Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb

Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder
Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities
by
Claudia Kalb

Rating:

Charles Darwin was a worrier, Fyodor Dostoevsky was a compulsive gambler, and Howard Hughes had OCD. Was Andy Warhol a hoarder or simply a collector? Was Albert Einstein autistic or just focused? And how do these and other personalities compare to the rest of us? You might be surprised at how similar their quirks and problems are to our own personality oddities.

In this excellent collection of mini biographies, Claudia Kalb looks at twelve famous personalities and explains their known or likely battles with mental illness. In her extensive research, she studied medical journals, interviewed mental health professionals, and consulted numerous scientists and academic researchers. In addition to a compassionate explanation of the problems these entertainers, artists, musicians, leaders, writers and groundbreakers suffered, Kalb wonders how many would have fared had they been accurately diagnosed and treated with modern methods. Some would have been better able to battle their conditions, but would others have lost their creative sparks?

Here’s a quick summary of the successes these famous people achieved and the problems they faced.


Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes and Andy Warhol

    

Marilyn Monroe was a sex icon, but she likely suffered from borderline personality disorder. An empty and lonely childhood left her feeling abandoned and, while she rose to superstar status, she never overcame these feelings. She sought help, but the treatment at the time did not necessarily help her. Modern therapy for this condition teaches patients how to move forward with their lives.

Howard Hughes made his millions in filmmaking and aerospace, but he was an obsessive worrier about germs. As an adult, Hughes became progressively obsessed with the rituals of germ avoidance and also became addicted to painkillers. Hughes would probably have benefited from modern treatment which includes behavioral therapy and mindfulness treatment.

Andy Warhol was fascinated with many things and could not throw them out. He believed and lived that more was better. Kalb writes, “Hoarding may provide comfort to those who feel neglected,” but would he have been able to create and become a famous pop artist if he’d received treatment?


Princess Diana, Abraham Lincoln, Christine Jorgensen

    

Princess Diana was always in the public eye and her marriage to Prince Charles was not the fairy tale we thought it would be. She dealt with these pressures in private and developed bulimia nervosa. To her credit, she went public with her battle and helped others by raising awareness about eating disorders.

Abraham Lincoln knew he was depressed and sought treatment, but many argue that the 16th President of the United States was a better leader during the Civil War because he was able to realistically view both sides of the battle. Lincoln was also known for his sense of humor. Perhaps he instinctively understood that laughter made him feel better.

Christine Jorgensen was born male, but from early on, she knew she was different. In 1950, she went to Sweden, had sex reassessment surgery and came back a woman. Kalb explores the many questions of gender identity and sexual orientation. In this case, Jorgensen took charge of her gender dysphoria and led a happy life.


Frank Lloyd Wright, Betty Ford, Charles Darwin

    

Frank Lloyd Wright was a famous architect, but he may also have had narcissistic personality disorder. He wasn’t much of a family man and was slippery with his facts; instead he focused on his building designs. Perhaps his creative mind would have dulled if he’d been treated.

Betty Ford was First Lady to President Gerald Ford, but she was also an alcoholic and addicted to painkillers. She made her battle public, and opened the Betty Ford Center to help others overcome addiction. Just like Princess Diana, telling the world of her struggles led to better understanding and treatment for others.

Charles Darwin suffered from anxiety, but he managed to develop the controversial theory of evolution. He had stomachaches, headaches and many other ailments, including panic attacks and was certain he would die of these conditions. Doctors were unable to find a cause.


George Gershwin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Albert Einstein

    

George Gershwin was a prolific composer and he most likely had AD/HD. He ran wild as a boy, but music rescued him. It was his way of finding focus and was also his salvation. Would he have written “Rhapsody in Blue” if he’d been treated?

Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested for political crimes, was subjected to a mock execution and sent to Siberia for four years. He had a tumultuous personal life, was forever in debt and became a compulsive gambler, but he also wrote Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Idiot. Dostoevsky was determined to quit gambling and he did at age 49.

Albert Einstein had a larger than normal brain, preferred to be alone and was always disheveled.  He also came up with the theory of relatively. Perhaps he was on the autism spectrum, but could he have envisioned his theories if he’d been treated?


The above summaries give you an idea of what these famous people faced, but Kalb goes into greater detail and helps you understand their conditions as they relate to the general population. I recommend Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder to readers who enjoy history, biographies and studies about mental health.

