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Literary Minds Online Book Club No. 3: Memoir of OCD Sufferer; Friends, Life, Death and Other Matters

Third time’s a charm for A News Cafe’s May Literary Minds Online Book Club. And with two e-book clubs under our belts, this session will be a real winner, for a couple of reasons.

First, we’ll have more time to read the books, second, we’ll have multiple options regarding getting the books, and last – this is my favorite part – we are doing a hybrid e-book club, because in addition to our terrific interactive online discussions, we will also hold in-person, real live discussions at YAKS so we can see each other and drink coffee and eat treats (and talk about the books … of course).

This photo was taken for our first Literary Minds Online Book Club. We have new books, and new perks for this third session.

All this excitement is because A News Café has once again partnered with the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency and the Community Education Committee to host the Literary Minds Online Book Club in honor of Mental Health Month in May.

Why a whole month for mental health? Consider the fact that one in four people struggle with mental health challenges. These people include our friends, family, neighbors – and selves.

Too often people are discouraged from seeking mental health help.

This online book club is one of several community events designed to break down barriers and build understanding about the complexity of our mental health. We hope these books will entertain, educate and inspire you.

Participation in the online book club is easy. First, you can find the books at the Redding Library (check our special display upstairs) or at Barnes and Noble. And in response to your requests after last year’s book club, this year’s selections are also available in e-book.

In a few weeks, I’ll start the dialogue about our first book, “Nowhere Near Normal,” and I’ll invite you to share your thoughts. After that, we’ll move on to our second book selection, “We’ve added a new opportunity this year – on May 31, you are invited to join me and the rest of the Literary Minds Online Book Clubbers at 7 p.m. at YAKS on Bechelli Lane to enjoy some refreshments and talk about “A Long Way Down” in person.

Here’s more about the books and get-togethers (book info generously lifted from online information and book jackets):

May 17: Online discussion of “Nowhere Near Normal: A Memoir of OCD” – by Traci Foust. Traci Foust wasn’t a “normal” 7-year-old girl. When all the neighborhood kids were playing outdoors, Traci was inside making sure the miniature Catholic saint statues in her windowsill always pointed due north, scratching out bald patches on her scalp, and snapping her fingers after every utterance of the word God.

As Traci got older, her OCD blossomed to include panic attacks and other bizarre behaviors, including a fear of the sun, an obsession with contracting eradicated diseases,  and the idea that she could catch herself on fire just by thinking about it.

While stints of therapy—and lots of Nyquil—sometimes helped, nothing alleviated the fact that her single mother and mid-life crisis father had no idea about how to deal with her. So, it wasn’t a total shock when she became a teenage runaway on the poetry slam beat in the hippie beach towns of Northern California and had to be dragged home by her family.

It also wasn’t too surprising when her mother could no longer stand the stress of having Traci under her roof, so Traci had a stint of living at a family-owned nursing home, in a room with a 75-year-old WWII Vet who kept mistaking her for a prostitute. In this heartfelt, funny and candid account of her struggles with a variety of psychological disorders, Traci shows that there is nothing special about being “normal.”

May 31: Online discussion of “A Long Way Down” – by Nick Hornby, then a 7 p.m. get-together at YAKS on Bechelli Lane in Redding to talk about the book in person.

New Year’s Eve at Toppers House is North London’s most popular suicide spot. And four strangers are about to discover that doing away with yourself isn’t quite the private act they’d each expected.

Perma-tanned Martin Sharp’s a disgraced breakfast TV presenter who had it all but lost it. Killing himself is Martin’s ‘reasonable and appropriate response’ to an unlivable life. Maureen has to do it tonight, because of her son Matty being in the home. He was never able to do any of the normal things kids do – like walk or talk – and dutiful Catholic Maureen can’t cope any more. Half-crazed with heartbreak, loneliness, and adolescent angst, Jess’s ready to jump.

Lastly, there’s JJ – tall, cool, looks like a rock-star – who’s weighed down with a heap of problems and pizza. Four strangers, who moments before were all convinced that they were alone and going to end it all that way, sit down together, share the pizza and begin to talk. Funny, sad and wonderfully humane, A Long Way Down is a novel that asks some of the big questions: about life and death, strangers and friendship, love and pain, and whether a slice of pizza can really see you through a long, dark night of the soul.

I’m excited about reading both of these books so we can start the conversations online, and then meet in person later this month for our first live Literary Minds Online Book Club meeting. Please join me. On your marks, get set, read.

I think it’s going to be good.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.