Blackout: a moving portrait of alcoholism and recovery

Sarah Hepola writes of her experiences with both alcoholism and sobriety in the deeply personal, relatable, and relevant new book Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget. With so many college activities now focused around drinking, it's often difficult after graduation has occurred for young people to shed the mentality of making-everything-more-fun-with-alcohol. Alcohol-fueled events and parties extend into our twenties, thirties and beyond, and the line between normal alcohol consumption and alcoholism is increasingly blurred for many young people. Hepola calls alcohol the “gasoline of all adventure” for her when she was in her younger years. She spent fun nights at cocktail parties and at bars, drinking til last call… but the frivolity didn’t come without a price. She blacked out often and was left spending entire mornings trying to piece together what she had done the night before, making self-deprecating jokes to cover her shame. As with many alcoholics, her career flourished during this time, but as the blackouts continued, Hepola was forced to admit the truth: the alcohol she thought she needed to lift her spirits was depressing her and negatively affecting her health and relationships. Thus, she embarks on a new and unexpected adventure: that of sobriety.

This memoir is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, and always unfailingly honest. A highly recommended read for anyone who has been forced to reinvent themselves or cope with necessary change, Blackout reveals how sometimes giving up the thing we cherish the most can allow us to truly find ourselves.

For other excellent stories about women and alcoholism, try Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas, Note Found in a Bottle, by Susan Cheever, and Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, by Ann Dowsett Johnston.

Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance

Aziz Ansari is one of this generation’s most beloved comedic voices and his new book, Modern Romance, combines his irreverent humor with in-depth social science to offer readers a funny, relevant and informative tour of the modern dating world.

Dating has definitely gotten more complicated in the past decade or two, with the invention of social media, countless new modes of communication, unusual new venues to meet people, and, perhaps the most complex (and some would argue, the most useful!) of all, emojis. Ansari himself felt overwhelmed at times trying to navigate the complexity of the present-day romantic world, as have many of the rest of us. He shares stories of his own experiences in Modern Romance, but what’s particularly interesting is the fact that he teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg to design and execute a massive research project conducted throughout the world with the aid of many other leading social scientists. The study includes focus groups, interviews, online message forums, and more, and the results of it are detailed in Ansari’s book.

The combination of Ansari’s own experiences and those of his friends, and the unique research results presented by him and Klinenberg make Modern Romance a truly unique—and important—read.

You can also try the audiobook version, read by Ansari himself.

Dawn Farm Education Series: Intervention

“It Takes a Family: A Cooperative Approach to Lasting Sobriety" will be presented on Tuesday June 30, 2015; 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm; by Jeff Jay & Debra Jay; Intervention specialists, chemical dependency therapists and trainers, best-selling authors of Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention, and the newly-released, "It Takes a Family, A Cooperative Approach to Lasting Sobriety". There will be a book signing and opportunity to meet/greet the presenters following the presentation. Addiction is often described as a “family disease” however families have been mostly left out of the recovery equation. Structured Family Recovery™ starts with a family and ends with a family recovery team. This will bring practical information, help and hope to individuals & families affected by addiction and to anyone who wants to learn about Structured Family Recovery™ from the expert who developed and “wrote the book” on this technique. The presentation will take place in the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Education Center at 5305 Elliott Drive, Ypsilanti. All programs are free and open to all. No registration is required. Each program provides 1.5 free CE hours for addiction professionals approved by MCBAP and NAADAC.

