THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE

A stop-and-smell-the-roses book by a distinguished French anthropologist.

According to Héritier (Two Sisters and Their Mother: The Anthropology of Incest, 1999), this book originated as a response to a postcard from her physician, friend and fellow academic, who wrote that he was enjoying his holiday in Scotland and referred to it as “a ‘stolen’ week.” The author started thinking about who was stealing what from whom and why her habitually overworked colleague felt the need to experience life’s sweetness during a stolen week rather than to enjoy it on a daily basis. Her response was “kind of a prose poem paying tribute to life…an enumeration, an ordinary list in one long sentence, of ideas that came to me of their own accord by fits and starts, like a long, whispered monologue” cataloging “the intimate thrill of small pleasures.” Essentially an essay-long sentence broken into more digestible bite-sized chapters (for to devour it all at once would make life seem more exhausting than sweet), she doesn’t write as an academic or an anthropologist, nor are the pleasures she shares particularly personal, though they do reflect her perspective as a woman and her experience as someone who remembers World War II. Her list runs the gamut from “remembering to breathe deeply now and then” and “feeling surprised that you are still alive,” to “urinating outdoors.” At the end, she invites readers to add to the list, reinforcing the idea that life’s riches are inexhaustible. Of her own list, she writes, “We are simply concerned with the way to make everything in life a treasure of grace and beauty that always keeps growing of its own accord, in a place where you can draw on it daily.”

A reminder of blessings.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-229104-2

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A vibrant, encouraging depiction of a sinister disorder.

REASONS TO STAY ALIVE

A British novelist turns to autobiography to report the manifold symptoms and management of his debilitating disease, depression.

Clever author Haig (The Humans, 2013, etc.) writes brief, episodic vignettes, not of a tranquil life but of an existence of unbearable, unsustainable melancholy. Throughout his story, presented in bits frequently less than a page long (e.g., “Things you think during your 1,000th panic attack”), the author considers phases he describes in turn as Falling, Landing, Rising, Living, and, finally, simply Being with spells of depression. Haig lists markers of his unseen disease, including adolescent angst, pain, continual dread, inability to speak, hypochondria, and insomnia. He describes his frequent panic attacks and near-constant anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure. Haig also assesses the efficacy of neuroscience, yoga, St. John’s wort, exercise, pharmaceuticals, silence, talking, walking, running, staying put, and working up the courage to do even the most seemingly mundane of tasks, like visiting the village store. Best for the author were reading, writing, and the frequent dispensing of kindnesses and love. He acknowledges particularly his debt to his then-girlfriend, now-wife. After nearly 15 years, Haig is doing better. He appreciates being alive and savors the miracle of existence. His writing is infectious though sometimes facile—and grammarians may be upset with the writer’s occasional confusion of the nominative and objective cases of personal pronouns. Less tidy and more eclectic than William Styron’s equally brief, iconic Darkness Visible, Haig’s book provides unobjectionable advice that will offer some help and succor to those who experience depression and other related illnesses. For families and friends of the afflicted, Haig’s book, like Styron’s, will provide understanding and support.

A vibrant, encouraging depiction of a sinister disorder.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-312872-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more