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

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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