An eye-opening, consistently fascinating, and engrossing profile of the modern spiritualist movement.

THE IN-BETWEENS

THE SPIRITUALISTS, MEDIUMS, AND LEGENDS OF CAMP ETNA

A memoirist explores modern spiritualism through its centuries-old legacy and a hallowed summer camp.

Ptacin (Poor Your Soul, 2016) examines Maine’s Camp Etna, a summer colony established in 1876 dedicated to communal gatherings where spiritualists assemble for mental and physical mediumship and to engage in paranormal fellowship. The Maine-based author immersed herself in the community, and her reportage reflects equal amounts of diligent journalism and wide-eyed fascination. As Ptacin writes, spiritualists staunchly believe in the afterlife and that each human embodies the capacity and wields the tools to channel and communicate with a host of otherworldly entities. Her tour of the camp activities, which is both thrilling and unsettling, began with a startling “table tipping” session with a medium. In appropriately affable and accessible prose, the author describes what separates spiritualists from more common American religious traditions: They are “willing to offer and provide scientific evidence to prove what many people may otherwise believe to be a bunch of bullshit.” Running alongside her probing examination of Camp Etna is an astute history of the rise and fall of American spiritualism, which began in 1888 with Kate and Margaret Fox, who exhibited supernatural abilities. During her months at Camp Etna as initially “just a journalist eager to see a ghost,” Ptacin’s neophyte education on spiritualism and her interactions with its practicing population blossomed from spiked curiosity to rapt participation in ghost hunts and dowsing sessions. As the author notes, the spiritualists she met form an extraordinarily convictive community “grasping for meaning in humanity beyond the basic biological facts,” yet the enigmatic profiles—past and present—collectively display a much more dynamic tapestry. Ptacin also brings aspects of faith and individual ability into view, as when she probed the difficulty of uncovering one’s own spirit guide and an Etna spiritualist confidently spoke: “We all can do it.”

An eye-opening, consistently fascinating, and engrossing profile of the modern spiritualist movement.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-381-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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