Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ten Days in a Mad-House
But here was a woman taken without her own consent from the free world to an asylum and there given no chance to prove her sanity. Confined most probably for life behind asylum bars, without even being told in her language the why and wherefore. Compare this with a criminal, who is given every chance to prove his innocence. Who would not rather be a murderer and take the chance for life than be declared insane, without hope of escape?

I can't remember where I first heard of this book - it was probably in an article discussing the 2015 movie based on this book. But when I heard that this book features a woman reporter going undercover, pretending to be "mad" (which means so many things in this book) in 1887, I knew I had to read it. While Nellie Bly's investigative effort was remarkable to read about, her opinions about how women were treated in those days by men (aka feminism) were also very interesting to read.

When Bly's employer, Joseph Pulitzer, asked her if she could go undercover to investigate whether there is any truth to stories of neglect in the Women's Lunatic Asylum at Blackwell's Island, she jumped at the opportunity. A part of her was nervous about this assignment. She had never before met a person who has been diagnosed as "insane". So she didn't really know how to pretend to be one. But they were just details to her. She was willing to roll with the flow and see how things go.

And roll she did. She wanted to first be discovered and reported by someone that she was in distress and exhibiting certain mental behaviors. This she did by staying at a boardinghouse overnight, refusing to sleep, and having weird conversations with others. After being examined by several people and getting them all to agree that she needed to be admitted to the Insane Asylum, she finds herself at the institute one day and very soon, feeling thankful that she was going to be there only temporarily.

Ten Days in a Mad-House is an incredible read, albeit having a very sad tone. Bly is certainly very resourceful and thinks very well on her feet. She is also very defensive on behalf of her fellow inmates and writes several thoughtful passages in their honor.

I found it incredible, as did Bly, that all the doctors who diagnosed her as being mentally sick didn't really test for anything. She mostly acted as her normal self, except initially when she wanted to get checked in. And yet, the doctors continued to check her dilation and temperature to determine if she was mentally ill. Most of the nurses taking care of her and fellow inmates were being downright cruel. There were also several inmates who weren't given their due care even though they clearly had physical conditions that needed treatment. There was one woman who didn't know English and yet the doctors decided she was insane. What was even more exacerbating was that all these women were mostly isolated from their families and friends while they were on the island and there was no opportunity for them to get out.

Another factor that made this book interesting to read was that the language and customs of the 1880s were very much in play. At one point, the judge dealing with her case says "she is well dressed, and a lady. Her English is perfect, and I would stake everything on her being a good girl. I am positive she is somebody's darling" as an explanation for why there was no one to claim her as family. There are several references to being "womanly", a term that made me cringe a lot.

The hardest part of reading this book was learning about how these women were mistreated at the asylum. For instance, when it was time for their baths, they were all dunked one after the other into the same cold bath water, which was changed only when it became very dirty. The same towels were used on all of them. They didn't get sufficient nutrition. The "most violent" among them were chained to each other. If they ever did not follow instructions, they were tortured. It was dreadful.

I would like to go find the movie and watch it. I'm sure it will be a difficult experience to watch it but Bly's brave attempt to have this reported is well worth reading about and watching. If your library has a Hoopla account, then this book is very likely available on it. If not, this book is available for free online as well. Highly recommended!

What is a your favorite pre-1900 book that features an strong woman protagonist?

I borrowed this ebook from the good old library.

The Season of Fast Reads | The Book Update

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Looks like most of my reads nowadays are quick reads. Works for me very well, since I usually go days in between reading and it becomes very hard to go back to a book after a few days of being away from it. It's really because of this that I bailed on Amsterdam, however I have been reading other books.

Finished reading

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly: I first heard of this book only very recently when I came across an article about the movie based on this book. Almost soon after, Hoopla had this book available and I pretty much devoured it right away. An awesome woman protagonist? Check. Doing amazing things in 1887? Check. An intriguing subject? Check. If you're not aware, this book is about Nellie Bly's ten days being undercover as an inmate in the Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum, where there appeared to be several very sane women also being held against their will.

Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen: This book is part of a collection of drawings by the author on life, being a woman, and certain experiences. It has some very funny drawings and observations and also some that didn't resonate with me as well. It's however a very quick read and can even be that coffee table book that everyone would love to thumb through.

