Saturday, December 15, 2012

Weekly Book/Movie Round-Up/Links/Reflections on Connecticut Tragedy

I got up very late Friday, because I'd been laid out with the flu, and spent time online, visiting blogs and chatting about books and movies while avoiding work. I'd skipped the news altogether, so it wasn't until I logged onto Facebook around 2:30 that I learned about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. My reaction was similar to most peoples' -- I guess -- I felt like I'd been kicked in the ribs.

I thought about the Columbine shootings, almost 13 years ago. My two oldest children were very small -- one was just a baby. I'd spent years working with troubled teens, as a substance abuse counselor and prevention specialist. I was well aware that high schools were full of angry, troubled kids and violence was a very real problem in schools. But the idea that kids were dying as a direct result of school violence? That was mind-boggling.

Since then, there have been about 30 other school shootings in the U.S., but yesterday seemed equally incomprehensible. I don't remember any other incident in which a killer deliberately opened fire on a group of small children.

Today I read about speculation that the young man responsible for the killings (practically a child himself) may have Asperger's Syndrome and OCD, as well as an unspecified personality disorder. Since I have a kid with Asperger's and severe OCD, this caught my attention. Speculation that deranged killers are on the autism spectrum has become commonplace. It was raised in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting and after the recent tragedy in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. I supposed I shouldn't be surprised. When we talk about school shooters, and other random killers, we're talking about a group of people who tend to be loners, a description that also fits most people on the autism spectrum. But is this connection accurate? Is it relevant? Does it matter?

The autism community doesn't need to bear this burden. Having autism or Asperger's often contributes to isolation, which triggers depression, anxiety and sometimes aggression. But this is a group of folks who are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. By the way, this is also true of individuals who are mentally ill. People seen as "different" are typically targets of bullying, particularly in schools, with kids identified as LGBT or on the autism spectrum often bearing the brunt.

In the wake of a tragedy like this, all of us -- even those of us not directly affected -- are eager for some kind of answers. I am no exception. I find myself browsing the internet, looking for scraps of insight -- even speculation -- about the perpetrator. What kind of kid turns a gun against his classmates? What creates the kind of human being who murders random movie theater patrons? Who could open fire on small children?

It's innate human nature to want to make sense of things. We take hollow comfort in any sort of pat explanation or possible diagnosis. There's a part of me that sort of hopes the perpetrator was the victim of severe childhood abuse. Something I can wrap my head around ... something that makes sense. Maybe this gives us the reassuring sense that children from "normal" families -- our children -- will not become criminally violent.

Clearly I have no words of wisdom -- I'm just rambling. I can barely bring myself to think about the families of yesterday's victims. As people scramble to make sense of these events, in the days ahead, we'll see folks rounding up the usual suspects: lax gun control laws, "bad" parenting, and violent video games, movies, and T.V. We'll be side-tracked by all sorts of fierce debates about everything from the second amendment to whether our kids will go off the rails if we allow them to play Grand Theft Auto and watch Pulp Fiction.

I truly hope that time will be set aside to discuss the real underlying issues. I don't claim to understand all of them or to know how to solve them. But talking about our badly broken mental health system, here in the U.S., would be a good place to start. Ask any parent who's tried to get meaningful help for a troubled child or a kid with complicated psychological or developmental needs. That parent will have an infuriating story to tell. Trust me on this.

On to the round-up. In the midst of being sick and stuff, we haven't posted any reviews this week. Since I'm so far behind, I will probably publish mini-reviews of my recent books and movies soon.

I did publish one post:

It's a Strange, Strange World/Quick Update on My Life/Thoughts About Grieving -- I was overwhelmed by all the kind, thoughtful comments I received on that post. I'm thinking about writing a post on excellent books and/or films that deal with the subject of grief, and commenters left me loads of great recommendations. Thanks, everybody! All your comments on this post meant a lot to me. ;-)

This Week:

Read: A Brief Lunacy by Cynthia Thayer (3.5/5 stars)
Jessie and Carl have made a terrible mistake. They should have been more careful. When Jonah came to their cabin in the Maine woods, asking to use the phone, they should never have let him in. But he told them his campsite had been robbed and he was stranded with no money and no gear. Jessie took pity on him. She was thinking about her own missing daughter, Sylvie, and hoping she was receiving the same kindness--wherever she was.
So, they invite him in, share their dinner with him, offer him a bed for the night. And they discover that this stranger at their table knows all about them. About Sylvie, their troubled daughter; about the secrets they haven't revealed to each other during forty years of marriage. By morning, they realize the young man has no intention of leaving.
Jessie and Carl are now captives in their own home.


