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NOT BUYING IT

MY YEAR WITHOUT SHOPPING

An entertaining exploration of personal desires and needs, with larger social and economic implications.

Perceptive, often funny month-by-month diary of life as a nonconsumer by journalist and memoirist Levine (Do You Remember Me?, 2004, etc.).

Strong disagreement with the administration’s post-9/11 linkage of spending with patriotism; a deep-seated ambivalence about consuming; and malaise brought on by Christmas shopping prompted Levine and live-in partner Paul to take a vow to purchase only necessities for a full year, starting on New Year’s Day 2004. Just what is a necessity took some working out, but essentially, they agreed to spend money only on the basic business expenses of their home-based jobs and on what was needed to keep themselves and their pets fed, sheltered and in good health. Every year, they spend the winter and summer months at Paul’s house in rural northern Vermont and the spring and fall at Levine’s apartment in Brooklyn. The experiment began in the Vermont town of Hardwick, a place with relatively few commercial temptations. Whether in Vermont or Brooklyn, however, their connections with friends and family forced decisions: how to ask for and accept help, how to entertain, how to give gifts, how to maintain relationships without meeting for lunch or going to a movie. Discoveries about themselves and what’s important abound. Levine is a keen observer of her own emotions as well as an experienced reporter, providing vivid accounts of attending meetings of a Voluntary Simplicity group, watching a Buy Nothing Day demonstration and visiting the home of an extreme practitioner of simple living. When she admits to breaking the rules in June, buying a shirt and pants at a thrift shop because she had “nothing to wear,” and then in August succumbing to a luscious pair of pants that made her “look thin,” most women will understand and will sympathize with her growing weariness with Paul’s “effortless purity.” By November, Levine reports, she was not only free of the desire to shop but free of the desire to judge those who do.

An entertaining exploration of personal desires and needs, with larger social and economic implications.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-6935-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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