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Neil Heinen: 3 local writers worth a read

Published On: Feb 25 2014 04:30:24 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 28 2014 02:36:03 PM CST
Neil Heinen Cropped

Neil Heinen

By Neil Heinen

I love living in a city that loves books. I’m proud of our national ranking of book stores and book sales per capita. I buy books a little obsessively. I like having them around, in easy reach, in the office, at home and always in the bedroom. The books in the bedroom are the books I will read cover to cover, one at a time. The latest E.L. Doctorow book is currently awaiting completion of a slightly older Toni Morrison novel. A half dozen others are vying to be next in line.

Laura Jones’s look at our Book City finds a literary town with some "main characters." She identifies eight. There are many more. Madison has a lot of writers. I recently read books by three of them, interestingly all people I’ve known over the years in different venues. Two of the works are autobiographical while the third is officially a "fictionalized biography," so they offered the rare opportunity to see three acquaintances through parts of their life stories as written by them. Each affected me in different, but profound ways.

I met Dave (D.W.) Rozelle several years ago when we travelled together as part of Madison’s delegation to Slow Food International's Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy. As always with foreign travel, one can learn a lot in a short period of time about one’s fellow travelers. I enjoyed Dave a great deal, as I have his annual holiday poems, and having read the Kid Who Climbed the Tarzan Tree: Flashbacks on a Life Saved by a Children’s Home, I have a little better idea why. Rozelle's account of his nearly six years at the Taylor Orphan Asylum in Racine in the 1940s brims with warmth, humor, charm and a gentle appreciation for what one has in the face of what one does not. It is unfailingly joyful, no easy task for such a story, I'm sure, and aided by his wonderful collaboration with Madison illustrator C.A. Grooms.

Scott Braucht's tale is not joyful or charming or funny, although arguably equally hopeful. I met Scott when he worked at a Madison-area accounting firm some twenty years ago. Though I didn’t know it, his struggles with depression had already begun. They would get worse. Much worse. Into the Light: A Middle-Aged Man’s Recovery from Depression is raw and rough and gut-wrenching. It is also incredibly brave. Braucht's willingness to stand exposed before those who know him is both healing and a powerful message about the challenge, but also ubiquity, of this still stigma-laden mental illness. His motivation is transparent, admirable and deeply, deeply felt: to help every single person who lives with depression he can reach.

Judith Gwinn Adrian is a dear friend with whom I have co-taught classes at Edgewood College for more than a dozen years. My opinion of her new book must be considered in that context. Because my opinion of her new book, In Warm Blood: Prison and Privilege, Hurt and Heart, is that it is extraordinary, brilliant. I can't imagine how hard it was to write. And yet Judy makes it seem like it was effortless, these descriptions of stomach-turning violence and abuse, torture both physical and emotional, other-worldly visions of existence that defy credulity. It is simply amazing, and a testament to Judy’s craftsperson-ship, that she was able to capture the inhumanity and surround it with beauty, self-awareness and even awe. It is the story of DarRen Morris, a black man serving a life term in a Wisconsin prison. It is the story of Judy and her family. And most important, it is the story of Judy and DarRen’s relationship, their differences and similarities. The insufficiency of this description of this amazing book can only be remedied by urging you to read it, and be grateful that writers like Judy and Dave and Scott live and work in our Book City.

Neil P. Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine.

Find more of his columns here.

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