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The Mindful Reader: Step into one man’s battle with depression

Last modified: 4/15/2013 12:37:25 PM
Many Monitor readers were moved by the newspaper’s recent series on mental health, including Annmarie Timmins’s concluding story. She shared her struggles to give a personal, familiar voice to the mostly anonymous 26 percent living with mental illness, and so does Vermont author David Blistein in his memoir, David’s Inferno: My Journey Through the Dark Wood of Depression.

In the forward to Blistein’s memoir, his friend Ken Burns writes that the book “takes us deep into the mysteries of depression.”

Blistein explains in the notes to the book that while The Divine Comedy is the journey of one man, it is also the journey of everyman.” He draws parallels between his own journey through depression and Dante’s great work with open-heartedness, intelligence, humor and gentleness. For Blistein, the medieval Italian poet is “a guy who so deeply understands the struggle to simply be human on Earth, a guy who knows both depths of despair and manic visions of rapture.”

Blistein writes plainly about everything from facing his own depths and visions to parsing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, understanding the science behind common pharmaceutical treatments, and exploring the way depression affects relationships and day-to-day life. Like Timmins, he writes about the difficulty of finding and remaining with mental health practitioners and about the love and support of his spouse.

In a passage about creating a labyrinth in the woods near his house, Blistein writes, “When people talk about being heartbroken, it’s usually because they’ve lost something outside themselves. . . . My heart was broken. But the only thing I’d lost was inside.”

He notes that the best books on mental illness “make the experience so human it’s no longer necessary for you to hold it at . . . arm’s length.” Blistein has accomplished that here, in a moving, beautiful and important book.

Powerful family stories

Linda Greenlaw’s seafaring exploits are well documented. Her new memoir, Lifesaving Lessons, is about even harder, braver work: becoming the guardian of a sexually abused 15-year-old.

Greenlaw’s humor remains intact and she spins a few yarns. But you’ve probably never broken down in tears while reading her past work, and you may this time.

She’s as forthright as ever, admitting, “Guardianship and all things maternal fit neatly into the category of things about which I am clueless.” And she is unsparing in her descriptions of both the horrors her daughter went through and the tight-knit community that helped them find their way to being a family. Greenlaw is frank about the impact abuse has on Isle Au Haut, an island off the coast of Maine: “Many of us were in shock that abuse had gone on undetected and unsuspected right under our noses . . . . we started looking for signs of trouble everywhere.”

But she also shares the small moments of grace that led to healing. A moving testament to resilience and to familial bonds that need no biological ties to prevail in the human heart.

The Clover House is Boston writer Henriette Lazaridis Power’s debut novel. It’s the story of Calliope Notaris Brown, a busy young Boston professional estranged from her Greek mother and keeping her emotional distance from everyone including her fiance, whose cousin calls from Greece to say their Uncle Nestor has died and left Calli his houseful of memorabilia. When she arrives in Patras during Carnival, she finds much more than vials of sand from various beaches, boxes of film and childhood keepsakes at Nestor’s house. In an attempt to resolve family mysteries and understand her mother’s aloofness, Calli begins to shed her own detachment. The Clover House probes secrets and loyalties, betrayals and revelations, and the role of culture, memory, and storytelling in family and personal identity.

Power has a light touch with the ending, leaving plenty for readers to ponder.

Assonance and consonance and a chorus-like repetition of words in some passages create sound and rhythm in Power’s prose that’s often striking, perhaps because she is founding editor of an audio literary magazine, The Drum.

Birding in the Granite State

New Hampshire birder and author Eric A. Masterson’s Birdwatching in New Hampshire is a thoroughly informative book for birders of all skill levels and experience. Masterson writes in the introduction, “This is not a guide to everywhere, but to the best birding events” throughout the state. By event he means “location, time and weather” that “must align in the right order to produce the most memorable birding moments.” Masterson discusses birding gear, tips and ethics, provides a monthly guide to spotting various species, and divides the state into six regions to explore, with maps and plentiful information about birding in each.

One chapter covers all birds “of roughly annual occurrence in New Hampshire or its offshore waters,” but in the rest of the book, Masterson “focuses on the less well-known, the spectacular, the secretive, the rare, the good bird,” and goes on to say, “This will mean different things to different people.”


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