A look at the National Book Awards nominees

by Seth Stern

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, by Andrew Solomon, Scribner, $28

“Losing your mind, like losing your car keys, is a real hassle,” Andrew Solomon observes in this sometimes humorous and always horror-filled account of depression. He details his own struggle with the condition and three resulting breakdowns, while weaving scientific data and medical research with narratives of other depression victims, ranging from Emily Dickinson to the Unabomber, that help us visualize their inward suffering. He travels as far as a mystical ceremony in Senegal to learn about treatments. Solomon clearly comprehends his own emotional pain and its toll on his loved ones’ lives. There’s also a disturbing thread of self-destructiveness in his story, including drug abuse and high-risk sex that can’t be blamed solely on depression. But Solomon’s exhaustive account leaves little out, sparing himself least of all in the process.