Posts Tagged ‘David Blistein’

April’s column appeared in yesterday’s Concord Monitor and also on the paper’s website. I reviewed David Blistein‘s David’s Inferno:My Journey through the Dark Wood of DepressionLinda Greenlaw‘s Lifesaving LessonsHenriette Lazaridis Power‘s The Clover Houseand Eric Masterson’s Birdwatching in New Hampshire.  A sidebar ran with the print version (and I’ve pasted it below) with details about Blistein’s and Power’s author events here in Concord.

Whenever I see the column in print, even though I’ve read it dozens of times and gone through at least a dozen drafts, it feels like I’ve never seen it before (plus the never-satisfied part of my writer brain finds fault with it). I’m wondering if that has anything to do with seeing it on a page for the first time instead of a screen? New Hampshire Library Association posted this very interesting Scientific American article on their Facebook page, which discusses research into the differences in our brains’ activities when we e-read rather than reading the old-fashioned way. It’s a good piece in that it doesn’t demonize e-reading, but points out why it’s different and how we process what we read digitally in a different way. The article also explains why paper reading may be better in many if not most cases, and also notes certain kinds of publications, like comics, that might benefit from digital publishing.

For anyone who can’t access the Monitor link (if you can, there are photos), here is the full  text of the column:

Many Monitor readers were moved by the newspaper’s recent series on mental health, including Annmarie Timmins’ concluding story. She shared her struggles to give a personal, familiar voice to the mostly anonymous 26% living with mental illness, and so does Vermont author David Blistein. In the forward to Blistein’s memoir his friend Ken Burns writes that the book “takes us deep into the mysteries of depression.”

In the notes to  David’s Inferno: My Journey through the Dark Wood of Depression, Blistein explains 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 impacts 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 fifteen 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 tightknit community that helped them find their way to being a family. Greenlaw is frank about the impact abuse has on Isle Au Haut: “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 fiancée, 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 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” around 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.”

SIDEBAR (this appeared in print but is not online)

Henriette Lazaridis Power will be in Concord on May 2, reading from The Clover House at Gibson’s Bookstore, 27 S. Main St, at 7pm.

David Blistein will be in Concord on June 6th, reading from David’s Inferno at Gibson’s Bookstore at 7 p.m.

Call 224-0562 or go to www.gibsonsbookstore.com for more information.


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April’s column will include reviews of David Blistein‘s David’s Inferno:My Journey through the Dark Wood of Depression, Linda Greenlaw‘s Lifesaving LessonsHenriette Lazaridis Power‘s The Clover Houseand Eric Masterson’s Birdwatching in New Hampshire.

It will run in the Sunday, April 14 edition of the Concord Monitor.


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David Blistein has a new book coming out this spring, David’s Inferno, and when he sent me an advanced reader copy for The Mindful Reader column, he also sent Waking the Dead. It’s an excerpt from his book-in-progress called Real Time. It’s beautiful.

His longtime friend Ken Burns contributed an introductory essay about his creative process as a documentary filmmaker and how it compares to Blistein’s process. Burns explains, “. . . David and I approach history in radically different ways. But we both ‘wake the dead.’ I do so by making them real again. David does it by becoming — like Billy Pilgrim, hero of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five unstuck in time . . . by allowing his characters to fully inhabit his everyday life, to hold forth in coffee houses, cemeteries, parking lots, and his own back yard, free of the trappings of their historical time and place.”

And that is exactly what happens in Waking the Dead. Blistein is present for Jezebel (the queen who marries Ahab in Israel around 900 BC), Minamoto No Yoritomo (the first shogun, who lived in 12th century Japan), Chopin (the Polish composer) and Harriet Tubman (of Underground Railroad fame). I say he’s present because that’s how this works: Blistein is ready when these people come to him, speak to him, and as Burns describes, “fully inhabit his everyday life.”

On Goodreads, Blistein writes that this limited edition was published for the Brattleboro Literary Festival in 2011 where he and Burns appeared together,  and “was inspired by conversations we have been having since we first met in college 40 years ago.”

I was looking for a short read because I finished a library book and I know I have an inter-library loan waiting for me to pick up tonight. This delightful mix of historyand philosophy, storytelling and myth, beauty and truth, wisdom tale and dream, was a terrific read.  It’s physically as well as intellectually lovely: printed on fine paper, with beautiful design incorporating maps, portraits, and signatures in each section. A delightful, genre-busting piece of book art.

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