More Must-Read Books

Check out the new Bookshelf shelf (ha, awkward), stocked with miscellaneous book recommendations from yours truly. 🙂

I’ve been reading a lot lately, but I’ve been disappointed with some of my latest YA fantasy selections. So, for a change of pace, I picked up a few books outside of my typical niche, and I was very pleased to find that both Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen were great reads. They both made me want to sit around in my pajamas reading the day away, which, to me, is the mark of a “must-read.”

Take a peek at their synopses on the Misc. shelf!

There’s this place called “The Library”…

So many books, and so little time. Not to mention so little money. We’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, it must not be a grad student” (okay, maybe I tampered with that one just a bit). But you get my drift. My “Books to Read” list is ginormous, but my budget? Not so much.

So the other day I was thinking (as I sometimes do), and I reflected on how much I love Barnes & Noble. Especially lurking–in a non-creepy way (I guess I should have chosen a different verb then, huh?)–in the children’s/young adult section. My own creative works are aimed at young adults, and sometimes middle grade audiences, so reading all those books I love (see the Bookshelf page!) is technically considered “research” for my writing (cool, right?). I mean, how am I supposed to write young adult fantasy if I don’t know what’s already on the market, what’s selling, and what’s old news?

This is why my “Books to Read” list goes on for days; there’s so much out there that I want to get my hands on, but I don’t have the money to buy the complete works of Lemony Snicket, Tamora Pierce, Rick Riordan, etc. This problem got me thinking: “I wish there was a place just like Barnes & Noble, where I could go and sit and read for as long as I wanted without having to buy anything…and, hey,”–this is where I really started thinking crazy–“maybe I could even borrow a couple of books for free and return them at my convenience!”

Yeah, so basically I reinvented the concept of a library…how clever of me.

In theory, libraries are great establishments. So why is it that I never go to the library to borrow books? I suppose part of it is a generational thing–I don’t want to date myself, here, but I did have a set of encyclopedias when I was young that I used to look up information for school projects, but it didn’t take long before those were replaced by encyclopedias on CD-rom (how futuristic!) and I started to become a “tech-savvy” kid. DOS prompts were traded for Microsoft Windows, and, before I could say “floppy disk,” the internet had come along and I had convinced my parents that IMing my friends would do much more for my typing skills than letting Mavis Beacon yell at me.

Now, as we all know, Google has become a verb (is Bing next?), and we’re all nano-seconds away from obtaining avalanches of information (both credible and not-so-credible) about any topic we could imagine, all with a few strokes of a keyboard/taps of a touch screen. This explains why I no longer feel the need to go to the library to do any sort of research. If I’m working on a psych manuscript, all I need is to link to PsycINFO or Google Scholar through my university’s library website and I can view PDFs of peer-reviewed articles to my heart’s content. Note that the library is still involved, here, but in a digital way. It’s great for accessing scholarly journals, but, at the present time, books still need to be checked out the old-school way.

Am I just too lazy to get up and go to the library? I don’t think that can really be the issue, because I’m never too lazy to go to Barnes & Noble and stroll (better verb) through the aisles of children’s literature. I think part of my problem has to do with my stereotypes of what libraries are and what they’re used for (and even who they’re used by). My schema (or mental representation/set of associated features) for The Library includes: a librarian, library cards, check-out desk with a slot for book returns, shelves of books in plastic jackets, a dusty smell, alphabetizing, Dewey decimal system (ha I pulled that one out of nowhere!), silence, carpets, the crackling of a binding when a book is opened for the first time in a long time, and tables and chairs strategically placed in corners. Perhaps most importantly, when I think of The Library, I think of old books–a few classics in a sea of ancient stuff that I probably haven’t heard of, nor care to read. “The Library” doesn’t make me think of technology, or popular fiction, or NY Times bestsellers; it doesn’t make me think of e-books or audiobooks or graphic novels. In short, I see Barnes & Noble as containing all of the new stuff that I want to buy and read, and the library as a place I would go if I’d like to find a really random old book that I’m supposed to use for a class report.

But is my schema accurate? Are my stereotypes justified? Probably not. I mean, the last time I went to a public library might have been that field trip in elementary school, the one where I was captivated by Animalia and then a kid “leaned against” (or so he claimed) the fire alarm and we all had to stand outside to wait for the fire trucks.

I guess there’s only one way to find out–I’ll have to visit a public library soon and see what I’ve been missing. Who knows–maybe libraries have kept up with the times more than I realize, and maybe my Barnes & Noble dream won’t be too far off the mark.

