Full of surprise and wonder—and relevant research.

THE WELL-GARDENED MIND

THE RESTORATIVE POWER OF NATURE

An analysis of and tribute to the beneficial effects of gardening on the heart and mind.

Stuart-Smith—a veteran psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and devoted gardener in the U.K.—employs several tactics in her debut work. She relates her personal history with gardening (she didn’t care for it initially); explores the history of gardening in various cultures and contexts; describes how gardening has been used in a variety of therapeutic situations—including such institutions as mental hospitals and prisons—and in ravaged communities in need of restoration (urban farms and gardens). The author notes that she’d once been an English major, and many of her allusions are sturdy confirmation: William Wordsworth, who is prominent early in the text; Henry David Thoreau; Wilfred Owen; Michel de Montaigne, who wanted to die in his garden; and Virginia Woolf are some who stroll through the garden of Stuart-Smith’s text. Also present are numerous luminaries in psychology (Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, and Jean Piaget), medicine (Oliver Sacks), and researchers in a variety of fields. Readers might think—based on the title and subject matter—that this is some kind of self-help, New Age text. It’s not. The author delivers a thoroughly researched text based on her deep and wide reading about the history of gardening, her visits to many of the therapeutic garden sites she mentions, and her interviews with many people, professionals and patients alike. Yes, there are a few sentences that, taken out of context, sound a little bit precious (“an environment can be a spiritual as well as a physical home”), but most of these sentences blossom in beds of substantial research. Stuart-Smith ends with a tight chapter about the climate crisis and its effects on both our physical and psychological health. “Just as the state of the planet is unsustainable,” she writes, “so our lifestyles have become psychologically unsustainable.”

Full of surprise and wonder—and relevant research.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9446-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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 handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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