A flawed but refreshingly mature consideration of life, reason, and spirituality.

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THE STUFF OF LIFE

An assemblage of meditative reflections on the meaning of a life well-lived.

Debut author Zaidi, in response to the persuasion of friends, has gathered a collection of short essays (and public addresses) created over the years; the underlying theme is the rational investigation of the meaning of life. That undergirding conceit is sometimes less apparent among the diverse subjects. For example, many of the essays read like paeans to worthy pursuits: Zaidi extols the elemental virtues of art and literature, meditation, reading, education in general, and a commitment to personal growth. There are also discussions on related miscellany, like the advantages and disadvantages of the internet, the problem of disinformation in the media, and the key to public-speaking success. Zaidi’s focus is philosophical; his essays explore the nature of consciousness, the limits of conceptual and dualistic thinking, and the distinction between forgiveness and love. The fulcrum of the work, however, is the relation between faith and reason or the elucidation of our place in the cosmos. The author carefully makes the case for an authentic religiousness—understood as the quest for personal meaning—that is also atheistic and consistent with the findings of modern science. In this way, he attempts to navigate between blind belief and the willful dogmatism of “irreligious extremists.” Zaidi is often exceedingly thoughtful, and his philosophical temperance is impressive. However, the writing can be flaccid and confusing, and it seems to strain too laboriously for profundity: “But regardless of the relative worth of different religious beliefs, the way we are correlated to the environment indubitably substantiates mankind’s emergence from the forms of life which precede us in evolution and which continue to be a part of our psychic nature.” What the book lacks in rigor and originality, it makes up with its intellectual evenhandedness—such ideology-free analysis is rare and welcome in these rancorously divisive times.

A flawed but refreshingly mature consideration of life, reason, and spirituality.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5320-0958-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2017

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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