National Libraries Day...which came and went on the 9th of February. 

Apologies for the delay!

Say hi to @WoodsieGirl on twitter or visit her awesome blogs HERE and HERE

If you's like to see your choice posted as part of this series, have a read of THIS then please contact me either at 
or via twitter (@leedsbookclub
or via our facebook page. 

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Table of Contents - A Poetry Moment
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Table of Contents - Full
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Friday, 8 March 2013

Women's Literature Festival-Womens Writing Today-Stella Duffy

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In the build up to the Women's Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the work of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

The Purple Shroud: A Novel of Empress Theodora   I had never read any Stella Duffy, despite her being a prolific writer of Stuff I Like, before being heavily recommended Theodora by @sianushka a couple of years ago. I promptly went out and borrowed it from Leeds Library, as I did with this book, and fell in love with her.   The Purple Shroud tells the second half of the story of Theodora, who started life as a prostituted child and circus performer, became a religious convert and finally Empress of the Byzantine empire, part of the August couple made of herself and Emperor Justinian. They lived in Constantinople around 500AD and she is seen as one of the most important women in the history of the Roman empire.   The first book, Theodora, was wonderfully written and captured brilliant a sense of place and time. What Duffy does so well is to show a city and way of life very different from our own, but make her characters real people who just happen to live 1500 years ago, as opposed to some historical fiction which creates flat stereotypes of kings and queens and courtiers. Although parts of Theodora dragged, her epic religious conversion in the desert especially (though it is quite hard to write about someone sitting in a cave doing nothing but pray for weeks on end and make it sound slightly interesting...) the character of Theodora herself, passionate and prone to acting before thinking, was a delight.   In The Purple Shroud, Theodora has grown up. She has power and status, and is not about to lose. them. I liked her less in this book, she is cruel and vindictive and jealous and spiteful, but she is also wild and fun and very very bold and you can't help but admire her. Her relationship with Justinian was something I especially enjoyed seeing evolve. The city is more the focus of The Purple Shroud, she isn't wandering around the desert any more and the book is all the better for that. Seeing events such as the Nika riots between the various factions against the Emperor destroy the city Duffy managed to capture Theodora's sens of loss, not just at the buildings and the dead, but of her trust for the people, perfectly.   This book reminded me a lot of I Claudius by Robert Graves, and would make a cracking TV series, just like I Claudius did in the 70s. If you like your historical fiction to be less soppy heaving bosoms and a bit more bite, this is for you.   So that's it! All the writers on the panel I've now read and reviewed. I am ridiculously excited about next week, three whole days of books and feminism and lovely lovely women. If you fancy a jaunt, why not join me? Bristol is a fantastic city and well worth a visit. The festival is on for two days and includes a variety of events. See you there?!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Lainibop Challenge - Book 23 - Mockingay Review

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The LainiBop Challenge


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* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
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Having been rescued from the Quarter Quell at the last second, Katniss finds herself holed up with the rebels in the supposedly destroyed District 13 which in fact has a well established if not very homey city underground. 

Unfortunately Peeta did not achieve the same fate and is being held in the Capitol. Suffering from severe shock, Katniss retreats into herself, however the rebels have other ideas. They want their Mockingjay to fight for them, or at least appear to fight in order to act as a symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol and to urge others to join the fight. So Katniss must make a decision, whether to join with the rebels or leave them to their own devices.

This to me felt like much more of an adult themed book than the previous two. We see how Katniss reacts to the horrors she has witnessed in both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Her mental breakdown is extremely heartwrenching and displays the traumatic experiences she has lived through that are finally taking their toll. I think up until now, Katniss has played a part, in the first book, she had to be strong for her sister and mother watching her and also had to pretend to fall in love with Peeta. This act continued in Catching Fire where she was forced under threat of death to make this love appear real for the other Districts during the tours. Finally the Hunger Games are over for Katniss, and because of this, her visage falls and she allows herself to react to what she has been through. Her anger and hatred show through and she no longer has any wish to put on a show for anyone. Because of this her immediate reaction to becoming a “mascot” for the rebellion is cynical, however we properly get to see her progression from this anger to a place where she realises she is not playing a part anymore, this is who she is now, she doesn't just want to be a symbol, she wants to play an active part and get her revenge.