Images from Pixabay and Wikipedia

I read Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder  as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a book suggested by a librarian.

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Other books of interest:

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – historical fiction about Frank Lloyd Wright
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam – autobiographical account about struggles with OCD
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – biography about Steve Jobs, his career and personality
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer reviewed by Austin Vitelli – great fiction about a 9-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome who loses his father in 9/11
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – romantic comedy about a guy on the autism spectrum and his search for a wife

Calmer Secrets by Jennifer Kelland Perry


Calmer Secrets
by
Jennifer Kelland Perry

Rating:

Samantha and Veronica Cross had to start fresh when they moved with their mother Darlene from Newfoundland’s Calmer Cove to St. John’s.  Attending a new high school and making friends were their first challenges and soon they discovered the charms of Ben Swift, a handsome local boy with his own troubles.  As the sisters rivaled for his attention, jealousy and misunderstandings threw the Cross family off balance into a spiral of disaster.

Calmer Girls is Perry’s first coming-of-age novel about the Cross sisters.  Calmer Secrets picks up in 1998, four years later.  If they thought the teenage years were turbulent, they are now learning that relationships in their twenties can be just as complicated.

Veronica is a single mom to three-year-old Henry and Samantha is an art student at Grenfell, seven hours away.  Their old friend Ben may be far away at the moment, but he’s on the minds of both girls, for different reasons, and it will be a long time before the sisters forget what happened.  Veronica copes by finding, then quickly discarding boyfriends.  And while on break, Samantha takes up with her old friend, Kalen O’Dea.  He’s charming and gorgeous, and fronts a popular cover band in town, but there’s something puzzling about his behavior.  Veronica warns her, but who is she to give advice?

The real elephant in the room, however, is Darlene’s drinking.  She’s met a new man, Cash, who owns the Bambury Tavern and the two work side-by-side.  He’s a great guy, but can he see the problem?  How long can the family look the other way? In addition, painful secrets about the Calmer sisters’ past are coming to the surface. Are these secrets best confronted or pushed back down?

Calmer Secrets is an excellent story about the difficult and unsettled years that are the twenties.  As with all quality writing, Perry’s storytelling flair is enhanced by her descriptive talent.  Reading about St. John’s makes me want to move there and, thanks to Perry’s introductions, I feel like I already have some friends in town.  As with Calmer Girls, Calmer Secrets includes many enjoyable and relatable details about the 1990s, as well as local customs, foods and phrases, giving the Calmer series a unique brand.  In addition, Perry integrates themes of family, friendship, love and second chances, giving the reader a great deal to think about afterwards.  I especially enjoyed seeing her characters transform and step up when they are needed most. And an extra treat are the quotes from classic literature at the beginning of each chapter, a smart detail that ties her story to larger ideas.  I’m looking forward to reading more about the Calmer sisters!

I recommend Calmer Secrets to all readers who like realistic stories about family and community in a friendly and colorful setting.

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Click here for a review of Calmer Girls.

 

Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

traveling-mercies
Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith

by
Anne Lamott

Rating:
4 book marks

It isn’t easy to categorize this memoir about personal growth and faith.  I had not read anything by Lamott before my book club friend chose Traveling Mercies, which was published in 1999.  Lamott is an Amercian novelist and nonfiction writer.  Her first nonfiction book, Operating Instructions:  A Journal of My Son’s First Year, was published in 1993.  Lamott’s most recent novel, Imperfect Birds was published in 2010 and her most recent nonfiction, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace was published in 2013.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Lamott grew up in an unhappy home as a middle child in the 1960s and by thirteen, she and her friends were drinking and using drugs regularly.  Her parents were both free spirited, non-religious intellectuals and, as a girl, she felt the comfort of community in many of her friends’ religions.  She found her anchor in the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, but she battled depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and bulimia for many years, returning to St. Andrew’s to make sense of her struggles.

The subject is heavy, but Lamott writes with honest humor.  She openly shares her weaknesses, failures, fears and bad judgement, not to preach or convert, but to tell the story of her journey as a single mother with a lot of issues.  Her faith is highly personalized, tweaked to help her through difficult decisions and feelings of inadequacy.

