ALMOST EVERYTHING

NOTES ON HOPE

Those who enjoy Lamott’s consistently self-deprecating humor, vulnerability, and occasional nuggets of positivity will enjoy...

Another distillation of the author’s life philosophy.

As a gift to her grandson and niece, novelist and nonfiction writer Lamott (Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, 2017, etc.) sets out to record “everything I know about almost everything.” The result is an obsessively inward-focusing hodgepodge of life stories, advice, and ramblings. Though hope is the author’s tagline and even the title of her concluding chapter, readers find her struggling through virtually every life event, buried in anxieties. Lamott explains early on that she was struck to hear a child say the words, “I has [sic] value.” She realized that it “would have completely changed my life had I heard and internalized [that idea] as a child.” The incident serves to clarify the author’s central struggle: a lifelong search for self-value. Her writing cries out for an internal peace she cannot find. In a chapter on family, she focuses mainly on conflict with her uncle, whom she once called “a scumbutt” in a moment of anger, which affected her for decades. In a chapter on God, which the author defines in a number of nebulous ways, she focuses on an atheist friend who committed suicide. Another chapter is centered entirely around dieting and body image, revealing another self-esteem pitfall, and Lamott devotes an entire chapter to her unabashed hatred of Donald Trump—though she refuses to use his name, as if she were discussing Voldemort. The author’s view of life is often depressing; she refers to it as “this sometimes grotesque amusement park,” and she answers the question, “how did we all get so screwed up?” with, “life just damages people. There is no way around this. Not all the glitter and concealer in the world can cover it up.”

Those who enjoy Lamott’s consistently self-deprecating humor, vulnerability, and occasional nuggets of positivity will enjoy her latest; others will be adrift.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53744-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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