QUIET DESPERATION, SAVAGE DELIGHT

SHELTERING WITH THOREAU IN THE AGE OF CRISIS

A grateful homage to the iconic naturalist and a pleasant memoir of wildness.

Further evidence that Thoreau offers wise counsel in dark times.

Melding memoir and nature writing, award-winning environmentalist Gessner celebrates Thoreau, whose Walden he discovered at the age of 16, inspiring him to question his values, attend to the natural world, keep a journal, and, as an adult, even build his own solitary writing shack. Now, facing environmental degradation and a global pandemic, Gessner sees Thoreau as his “presiding genius, and guiding spirit.” Examining Thoreau’s enduring relevance, he writes, “in an age of climate change he gets to the root of it: the need to do with less not acquire more. The need to live a moral life despite the risks and the ridicule. And of course the deep understanding of just how much nature can still offer us. Not nature in any vague or high-handed sense but in the physical daily experience of it.” Gessner vividly recounts his rich daily experiences of wildness, including walking, biking, kayaking, and bird-watching in North Carolina, his adopted home for the past 17 years; accompanying environmental activist Rick Bass for a project to save grizzlies; and traveling to Thoreau country—Cape Cod, Concord, and Maine—with his family. “Wildness, unlike wilderness,” he writes, “can be found anywhere.” Writing this book during the first seven months of the pandemic, the author reports the increasing numbers of cases and deaths, statistics that serve as bleak epigraphs to each chapter. As much as he asserts “that staying still and finding home can be exciting, even thrilling,” he admits to feeling low-level depression during “this endless night of a year.” He also admits to wondering if it is too late to save the planet and to raise consciousness about the perils of materialism and anthropocentrism. Yet despite evidence that sometimes overwhelms him, Gessner, like Thoreau, finds hope in every new morning and joy in the world that Thoreau so eloquently extolled.

A grateful homage to the iconic naturalist and a pleasant memoir of wildness.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-948814-48-5

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Torrey House Press

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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

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. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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