VIRGIN TIME

Hampl, a poet, professor (English/Univ. of Minnesota), and MacArthur Fellow, peers into her soul and finds the Church. A rambling, radiant travelogue-cum-memoir, a sequel of sorts to the author's acclaimed autobiography, A Romantic Education (1981). Raised by devout Catholic parents, schooled by nuns, Hampl nevertheless finds that ``most of the time I'm so removed from belief I confuse it with having an opinion.'' To resolve this dilemma, she heads to Europe to ``see the old world of Catholicism.'' Most of her time is spent in Assisi, scrambling up holy mountains, kneeling in crypts, sifting her past, recording the chatter of priests, nuns, and other seekers. Just about all of it is passed on to us: encounters with fellow travelers whose passions and prattle fill up too much of the text; superb memories of a Catholic childhood drenched in dogma, instructed by nuns who radiated ``a bracing coolness''; gems of theological insight (``it was integral to the fundamental inspiration of Christianity that Jesus was poor. He was nothing and nobody, and therefore he could be a metaphor from minute one. He was the Word made flesh''); too many passages that sound like warmed-over Annie Dillard (on an airplane, ``wrinkles of terror run over the soles of my feet. My toes curl towards earth''). Over all hovers the kindly presence of St. Francis; beneath all runs the urgency of Hampl's quest, driven by the realization that ``God was not at stake....prayer was the real question.'' A tentative answer comes, oddly, not in Assisi but in a tacked-on visit to a Cistercian monastery in California. Much like a High Mass: rich, beautiful, boring, elevating.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-28440-7

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1992

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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

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

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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