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell: This picture-poetry book about dancer Josephine Baker was a very different kind of read for me. I learned a lot about Josephine Baker, the American-turned-French dancer, singer, and actress, who achieved much success in France but not in the country of her origin because the US was not ready to acknowledge African Americans talents.

Sully by Capt Sullenberger: Sully is probably a household name by now. If, by any chance, you missed his remarkable water landing on Flight 1549 that saved 155 passengers after their plane was struck by birds, then you must have at least noticed the movie Sully running in the theaters right now. I'm in awe of this man and remember feeling very emotional when the news of Flight 1549 first came. But, this book didn't impress me much (liked it, didn't love it). I just finished listening to this book a few days ago, so I'm still processing it.

Currently reading

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill: I decided to make this one my Halloween pick after several of you recommended it a few weeks ago. I have already watched the movie which makes reading this book easier (right?) but the movie freaked me out and I am sure the book will too. Most of my reading is at night in the dark so the book is definitely being very atmospheric.

What's Next?

Hoopla had Erica Jong's Fear of Flying available and I downloaded it. However, I am sure that my only reason for picking it is that it is touted as a feminist book. It's however advertised as being almost all about a woman's desire to have sex without strings attached, albeit at a time when such an idea was rad. Still, I want to know from those of you who have read it - did you like this book? If yes, what is it that you enjoyed the most about it? If not, what didn't you like about it?

What pages are you currently lost within?

A Vacation in the Mountains | This Week's Five

Sunday, October 16, 2016

1. Cabin in the mountains

Last weekend, we headed to Boone with our best friends and their little one to spend a couple of days high up on a mountain cabin with an awesome view. Of course, it was also the weekend that Hurricane Matthew battered much of the Southeast US with rains, floods, and winds. We were inland enough to not feel the worst of it but it rained during much of the weekend. So while this was not the kind of vacation I had in mind when we rented the cabin, we still had loads of fun. The cabin was gorgeous and the view from the deck was beautiful. We went out both days to visit nearby attractions, ate at a few good restaurants, and played some board games.

2. #DamAlong

Sorry, Care and JoAnn, but I think I'm bailing on Amsterdam. I only got a couple of chapters in before life got in the way, and when I'm reading a print book, that usually means that I rarely go back to the book. I didn't even realize that I was bailing on the book until I found the library book yesterday and put it along with the rest of the books heading back to the library. I feel bad about this - McEwan's writing is poetic enough that I know I can get lost in it. But it's also a little slow going and I know I will need to spend quality time with it - not the kind of rapid reading books I mostly read now.

3. Postal book club

Have you guys ever been part of a postal book club? I remember reading some of you mentioning something like that. WendyCare? There are several postal book clubs formed in Litsy and having never been a part of one but loving the idea of it, I signed up for one of them. At this point, everyone is going to start mailing their books and I cannot be more excited. I already have my book and notebook, and yesterday, I bought a few goodies as well. I am hoping / planning to mail my package tomorrow. The only thing I am worried about is my track record with print books - see #2 above.

4. Fall

Raise your hands if you are excited that Fall is here! At least for those of you in the Northern hemisphere and living in places where the colors make their presence known. Over here, the leaves are just about turning (a little too late this year, if you ask me). However, we drove to the Grandfather mountain last weekend when we were at the cabin via the Blue Ridge Parkway and saw the wonderful flora all decked in beautiful reds and oranges. Love!

5. Spooktober

Probably, for the first time ever, I am reading a spooky book in season. I rarely read horror honestly, but want to explore this genre more - at least read some of the well known lit out there. My pick is The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. I had watched the movie when it first came out and it scared the heck out of me. I've been promised that the book is just as scary and I'm looking forward to it. I'm just about a quarter in and nothing spooky has happened yet but it's very atmospheric and I love it.

What are you reading to celebrate October's spookiness?

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces
"Why is every mom's concern about sex? There are more important things in life, like school, careers, poetry, books, ice cream, or learning how to make the perfect chocolate cake. It's so damn frustrating."

