On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s

By Greg O’Brien

(Good Night Books, $15.95, 240 pages)

Who is this author?

A respected journalist with more than 35 years of newspaper and magazine experience as a writer, editor, investigative reporter, and publisher, Greg O’Brien lives on Cape Cod with his family, and, as he heartbreakingly makes clear in his book, also “on Pluto,” where his early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease is inexorably taking him. His long career includes writing for the Associated Press, UPI, USA Today, Arizona Republic, Boston Herald American, Boston Metro, New York Metro, Philadelphia Metro, Providence Journal, Cape Cod Times, Boston Irish Reporter, and Boston Magazine. He was the editor and publisher of the Cape Codder and Register newspapers, former editor of Cape Cod Life, and a founding managing director of Community Newspaper Company in Boston. He has published other authors through his Codfish Press and runs national political and corporate communication strategy campaigns, and he is now dedicated to chronicling the progress of his disease and to making public appearances to educate people about it.

What is this book about?

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.—and the only one of those that is rising. It’s estimated that more than 5 million Americans have it or a related form of dementia; about 35 million people worldwide are afflicted. Greg O’Brien’s mother and her father died of it, and he has inherited the disease. But he has not given up living.

With immense heart, surprising humor and dogged dedication, O’Brien’s book  inform people about day to day life with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and how he is fighting bravely to stave off its threat to the ability to communicate. O’Brien has the professional chops to fight this fight, and he does so with determination and his great gift for storytelling. The foreword to his book is written by Lisa Genova, author of the novel “Still Alice,” whose movie version, starring the Oscar-winning Julianne Moore, is mesmerizing audiences and raising awareness of this devastating disease.

Why you’ll like it:

It is never easy to read about a cruel disease and the havoc it wreaks on patients and their families, but O’Brien, however much he has been damaged, still has the reporter’s instincts and grace as a writer to bring readers into his rapidly diminishing world. Here is some of what he told Huffington Post about his book:

“. . . .For years I’ve taken detailed notes as an embedded reporter inside the mind of Alzheimer’s, chronicling my own progression of this demon of a disease ever since I knew that something was terribly wrong. Doctors say a serious head injury “unmasked” Alzheimer’s in the making — a death in slow motion, freeze frame at times, like having a thin sliver of your brain shaved off every day.

“Stephen King couldn’t have devised a better plot.

“The statistics are numbing; it’s a story that might be yours one day, or the story of a close friend or loved one. . . . So, should you be frightened if you frequently forget where you put your keys? Maybe it’s nothing, perhaps a “senior moment,” or maybe it is the start of something. There is a clear distinction between forgetting where you parked your car and forgetting what your car looks like; forgetting where you put your glasses, and forgetting that you have glasses; getting lost on familiar roads because you’ve been daydreaming, and getting lost because your brain’s capacity to store information is greatly diminished.

“Today, I have little short-term memory, a progression of blanks; close to 60 percent of what I take in now is gone in seconds. . . .

“. . . Pluto’s orbit, like mine at times, is chaotic; its tiny size makes it sensitive to immeasurably small particles of the solar system, hard to predict factors that will gradually disrupt an orbit — the perfect place to have a conversation that “never existed” or a conversation one can’t recall. In the past, I often have taken close family, colleagues, and clients allegorically “out to Pluto” to discuss unmentionables about life, revelations, and comments that need to stay in a place without oxygen. Many have been there and back with me. I want them to be familiar with Pluto.

“One day, like my mom, I won’t return from this dark, icy place, and I want my family and friends to know where I am.”

What others are saying:

“In On Pluto, Greg O’Brien has given us a priceless gift: an honest, funny, heartbreaking, and powerfully poignant look into the world of an Alzheimer’s sufferer, written by a man who suffers from it himself. Greg O’Brien is a brilliant observer and superb writer, and he is at the top of his game in this book. It’s as if he has willingly dropped himself into a mental tornado so that he can tell us what it looks like from inside. You have never read a book quite like it, and probably never will again,” says William Martin, New York Times best-selling author of Cape Cod, Back Bay, and The Lincoln Letter.

“Greg O’Brien writes with the consummate knowledge of a guide and the courage of a pioneer. In this important and transcendent book he serves both roles as he folds back the veils of fear and traverses the treacherous territory of early-onset Alzheimer’s. On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s glows with honesty, intelligence and compassion and, given the subject, is a surprisingly spirit-renewing book,” says Anne D. LeClaire, author of best-selling Listening Below The Noise, Leaving Eden, and The Lavender Hour.

“On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s is destined to become a vital resource that Alzheimer’s organizations and senior centers across the country will turn to in assisting those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Greg O’Brien’s personal battle against Alzheimer’s is an everyman’s fight; he is the quintessence of the lead character in the epic New York Times best-selling Alzheimer’s novel, Still Alice. O’Brien, through faith, humor and journalistic grit, is able, like the master artist, to paint a compelling, naked work picture of this progressive, chronic disease for which there is no cure, and a sickness that will swamp a generation. This is not a misery memoir; O’Brien bluntly offers the Baby Boomers and generations to come a riveting guide in how to live with Alzheimer’s, not accede to it,” says Alisa M. Galazzi, co-founder of Dementia Care Academy, former Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Services of Cape & Islands.

When is it available?

This moving and important book is on the shelves at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Blue Hills, Camp Field and Twain branches.

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