A Slender Thread

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Random House, 1997 - Psychology - 305 pages
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Diane Ackermann volunteers every week at a local crisis center, where people call in anonymously, strung out, desperate, imploring, or hostile, holding on to hope through a phone line. Her secret life spent with callers is shocking, funny, stressful, healing, and inspiring. So, too, is her life in her backyard where the wild creatures she observes so closely are living their own lives on the edge. In her distinctive style she weaves these parallel threads into a book that is an astonishment. Using powerful stories of the human spirit set against a backdrop of the natural world she knows so well, Ackerman takes us with her on her travels between those intensely fascinating realms. A Slender Thread is bewitchingly like her previous, widely admired books. As ever, she is sensitive to her surroundings and to other creatures; poetic, passionate, amusing; blessed with a richly furnished mind that makes leaps of imagination and insight; adept at drawing on science, literature, history, psychology, and the immediate moment - and yet this book is dramatically different from the rest of her writing. Deeply personal and intimate, it merges her own story with the stories of others, and shares her private struggles and triumphs as well as her joyous immersion in life. We learn why many hummingbirds die in their sleep, of a distraught caller whose drunken husband is stuck in the chimney singing Irish songs, of animal suicides, of an eighty-five-year-old belly dancer, of a young woman who flees her marriage and spins an elaborate fantasy life in which she captains a team of superheroes who travel the world righting its many wrongs, of the evolution of depression and anxiety as well as of our mostcherished emotions, of Winston Churchill's horrifying secret, of the beauty of shade, of the hidden costs of creativity, and hundreds of other truths about being human. In the course of a year, almost everything dangerous or poignant that can happen to human beings prompts as call to a crisis center - from depression, suicide, and murder to all the trials, uncertainties, and conflicts of love. A Slender Thread is a compelling and nakedly autobiographical book, taking us deep into the heart of darkness and light.

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A slender thread

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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 ... Read full review


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About the author (1997)

Diane Ackerman was born on October 7, 1948 in Waukegan, Illinois. She received a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University and her M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. in English from Cornell University. Poet, author, educator, adventurer, and naturalist, she tries to bridge science and art in her writing, exploring questions of who we are, where we come from, and how we fit into the fabric of the world. She has written many books of poetry including The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral; Wife of Light; Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems; Origami Bridges: Poems of Psychoanalysis and Fire; and I Praise My Destroyer. Her nonfiction works include A Natural History of the Senses; A Natural History of Love; The Moon by Whale Light: And Other Adventures Among Bats, Crocodilians, Penguins, and Whales; An Alchemy of Mind; and On Extended Wings. She also writes nature books for children including Animal Sense; Monk Seal Hideaway; and Bats: Shadows in the Night. She is coeditor of a Norton anthology, The Book of Love. Her essays about nature and human nature have appeared in Parade, National Geographic, The New York Times, and The New Yorker magazines. She hosted a five-hour PBS television series inspired by A Natural History of the Senses. She received the Orion Book Award for The Zookeepers Wife. Her other awards include the Abbie Copps Poetry Prize, Black Warrior Poetry Prize, Pushcart Prize, Peter I. B. Lavan award, and the Wordsmith award. She has taught at a variety of universities, including Columbia and Cornell.

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