A graceful meditation on divine deliverance.

HEARTWOOD

THE ART OF LIVING WITH THE END IN MIND

A Manhattan-based interfaith minister grapples with the complexities of mortality.

When Becker’s childhood friend Marisa died from cancer at age 40, the author was understandably crushed. However, the event also opened a long-suppressed wellspring of insecurities about death, and Becker’s grieving process became life-altering. She began approaching life more proactively, spiritually, and ecologically. She planted bulbs in a makeshift plot in the city, attended a silent meditation retreat, practiced the Japanese “forest bathing” and “water children” rituals, and made a general promise to herself to “participate more fully in everyday matters.” The author shows how this intensive self-reflection benefited her on many levels, and she hopes to inspire others to participate in their own introspection when encountering life’s myriad challenges. Among other episodes and life events that led her to a more intentional soul-searching journey: a dangerous internship in politically unstable Bangladesh, a miscarriage, her father’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, and family losses from Covid-19. In too many instances, she writes, “death had slipped quietly into my home and declared herself my teacher.” But what, she asks, “was I supposed to do with these understandings in the practical, brass-tacks way of a modern woman going about her daily business?” While the book as a whole is inspiring, the most moving passages involve Becker’s time as a hospice volunteer. Though consistently heartbreaking and often frustrating, the author’s experiences were also transformative. She incorporated compassionate Zen Buddhist end-of-life practices into her own humanitarian service vows, and a host of nurturing interpersonal experiences broadened her understanding of how her life could be made more useful in both spiritual and altruistic empathetic service to those in need. Once firmly entrenched in our “death-shy” contemporary culture, the author is now a reassuring advocate for peace and interreligious understanding, and she views dying as an opportunity to seek enlightenment and give thanks, regardless of one’s preferred spiritual path.

A graceful meditation on divine deliverance.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-09598-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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BROKEN (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY)

The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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