I was very surprised by the amount of violence in this book. Ok, I know the reader should expect some violence when the subject of the series is children being sent into an arena to kill each other, but I think this final chapter of the series takes a strange turn violence wise. There were some very graphic scenes in it, and while I enjoyed reading it, much more than Catching fire in fact, I found it hard at times to see how it fits in with the rest of the Young Adult series. On the back of that I'm not sure this book will end up translating very well to the big screen, as The Hunger Games movie was marketed at a younger audience than I would have expected. I recently saw a Katniss Everdeen Barbie doll for example. This is not the sort of film I would want a girl who plays with Barbies watching. Hopefully when they make the remaining films they will stay true to the book as I'd really like to see how they handle the topics raised.

All in all, I am giving this a higher score than Catching Fire because when I finished the final page, I had to sit back to catch my breath and take it all in. Even now, thinking about it, the book feels like it could have been a trilogy all by itself in a way as a huge amount happens, and it provoked a lot more emotion in me than the second. Great end to the series, and really looking forward to the movies.

SCORE       8/10

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Say Hello to @Lainibop

Her To Be Read Challenge - The Countdown Begins!

Book 30 - ?
Book 29 - ?
Book 28 - Sexing the Cherries by Jeanette Winterson
Book 27 - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Book 26 - Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer
Book 25 - Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Book 24 - From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne
Book 23 - Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Book 22 - Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less by Jeffery Archer

Find more reviews HERE

If we've used any videos, you'll find them on the LeedsBookClub YouTube Channel - 

Visit LainiBop's playlist HERE 
Visit Fizzy Elephants HERE
The 10 Things I Hate About You playlist is HERE!
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Table of Contents - Guest Stars

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Table of Contents - Laini's Book Shelf

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Friday, 1 March 2013

Women's Literature Festival-Womens Writing Today-Beatrice Hitchman

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In the build up to the Women's Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the work of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

  Beatrice Hitchman lived in Paris for a year after her MA, and then worked as a documentary film editor, writing and directing her own short films as well. Its no surprise that film is the subject of her debut novel, Petite Mort, which is published on the 7 March and which you should definitely pre-order.   Sarah Waters meets Kate Morton, and if you're a fan of both these writers you'll know how glorious that would be. Petite Mort is part sexual coming of age story, part mystery, part homage to the silent film but most of all a macabre tale of lies and deceit with more twists than her publisher's logo.   When I received this book in the post (thank you), I thought to myself 'Lovely vintage cover about earlier twentieth century Parisian film industry with title that's a metaphor for orgasm? If you must'. Maybe part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was that is encapsulated all my favourite kinds of fiction, but what's wrong with enjoying what you like?   In 1913 Adele Roux, a 17 year old country girl who has fallen in love with cinema and is encouraged in her dream to become an actress by her local parish priest, runs away from an abusive father to Paris, to a life considerably less rosy than she thought she would find. Eventually finding work in the Pathe Films factory sewing costumes she finds herself under the eye of production genius Andre Durand. However Andre has his own secrets, and his wife, the great actress Terpsichore, is hiding even more. As Adele becomes more and more involved with the Durand family she finds herself in a web made up of the glittering Parisian society and the volatile world of early cinema, can she ever escape, and does she even want to?   Fifty years later and the 'forgotten' reel of the film Petite Mort is found in a Parisian basement miraculously unharmed. The film was supposedly destroyed along with everything else to do with the film in a great fire in 1913. Juliette, a journalist reporting on the discovered film, becomes involved in piecing together the mystery of the Pathe fire, Petite Mort itself and the history of Adele Roux.   Interspersed with this story are those of Andre and Terpsichore, the history of cinema is told along the way. Although the books main plot is rather weird and meandering in places, these little snapshots of other lives make this a macabre, but fascinating book.  
This book is slow in places, and rather farcical in others, but that is for me part of its charm. The complete lack of subtlety in the title, and the wonderful blurb, "this plot has a twist we beg you not to disclose"... make this a publicists dream. But the writing itself is worthy of praise in how addictive a read this is-I finished it in two days on the bus and at lunch hour and it isn't a short book. If you're a fan of the early twentieth century, cinema, Parisian elegance or slightly sapphic flavours then I'd give this debut a go. I also can't wait to see what else Beatrice Hitchman has to offer and very much look forward to meeting her at this event.

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