Monday, November 14, 2011


David Foster Wallace so loves the DSM that I decided I needed to break down and get a copy. Thanks to the wonders of Amazon’s used book sales, this is easily done. The DSM (in case you’re not a reference book fetishist) is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition). If you are going to be diagnosed with some form of mental or emotional malady in the Western world, it’s described herein. Because many of these terms and diagnoses are tossed around willy-nilly in the modern post-therapy world, we’re quite familiar as a culture with depression, PTSD, bipolarity, and various forms of addiction and dependence. For these well known disorders, its fascinating to read clinical descriptions of what the terms really mean. (Turns out we use them pretty haphazardly in everyday life.) And then there are all of the other more arcane disorders, from Pica (eating dirt and other inappropriate things) to paraphilia (sexual compulsions associated with some atypical objects.)

I’ll admit that I’ve not finished reading the entire book. It’s about a thousand pages of reference, frequently cross-referenced against diagnostic code lists, and other similar disorders. But for all that, it is a surprisingly readable reference work. Those who would never consider sitting down and reading the OED might be surprised to find that the DSM presents mental and emotional disorders in readable, interesting, bite-sized chunks. It’s the perfect gift for the budding novelist, psychology grad student, or hypochondriac bookworm in your life. Which gives me an idea…

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