An epistolary group portrait that will appeal to readers interested in the Catholic underpinnings of O’Connor’s life and...

Wide-ranging letters reveal deep bonds between a literary titan and her friends.

“Most letters between writers are largely given over to envy, spite, wisecracks, discussions of money, the short-sightedness of award committees, soured love affairs and the innumerable horrors of the literary life,” Michael Dirda once wrote. These letters by the National Book Award–winning short story writer and her friends alternately fit and break the mold. Anyone looking for Southern literary gossip will find plenty of barbs—e.g., novelist and critic Caroline Gordon’s jab at William Faulkner, “I wonder if he wrote those paragraphs when drunk”; or O’Connor’s complaint about the press: “I think photographers are the lowest breed of men and just being in the presence of one brings out my worst face.” But there’s also higher-toned talk on topics such as the symbolism in O’Connor’s work and the nature of free will. The subtitle notwithstanding, this book has many letters previously published in full or in part in the 1988 collection of O’Connor’s letters, The Habit of Being, or The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon (2018). The most revealing new material appears in letters O’Connor exchanged with the Jesuit priests James McCown and Scott Watson. These show how ardently she tried to live by the Catholic faith that informs her work. In a disarmingly earnest letter to McCown, O’Connor asks whether she must go to confession after eating butterbeans cooked in ham stock on a Friday: “There is something about you can use drippings but you can’t use stock.” Abundant headnotes by Alexander supply context as they follow O’Connor from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to her death at the age of 39 from complications of lupus in her native Georgia. O’Connor’s correspondents range from an Atlanta file clerk to celebrated writers such as Robert Lowell, Walker Percy, and Katherine Anne Porter; taken together, the letters affirm Gordon’s comment about her friend: “She is certainly a remarkable person and a remarkable writer.”

An epistolary group portrait that will appeal to readers interested in the Catholic underpinnings of O’Connor’s life and work.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-57506-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Convergent/Crown

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019



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


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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