CONGRATULATIONS, BY THE WAY

SOME THOUGHTS ON KINDNESS

A slim volume appropriate as a graduation gift.

Another example of an author who might well reach a wider audience through a graduation speech than through anything else he has written.

Long revered among fans and fellow writers, Saunders saw his popular profile elevated through even greater attentions paid to (and accolades earned by) his most recent story collection, Tenth of December. In contrast to the playful postmodernism that often characterizes the work of the New Yorker writer and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, this meditation on kindness that he delivered in 2013 at Syracuse (where he teaches creative writing) is transparent in its message, which, he admits, is “a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.” His address took him eight minutes to deliver—it subsequently went viral, like that of a similar address by the late David Foster Wallace—and takes less time to read. But its self-deprecating tone is as pitch perfect as one would expect from Saunders, and the advice it imparts seems sincere and ultimately more helpful than the usual platitudes, as he explains how “most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving” and as they mature, perhaps become parents, begin to see how soul-deadening selfishness can be and how the struggles of ambition can put one on a seemingly endless cycle. There’s plainly a spiritual underpinning here, as the author writes in favor of “establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition—recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.” The loving selflessness that he advises and the interconnectedness that he recognizes couldn’t be purer or simpler—or more challenging.

A slim volume appropriate as a graduation gift.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9627-2

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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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