Book Reviews

Best Bipolar Memoirs

I’m going to rank all the bipolar memoirs I have read with commentary about each one as I go. In the title I will rate the book 1-5 on how clearly it describes being bipolar. I will continuously update this list with each new memoir I read.

7. Mad Like Me: Travels in Bipolar Country (3)

Mad Like Me is a self-published memoir by Merryl Hammond, PhD. It is dead last on my list because of how poorly written it is. Dr. Hammond feels the necessity to needlessly tells us the date when every single event happens in her life. It doesn’t matter. It’s filled with trite statements such as “Ha! Famous last words.” Worse still, Hammond experiences multiple hospitalizations and actually makes fun of the other in-patients she meets in there. Waste of money is just the start with this book.

6. The Other Side of Me: Memoir of a Bipolar Mind (1)

Another self-published memoir, The Other Side of Me tells the story of Julie Kraft’s struggle with bipolar II disorder. This memoir is a fast read with an enjoyable writing style, and Kraft’s life is a pleasant one to hope into for a moment. That said, however, Kraft writes without purpose. Her stories are short and without clear relevance to her disorder. The reader doesn’t walk away from her story better off for reading it.

5. Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life (4)

Melody Moezzi is an award-winning, Iranian-American author who wrote Haldol and Hyacinths to capture her struggle with bipolar disorder with an emphasis on its expression in a different culture. Moezzi writes from the persective of a non-white, Muslim, Iranian-American perspective. That said, the author adds little to the cross-cultural dialogue she espouses to make. Indeed, it’s actually distracting at times.

4. Manic: A Memoir (3)

Terri Cheney is one of the most gifted writers I’ve ever read. Her prose is beautiful, elegant, and oh so eloquent. Cheney writes a nonlinear story with each chapter representing a different episode in her life. Her entire story is set before she is diagnosed bipolar. We see her struggle with “depression” and go through antidepressants until she undergoes electroconvulsive therapy. But it only makes her more manic and the depressions worse. I gave Cheney a 3 because she doesn’t describe her struggle finding the right medication once she is diagnosed bipolar. Despite being the most well-written memoir of all, I have ranked it this low because its historical accuracy is questionable. Cheney doesn’t even argue its accurate. She just says, “This book represents what I remember. This book is my truth.”

3. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (5)

This choice is probably going to get me a lot of boo’s and rotten tomatoes thrown at me, but my position still stands. Kay Redfield Jamison is a professor of psychiatry specializing in bipolar disorder. She literally wrote the book on it. Her memoir An Unquiet Mind was groundbreaking because revealing you had a mental illness was virtually unheard of during her time. The stigma was just too great. Jamison’s book is the paragon of bipolar memoirs. Others strive to be half as good. It’s well-written, insightful, and most of all, inspiring. Why then rate it so low? Simple: at the end of her book, Jamison asks herself if she could choose to be bipolar or not, would she choose to be? Then she said yes, she would still choose to be bipolar. I can’t accept such an answer. People commit suicide every day because of their bipolar illness, and here she is saying she would stay bipolar. Not acceptable.

2. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo + Me (5)

Marbles sets itself apart from the other memoirs on this list because it is a graphic novel. Ellen Forney uses her illustrations to bring to life her experiences, and this gives us a more in-depth look into her symptoms and her struggle. It breaks down into user friendly packages such complex ideas as what is mania, finding the right drugs, or the inner workings of her mind. Forney gives a rich discussion on her communication with her psychiatrist and her search for the right medication across four years and many failed attempts. Marbles is my far the most user-friendly memoir on this list.

1. Madness: A Bipolar Life (5)

I hate Marya Hornbacher’s writing style with an intense passion. She is like a cheap knockoff of Hemingway. I don’t markdown Madness for this, however, because Hornbacher was nominated for the Plitzer Prize, which means someone likes her terrible writing style. I have chosen Madness as my number one because Hornbacher really takes us inside what it means to struggle with bipolar disorder. We have an inside look at what it means to struggle with mania and depression, rapid cycling, trying to find the right drug, treatment-resistant responses, hospitalizations, substance abuse, having a spouse struggle with you, and so much more. Hornbacher shows the “dirty” side of struggling with bipolar disorder, and I respect her for it.

By Bryce R. Hostetler

An author and college graduate, Bryce didn't let his bipolar disorder keep him down. He enjoys lifting weights and running to stay active. He tries to read every day and at least a book a month. He's writing out of the United States in a small state called Arkansas.

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