A lovely evocation of some “spectral and unreal” elements of the British landscape.

GHOSTWAYS

TWO JOURNEYS IN UNQUIET PLACES

Travels in spectral places whose names are barely on the map of England—and so much the better.

Writing with Donwood and Richards, Macfarlane, perhaps the foremost British nature writer at work today, extends his fascination with little-known geographies—see his last book, the outstanding Underland (2019)—by visiting two beyond-the-ken English districts. The first is the “untrue island” of Orford Ness off East Anglia, both wild and bearing a heavy human footprint. Half a century ago, it was used by the government for nuclear tests; now, “brown hares big as deer lope across expanses of shingle cratered by explosions, and the wind sings in the wires of abandoned perimeter fences.” Macfarlane walks the sandy, grassy landscape, delivering a portrait that blends poetry, prose poem, dialogue, and essay, peppered with sightings of the ghostly and uncanny. As is his wont, the author sprinkles long-forgotten landscape terms throughout his pages (“drongs, sarns, snickets, bostles”). One of them is the subject of the second part of the book, the “holloway”—the hollow way, an ancient avenue of humans and animals worn in the soft rock of Exeter, some thousands of years old. “A sunken path, a deep & shady lane,” writes Macfarlane. “A route that centuries of foot-fall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll & rain-run have harrowed into the land,” kin to a hedgerow but wilder still, since few holloways are used by modern travelers: “They have thrown up their own defences and disguises: nettles & briars guard their entrances, trees to either side bend over them & lace their topmost branches to form a tunnel or roof.” The writing is idiosyncratic and elegant, the story inviting enough that, for all its eldritch elements, one might wish to wake up covered in dew and join Macfarlane, Richards, and Donwood (perhaps best known for his Radiohead album covers) in a meal of damson gin and tea-bread—and maybe see a few ghosts along the way.

A lovely evocation of some “spectral and unreal” elements of the British landscape.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-01582-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 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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