Dawn Farm Education Series: Intervention

“It Takes a Family: A Cooperative Approach to Lasting Sobriety" will be presented on Tuesday June 30, 2015; 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm; by Jeff Jay & Debra Jay; Intervention specialists, chemical dependency therapists and trainers, and best-selling authors of Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention, the newly-released, "It Takes a Family, A Cooperative Approach to Lasting Sobriety" and other books. There will be a book signing and opportunity to meet/greet the presenters following the presentation. Addiction is often described as a “family disease” however families have been mostly left out of the recovery equation. Structured Family Recovery™ starts with a family and ends with a family recovery team. This will bring PRACTICAL INFORMATION, HELP and HOPE to individuals & families affected by addiction and to anyone who wants to learn about Structured Family Recovery™ from the expert who developed and “wrote the book” on this technique.This program will bring practical information, help and hope to anyone who cares about a chemically dependent person, and to anyone who wants to learn more about the intervention process. The presentation will take place in the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Education Center at 5305 Elliott Drive, Ypsilanti. All programs are free and open to all. No registration is required. Each program provides 1.5 free CE hours for addiction professionals approved by MCBAP and NAADAC.

Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own

Kate Bolick’s 2011 Atlantic cover story “All the Single Ladies,” abruptly started a much-needed conversation about the role of single women in America, and about how our increasing numbers are changing contemporary culture. Stating that she “wanted to take advantage of the intimacy that a book offers, and draw the reader into my imaginary life, to better share the nuances of my single experience,” Bolick expanded the article into the recently published book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own. The book’s premise is that solitude is a thing to treasure, not fear. How do women who are living, working, and aging alone construct meaningful lives? How do single women find a sense of community while also embracing their solitude—be it temporary or permanent? Bolick emphasizes that the number of women living alone in this country continues to increase: we marry later, the divorce rate is high, and life expectancies are getting longer. All these factors contribute to the 50% of women who consider themselves single today.

It’s refreshing to see the typical stereotypes of spinsters—cat ladies, strange aunts, etc—debunked in Bolick’s book. She highlights women like herself who have chosen to put work, friends, hobbies, travel, and other pursuits at the center of their lives. Of course, she also writes candidly about the challenges of a single life. Spinster offers a fresh look at singlehood, and the unique chances that it offers to live our lives authentically.

Library Lists: Americana

The amazing variation of lifestyles in the United States make for fascinating literary portraits of the people, families and groups living in this country. Compiled here are ten amazing books, both fiction and nonfiction, that explore deeply the culture and beliefs of our nation.

South of Superior: An eye-opening book, set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, that offers subtle explanations for why people make the choices that they do, and why we often find ourselves unable to escape our pasts.

Shotgun Lovesongs: A moving portrait of the relationships between four men who all grew up in the same small Wisconsin town, and of what holds them there and what drives them away.

Rock Springs: In ten stories all set in the American West, author Richard Ford employs carefully sculpted prose to explore the themes of loneliness and hope that permeate the lives of people who live there.

A Thousand Acres: Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is unexpectedly fast-paced and shocking. Set on a family farm in Iowa, the exclusion of the youngest daughter from the will sets off a chain of events that bring long-suppressed truths and emotions to the surface. Also try Smiley’s most recent book, Some Luck, for another fantastic American family drama.

Pulphead: Essays: Author John Jeremiah Sullivan takes readers on a whirlwind tour of America’s cultural landscape, describing unique aspects of popular culture and drawing forgotten and unknown groups and areas into the light.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café: Fannie Flagg’s classic novel takes place simultaneously in the 1980s and 1920s, and has been beloved since its initial publication in 1987. Fried Green Tomatoes is he story of the famous Whistle Stop Café, operational from the 1920s-1960s and the amazing cast of characters that kept it operational, as well as of modern-day woman, Evelyn, who is inspired to change her life after hearing stories about the Whistle Stop Café from a woman living at the nursing home where she visits her mother-in-law weekly. Many of Flagg’s other books are also hilarious and heartwarming portrayals of life in the South.

Winesburg, Ohio has been touted as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time. Before Richard Ford, there was Sherwood Anderson, who wrote Winesburg, Ohio in 1919 and, with it, evoked “with lyrical simplicity quiet moments of epiphany in the lives of ordinary men and women.”

The English Major: Jim Harrison tells a unique version of the American road trip story through the eyes of protagonist Cliff, a divorced sixty-something ex-teacher who has just lost his share of the family farm. His adventures take him on a whirlwind tour of America, on a personal mission to rename all the states with names he feels are better suited.