Lamott adored her father, Kenneth Lamott, who was a writer and literary figure and a central figure in her life.  His diagnosis of brain cancer and death at age fifty-six was a major blow to Lamott.  She wrote Hard Laughter, her first published novel, as a tribute to him.

Traveling Mercies is an excellent read.  The book’s appeal lies in its accepting and non-judgemental delivery.  Lamott isn’t sending a message.  She is telling us what works for her.  I recommend Traveling Mercies to anyone who is interested in personal growth and in understanding relationships.

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We Are Water by Wally Lamb

We Are WaterWe Are Water
by
Wally Lamb

Rating:
3 book marks

Wally Lamb has written an ambitious book about abuse and how, over time and generations, the range of effects widens like the circles from a pebble in the pond. We Are Water is a novel with many characters and many themes in a rotating narrative, told from the points of view of the main players in the book.

Simply put, the story is about fifty-something Annie Oh, an angry artist who has left her husband, Orion, to marry Viveca, another woman. But this story is anything but simple. As Orion and their three grown children react and adjust to this development, a dense array of secrets and family dysfunction emerges and the story becomes a massive and painful tale in which each character struggles to find happiness.  There is also a bit of a thriller and suspense element and that keeps the story moving.

In addition to abuse, it’s a story with a multitude of themes: art and expression, family, gay marriage, prejudice and acceptance, religion, relationships, desertion, anger, family heritage, alcoholism, a little political commentary, and, of course water. The water theme begins with the devastating events surrounding the actual Norwich, Connecticut flood of 1963, in which the dam at Norwich’s largest park collapsed and flooded four square miles, killing six people.

But as the plot develops, We Are Water’s main focus becomes verbal, physical and sexual abuse and their far-reaching effects. Lamb’s characters attempt to explain and justify what they do in the wake of this abuse. Annie uses art as a release and her creations result in violent displays of things and people. Her art has been recently discovered and is highly valued, but most likely misunderstood. She becomes a cyclone during her creative efforts, but her family has suffered, especially her son, Andrew, who has borne the brunt of her suppressed anger.

I like stories about families and conflict. Because of that, I like many things about this book, but not everything. Some of Lamb’s characters are very difficult to like and that makes their narrations less appealing. For example, Annie’s adult character is difficult to know. She’s self-centered and it’s hard to know why she’s about to marry Viveca. Yet young Annie is sweet and charming and you want to protect her. Similarly, but with a much more uncomfortable reader experience, Kent Kelly’s story begins innocently. He’s a victim first and then he’s a hero in the flood. By showing Kent as a boy, Lamb tries to explain, but not justify, Kent’s teenage and adult behavior. Personally, I’m not interested in getting into Kent’s head. It’s not a matter of how he came to be a monster. It’s a matter of the damage he creates. I think this section is overdeveloped and over-explained. It’s more than rough to read and it’s too sympathetic of the character. That said, maybe Lamb is accurate in describing someone like Kent, a sick charmer who ultimately pays the price.

I like Orion’s character the best. He’s certainly the most likeable. It’s easy to sympathize with him because he’s misunderstood and he tries to do the right thing. He’s also the most realistic character.  Not always, however, because sometimes I think his conversations with the adult Marissa, Andrew and Ariane are overly open and unrealistic. Just sayin’.

Here are some other things I like about We Are Water:

  • Lamb’s storytelling style. His characters take turns giving part of the story, introducing facts and events, then another character cycles back to include more details.
  • The section about the flood is the strongest part of the book.
  • I like stories about old houses and the things that are hidden inside.
  • Characters who try to make sense of the bad things in the world. Ruth Fletcher, a flawed character, but one with surprising depth, says,

I’m down on my knees now, asking God why, if He’s merciful, He had to put so much meanness in the world He made. Weasels pounce, snakes bite, dams break, men kill other men. And why would a merciful God let a little child’s mother die?

Despite the dark subject, Lamb tries to end on a hopeful note. The ending reminds me of movies with tragic events, in which the survivors, beaten down, but not quite finished, look towards a hopeful future.  Orion has adjusted to his future, but Andrew faces a difficult decision. As Andrew’s tattoo suggests, “Love wins,” and Orion answers, “No matter which way our lives turn out. Right?”

This is my fourth Wally Lamb book. All in all, a mixed bag, with some good spots.  Have you read We Are Water?  What did you think?  I have always enjoyed Lamb’s books, but this one leaves me puzzled.

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