Surprisingly frank and moving.

Memoir of a spiritual writer and poet who discovered relevance to her life and work in the longforgotten and difficult-to-define concept of acedia.

When Norris (The Virgin of Bennington, 2001, etc.) first encountered the word “acedia” in the writings of a fourth-century monk, Evagrius Ponticus, she instantly recognized it as an apt description of her spiritual malaise. Here she struggles to pin down the meaning, naming its components as apathy, boredom, enervating despair, restlessness and the absence of caring. She also attempts, not entirely satisfactorily, to distinguish this spiritual state from the psychological state of depression, which her husband, fellow poet David Dwyer, experienced. She explores acedia’s etymology and her personal history with it, sharing stories from her childhood, adolescence and long, crisis-plagued marriage. As a teenager, she responded by keeping busy, reading Kierkegaard’s thoughts on despair and writing prodigiously. As a young adult, having lost the religious moorings of her upbringing, she found that John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress awakened in her a renewed sense of conscience. Years later, as she became her husband’s full-time caregiver, acedia, which had never been totally absent from her spiritual life, renewed its grip on her, and with it, a temptation to doubt. Her attraction to monastic prayer and her strong interest in the monastic life—examined in her books Dakota (1993) and The Cloister Walk (1996)—is evident here in the numerous references to the writings of early monks and to conversations with Benedictines at the monastery near her home, where she is an oblate. In the final chapter, “Acedia: A Commonplace Book,” Norris presents dozens of quotations on the subject, demonstrating convincingly that soul weariness has been a persistent and troubling phenomenon throughout recorded history.

Surprisingly frank and moving.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59448-996-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


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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