TO HOLD THE SUN

Time-honored meditation and cutting-edge neuroscience come together in Watkins’ debut, a lesson in good living with a thin narrative frame.
The unnamed journalist narrator may be just scraping by, but when his editor offers him an unpaid assignment on Roatan—an island off Honduras famous for its diving but not yet overdeveloped as a tourist trap—this scuba enthusiast can’t say no. The assignment is to interview a self-help philosopher named Paul. A few pages in, readers meet Paul, and while the narrator occasionally dives or sees parts of Roatan (black-and-white pictures included), the bulk of the book is given over to Paul
’s explaining his self-help techniques. As Paul notes, these techniques and philosophy are not original to him; they’re a grab bag, from the Buddhist concept of right action to recent studies in neuroscience. As the narrator discovers, though these meditative and psychological techniques may be difficult, they are also effective—more effective than any of the self-help books that get brought up in this work (e.g., The Secret). For instance, when an embarrassing social faux pas continues to haunt the narrator, Paul teaches him, through a visualization exercise, to learn the lesson offered by that emotional cue but not to be caught up in it. In another example of Paul’s helpful techniques, he breaks down the process of habit formation—repetition, trigger, action, reward—to teach the narrator how to form or substitute better habits. Readers interested primarily in breaking habits may want to go on to a more in-depth specialist work on the subject; but in clear language, Paul gives an overview of this and other topics related to being mindful. And as much as Paul may be taken as a helpful guide in these areas, as he winningly notes, he has no spiritual insights to offer; many of these techniques require the user to work for his or her own goals rather than to some guru-given end. There isn’t much to Paul or the narrator as characters and not much plot beyond these dialogues, though it works well as a primer to these techniques and philosophies.
Clear and compelling language help unify this guide to living well.

Pub Date: April 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1489507648

Page Count: 172

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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