One thing is certain: if libraries have changed, my schema will have to change, too.

Six-Word Memoirs at SMITH Magazine Online

If you think writing a full-length memoir is difficult, try writing one in only six words!

Six-word memoirs have become somewhat of a craze recently–their surging popularity undoubtedly linked to how much fun they are to try to write. At SMITH magazine online, you can create your own user account for free and add your memoirs to the thousands submitted by other writers/readers. Categories for memoirs include Life, Love, Moms, Teens, Food, America, the Green Life, and there is a special tab for memoirs on Pain and Hope, devoted to the non-profit movement, To Write Love on Her Arms. Every week, SMITH compiles a list of their favorite user-submitted memoirs, so if you write something really clever/powerful/poignant, they might take notice!

If you get hooked by these succinct gems (as I have), you can also buy compendiums in print–and yes, your submissions to SMITH have a chance at being selected for a future book!  

An aside for fiction writers: six-word stories  are a worthy challenge, as well. Write for the pure satisfaction of condensing a beginning, middle, and ending into only six words, or submit your best to Narrative Magazine for a shot at getting your words published. (There’s a small fee to enter, but also monetary compensation if they like what they see!)

So what are you waiting for? Start experimenting today!

Climb Up to the Treehouse: New Book Jacket Summary Added

To read about my creative works-in-progress, or for a list of cool (and kid-friendly) links to author/book series website, visit the Treehouse!

Update Your Summer Reading List With Spells and Secrets

Check out the Children’s/Young Adult Fantasy page of The Bookshelf for a couple of new additions (or ‘editions’! har har). The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas will be especially appreciated by the younger end of the 9-12 spectrum, while The Black Book of Secrets by F. E. Higgins is a darkly satisfying read for older kids, teens, and even discriminating adults! These titles have enriched my summer reading list–entertaining me during my recuperation from two separate neck surgeries–and F. E. Higgins has even earned herself a place on my list of go-to authors.

Next up on my reading list is the (aforementioned) seventh book in the Artemis Fowl series, followed by Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror by Jennifer Boylan. Falcon Quinn may be Jenny Boylan’s first children’s novel, but she is widely known as the bestselling author of the memoirs She’s Not There and I’m Looking Through You, both of which captured my interest with their anecdotes and humor and moved me with their honesty and authenticity. Jenny Boylan resides in my home state of Maine and is an English professor at one of the finest colleges in the country, so I cannot wait to read Falcon Quinn. Stay tuned for these upcoming reviews.

Thanks for reading, as well as for your understanding regarding my lack of research posts this summer. My medical leave will end in September, and then it will be back to the thrilling world of academia for me! So don’t fret–more discussions on the intricacies of the relationship between psychology and creativity will inevitably follow…

Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter: Coming Soon…

…to a bookstore and movie theatre near you! Two exciting releases to look forward to…

 

(1) Eoin Colfer fans are getting ready for The Atlantis Complex, the 7th installment in the popular Artemis Fowl series. It releases on August 3rd, and you can preorder it here: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Artemis-Fowl/Eoin-Colfer/e/9781423128199/?itm=3&USRI=eoin+colfer. (see my Bookshelf page for a little review of the entire action-packed series!)

(2) And, of course, as any lover of children’s fantasy will know, Part I of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be taking cinemas by storm this November. (I, for one, am rereading the entire HP series in preparation :-P)  Visit the official site for the trailer: http://harrypotter.warnerbros.com/harrypotterandthedeathlyhallows/

The Treehouse

Another new page has been added to the site–check out The Treehouse!

The Notebook

This blog revolves around my two passions–creativity and psychology–but, so far the slant has been in psychology’s favor, for most of my posts (with the exception of an occasional quote) have been written from a scientific perspective. It’s therefore important to acknowledge that the relationship between these two spheres can be explored from other perspectives, as well. The psychology of creativity can be embodied, illustrated, depicted, examined–you name it–both by and through creative writing itself.  Fiction can be a mirror of sorts, one that reflects back on itself, on the creative process, and on the minds that engage in creative activities. It can be a picture and a window at the same time.

I’ve wanted to add this new page to my blog for quite some time, and–with spring in the air–it finally feels like the right time to introduce The Notebook.

Check it out to read creative, rather than scientific, entries. You’ll see that the first post is a “short short” story (a form I challenged myself, as a novelist, to experiment with for the first time last autumn) called “The Bridge.”

