An informative but emotionally remote journey through modern-day Nepal.

WITHOUT EVER REACHING THE SUMMIT

A JOURNEY

A writer recounts his spiritual trek through a remote region of the Himalayas.

In 2017, with his 40th birthday soon approaching, Italian writer Cognetti was inspired to embark on an expedition in the Dolpo in northwestern Nepal. Accompanying the author was a team of nine travelers, including a childhood friend from Italy, a painter he had recently met, and several local Sherpa guides along with their mules. Their plan was to trek hundreds of kilometers across often uninhabited mountains, ascending to heights over 5,500 meters. “There is a whole region,” he writes, “above four thousand meters untouched by the monsoons or paved roads—the most arid, remote, and least populated part of the country. Perhaps up there, I said to myself, I could see the Tibet that no longer exists, that none of us can see anymore. This was the journey I wanted for my fortieth birthday, a fitting way to celebrate my farewell to that other lost kingdom: youth.” Cognetti’s journey was also greatly inspired by the Peter Matthiessen classic The Snow Leopard. Throughout, he liberally references and quotes Matthiesen, and while following a similar path, he revisits memorable locations from that book. The emerging parallels in their stories unfortunately expose Cognetti’s weakness as a storyteller. The author is a fine travel writer, investing his narrative with vivid insights into the present-day Nepalese region and sharing the often grueling physical effects of traversing through these high altitudes. Yet his personal context for the undertaking is vague. Matthiessen’s physical and spiritual journey is deeply enhanced by the intimate and emotional experiences of his past; his spiritually enlightening memoir is often moving. Readers unfamiliar with Cognetti’s previous work may come away from this slender narrative feeling they know little about him.

An informative but emotionally remote journey through modern-day Nepal. (illustrations)

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297831-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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