A powerful, sometimes surreal memoir about facing grief through faith.

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Messages from My Hero in Heaven

A grieving mother finds comfort in the notion that her deceased son is, in many ways, still with her.

Davidson’s son, Paul, died while in the military at the age of 20, leaving her with grief, many questions, and the uncanny sense that he was still present in her life. Her debut memoir blurs the line between presence and absence, telling stories of Paul’s childhood and of events immediately following his death. Paul, she says, remained at her side through every difficult moment, and many sentences in this book are addressed directly to him: “Do you remember, Paul,” Davidson asks, “when we first looked at houses in our neighborhood?” She informs him that she knows that he’s still with the family even now: “Two days after you passed over to heaven, your aunt Lauren heard you playing music in her house. You let her know you were there with Grammy Elizabeth.” These added layers of complexity give Davidson’s prose a sense of intimacy, as if one is reading a diary or personal letters. She reminisces about the family’s various houses, the times that Paul played with his brother and cousins, and his many accomplishments in high school. She intimately juxtaposes these happy memories with difficult moments from her life, such as when soldiers arrived to tell her that Paul had died, and when she took a car ride to the funeral wearing a black dress. At times, the lines between happiness and grief become indistinct, and this gives the book an ethereal tone, reinforced by the author’s accounts of Paul’s supernatural visits. She asserts that he came to her and other family members in order to comfort them, answer questions about his death, and show them his new life in heaven. It’s never quite clear how literally readers should take these accounts, but this ambiguity only makes their comforting images more powerful. The book also features pictures from Paul’s childhood, selected poems about him by the author, and passages describing Davidson’s faith in God. Overall, the author has crafted a powerful piece about grief, and although it’s filled with hope, it also brings across the severity and sadness of its subject.

A powerful, sometimes surreal memoir about facing grief through faith.

Pub Date: July 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6888-4

Page Count: 126

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 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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