Monday, December 13, 2004
-book review-
This is a stop on your Virtual Book Tour. Your tour travel agent is Kevin Smokler.

Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood
by Jennifer Traig

Short review:
People. This is a very good book. Charming, enjoyable and very well written. And you know I’m picky.

Long review:
Patrons at our library are always asking us for book recommendations. This can be tricky, as the patron does not usually have the same taste as the library employee. Occasionally I get a patron who has my same taste in books, and I attack them with recommendations, bidden or not. It’s so fun to be a biblio-evangelist that I shower them with ideas, handwriting lists for them on scratch paper, using those tiny yellow library/golf pencils.

The great thing about Devil in the Details is that this book is not only recommendable to people who have my same taste, but recommendable to a wide range of random readers as well. This potential wide appeal could make it a perfect holiday gift for those wild cards we need to buy for this year. The cover is spiffy and sucks you in, but once you’re in you discover that it’s more intelligent and deep than you expected. A one-two punch!

The one-two punch threw me at first, in fact. The book is primarily about Traig's struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) throughout her youth. Having had my own mental health problems (depression), I was a little nervous about how the book was being marketed; as lite, fun fair. Meanwhile, the pain of Traig’s childhood is apparent from page one. Well: I don’t know how she does it, but she manages to weave together the pain and the humor of the experience, making for a delightful, but never fluffy, read. Magic!

As I was reading I was thinking: how is she doing this? This is educational, empathetic, and totally hilarious. She’s been sprinkled with the magic David Sedaris dust (and similarly hiLARious parents). We laugh at her sufferings, we laugh at our own sufferings, et voila, we feel better, lighter. See? Magic. At first I was alarmed by my glee at the retelling of her worst OCD moments. She was clearly in a lot of pain. But as Traig points out,
“Obsessive-compulsives make great party guests. With our droll little quirks, we provide plenty of conversation material, and we’re sure to help clean up afterward. In fact, we’ll probably start washing the glassware halfway through the first round and may return three hours after the party has ended to bleach down the floors. Except for the tedium, the time commitment, and the incessant badgering, we’re a riot.”

Another great quote from Devil in the Details:
“OCD sufferers are like hamsters on treadmills, all industrious activity with nothing to show for it. If we were compelled to turn windmills or crank generators rather than alphabetize the canned goods, we could solve the energy crisis.”

The book is kind of a meditation on human strangeness. You start noticing how weird we are, and feeling a kinship with Traig and her “secret club” of OCD sufferers. She writes about her compulsive episodes so winningly and rationally that you start to feel that all humans are on a continuum of OCD-ness. Most of us just happen to be at the mildly neurotic or harmless-but-quite-weird end of the continuum.

For instance, I’m reading her book and writing this review on a Saturday afternoon. I start wondering about the fact that I am clothed only a t-shirt and my brand-new walking shoes. There was, at some point, a logical explanation for why I am clothed in a sort of toddleresque way. But now I’m reading Traig’s book and going: huh, interesting. What a weird bunch of synaptic misfires our every-day behaviors are! How delightfully bizarre. Maybe library school isn’t right for me. Sociology? Anthropology? Zoology?

The book also deals, at length, with the author’s dual religious background. The combination of Catholic and Jew is interesting, and plays out dramatically differently in the two parents and the two daughters. I found the ruminations on family and religious practice intriguing, as a daughter who was raised extremely atheist, but whose mother is now, bafflingly, a minister.

Devil in the Details is already a hit; our library hasn’t been able to keep our copy on the shelf since we bought it. There’s a waiting list to check it out! (the waiters should just buy it, it’s worth the green.)
Traig lives in the Bay Area, has written books about making crafty stuff, and indeed makes her cat homemade toys. We like her! Wait, she has a PhD in literature, makes crafts, and is a cat lady? How is it that we’re not friends already? I collect those kinds of chicks.

Ok, off I go to put on some pants.

[There's a bunch more stops on the Virtual Book Tour, listed here.]

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The views expressed here are my own and do not represent in any way my employer. Or my school. Or even my friends. And heaven knows the views here aren't representative of my family. Ha! This is a personal blog and it only represents me. And on some days, even that is questionable. So there.

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