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 lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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