AT THE CENTER OF ALL BEAUTY

SOLITUDE AND THE CREATIVE LIFE

An erudite lesson in embracing aloneness.

A memoir of the author’s life and a study of solitude in highbrow modern culture.

Like Thoreau and many other creatives before him, Harper’s contributor Johnson (English/Univ. of Arizona and Spalding Univ.; Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays, 2017, etc.) would prefer to be alone. “To use the term favored by the Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton,” he suggests the socially uninclined be referred to as “solitaries,” and he strives to reframe their stories (and his own) under society’s critical eye. “Solitude and silence are positive gestures,” he writes in defense of those in the world who would prefer to live alone and aim “for the cultivation of an interior life.” While reminiscing on his own past, Johnson explores notions of solitude as seen in the writings of a pantheon of exalted literary and creative figures. Poems by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, along with reflections on the lives of Paul Cézanne, Nina Simone, and fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, help shape this unconventional lifestyle into a “personal, particular spiritual philosophy” that will be recognizable to even the most skeptical of readers. “In the silence of my solitary walks I hear the voices of the trees. I hear them singing of a solitude that admits no loneliness,” writes the author, seamlessly integrating a wealth of source material from his diverse and multifaceted cast of saintly solitaries. Beneath his scholarly efforts (and the occasional curmudgeonly aside), a tender memoir appears in pieces, delicately woven into his artists’ profiles. A monastic, transcendent visit to Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence suggests that particular emotional experiences can only emerge during an independent sojourn. Memories of Johnson’s childhood and parents as well as stories of friends and old lovers surface during bouts of quiet research, growing from well-chosen poems, letters, and interviews into rhapsodic recollections of a profoundly full life.

An erudite lesson in embracing aloneness.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-60829-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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