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A graceful narrative that seamlessly interweaves philosophical reflections and intimate revelations.

An engrossing memoir chronicles a search for spiritual healing.

In 2011, happily married and the mother of two children, journalist Gisleson (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts; co-editor: How to Rebuild a City: Field Guide from a Work in Progress, 2010) was beset by a “persistent, daily, unsettling dread,” a feeling, “vaguely, that everything was wrong.” When a close friend asked her to “sit down and talk through some philosophical issues one-on-one,” she suggested forming a group instead: other friends, too, seemed in flux and on edge, and the author hoped that a monthly meeting, discussing relevant readings, would help. They called themselves the Existentialist Crisis Reading Group, nicknamed the Futilitarians. Chosen by the dozen or so members, readings ranged from Ecclesiastes to James Baldwin, King Lear to Fight Club and included philosophy, fiction, essays, poetry, biography, memoir, and even a movie. (The author appends the group’s reading list.) As Gisleson conveys her responses to these disparate readings, she reveals the events of her life that generated her “messy thoughts and feelings.” When she was in her late 20s, her youngest sister, Rebecca, committed suicide; a year and a half later, Rebecca’s identical twin, Rachel, also killed herself; and, more recently, her father succumbed to leukemia. Added to these was the devastation to her native New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina. Rebecca’s death left her shattered. “Unmarried, insecure, and chronically confused,” Gisleson writes, “I became paralyzed in my personal life, unable to make good decisions to move things forward.” Rachel’s death compounded those feelings, preoccupying the author for years. “I harbor a terrible, guilty suspicion,” she writes, “that the deaths of my sisters, their disappearance from the family structure,” allowed the remaining siblings “to do things we might not otherwise have ventured.” Rebecca and Rachel, their life choices, and mental illness are central to Gisleson’s story, as is her father, an opinionated, hard-drinking lawyer whose pro bono work for death row inmates the author seeks to understand.

A graceful narrative that seamlessly interweaves philosophical reflections and intimate revelations.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-39390-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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