As always, thanks for reading!

The Association Between Creativity and Psychopathology: Part II

On “Creative Mythconceptions: A Closer Look at the Evidence for the ‘Mad Genius’ Hypothesis” by Schlesinger (2009)

            Most people believe that the link between creativity and mental illness has been scientifically “proven,” but this belief is unfounded, according to Schlesinger (2009), who says that the issue is by no means settled, and may never be settled due to the difficulties of conducting research on the topic. Schlesinger (2009) critically reviews the work of the three biggest names in the field and argues that their “landmark” studies contain serious methodological flaws that have, until now, been overlooked or underemphasized by the scientific community. She states:

Many people—including too many mental health professionals and textbook writers—continue to assume that an invariable connection between great creativity and pathology has already been proven. This conviction draws its primary strength from two sources: (a) the influential claims of psychiatrists Nancy Andreasen and Arnold Ludwig and psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, and (b) the lack of equally strong, visible, and recurring professional statements to the contrary. (p. 62)

            Schlesinger (2009) condemns modern researchers for citing the seminal works of Andreasen (1987), Jamison (1989; 1993), and Ludwig (1995) without critically analyzing their methodologies, and she rather pointedly insinuates that the prominent trio is often cited by researchers who haven’t actually read the original publications. Schlesinger expresses her disappointment that many authors trumpet the words of Andreasen, Jamison, and Ludwig as if their suppositions are verified facts rather than tenuous speculations. She wryly alleges that one text had to borrow a quote from Nietzsche in order to “compensate for its lack of hard data” (p. 63). After relaying the quote—‘One must harbor chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star’—Schlesinger condenses the sentiments of her entire thesis into a single, sarcastic question: “Who needs science when we have such compelling poetry to make the case?” (p. 63).

When the “scientific” evidence of Andreasen, Jamison, and Ludwig is scrutinized, it becomes clear that Schlesinger’s critiques—blunt and facetious though they may be—deserve serious consideration. According to Schlesinger, Andreasen’s famous study began in 1972 but was not published until 1987. After fifteen years of data collection, Andreasen only managed to amass a whopping N of 30 (27 of these were male). All experimental participants were faculty members from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Andreasen herself interviewed them about their own mental health histories as well as the pathologies of their closest relatives. Andreasen’s interview was self-constructed and lacked empirical validation, and her diagnostic criteria were only available for review upon request. Participants in the non-writer control group worked in areas such as law, administration, and social work—professions that Andreasen personally believed did not require high levels of creativity (Schlesinger, 2009).

Despite the clear flaws of this design—questionable validity of measures/constructs, high risk of experimenter bias, small sample size, and low external validity, to name a few—Andreasen’s ‘stunning’ report that 80% of the writers in her study suffered from mood disorders, compared to only 30% of the non-writers, spread quickly and soon became fodder for news stories and media dramatizations (Schlesinger, 2009). While Andreasen later acknowledged a few limitations of her study, she attempted to divert further criticism by reporting that 2 of her 30 writers eventually committed suicide. In Andreasen’s words: ‘the issues of statistical significance pale before the clinical implications of this fact’ (p. 64). Schlesinger, however, seems to think that the myriad of methodological weaknesses and dearth of significant results in Andreasen’s (1987) study have remained the key areas of concern (Schlesinger, 2009).

Similar methodological criticisms apply to the works of Kay Jamison, who has also been a great champion of the link between creativity and psychopathology, specifically focusing on mood disorders. Schlesinger (2009) notes that Jamison’s (1989) study used a small, handpicked sample; there was no control group; and all conclusions were based on self-report data, which was collected during interviews by Jamison, who apparently utilized unofficial diagnostic criteria. Despite these weaknesses, Jamison’s findings were, at first glance, even more remarkable than Andreasen’s: Jamison reported that her creative participants sought treatment for affective illness at a rate 30x greater than that of the general population. However, it does not take long for Schlesinger to add, “The 50% figure for disordered poets is equally astonishing, unless you know that it represents only nine people, news that tends to disappear when the study is quoted—along with the fact that her 12.5% total for depression-medicated visual artists refers to just one person” (Schlesinger, 2009, p. 65). Clearly, sample size was as much of a problem for Jamison as it was for Andreasen.

