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 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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