The only introduction I had to Gabi was Jenny's review a few months ago where she sang praises of this book. Even though I didn't remember the specifics of her review, I picked this book up at my library because I remember her raving about it. Plus, it is written as a journal. (You can never go wrong with journals.) The cover and the fact that it was a paperback and not the typical hardcover you see in a library were the first things that caught my eye.

Gabi starts off splendidly. If there's one thing I like, it's reading a book written in the vernacular. And there's plenty of that in here. No, you won't have to keep visiting Google Translate but then if you already know Spanish (I don't), you could probably converse with the characters.

Gabi thinks she's fat. It doesn't help that her mom is constantly asking her to lose weight nor does it help that Gabi loves to eat food and keeps a stash of unhealthy delicacies in her drawers. Her best friend Cindy is pregnant, her other best friend Sebastian came out to his parents and got kicked out of his house, her father is a drug addict and rarely present in her life, and she doesn't think the guy she is interested in will ask her out. But Gabi isn't one to cower down just because life is tough. She knows what tough is, she was born into it.

The whole book is Gabi's diary in her senior year. I find that journal-based YA books work very well for reluctant YA readers like me. They have none of the sappy language that makes me suffer from eyerollitis. They are also more personal and engaging than prose books (this is a general advantage of epistolary books). So when Gabi feels sad, I feel sad along with her and when she's being strong and positive, I feel the same way.

That doesn't mean I didn't find any YA-ish things to complain about. It bothered me that for a girl who didn't think guys would ever be into her, suddenly she had plenty of prospects, all timed very well too. But this is me being nitpicky.

Through this book, there are several poems which Gabi writes for school or for fun or simply to process her thoughts. She also posted a zine about the female body and as someone who loves goodies and variety in books, I thought it was a fabulous touch.

I will mention that if you love Mexican food, better read the book after lunch / dinner otherwise be prepared to be inexplicably hungry. Gabi's descriptions of food can start a party in your mouth. It will also make you crave tacos and gorditas like you have not had them lately.

What is your favorite Hispanic book?

I borrowed this book from the good old library.

Give me a nice spooky book | The Book Update

Monday, September 26, 2016

I seem to be going through phases of a lot of reading/blogging followed by radio silence. Right now, I may be seeing the start of a reading/blogging phase because things have calmed down somewhat at work and we have plenty of leftovers to tide us through this week so my evenings can be chore-less too. Of course, now that I have gone and said that, something is bound to come up.

Finished reading

Sh*tty Mom by Mary Ann Zoellner: I was looking for a fun read with this one and I got just that. See my review for more.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero: Oh, where do I start with this one. I loved loved this book. There's so much going on in it but in a real-life way. There is a lot about teen pregnancies and drug addiction, but also plenty about being Mexican & American, writing poetry, and wanting to go to college. This is a must-pick!

The Trouble with Women by Jacky Fleming: This is a quick but very relevant book that I picked on NetGalley. It takes a very satirical look at how men have explained away the lack of women in science (small brains, lack of talent, etc). It was funny but also scary because it's all true.

Currently reading

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly: My original plan was to read Ian McEwan's Amsterdam, but at the moment I was going to start my next read (after Gabi), I was too lazy to walk two rooms over and pick Amsterdam, so I started reading Ten Days in a Mad-House instead on my phone - a decision I am super glad for because this book, you guys! It's addicting and very hard to put down. I find it hard to believe that it's not fiction. It's also very short (just over a 100 pages), so I am hoping to finish it soon.

Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff: I started reading this one two weeks ago but haven't been feeling much like "comfort read mood" so I may not be going back to this one yet. Plus, the formatting isn't great on the Kindle - something that bums me a lot.

What's Next?

  1. Amsterdam readalong with JoAnn and maybe Care? I haven't read any book by McEwan and I have to say that I am very intrigued that some love his books and some hate them with a passion. I have to know which camp I will be in.
  2. I am officially looking for a spooky book recommendation for next month! I don't usually read spooky books and want to correct that. I have Stephen King on my list but his books will take me months to get through. So if he has a short and standalone book that you know of and will recommend, please let me know. I also have Shirley Jackson on my list and want to read one of her books. Who else would you recommend?

What are you reading?