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How Learning to Say Goodbye Taught Me How to Live

Heartfelt reflections on the lessons and strength to be gained from grief and loss.

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McClung muses on the spiritual insights learned during the last six months of her best friend’s life in this debut memoir.

When McClung, just emerging from a two-year grieving process over the death of her mother, found out that her best friend, Rob, had stage 4 breast cancer, she vowed, “I would not lose myself in grief again.” In this journal, the author, who had left a New York City media career to take care of her mother in Texas, shares the spiritual journey that she and her friend traveled during the last six months of Rob’s life. McClung notes that while they “had had disciplined spiritual practices for the past thirty years,” Rob had “kept her Higher Self” at arm’s length. After Rob’s partner died suddenly, and then her mother a few weeks later, McClung convinced her to move from Los Angeles to Texas to spend her final days with her father and brother, whom she had not seen in 22 years. The two women encountered what they termed “out of the blues” appearances of “angels” (including a friend named Gabriel) that made this transition more bearable. By memoir’s end, Rob makes her “crossing,” but not before admitting that she finally felt loved during a family Christmas celebration, an event that McClung, who gave her friend necessary space during this time, did not take part in. The author ends each chapter with resonant questions for readers to ponder. McClung has written a thoughtful think piece that also serves as a touching tribute to “one of my greatest teachers during the worst time of her life.” The questions the author presents readers arise appropriately from her narrative and also have universal relevance, including “When is the last time you said you were sorry to yourself or another?” While some details are tantalizingly underdeveloped (including Rob’s “sick and depressed” partner), McClung offers many well-sketched, even funny, anecdotes, including her “outburst” in Target arguing by phone with Rob about buying her an outfit.

Heartfelt reflections on the lessons and strength to be gained from grief and loss.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5043-3909-4

Page Count: 166

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2016

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BRAVE ENOUGH

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

A lightweight collection of self-help snippets from the bestselling author.

What makes a quote a quote? Does it have to be quoted by someone other than the original author? Apparently not, if we take Strayed’s collection of truisms as an example. The well-known memoirist (Wild), novelist (Torch), and radio-show host (“Dear Sugar”) pulls lines from her previous pages and delivers them one at a time in this small, gift-sized book. No excerpt exceeds one page in length, and some are only one line long. Strayed doesn’t reference the books she’s drawing from, so the quotes stand without context and are strung together without apparent attention to structure or narrative flow. Thus, we move back and forth from first-person tales from the Pacific Crest Trail to conversational tidbits to meditations on grief. Some are astoundingly simple, such as Strayed’s declaration that “Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard.” Others call on the author’s unique observations—people who regret what they haven’t done, she writes, end up “mingy, addled, shrink-wrapped versions” of themselves—and offer a reward for wading through obvious advice like “Trust your gut.” Other quotes sound familiar—not necessarily because you’ve read Strayed’s other work, but likely due to the influence of other authors on her writing. When she writes about blooming into your own authenticity, for instance, one is immediately reminded of Anaïs Nin: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Strayed’s true blossoming happens in her longer works; while this collection might brighten someone’s day—and is sure to sell plenty of copies during the holidays—it’s no substitute for the real thing.

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-946909

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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MASTERY

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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