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The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude
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The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  458 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
Into the Wild meets Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—a lyrical memoir of a life changed in an instant and of the perilous beauty of searching for identity in solitude

After losing vision in one eye during his senior year at Harvard, Howard Axelrod found himself in a world where nothing was solid, where the smooth veneer of reality had been shattered, and where the dist
Paperback, 211 pages
Published September 22nd 2015 by Beacon Press
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The Point of Vanishing is a very beautifully written memoir, more so because it's a debut.  I was glad to have won a copy from LibraryThing  just  to experience Axelrod's  way with words; his vivid descriptions of nature and of his feelings are really done exquisitely.  But I didn't at first get the point -- of the vanishing, that is.  Why did he do what he did?  Plus, he didn't really vanish into solitude as the title suggests, but house-sat in a Vermont cabin in the woods for a couple of y ...more
Sep 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
I received a copy of Howard Axelrod's "The Point of Vanishing" from LT's Early Reviewers program. It was a book I found both boring and infuriating.

Axelrod, a privileged guy attending Harvard loses the sight in one of his eyes at a pickup basketball game. He seems to feel this is incredibly tragic and seems to have massive trouble adjusting to this... despite the fact, he can still read, drive and uh, see. (I have a friend who became completely blind as an adult and is off climbing Kilimanjaro
Christopher Shawn
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The perfect line to encapsulate Howard Axelrod’s The Point of Vanishing is actually a line from Fight Club: “ “It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.”

The Point of Vanishing splits its narrative between Howard’s final year at Harvard, and his move into a secluded cabin deep in the Vermont woods. Axelrod finds himself quickly becoming acclimated to his new lifestyle, though profoundly unable to shake his past. Vivid portraits of the natural beauty surrounding the ca
Beth Withers
May 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Rarely do I read a book that makes me think as much about myself as this one did. What's even more interesting is that this is a memoir, which makes the book even more compelling. I enjoyed the layout of the book, the back and forth between the past and the present in the Vermont woods. The author has to come to terms with the loss of vision in one eye, and he does this successfully through careful consideration of the months following the accident, along with his time spent in solitude. The des ...more
Dec 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
While I enjoyed the author's writing style and was intrigued with his lyrical descriptions of the natural world surrounding his isolated rental house in Vermont, I also felt he was perhaps a bit overly dramatic about the unexpected curve-ball thrown him by losing the sight in one eye. It struck me that this is really the memoir of a quite young person, a man looking for himself, which is actually pretty typical of someone in his twenties. It would be interesting to have him revisit those two yea ...more
Tim Weed
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great book! I'm normally not a huge memoir fan, but I could not put this one down. Axelrod has a story to tell, and he's a very gifted writer. I liked this book so much that I actually wrote a formal review of it for The Rumpus. Check it out here:

Highly recommended!
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars
Janette Mcmahon
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
For those who look beyond their daily life to find themselves. An accident causes the author to find a new path for his life and he writes of his journey. For those who enjoy introspective memoirs.
Jun 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Full disclosure, I've taken a class with Howard as my instructor. That being said, I wasn't sure what to expect from his book. He hadn't talked about it much to our class, so I was going in not totally clear on what I'd be reading. Thankfully, it includes one of my favorite places (Vermont) and is written as a memoir, which is my favorite genre.

How does one write a memoir about solitude, though, when there's very little action or tension? You write something like The Point of Vanishing: characte
Dec 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I read The Point of Vanishing while staying in a remote cottage with a wood-burning stove very similar to the one Axelrod describes. It should have been perfect for my contemplative mood, and parts of it were, yet it was hard to ignore the very first-world-problem-ness of it all. Yes, losing an eye sucked. As a very nearsighted person (thanks, reading!) who has had a contact go off center at inopportune times, I can sympathize to a certain degree with the disorientation of seeing from just one e ...more
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was ok

This memoir of a privileged young man who can't find his way in life after an accident takes the vision out of one of his eyes is, first of all, written beautifully. Axelrod is a gifted, gifted writer; that this book exists means he was either desperate for money, greedy, or simply open to bad advice. The content of this memoir isn't worthy of a book. That might be a little harsh...but it's how I feel! So basically, after his accident and graduating from Harvard, he ends up travelling and
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude, the stunning debut book by Howard Axelrod, made me see more clearly, hear more acutely, love more completely. Every once in a while superb writing meets a gut-wrenching story of survival and resilience, loss and love, and in the end triumph over tragedy.
Ron Christiansen
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, nature
I'm a sucker for reflections rendered through solitude. Maybe because I spend a lot of time in my head so it feels familiar. Maybe because I fantasize about truly experiencing solitude though I can't do more than a couple of days hiking on my own. But also because what is rendered strikes me as the only kind of truth worth reflecting on.

After a few months of solitary living in a house in the woods Axelrod notes that, "It was the first period in my life when my thoughts had full license to expan
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
There were two things which initially drew me to this book. One is that I am a big fan of Thoreau and I am always interested in books which revolve around nature, similar to Walden, and I have someone very close in my life who struggles with vision impairment, and we both share a strong connection to nature and understand the healing power that reconnecting with nature can have. When someone loses something that is so much a part of how they identify themselves, and how they perceive themselves ...more
Dec 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Can you opt out of family, society and/or humanity, and still be human? How close to the edge can one go and still come back? What happens when body and mind process and heal at different rates? Would we fight or surrender if the odds were stacked against us?

