A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

You finally get the back story on the elusive Sheepman.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 300 pages.
Read from April 20, 2020 to May 5 2020.

You finally get the back story on the elusive Sheepman in this book. Despite being a major focal point throughout the whole Rat series, little was known about him and he made few appearances through the series. The Sheepman even turns up in a book outside of the series in another one of Murakami’s works outside of this series but was published around the same time, The Strange Library, in a connection I have yet to determine.

If you’ve not read Murakami or a book in this series before you may be wondering how the heck a Sheepman fits into any story, even an absurdist reality as this one, well, it does. Strange, yes but that’s what Murakami does best.

Here’s an image of the Sheepman directly from the 1989 version of A Wild Sheep Chase.

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Why a sheep? I honestly couldn’t say but the title of this book is quite literal as the main unnamed male protagonist is blackmailed by a strange man representing a company that threatens him with losing everything if he doesn’t go and find this sheep that is in a photograph he published with his advertising company. The image, which he received from the Rat, his friend that disappeared a few years back and is detailed in the two previous books in this series, Hear the Wind Sing (The Rat #1) and Pinball 1973 (The Rat #2), is somehow tied to all of of this. On his search, much to his surprise, the protagonist finds others along the way who are obsessed with the concept of this Sheepman as well.  In the midst of all of this, the main character is going through the process of a divorce with his wife and meets a call girl with a strange allure. By all appearances she is very average, that is until you get a glimpse of her irresistible ears. While the story of his girlfriend trails off in this novel, it resumes in the fourth and final instalment of his series Dance Dance DanceDoes the protagonist find this Sheepman? And what will happen when he does find him? What will it all mean for him in the end?

Superior to the first two novels of the series, this story was by far more interesting and captivating. I really didn’t care much for the first two books, if I’m honest, but this one reads well and lends itself well to the final instalment of the series as well. I’d say this book is my favourite of the four because as a reader, you’re more connected to the protagonist in this story and you start to see the full spectrum of the story with the Rat the protagonist and the coming of age story that it really becomes. This novel, in a way, is like a peculiar vision quest that the protagonist takes with all the people he meets along the way playing a part in its conclusion and shaping who he becomes.

The Rat series is not one I would recommend a newbie of Murakami to. The first two books are some of the first he ever published and I feel he really comes into his craft a little later. For Murakami lovers, however, I feel that this an essential series to read to really get a feel for Murakami’s writing style and progress. The protagonist feels familiar because many of the other books Murakami write have similar characteristics to the one in this series, whether that’s with age, being a divorcee, and other personality traits and similarities. I feel that this series was likely the first one to establish this character that we, as Murakami readers, have come to love.

Overcoming Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors by Dr Charles S. Mansueto

BFRBs affect 1 in 5 people. That means that someone you know is dealing with a BFRB.

5/5 stars.
ebook, 216 pages.
Read from April 7, 2020 to April 16, 2020

BFRBs affect 1 in 5 people. That means that someone you know is dealing with a BFRB. What is a BFRB you ask? BFRB stands for Body-Focused Repetitive-Behaviours and they include excessive hair pulling (trichotillomania), excessive skin picking (dermatillomania) as well as a bigger spectrum of other repetitive behaviours. If you’ve never heard of these conditions before and your first reaction is reluctance or disgust, I beg you to do some more reading as chances are that someone close to you is hiding their behaviour due to that exact fear and stigma. I can assure you that these conditions are very real and cause very real trauma for those that have to deal with it.

You don’t read a book like this unless you’re looking for help yourself. Over the last few years, I’ve made it no secret about my skin picking disorder and have been actively volunteering with an organization in Canada called the Canadian BFRB Support Network (CBSN) to help others with BFRBs as well as to aide in my own recovery. I also contributed to a book called Project Dermatillomania as well as some blog posts on BFRB Relapses and Dermatillomania Makeup Tips.

Lately, this little demon of mine has started to become a problem for me again and I’ve realized that I’ve been denying that fact. I’ve not talked about it like I used to as I’ve felt too ashamed to deal with it or acknowledge again.. My last breakthrough with dermatillomania was when I opened myself up to the BFRB community and my loved ones. It was lifechanging. I have to see again that trying to hide or acknowledge these issues again is only going to make my shame grow and is not going to help my progress.

So here I am, being as proactive and forward as I can.

Overcoming Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours is the book that BFRBers have been waiting for. When I first began my BFRB journey, skin picking wasn’t even in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Health Disorders and all three of the health professionals I spoke to didn’t have a clue about my condition (though they were still pretty helpful). BFRB awareness has come a long way and its thanks to organizations like CBSN and The TLC Foundation for BFRBs for their constant work and dedication. The author of this book as well as the contributors are health professionals and researchers that have worked closely with the TLC Foundation to help learn more about BFRBs and come up with an effective program to help combat and deal with them.

