A touching, if sometimes meandering, account of a half century of brotherly love.

I Am Goldmund

MY SPIRITUAL ODYSSEY WITH NARCISSUS

A memoir recounts a friendship’s depth and intimacy, inspired by a Herman Hesse novel.

Even when Frode (One Times One & Other Numinous Stories of Redemption and Loss, 2015, etc.) was a young boy, he was drawn to the meditative refuge provided by silence. It became obvious to others by the time he was a teenager that he was destined for a religious vocation. Frode was ready to become a monk by age 17, after his high school graduation. He was still too young, though, and took philosophy classes at a local college while spending his time off at a Trappist monastery in Northern California. There he met Brother Paul Williams, who became his closest male friend. Their kinship was profoundly spiritual as well as intellectual. They were fellow travelers on the winding path to transcendence: “Yet here was a man who was looking for the same elusive thing as I was—how to best live on the deepest levels of life.” Frode eventually decided to leave the monastery, and thoughtfully chronicles his adventures, which include two wives, parenthood, and no shortage of erotic experimentation. In some respects, the book is a tribute to the author’s mentors, and he lovingly discusses two professors whose influence remains indelible, and Doctor David, a healer and close confidant. This is also a philosophical autobiography that charts the arc of Frode’s development; like one of his idols, Thomas Merton, he read widely and was magnetized to Eastern spiritual writings. Still, the recollection’s centerpiece is Frode’s connection to Brother Paul; the author uses Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund as a literary key to understanding their mutual affection. Frode begins each chapter with an excerpt from that book, juxtaposed with one from his correspondence with Brother Paul. This is a strikingly candid memoir, and the author’s account of Brother Paul’s death—Frode was at his side when he took his last breath—is poignant. It’s never clear why the author left the monastery—he chalks up the impulse to an “inner voice” beckoning him to the beyond, but this is strangely trite for an otherwise searching examination. In addition, Frode’s writing style strongly favors the verbose and grandiloquent—paragraph-long sentences are bursting at the seams with gratuitous adjectives. But this remains an emotionally moving homage to a beautiful friendship, a peculiarly cerebral love letter.

A touching, if sometimes meandering, account of a half century of brotherly love.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-365-33900-4

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more