Today Kim is bringing you a video review of the coffee table book Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals with photography by Christopher J.Payne and an essay by Oliver Sacks.
Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals
Photographer: Christopher J. Payne
Published: September 4, 2009
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
For more than half the nation’s history, vast mental hospitals were a prominent feature of the American landscape. From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth, over 250 institutions for the insane were built throughout the United States; by 1948, they housed more than a half million patients.
The blueprint for these hospitals was set by Pennsylvania hospital superintendent Thomas Story Kirkbride: a central administration building flanked symmetrically by pavilions and surrounded by lavish grounds with pastoral vistas.
Kirkbride and others believed that well-designed buildings and grounds, a peaceful environment, a regimen of fresh air, and places for work, exercise, and cultural activities would heal mental illness. But in the second half of the twentieth century, after the introduction of psychotropic drugs and policy shifts toward community-based care, patient populations declined dramatically, leaving many of these beautiful, massive buildings–and the patients who lived in them–neglected and abandoned.
Architect and photographer Christopher Payne spent six years documenting the decay of state mental hospitals like these, visiting seventy institutions in thirty states. Through his lens we see splendid, palatial exteriors (some designed by such prominent architects as H. H. Richardson and Samuel Sloan) and crumbling interiors–chairs stacked against walls with peeling paint in a grand hallway; brightly colored toothbrushes still hanging on a rack; stacks of suitcases, never packed for the trip home.
Accompanying Payne’s striking and powerful photographs is an essay by Oliver Sacks (who described his own experience working at a state mental hospital in his book Awakenings). Sacks pays tribute to Payne’s photographs and to the lives once lived in these places, “where one could be both mad and safe.”
Kim’s Video Review:
Author: J. Albert Mann
Published: March 17, 2020
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded is not a happy place. The young women who are already there certainly don’t think so. Not Maxine, who is doing everything she can to protect her younger sister Rose in an institution where vicious attendants and bullying older girls treat them as the morons, imbeciles, and idiots the doctors have deemed them to be. Not Alice, either, who was left there when her brother couldn’t bring himself to support a sister with a club foot. And not London, who has just been dragged there from the best foster situation she’s ever had, thanks to one unexpected, life-altering moment. Each girl is determined to change her fate, no matter what it takes.
The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded. I mean, is anyone surprised? Plus, this cover speaks to my soul. I found it randomly browsing at Books-a-Million, plus Ivan dragged me on a weekend fishing trip out in the humidity; I’m pretty sure I deserved it . . . so I bought it.
I liked how Mann stayed focused on the characters. I was also very impressed by her handle on the thinking of each girl, especially Rose, who has Down Syndrome. The simple fact is that back during that time, when society didn’t know what to do with someone, they sent them to an asylum. We’ve had this conversation before and y’all know that I very much support bringing back long term mental health facilities on a national scale. However, this school is not the way to do it. It echoes Ten Days in a Mad House by Nellie Bly. Doctors seemed to have made stuff up as they went along. While it was the reality, and in many ways it was understandable, these girls refused to accept reality. I liked how they didn’t give up on their dreams of a regular life. They clung to each other and seemed to consciously rise above their diagnoses. That kind of spirit is encouraging and uplifting.
It didn’t end like I expected, but I actually liked the ending. I absolutely recommend this to those who like an emotional read and I would absolutely give this book to older teens. I think they could learn a lot from it.
Author: Alyssa Sheinmel
Published: February 5, 2019
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
Only when she’s locked away does the truth begin to escape…
Four walls. One window. No way to escape. Hannah knows there’s been a mistake. She didn’t need to be institutionalized. What happened to her roommate at her summer program was an accident. As soon as the doctors and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can go home to start her senior year. In the meantime, she is going to use her persuasive skills to get the staff on her side.
Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own baggage. And she may be the only person who can get Hannah to confront the dangerous games and secrets that landed her in confinement in the first place.
I’ll be completely honest, I bought this book for the psych institution. Y’all know I’m a sucker for those! So I got it and I read it on the long flight from Charlotte to Heathrow and it was totally worth it! This book is fascinating! I was expecting a creepy hospital, maybe some ghosts or experimentations. But it was pretty exclusively within Hannah’s little room.
At first, I thought I was going to be disappointed, but I wasn’t. Watching Hannah struggle with her own sanity, in the guise of conflict with her doctor . . . Wow! And I admit that I’m a shallow person and I was expecting it all to fly over my head, but it didn’t! Just when I thought I had it all figured out, something would surprise me. Sadly, here’s another review where I can’t say much. This book isn’t action-packed; it’s far more contemplative. But I really liked it and I absolutely recommend it for people who like thinking books. I’d save it for older teens, just due to some mature stuff. An excellent book and everyone should read it!!