A bold, if occasionally terrifying, personal account of spiritual transformation.

STARK RAVING ZEN

A MEMOIR OF COMING ALIVE

Sensing her mental well-being unraveling, a woman embarks on a road trip that proves to be a mind-expanding voyage of spiritual discovery in this memoir.

According to Sweetland, she had her first conversation with the spirit world when she was about 2 years old and still in her crib. After hearing a female voice say “Be careful,” she recalls a visit by three witches. She reflects that these spirits were “guardians” who would bear “silent witness” to her “life with an alcoholic father and a chronically depressed mother. Through the years of teenage anorexia, escapism with alcohol, and a sense of constant loneliness.” Growing older, the author forged a career in veterinary medicine, but after 20 years in the profession, she felt the urge to quit and take a road trip to California with her dog, Arya. Fate decided otherwise, and she found herself drawn to New Mexico. There, she tells readers, she learned that the guiding voice she had been hearing in her left ear was that of Mangas Coloradas, a 19th-century Apache warrior. The trip turned out to be a catalyst for a spiritual awakening that released her from the bonds of her torturous past. Sweetland depicts a range of phenomena she experienced—including visions, voices, and precognitive dreams—with a sedate, straightforward lucidity. Describing astral travel, she writes: “I left the deep cosmos and reentered the earth’s atmosphere, finding my house safely held by the surrounding fir, cedar, and pine-forested neighborhood. I phased back in through a wall, no need for doors.” The author’s willingness to gaze into the darkest recesses of existence may prove disturbing for some, as when she recalls her mother’s gruesome death following a battle with lung cancer: “As my mother’s crimson blood repainted the white sterility of the hospital floor; every red blood cell jumped from the sinking ship, pouring from her ears, her eyes, her nose.” Besides her ability to shock, Sweetland offers some pithy nuggets of wisdom, drawing on Zen Buddhist influences: “My identity is not my career. I won’t disappear because I’ve quit the only life I have ever known.” Skeptics will struggle with the bizarre nature of the author’s spiritual adventures while those open to ideas of mediums and the existence of higher dimensions should find this book enthralling.

A bold, if occasionally terrifying, personal account of spiritual transformation.

Pub Date: March 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-9826769-5-0

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Cauda Pavonis

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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