Started Reading: Flesh by Khanh Ha
The setting is Tonkin (northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. A boy, Tai, witnesses the beheading of his father, a notorious bandit, and sets out to recover his head and then to find the man who betrayed his father to the authorities. On this quest, Tai's entire world will shift.

Movies I Watched:

Lovely and very real, but not big on plot.
Strangers in Good Company (4/5 stars)

Are we being invaded by zombies, or are those dudes just stoned?

Shaun of the Dead (4/5 stars) -- I rewatched this, for the zillionth time, with my teens. :-) Yup, it's still hilarious.

Hilarious, believable dialogue.
Newlyweds (4/5 stars) --recommended by Alex at And So It Begins

That's one character who's hard not to bitch-slap.
Young Adult (3.5/5 stars) -- I read two great reviews of this movie from bloggers who got more out of it than I did: A Random Film Buff and KL5 Film

A unique sort of thriller.
Hanna (4/5 stars) 

The dark side of adolescent boys. Keep your daughters at home.
Almost Kings (2.5/5 stars)


Dollhouse -- In addition to rewatching all the Doctor Who episodes from the Matt Smith era, this is my current T.V. addiction. We've only seen the first few episodes. So far, the dialogue isn't as good as I'd expect from Joss Whedon, but the story is interesting and addictive.

Some Posts I've Enjoyed:

Jessica at the Velvet Cafe wrote a lovely review of a movie I'm really looking forward to: "Amour is as unsentimental as it is heartbreaking  --
Have you ever been close to illness and death? I mean, really close, so close that you grew ten years older over a night? Have you ever seen someone near you fading away from you physically and mentally, standing helplessly at their side, unable to do anything more than just being there, not running away in fear? Do you think about your own upcoming death and how your life will look when you’re in your 80s and you’ll hear the countdown watch louder and clearer day by day?
Alex at And So It Begins also wrote a wonderful review of Amour

David at Taste of Cinema wrote about 10 Classic Romances of the '80s You Should Watch Again. Nice! :-)

How many times did I see An Officer and a Gentleman with my high school best friend? Damn! We had such a crush on Richard Gere.

m.brown wrote a priceless review for Antichrist by Lars van Trier. Since I would rather have a sharp stick in my eye than watch this film, I appreciated getting the gist of it, in a relatively painless way, in his usual hilarious style.

Theresa at Red Oak Road blogged about art appreciation books to share with your kids

Nostra at My Filmviews posted some hilarious cinematic captions for The Hobbit

And finally ... parents, don't miss Books for Curious Children -- Part One and Part Two -- at The Estella Society

Linking To:

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.



  1. I was reading an article that was basically a series of interviews with the shooter's high school classmates, and they all pointed out how he was "weird" and didn't really socialise and etc. Then someone on Twitter was saying we need to do a better job of IDing and treating mentally ill people who may potentially do things like this, *even if the treatment has to be involuntary*, and my brain just started running all sorts of nightmarish scenarios where anyone who's perceived as different or doesn't fit the mould it shipped off to a mental hospital. Obviously I'm COMPLETELY in favour of the provision of better mental health care, but anyone who thinks there's a simply formula we can use to identify who might do something like this is completely wrong. Thank you for this post.

    1. I absolutely agree, Ana! Sadly, at a time like this when emotions are running high in the U.S., there isn't a lot of nuanced thinking. People seem to want simple formulas or clear answers of some kind.

      Trying to force mental illness diagnoses and treatment on kids -- or on anyone -- is clearly not in line with respect for human dignity and a slippery slope. And then you get into the whole issue of kids who are "weird," or "different," and "don't socialize" because they're on the autism spectrum (or maybe they're just a bit "different"). Autism and Asperger's aren't illnesses -- they're just different ways of being -- and these individuals may or may not need or benefit from special help.

      Based on my limited perspective, both as a counselor who was once in the position of identifying and diagnosing troubled students and as the parent of a kid with Asperger's and severe OCD, I think the answer starts with increased opportunities for proper evaluation and better outreach and counseling for potential clients and parents/family members. Along with GREATLY increased availability of and access to services for people who need and want it.

      O.K., I'm stopping to take a breath now. Obviously, this is a huge "hot button" issue for me.

  2. I didn't know there was a shooting in your country, been so busy with work.
    I like reading this post as I don't know much about the cause that led to this kinda of school shooting.

    as a teacher, I feel concern. I can't help thinking that I am lucky to a teacher in my country as shooting has never happened and suicide is a rare thing.

