Gentle, inclusive ruminations sure to strike a chord.

THE PLACE OF KNOWING

A SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY

An intriguing spiritual memoir from an unusual woman.

Centered on Thayne’s near-death experience following a car accident when she was in her 60s, this autobiography contains thematic chapters that explore her changing beliefs about mortality through meditations on family, language and other daily concepts. As a Mormon grandmother, parts of Thayne’s life—her long marriage, religious devotion and large family—are seemingly typical for someone of her generation. However, Thayne is also a poet and writer, weaving many of her poems and other writings into the body of this work. Often, Thayne describes the two roles of homemaker and author as being at odds with one another, at least within her own mind. In addition to her active, fulfilling involvement in the Mormon Church, she characterizes her writing life as almost a personal struggle. In a major theme of the book, Thayne seeks to resolve the internal conflict she feels when torn between her vocation and her concerns about meeting outside expectations. Interestingly, she addresses this internal conflict by looking both into her Mormon heritage and out toward other spiritual traditions and lifestyles. Discussing her parents and grandparents, Thayne reveals their warmth and the absence of doctrinaire beliefs in her childhood home. Her description of “everyday Mormonism” could be compared to the “women’s Islam” for Muslim writers like Fatima Mernissi and Leila Ahmed. However, in her search for enlightenment, Thayne isn’t content merely focusing on previous generations of her own family. Instead, she visits healers, helps bring to light the work of artists with AIDS and recognizes many influences from outside her own community. As a result, she’s a complex, evolving narrator, grappling slowly with her own expectations and the challenges of life. Her meditative, fluid narrative might not satisfy readers looking for an eventful, action-oriented story, but readers interested in the optimistic pursuit of spiritual development shouldn’t miss this one.

Gentle, inclusive ruminations sure to strike a chord.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1936236930

Page Count: 272

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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