Strangers to Ourselves Book Summary - Strangers to Ourselves Book explained in key points
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Strangers to Ourselves summary

Rachel Aviv

Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us

3.7 (35 ratings)
19 mins
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    Strangers to Ourselves
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    Many kids are picky eaters. But few refuse to eat altogether.

    Rachel Aviv, the author, was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the remarkably young age of six. During one of her school lunches, she started rejecting food. She got the idea during Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday her family had recently celebrated, which includes fasting. To Rachel, not eating felt powerful and holy. It also gave her a lot of attention from the adults in her life, who were desperately trying to feed her.

    They failed. After two weeks of barely eating, Rachel was sent to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, in Detroit. She was placed in the eating disorders unit. There she met two older girls, Hava and Carrie. Her new friends, almost twice her age, became her mentors in disordered eating.

    Although Rachel didn’t fully understand the competitive thinness that Hava and Carrie strove for, she was drawn to their secret society of starvation. She began imitating their behaviors, such as compulsively exercising and comparing body measurements.  Their fervor now reminds Rachel of medieval Christian women who starved themselves to become closer to God. Hava in particular romanticized their suffering.

    Eventually, the nurses made Rachel’s visitation rights contingent on finishing her meals. After going 12 days without seeing her parents, she finally relented. Reunited with her family, the spell was broken. Within six weeks, Rachel made a full recovery. The illness never returned.

    Looking back, Rachel contemplates how narrowly she avoided a full descent into a lifelong eating disorder. She questions whether she truly had anorexia. Because she was so young, she had limited exposure to cultural messages about thinness. She also didn’t truly grasp the meaning of a psychiatric label like “anorexia.” If she had, how would her life have been different? How does a psychiatric diagnosis change a person’s self-narrative?

    Barely understanding her experience, Rachel narrowly escaped a lifelong affliction. The older Hava wasn’t so lucky. Rachel later learned that she continued to struggle, spending her life in and out of hospitals. She died at just 41, due to a medical emergency likely related to her condition.

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    What is Strangers to Ourselves about?

    Strangers to Ourselves (2022) is a collection of stories exploring new ways of thinking about mental illness. By shedding light on the people behind the diagnoses, it reveals the humanity that connects us all.

    Strangers to Ourselves Review

    Strangers to Ourselves (2015) by Rachel Aviv explores the mysteries of human identity and the unconscious mind. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • It delves into fascinating case studies that uncover the hidden depths of our own minds, challenging our understanding of who we truly are.
    • The book uncovers the complexity of human behavior through in-depth research, interviews, and personal stories, making it a thought-provoking and insightful read.
    • With its compelling narratives and exploration of human psychology, this book will keep you engaged and eager to learn more about yourself and others.

    Who should read Strangers to Ourselves?

    • Those living with or interested in mental health issues
    • People looking for intimate personal stories
    • Anyone who has felt limited by a psychiatric diagnosis

    About the Author

    Rachel Aviv is a writer and author who currently works as a staff writer for the New Yorker. She’s won several awards for her creative nonfiction writing, including a 2020 Whiting Award. Strangers to Ourselves, her first book, was selected as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2022 and was a finalist for the 2023 National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism.

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    Strangers to Ourselves FAQs 

    What is the main message of Strangers to Ourselves?

    The main message of Strangers to Ourselves is that we are often unaware of our own thoughts and actions.

    How long does it take to read Strangers to Ourselves?

    The reading time for Strangers to Ourselves varies, but the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Strangers to Ourselves a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Strangers to Ourselves is a thought-provoking book that sheds light on our unconscious mind. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Strangers to Ourselves?

    The author of Strangers to Ourselves is Rachel Aviv.

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