A lively and elaborate but deeply enigmatic religious allegory.

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BARLEYCORN

BOOK ONE OF SEEDS THAT FELL ALONG THE PATH

In this first installment of a Christian allegory, a husband and wife cope with their mercurial god.

Auckridge’s ambitious fiction debut opens with two seeds, the Mustard Seed and Barleycorn, buried in the ground. The Mustard Seed becomes bored so Barleycorn offers to tell a story to pass the time. That tale’s twists and turns constitute the rest of the author’s text (interrupted only momentarily, and charmingly, by Mustard Seed’s emotional outbursts, always quieted by Barleycorn). The story centers on three characters: a husband and wife, Eliakim and Anne, and their god, Luminous, and the plot, such as it is, starts with the trio in conflict. Eliakim and Anne are hiding because Luminous is determined to kill them in what seems to be an old cycle (“We beg and then you give,” Anne tells him. “You give and then you take it back”). Through a rapid-fire and seemingly random sequence of temporary deaths and transformations (into various animals and shapes as well as simple reincarnations of themselves), the trio moves forward from adventure to adventure, meeting an array of creatures and supernatural beings and experiencing one version of the world after another. Eventually time seems to pass, and among the additional characters who amble in and out of the story (including talking boulders and chains as well as Adam and Eve), is the son of Luminous. The prose throughout is wonderfully lean and fast-paced. But there’s only so much that briskly paced dialogue and exposition can do to alleviate the narrative burden that starts accumulating almost from the first page of this series opener. This is the besetting problem of religious allegories: they’re essentially coded texts and their decryption keys aren’t provided. The keys are found in separate texts, in this case the literature of Christianity. Readers extensively steeped in that canon will perhaps be able to make sense of the long story Barleycorn tells. Other readers will likely find the intricate tale almost completely impenetrable, with characters dying, transforming, and talking to each other in hints and allusions. For example, when late in the book Luminous attacks his son, he encases him in a talking iceberg. “I’ll melt you, my father,” the son says. The iceberg answers: “And I will rebuild myself again.” “I will be melting you forever,” the son responds. Here, as everywhere else in the novel, there’s the feeling that the characters are speaking in a secret language that readers either recognize or don’t. The characters themselves are never fleshed out, and the dialogue between them makes very little sense on its face but feels as if it’s trembling with deep meaning for those who know the encryption code. Since Anne, Eliakim, and Luminous bear the main weight of the tale, and all three are mostly incomprehensible and unchanging as well as immortal, they possess no elements of drama and therefore give uninitiated readers very little to grab onto.

A lively and elaborate but deeply enigmatic religious allegory.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9993105-0-2

Page Count: 382

Publisher: L & H Production

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

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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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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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