This book talks about the specifics of BFRBs, what makes them different from just a bad habit, what they do to our brains, thought processes and feelings, and how we can try and rewire our patterns of behaviour. The method that Dr Mansueto and his team have found to be effective in working with many people with BFRBs through the TLC Foundation is called the Comprehensive Behavioral Model (ComB), which combines aspects of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Habit Reversal Therapy (HRT).

What makes this book exceptional is that it gives you all the tools you need to tackle your BFRB on your own. Worksheets are provided using a SCAMP model (Sensory, Cognitive, Affective, Motor, Place) to help you determine your very own pattern of behaviour when it comes to your BFRB. The book then gives you to the tools to create an action plan for all the different aspects that you’ve identified where you engage in your BFRB so that you have real tools to support you no matter how intense your urge. While I’ve always advocated for ‘habit tracking’ and have had great success with it before from Annette Pasternak’s book Skin Picking: The Freedom to Finally Stop, this particular book is so much more robust as it identifies just how rooted our BFRB behaviours are.

I’ve restarted the process of tracking my behaviour and I look forward to creating some action plans to help get me back on track. The thing with BFRBs that there is no easy fix. If you have a BFRB like I do, you’ve probably got years of practising your BFRB so it’s going to take a lot of dedication and hard work to break free from your BFRB,  but if you’re willing to put in the work you will see results with this book.

This book is now my top recommendation to anyone that is battling a BFRB. It’s concise, reassuring, easy-to-follow, supportive, progressive, with feasible accomplishments that you can track if you put the work in. If you’re fed up and ready to tackle your BFRB head-on, waste no time and pick up this book as soon as possible.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs by Caitlin Doughty

“It’s normal to be curious about death. But as people grow up, they internalize this idea that wondering about death is “morbid” or “weird.” They grow scared, and criticize other people’s interest in the topic to keep from having to confront death themselves.”

4/5 stars.
ebook,  240 pages.
Read from April 13, 2020 to April 18, 2020.

Anyone else struggling to get reading done during this virus? For whatever reason I find I read more when I’m on the move and busy. I read on the bus and on my lunch but when I’m stuck at home I’m distracted by many other things to fill my time. Obviously, I’m still reading but clearly, it’s not been at the same volume. I might have to adjust my reading goal this year…

I had been on the waiting list for this book for a long time at the library after a recommendation from a friend, which speaks to this book’s popularity. While I’m currently in mourning myself, this lighthearted and graphic book on corpses and dying might seem inappropriate for me but I figured since so many aspects of death are already on my mind, may as well make it somewhat enjoyable if I can.

This isn’t Caitlin Doughty’s first successful novel and she is also a successful mortician and funeral homeowner in LA. After getting a lot of interesting questions over the years, mostly from inquiring young minds, Caitlyn decided to write all these curious questions and answers in a book. The tone of the book is a mixture of intrigue with blatant corpse humour along with cute skeleton cartoons that weave between the chapters. Caitlyn doesn’t spare any details when it comes to the science and decay of dead bodies.  From straight forward questions such as, why we turn colours when we die? To more macabre questions such as why we as species don’t participate in cannibalism? My personal favourite questions, however, including wanting to know if you can have a Viking-style funeral, and what would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before death and were then cremated.

“We can’t make death fun, but we can make learning about it fun. Death is science and history, art and literature. It bridges every culture and unites the whole of humanity!”

Death is universal. Well, with our current technological advances it is anyway. Maybe one day we’ll overcome it? Whether or not that’s a good idea or not is a whole other ethical debate. Despite death being something we all share, our modern society has no death culture and little support for the grieving. Grieving is something that people are expected to keep private and get over as soon as possible. Grief makes people uncomfortable, sometimes even for the person experiencing it. Why are we so uncomfortable with death? Probably because it terrifies us and we don’t know a lot about the process. It’s books like this one that help turn fear into intrigue and acceptance. Death is awful. No one wants to experience it, yet we all will. Knowing about the death process and what goes on at funeral homes once the bodies of our loved ones get there is a way to ease the pain of their loss.

Caitlin’s writing is scientific, yet approachable. She makes it comfortable to read grisly topics that would make other people squeamish and despite death being a grim affair, she somehow manages to make you laugh at the same time. I mean, someone who can make a Justin Timberlake and a dead body reference in the same sentence has some serious talent.

“I’m bringing body back. Returning corpses, but they’re not intact.”

*Kids, this is a Justin Timberlake reference. You’re fine not knowing who that is.

This book was just what I needed. An easy, interesting read on death. It’s the perfect book to pick up during this COVID-19 crisis too, especially if you’re in lockdown. This book will help alleviate anxieties during this stressful time. I’ll definitely add Caitlin’s other book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, to my reading pile. I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a curious and lighthearted read, even if you’re slightly squeamish.