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Books by the Blogger:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Trillin, Calvin: About Alice | Main | Marx, Groucho: Memoirs of a Mangy Lover »

Shawn, Allen: Wish I Could Be There

  

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Viking © 2007, 267 pages
4 stars

Allen Shawn's book on phobias is often fascinating, sometimes hard going, and always written in laudably precise prose. Shawn's approach to the subject is two-fold. In several chapters he discusses the science of phobias. He writes, for example, about the various types of phobia, about the functioning of the brain, about how the brain responds to fear, about Darwin and Freud. Though a layman, Shawn has done a lot of research on the topic, and he is clearly a very smart guy. These chapters of the book were, for me, the boring bits, but I can easily imagine a more scientifically inclined reader enjoying them as much as the rest of the book.

[INSET TEXT: Many subjects were taboo in the home--the relationship of the meat on one's plate to its animal source, for example, his mother's mental health, human sexuality.] Shawn also discusses the subject of phobias from a personal perspective. He is riddled with phobias himself--the fear of elevators and of tunnels, of closed spaces and open spaces and unfamiliar routes. Though he's managed to enjoy a successful career as a composer, his agoraphobia has significantly curtailed his activities. In exploring his life as a phobic, Shawn unpacks his childhood, subjecting his family's dynamics to dispassionate analysis. His was an unusual family.

Shawn's parents were themselves both neurotic. Many subjects were taboo in the home--the relationship of the meat on one's plate to its animal source, for example, his mother's mental health, human sexuality:

"Before I left for music camp at thirteen, my father told me that I might encounter an activity called masturbation while I was there, but he looked as if he might be about to commit suicide after our conversation."

Also unmentioned was the fact that Shawn's father (William Shawn, who was the editor of the New Yorker for 35 years) was living a double life, carrying on a long-term relationship with another woman, whose existence was known to his wife but not his children. That so many subjects were off-limits, and that a great secret was being kept by the parents, put an emotional strain on the family. Shawn was also scarred by his early separation from his twin sister, Mary, who was autistic (a modern diagnosis of her developmental problems) and was institutionalized at the age of eight. (Shawn's older brother is the actor Wallace Shawn.)

Shawn's discussion of his parent's neuroses and the impact they had on his family, so lucidly discussed, makes for riveting reading. Here, for example, is a description of how his mother's need to control events was sometimes manifested:

"She couldn't and didn't drive, and she shared my father's need to direct every turn a driver should make while taking her somewhere. On the occasions when we traveled as a family in a rented car with a driver, she held the map and dictated every move. A drive to Lincoln Center was planned almost like a military campaign. A taxi driver would be addressed with the utmost courtesy but in a manner appropriate for someone who didn't speak English, did not know the city well, and was hard of hearing. Neither of my parents would ever have dreamed of stating the destination at the outset of the drive. The exact route was doled out slowly, and the final destination always saved for last. 'Thank you. Now, we want to go down FIFTH AVENUE to the EIGHTY-FIFTH STREET TRANSVERSE...and then across to...COLUMBUS.'"

I should add that Shawn's account is utterly devoid of rancor: he is not out to blame his parents for his own problems. In exploring the roots of his phobias he is laying bare the strange environment in which they were nurtured, but his approach is analytical. He could almost be an anthropologist describing the habits of test subjects. The result is a very interesting read.

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Book-blog.com reviews by Debra Hamel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.