Prodigal Summer: Barbara Kingsolver’s 2000 book is set in rural Appalachia, and delves deeply into three separate storylines that gradually merge together with Kingsolver’s expert grace.

East of Eden: Described as Steinbeck's magnum opus, the sprawling novel follows the destinies of two families in the Salinas Valley in California whose lives mirror the fall of Adam and Eve and rivalry between Cain and Abel. Even those who typically don’t enjoy Steinbeck have a soft spot for East of Eden and its intensely developed characters and faster-paced action.

Want more Americana? Check out this list for tons more books, both classics and lesser-knowns, on traditional and non-traditional American culture.

Film & Discussion: Race To Nowhere

Wednesday March 18, 2015: 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm -- Downtown Library Multi-Purpose Room

This event is intended for adults and teens grade 9 and up.

Parents today are expected to raise high-achieving children, skilled in a multitude of talents, and ready to respond to many complex challenges. Bombarded by academic standards, competition for educational opportunities, and run-away schedules, young people struggle to accommodate the intense demands. From preschool through college, children are pressured, pushed, coached, sculpted, scheduled and reviewed, running a never-ending gauntlet towards adulthood.

Race To Nowhere, rated PG-13, is a call to families, educators, experts and policy makers to examine current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become the healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens in the 21st century.

A community discussion led by Elizabeth Koschmann, PhD, Research Investigator in the U-M Department of Psychiatry and a member of the U-M Depression Center, will follow this screening.

The End of Always deals beautifully with timeless issues

The setting of the new book The End of Always, by Randi Davenport, is unexpectedly haunting: turn-of-the-century Waukesha, Wisconsin, provides a stark backdrop to the chilling story that Davenport unveils slowly to readers. Seventeen-year-old Marie Reehs is consumed with memories of her mother, who died in a mysterious accident to which her father was the only witness. In her heart, Marie knows that her violent, abusive father murdered her mother, but her older sister is desperate to keep what remains of the family together and begs Marie to forget what she has seen. As Marie toils away every day at the local laundry, she vows that she will not marry a violent man, as seems to be the legacy for the women in her family. When she starts a love affair with a handsome and charismatic young man, she thinks that he may be the answer to her prayers for freedom, but readers must press on until the end of this luminescent book to find out if Marie will be able to break free from the Reehs women’s dark family curse.

Reading about domestic violence in a historical context was interesting and eye-opening. Although difficult to read at times, The End of Always is ultimately an uplifting and powerful story of a courageous woman trying to take charge of her own life.

Center for Japanese Studies Special Event

Each year, approximately 30,000 Japanese die by suicide, a rate nearly double that of the U.S. The Center for Japanese Studies is hosting a local effort to educate the public about this problem by sponsoring a series of three free events over three days that combines film, lecture and discussion. It begins Thursday, February 5th, 12-1:30 at the School of Social Work with four brief presentations by Japanese Studies experts and U of M faculty, under the theme "Beyond Seppuku: A multidisciplinary Context to Suicide in Japan". On Friday, February 6th from 6:00-8:00 PM will be the screening of the award winning documentary Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan at Palmer Commons. A discussion on suicide issues in the Japanese population will be led by a diverse panel after the screening.On Saturday, February 7th from 10:00 AM-Noon at the Holiday Inn, Livonia this film will be screened and the discussion afterword will be in Japanese. For more information email: umcjs@umich.edu

Josephine Baker Biography

If Jacqueline Woodson’s award-winning memoir Brown Girl Dreaming has you craving more stories-in-verse that share the African-American experience, check out this fantastic title:

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson is picture-book biography of dancer Josephine Baker. Beginning with her childhood in the segregated South, the book traces her life as a teenager in a traveling dance troupe, her star-making Paris debut, her work as a spy during World War II, and her adoption of twelve children of different nationalities, always highlighting her desire for racial acceptance. With its bright, bold illustrations and free-verse text that mixes quotations from Baker with energetic narration, this 100-page picture book is a perfect showcase for the dancer’s story.

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