An astute psychological study enlivened by dry wit, eccentric characters, and informed analyses of 1930s England.

THE HAUNTING OF ALMA FIELDING

A TRUE GHOST STORY

An intriguing story of a man who vowed to find the truth within the murky world of psychical and paranormal research.

In her 2008 book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction, Summerscale chronicled the true story of a 19th-century detective who was devoted to solving a child's murder in an English country house and earned nothing but trouble for his efforts. In her latest, Summerscale, who has also won an Edgar and a Somerset Maugham Award, introduces us to a similar protagonist: Nandor Fodor (1895-1964), a Hungarian ghost hunter who worked for the International Institute for Psychical Research. In the 1930s, as England was mourning its dead from World War I and flinching at the possibility of a second, the practice of spiritualism, which was rapidly gaining in popularity, needed an honest man to investigate its claims. When Fodor heard about Alma Fielding, an English housewife who reportedly teleported objects and channeled spirits, he embarked on the difficult mission to prove Alma’s claims while preserving his own integrity and reputation. Their relationship forms the heart of the book. Fodor, writes the author, “accepted that Alma might be both truthful and dishonest, gifted and fraudulent. As the pressure mounted for him to prove his case, he demanded ever more of Alma—e.g., stripping naked before a séance to prove she wasn’t hiding anything. She resented his demands but kept accomplishing confounding feats. Fodor began to suspect that Alma’s past was the key to the present. The narrative is an intimate portrayal of two people locked in a complicated relationship, and while some readers may tire of Summerscale’s painstaking documentation of Alma’s paranormal activities, her sense of humor and clear style keep the pages moving. Despite a lack of definitive answers, plenty of interesting questions linger at the end of this fascinating book.

An astute psychological study enlivened by dry wit, eccentric characters, and informed analyses of 1930s England.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-55792-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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