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For believers only—neo-Goths and occult enthusiasts will enjoy this latest midnight mission.

One woman’s experiences spirit-hunting across the dark terrain of contemporary America.

Anne Rice biographer and clinical psychologist Ramsland’s previous pursuit of vampire subcultures (documented in Piercing the Darkness, 1998) led her to this latest spooky encounter: a “vampire” dubbed Wraith gave her a possessed ring, which he claimed had belonged to a multiple killer named Christian who himself had been murdered. As in her simultaneously published Cemetery Stories (above), the author follows a circuitous route to meet with other ghost enthusiasts, many of whom become unnerved by the spirit surrounding the killer’s ring. She spends time ghost-hunting at Savannah’s Mercer House, made infamous in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, in New Orleans (“The City That Loves the Dead”), at battle sites like Gettysburg, and at meetings of the International Ghost Hunters Society, which has gained 12,000 members since its 1996 inception and whose founders “offer plenty of merchandise for the well-equipped ghost hunter.” Through the Society’s enthusiasts, Ramsland learns of high-tech ghost-finding equipment like digital cameras (which have replaced infrared photography), although she notes that only some photographers are able to record discrete ghost images, usually “orbs,” occasionally specific forms. Equally puzzling are examples of electronic voice phenomena (EVP), which she records in various “haunted” sites, again via digital technology. Throughout, the author and her fellow believers perceive strange emanations from Christian’s ring, confirming ghost-hunting theory that spirits may fixate upon those who seek them out. The prolific Ramsland is a competent and enthusiastic writer, but her tone remains so high-pitched throughout (“A chill ran up my spine. I could almost feel [ghosts] back there, mouthing silent entreaties”) that it becomes repetitive. And as with Michael W. Cuneo’s superior American Exorcism (p. 841), Ramsland’s sense of drama relative to the hidden parts of American life ultimately overwhelms the relative paucity of hard facts she offers readers.

For believers only—neo-Goths and occult enthusiasts will enjoy this latest midnight mission.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26164-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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

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. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran.

Lessons about life from those preparing to die.

A longtime hospice chaplain, Egan (Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago, 2004) shares what she has learned through the stories of those nearing death. She notices that for every life, there are shared stories of heartbreak, pain, guilt, fear, and regret. “Every one of us will go through things that destroy our inner compass and pull meaning out from under us,” she writes. “Everyone who does not die young will go through some sort of spiritual crisis.” The author is also straightforward in noting that through her experiences with the brokenness of others, and in trying to assist in that brokenness, she has found healing for herself. Several years ago, during a C-section, Egan suffered a bad reaction to the anesthesia, leading to months of psychotic disorders and years of recovery. The experience left her with tremendous emotional pain and latent feelings of shame, regret, and anger. However, with each patient she helped, the author found herself better understanding her own past. Despite her role as a chaplain, Egan notes that she rarely discussed God or religious subjects with her patients. Mainly, when people could talk at all, they discussed their families, “because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives.” It is through families, Egan began to realize, that “we find meaning, and this is where our purpose becomes clear.” The author’s anecdotes are often thought-provoking combinations of sublime humor and tragic pathos. She is not afraid to point out times where she made mistakes, even downright failures, in the course of her work. However, the nature of her work means “living in the gray,” where right and wrong answers are often hard to identify.

A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59463-481-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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