The Noonday Demon

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The first book up for review is The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon.  I’m choosing to start with this one not because I think it’s the first book someone should read but because it was so well-written that it easily stuck with me.  I don’t need to pick up a copy from the library to flip through in order to remember what was said.  I actually downloaded the audiobook and as soon as I began playing it I recognized Andrew’s voice.  I had already heard him give a TED talk on depression that I thoroughly enjoyed.  So you can definitely count me as a fan of Andrew’s.  That isn’t to say that I agree with everything that he says but as you’ll see in the review I find him authentic and balanced in his views which are two traits that I really value.  Well, without further ado, here are my top pros and cons for The Noonday Demon...

Pros

1)      Authentic.  The main strength of this book is the powerful portrayal he gives of an enduring battle with depression.  It’s not his goal to sugar coat the struggle or to falsely prop up his readers.  He gives an accurate and honest account of his feelings during his depressive episodes and pulls no punches with his stories.   It can make the book hard to read at times, but I ended up really appreciating his candor. 

2)      Balanced.  I don’t know why, but I kept expecting him to go off on a rant against some opposite view point to his own.  The fact that he never did speaks of his character and earned him a lot of credibility with me.  He’s pro-medication but gave a good synopsis of the various drawbacks.  He’s clear about the political party he favors, but he didn’t take shots at the other side.  Probably most important for me, though, was his handling of faith.  It’s a sensitive area for me because a lot of my push is to show people that God is our ally in this fight.  He isn’t really a man of faith, but he was very respectful towards its role in overcoming depression, even saying something along the lines of how he thinks it’s a great idea for people to pursue.

3)      Well-written.  I know this is more stylistic, but it's still important.  It’s really difficult to get through a book, especially a book on depression, if it’s poorly written.  The book flows and it’s clear that he’s a writer.  It’s also rich.  He says more in his 688 pages than many books that are twice as long. 

Cons

1)      Weighty. It’s not necessarily an up-lifting book.  That’s no knock against it, like I said I really appreciated his candor, but it does narrow the audience.  If you are currently in the throes of depression, it’s not a book that I would recommend for you.  It may actually cause you to go deeper.  It’s more for the severely depressed that are at a point in their fight that they’re able to reflect.  It can be uplifting to know that someone else has walked in your shoes, but even still should only be read while outside of a depressive episode.

2)      Not for the faint of heart.  I guess this ties into number one, but not only are these stories not uplifting they might be difficult to handle for some.  He gives a detailed account of trying to contract AIDS as a kind of slow suicide attempt.  He also tells a heart-breaking story of euthanasia when his mother was terminally ill.  It's real life but just be ready for it.

Main lessons learned

There are numerous nuggets of wisdom in this book, but I think the overarching lesson for me was that treatment for depression depends on severity.  Some people try to simplify things and say that improving the basics (diet, exercise, and sleep) are enough to overcome depression.  The basics are really powerful, but they aren’t powerful enough on their own for the severely depressed.  When I read books and articles that oversimplify the struggle and give various success stories, I often think that the issue is we’re not talking about the same type of person.  The more mildly depressed may just need small changes, but this book is about the severely depressed and they have to be treated differently.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s outstanding.  It’s the most quotable book on depression that I’ve read.  His thoughts are so on-point and well put that I could use them in almost any depression related article I wanted to write.  Again, the only caveat is to wait until you’re feeling at least ok before you read this book.  It’s not really about cures even though he gives helpful advice.  It’s more about understanding and not feeling alone.   In the end, I’m thankful for this book.  If you decide to read it, I think you can expect to come out of it with much more knowledge than you had before.

This is my first of hopefully many book reviews.  The first 7 or 8 will be books that I read a while ago, so I’m going to discuss them in general terms.  I probably won’t be able to pull many quotes.  I’ll read future books more with the idea of writing a review about them in order to give a better synopsis.  My goal is to give you some good places to start in your reading and try to keep you away from unhelpful or even harmful books.