    Hope you get rid the flu soon.

    1. Thanks, Novroz! Sadly, it's impossible to keep up with all the news of violence throughout the world. :-) I am encouraged to hear that suicide is rare in Indonesia. I wish the same were true in the U.S.

  3. Haha Shaun of the Dead will forever remain hilarious!

  4. I didn't write about the CT shootings because nothing I say can really add to the discussion or would make sense because it is a senseless act. But I appreciate your thoughts (as rambling as they may be). You make some good points and I hope this doesn't become some kind of "witch hunt" for people who are seeking help with mental illness. Like you said, it is an uphill battle and you are kind of on your own and that is reprehensible.

    I didn't take to Young Adult either. I didn't even bother finishing it.

    1. I did like Young Adult, but it didn't rock my world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jenners. :-)

  5. A Brief Lunacy sounds good, though it may be too close to horror for my liking (I love a good thriller, but I'm a wimp who gets nightmares).

    Girl Who Reads

    1. This book wasn't terribly scary, though there were several disturbing parts. Thanks for visiting. :-)

  6. Glad you're digging into Edward Burns' work. Missed those captions from The Hobbit, so thanks for that laugh! :)

    1. You're welcome. :-) And this was only my second Burns film, and I enjoyed it much more than The Brothers McMullen.

  7. I really enjoyed Dollhouse. I think they cancelled it just as it was hitting its stride.

    This tragedy is bringing out a lot of things in a lot of people. We are looking for answers, trying to figure out how a man could murder little children like that. Because we can't rationally fathom anyone doing such a thing, we feel like there must be something else going on. Obviously, violence is not limited to those with who are on the spectrum or suffering from a disorder. This is such a multi-faceted issue. I can only hope we give attention to all of the pieces instead of sticking a little band-aid on a huge wound.

    1. Thanks Lindsey, and I agree with your thoughts on this issue. I'm glad to run into another Dollhouse fan. :-) I've been a big fan of Joss Whedon since watching Firefly and Serenity. To me, Dollhouse doesn't give Firefly a run for its money, but it's a very imaginative and enjoyable show.

  8. It's a tragic, heart breaking situation and it's human nature to want to know how something like this can happen, why, to understand. Healing from trauma and grief is less complicated when you can make sense of it. It's sad though that senseless violence is so often attributed to mental illness. The only thing we do know for sure is that we need far better mental health assessment and care. Sadly the hospital system in both the US and Australia are woefully inadequate!

    Anyway enjoy your reads and movies this week :)

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sheree. Well said!

  9. Thanks for posting your thoughts. I always enjoy hearing your perspective. It's all been playing on a non-stop loop in my mind that I can't seem to stop. So awful.

    1. (((Hugs))) I know what you mean.

  10. What happened is so heart-breakingly devastating. There really are no words. I agree with what you've said here though. I hope this tragedy wakes us up to the need for better and more available mental health resources. I admit I haven't paid much attention to the news surrounding the shooting. It's too painful right now and I would rather focus on my daughter. I can't even imagine what those directly impacted are going through.

    As for movies and TV, my friend keeps saying I need to see Shaun of the Dead. Maybe one of these days. :-) I really liked Dollhouse, but agree with you. It wasn't quite as good as some of Joss Whedon's other work.

    1. I've stopped paying attention to the news surrounding the shooting too. It seems senseless to continue to dwell on it. Focusing on your daughter seems like exactly the right thing to do at a time like this. :-)

      If you enjoy horror-comedy and don't mind some gore, Shaun of the Dead is a good choice. At first I found it a bit too campy, but it really grew on me. I'm glad you're a Joss Whedon fan!

  11. Thanks so much for the Amour link! And you have no idea how happy it makes me that you liked Newlyweds!

    1. You're welcome. I seem to link to your blog posts a lot! ;-) Thanks for being so awesome.

  12. I caught the news about Friday's shooting when it was breaking news, and while my coworkers were joking, I was horrified. I couldn't stop checking the wires for the latest updates. By the time I left work, I was a frantic mess, wanting nothing more than getting home to my kids and never letting them go again. I agree that this is not about gun control or parenting but rather one man's desperate cry for help and the need for more mental health resources. It sounds like the CT police and the Feds were being very careful in the fact-gathering, so I can only pray that their findings will show the same.

    1. Agreed! Thanks for your very thoughtful comment.


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