Schlesinger was not the first to comment upon these deficiencies. In his book, Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes, Albert Rothenberg (1990) states:

Two presumably objective studies by Drs. Kay Jamison and Nancy Andreason
have been consistently discussed in popular as well as professional publications as having proven a connection between affective illness—depression, mania, or both together—and creativity, despite the fact that the first had not been published or reviewed in a scientific journal until quite recently, and the other had a flawed research methodology. The need to believe in a connection between creativity and madness appears to be so strong that affirmations are welcomed and quoted rather uncritically. (p. 150)

            Rothenberg (1990) later asserts that creative eminence is in no way associated with a particular personality type or disposition; rather, he reports that, in his own research, the only trait present in creative individuals across the board was motivation. Still, Rothenberg’s (1990) criticisms did not sway popular opinion, and, four years after Jamison’s initial study, she published a book entitled, Touched with Fire: Manic Depression and the Artistic Temperament, which became, in Schlesinger’s (2009) words, the “proverbial bible” in the creativity and mental illness debate (p. 63). Of course, the majority of evidence in Jamison’s book is anecdotal, and some of the claims are simply educated guesswork. For example, Jamison includes a table entitled ‘Probable Cyclothymia, Major Depression, or Manic-Depressive Illness’ that lists the names of 166 dead writers, artists, and composers, whom Jamison personally “diagnosed.” Never mind that archive-based, retrospective diagnoses should be viewed with caution on principle alone—the lack of a bibliography completely precludes any attempt for readers to assess the validity of Jamison’s sources and diagnostic criteria. Most concerning is that the word ‘Probable’ tends to disappear whenever the list is referenced (Schlesinger, 2009), and thus Touched with Fire only added fuel to a flame that was already spreading too quickly.

Finally, Arnold Ludwig, the author of a (1995) book entitled The Price of Greatness: Resolving the Creativity and Madness Controversy, was heavily influenced by the writings of Jamison, and his support for the link between creativity and mental illness is no less questionable, again due to methodological flaws. Ludwig read the New York Times biographies of 1,004 famous individuals in an attempt to identify psychological commonalities that might have contributed to their achievements. Yet he treated the biographies as if they were objective sources, rather than acknowledging that the biographers must have had their own personal and professional agendas at the time of composition. In addition, he lumped military, scientific, social, and political eminence in the same category as artistic eminence; his evaluations were based upon variables that were largely undefined and subjective (e.g. ‘oddness’); he contradicted himself throughout the text regarding whether or not he actually supported a link between affective disorders and creativity; and, like Jamison, he failed to include a bibliography (Schlesinger, 2009).

Given that Andreasen, Jamison, and Ludwig’s investigations all contained substantial flaws and limitations, Schlesinger concludes that “there is still no clear, convincing, scientific proof that artists do, in fact, suffer more psychological problems than any other vocational group” (p. 69). We should therefore find it troublesome that our culture’s endorsement of the “mad genius” hypothesis has been based almost exclusively on the claims of Andreasen, Jamison, and Ludwig—claims that do not hold up well under scientific scrutiny. These three figures have had an enormous influence on the rest of the field, and this reality must be acknowledged as we evaluate and interpret the findings of more recent publications.

(Search “Psychopathology” at the top of the page to find the other posts in this series!)

References:

Schlesinger, J. (2009). Creative mythconceptions: A closer look at the evidence for the “mad genius” hypothesis. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 3(2), 62-72.

Rothenberg, A. (1990). Creativity and madness: New findings and old stereotypes. Baltimore: The John’s Hopkins University Press.

 

Also see:

Andreasen, N. C. (1987).  Creativity and mental illness: Prevalence rates in writers and their first-degree relatives. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 1288-1292.

Jamison, K. R. (1989). Mood disorders and patterns of creativity in British writers and artists. Psychiatry, 52, 125-134.

Jamison, K. R. (1993). Touched with fire: Manic-depressive illness and the artistic temperament. New York: Free Press.

Ludwig, A. M. (1995). The price of greatness: Resolving the creativity and madness Controversy. New York: The Guilford Press.

A Beautiful Quote, and a New Link

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.”

~Virginia Woolf

 

Also check out the BlogRoll on the sidebar for a link to a great Psychology Today blog, “Science of Small Talk.” It’s written by social psychologist Sam Sommers, and his frequent focus on current events, as well as his humor, make it an interesting and entertaining blog even for non-psychologists.

 

I know I’m due for another research post–work in the psych lab has been keeping me busy lately–so I will definitely be making one in the near future. Check back soon!

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