Intriguing columns best read in small doses.

READ REVIEW

THE NEW 60

OUTLIVING YOURSELF AND REINVENTING A FUTURE

A collection of columns Levithan—a contributor to The Huffington Post and the Good Men Project Magazine—wrote about approaching and reaching the age of 60.

At first glance readers might wonder what is so singular about this milestone, but Levithan’s story is extraordinary. In 1984 he tested positive for HIV, grew increasingly ill and sat parked at death’s door before he won a lifesaving medical lottery a decade later: He was chosen to participate in a trial for an antiretroviral cocktail to fight HIV. Levithan is not short on gratitude for being alive and beating the long odds; he talks about his work as a volunteer counselor for many experiencing health crises or struggling with gay issues. He discusses society’s internalized prejudices—homophobia, ageism, anti-Semitism—and dreams of a time when differences will be celebrated. His most compelling stories are those he tells about others—quirky relatives or talented, true friends. Sadly, these anecdotes are too few and the predominant thrust of the book lies with the author. Many passages read like excerpts from a schoolboy’s diary: He recounts successful and disappointing dates (readers may wince at his lack of discretion when describing them) and how he frequently gets hit on by men in their early 20s. Missing from the frank discussions of sex—despite his life-threatening, life-changing experience with AIDS—is any mention of condoms or the importance of safe sex. Thematically, these columns center on celebrating and coming to terms with turning 60. Even so, the repetition can be wearying when read in toto. The author admits being told he could be “more discrete in content and tone” and states “I have been accused of bragging, of flaunting my sexuality and physical attributes—my privileges.” The collection could have been stronger if the author had heeded this advice.

Intriguing columns best read in small doses.

Pub Date: March 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468009897

Page Count: 148

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2012

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

OPEN BOOK

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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