A trauma forces Axelrod to see himself and the world differently, literally and figuratively. He’s also changed in the eyes of family, friends and strangers. His loss of sight heightens his remaining senses, which comes through in the descri
"But what I remember most vividly is those mornings. Behind me, through the screen window, I could hear the soft sounds of my friends sleeping. The lake would be still as glass, just skeins do mist drafting across it, the morning light flashing green and gold." p. 29

I have read a number of books about solitude and aloneness lately. I am not entirely sure why this is happened, but serendipity is an amazing thing. I am guessing that is why this title leapt out at me when I saw it on Beacon's forth
Oct 28, 2015 rated it liked it
While in his junior year at Harvard, the author lost the vision in one eye in a freak accident during a basketball game. He dropped out of college and moved to a remote cabin in Vermont. I expected something like Thoreau, and while there were some stunning nature descriptions and a few valuable insights into himself and others, it was definitely not Thoreau.

The book's subtitle is "a memoir of two years in solitude." Not exactly. The author lived in a cabin with running water, electricity, telep
Cara Hinton
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Unfortunately I was very distracted reading this book and it didn't hold my attention as I had hoped. Partially that is the fault of the book, and partially my fault. This book made me contemplate two things. Perception, the theme of another book "Fates and Furies" that I just read. The perception you have of yourself vs. the perception others have of you. At the end of his two years of solitude, I think perception was something he focused on.

The other is how lost we can get as a human being. Lo
Nov 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Hard to rate this one. A quick read, that I really liked for the first half. It was very poetic and descriptive of Axelrods unfortunate eye injury, and his literal and figurative change of perception as he moved to deeply rural Vermont. Somewhere in the middle though, it started reading a bit blah blah blah. He eludes to this great romance, that then sounds more like a student abroad hook up. His romantic ramblings start to get boring, and his utter disrespect of conversation is irritating. Answ ...more
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all serious readers
Recommended to Bookhound by: a friend
This book is a must read for anyone who appreciates great writing
and wants to learn one young man's journey from losing sight in one eye
to gaining amazing insight into his interior life as well as the natural world.
Axelrod writes lyrically with great precision and descriptions of both the natural world and his own emotions and interior thought.
This is a truly amazing amazing book that I wholeheartedly endorse.
Tashina Knight
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A-maz-ing. I have been an avid reader all my life, and this is definitely in my top 25 books of all time. This guy really has a gift - I would no more live in the woods than I would skydive for a living (I am terrified of even the idea of it), but I felt like I was there with him and could feel what it was like for him. Such evocative writing. I got this one on ebook from my library, but I'm going to buy a physical copy just to have it near me always.
Andrew Emerson
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a refreshing voice on the literary scene! This is a must-read for anyone who is too busy in the modern world to stop and smell the roses. Haven't you wondered what it would be like to tune-out? What would you learn from solitude?

Howard's evocative prose awakens the reader into a wonder-world of the senses in upstate Vermont. The writing is delicious. And the wisdom he has gleaned from the experience is evident on every page.
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much that the moment I finished, I wanted to start it again. It's a simple story, but it kept me totally engrossed the entire time. Howard Axelrod's writing is beautiful and poetic without being overwrought, and the book goes so much further than its premise, of rediscovering life after experiencing physical loss. It's the best book I've read in a long time, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Aug 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Something in the last 10 pages didn't really work for me. Otherwise, this is some of the most beautiful nature writing I've ever read. I also think this book gave me very clear and intimate insight into the personhood of a friend of mine who says some of the same things about silence, and that was really, really wonderful.
Kat Stromquist
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Time passed. I'd never given it much thought, but now it seemed bizarre that we'd managed to shrink something so profoundly primal and complex, something so near and far, into little circular frames with numbers up to twelve...every night, we slipped the turning of the earth from our wrists."
Oct 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I often found myself taking deep breaths as I read this beautiful memoir. It captures the ups and downs of solitude, and what it means to be alone. Wonderful. I will miss this book.
Sep 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Lovely writing and I felt the pull into the woods. Kept thinking maybe he'd have been lost even without losing an eye...
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
This guy is a good writer, but his life story just isn't that interesting or inspiring.
Jeff Zell
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The title of Axelrod's book is perfect because it conveys the two thrusts of the book.

In his junior year at Harvard, Axelrod lost the use of one of his eyes as the result of an accident during a pickup basketball game with friends. Several went after a loose ball. One of the men put his finger into his eye up to his knuckle while lunging for the ball. The end result was that the iris was detached and the optic nerve in back of the eye was severed. There is no hope of recovering sight in his eye
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
(3.75 stars). In other hands this material might result in a boilerplate memoir of self-imposed exile, and there are definite cliches at work, including some kind of spiritual post-college romance in Italy with a mysterious woman who inexplicably transfixed him. But overall this is a deft and beautiful and honest book. After losing sight in one eye while at Harvard, Axelrod roams a bit and eventually secludes himself in remote Vermont to strip away the layers and ponder while his family and frie ...more
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“So much of loneliness, I realized, was social envy, the desire to be included,” 1 likes
“Occasionally, I’d notice I’d lost a whole day to a book; even when I stepped outside for a walk, I was still having conversations with the characters in my mind.” 1 likes
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