A solid blend of autobiography and self-help manual that addresses a global concern.

SECRET PANDEMIC

THE SEARCH FOR CONNECTION IN A LONELY WORLD

A writer ties the trauma of her upbringing to worldwide trends in loneliness and connection.

In this debut book, Heng combines a memoir with a self-help guide. She explains how she came to understand the lack of genuine human connection in her life and how it kept her from being fulfilled. At the same time, she investigated the broader global experience of loneliness and social isolation and how these have been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. The author, who grew up in Australia in a Chinese Singaporean family and later spent time in Switzerland, Dubai, and Singapore, discovered in adulthood that the dysfunctional norms she grew up with were a unique combination of cultural factors and her parents’ physical and mental illnesses. All of this left her without a strong sense of self or connection to others. Through therapy and research, she came to understand how the behaviors learned in her youth set her up for unhealthy relationships and inauthentic links to others. Each chapter mixes a personal story with big picture data from medical and psychological research and ends with Heng’s recommendations for how readers can strengthen their own relationships, build community, and combat loneliness for themselves and others. The book does a good job of making itself relevant by demonstrating the depth of the global problem of loneliness, and the author’s international perspective brings some variety to an often America-centric genre. Heng has a talent for vivid imagery (she remembers that her father “would come home from golf with arms like Cadbury top deck chocolate, white beneath his capped sleeves and dark brown on his forearms”), which makes the volume an easy and engaging read. The work’s nonlinear path through the personal elements of the author’s story (she moves back and forth between caring for her aging mother and recounting the childhood experiences that negatively shaped their relationship) can feel a bit meandering at times. But the serpentine narrative eventually reaches an emotionally satisfying conclusion that allows Heng to make a convincing case for how she has gone from a victim of loneliness to an adviser to others in the same position.

A solid blend of autobiography and self-help manual that addresses a global concern.

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5445-2759-8

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Lioncrest Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

SO HELP ME GOD

The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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