An awkward beginning develops into a smooth account of multiple reincarnations as the author traces “the silvery flecks of...

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4900 Nights

A TRUE STORY OF REINCARNATION

In his first nonfiction effort, Van Meter (Day of the Little Guy, 1996) documents the rise and fall of his past lives.

When readers first meet the modern-day Van Meter, he’s chasing an armed intruder from his home. He doesn’t waste time arguing about the how or why of reincarnation—he just assumes its existence and leaps from that initial chase into another, centuries before, when he hunted and killed a man who’d been his nemesis through many lives. Then it’s back to the first life Van Meter can remember, that of an ancient, warlike Scotsman during the time of the Romans. While Van Meter’s present-day narrative is stilted, with too much time spent discussing how the story will move forward, his recounting of that first life assumes a smooth, graceful lope. There’s just enough debauchery—usually in the name of paganism or war—to border on gratuitous, but there’s also a deep, abiding love that lingers through each of Van Meter’s lives. “My being was never more absorbed by a woman, a place, or a community than it was then,” he writes of the Irishwoman he married. When she and the community they built are both rudely yanked away, it sets up a revolving conflict, along with fellowships, which continues into the present day. At first, Van Meter seems to be telling two distinct stories that don’t quite mesh—that of his contemporary self, with some confusing references to the “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, followed by the wild Scotsman. But as he snaps back to today, the author gathers together the storylines that bind his first and most recent lives into a cohesive plot, tracing parts of himself that he’s carried for centuries.

An awkward beginning develops into a smooth account of multiple reincarnations as the author traces “the silvery flecks of memories of people who used to be.”

Pub Date: April 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1450296090

Page Count: 168

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2013

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

OPEN BOOK

The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

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. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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