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A Slender Thread


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About the Author

Diane Ackerman has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to garnering many other awards and recognitions for her work, which include the bestselling The Zookeeper's Wife and A Natural History of the Senses. She lives in Ithaca, New York.


Both a sensuous road map through depression, despair and loss of self, and a homage to the wonder, multiplicity and rejuvenating power of nature, this new book from the author of A Natural History of the Senses is, quite simply, wonderful. Ackerman has worked for years as a counselor at a suicide prevention and crisis center in her hometown in upstate New York. She describes her work as that of a "sorrow ranger." The slender thread of the title refers to the phone wires that reach invisibly between Ackerman and the frightened, hopeless, often desperate person at the other end and to the strength that keeps us going through the hard times. Her writing can charm ("summer is like a new philosophy in the air, and everyone has heard about it"), but it doesn't scant her own despair, making this her most personal book to date. So depressed she forces herself to cross-country ski on her local golf course, Ackerman is pulled back on track by the Canadian geese honking overhead. Thoughts and subjects move and trail into each other here, sometimes through anecdote, sometimes through historical passages, sometimes through densely layered or near stream-of-consciousness prose. From "cutters" (self-mutilators) to the act of bathing, from captive lions to squirrels in her backyard, from a biking trip through the Finger Lakes to a dying Luna moth beside the road, Ackerman leads the reader on a respectful, deeply emotional, life-affirming journey. 35,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour. (Jan.)

The focus of this lyrical, life-affirming book is the author's stints as a telephone counselor at a suicide prevention center. But it is an intensely interdisciplinary work. Ackerman, a prize-winning poet, author (The Rarest of the Rare, LJ 10/1/95), teacher, and television commentator, deftly interweaves moving stories of battered women, the lonely middle-aged, and suicidal teens with observations of nature by day and human nature in the later hours. There are discussions of the joys of biking and bird-watching, squirrel habits, and the history of bathing. Although the book is grounded in fact and experience, its uniqueness lies in its whimsical associations and stimulating insights. For example, the mechanics of the SSRI class of antidepressants are described in terms of coastal shipping among Renaissance cities. Like a novel, it concludes with stunning tales of actual lives saved by the counselor. Recommended for public libraries, where it will appeal to discerning readers and practitioners in the mental health field.‘Antoinette Brinkman, Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville

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