Journalism & Publishing
How to Be a Person in the World:
Ask Polly’s Guide through the
Paradoxes of Modern Life.
By Heather Havrilesky.
July 2016. 272p. Doubleday, $25.95 (9780385540391).
If gentle, hand-holding self-help is what
readers are looking for, beware. Havrilesky’s
trenchant—but inspiring!—brand of advice
is full of such quips as “You
MUST recognize that life
among those who don’t appreciate or understand you
is bullshit.” For the past
four years, Havrilesky (
Disaster Preparedness, 2010)
has been dishing out such
words of wisdom on the
Internet every week in her popular column,
Ask Polly, selections of which are collected
here. With the caring but no-holds-barred
voice of a close friend who knows you all too
well, Havrilesky replies to letters and offers
advice on relationships, marriage, creativity, careers, parenting, and growing old. Her
answers are often full of irreverent commentary and always contain some well-placed
cursing, but at the heart of each is a plea to
graciously accept the juddering path of mere
existence, even at its worst moments, and
embrace the vulnerability of the moment
just as it is. There are no platitudes here; just
an honest acknowledgement that though the
world is unfair and people can be thoughtless, there is strength in self-acceptance,
autonomy, and the pursuit of those things,
however mundane they may be, that bring
delight. Readers allergic to classic self-help
will adore Havrilesky’s empowering, ground-ing, and utterly sincere message delivered in
a lovingly unsparing, perfectly profane tone.
YA: Teens facing their own existential
crises will be well-served by Havrilesky’s
particular brand of wisdom. SH.
Philosophy & Psychology
A Book about Love.
By Jonah Lehrer.
July 2016. 304p. Simon & Schuster, $26
Lehrer (Imagine, 2012) begins this gen-
erally fascinating examination of close
relationships by confessing past sins to clear
the air. He then considers love for spouses,
offspring, even Jesus Christ. Lehrer is at his
best when he cites specific studies (children
of highly involved biological dads are more
likely to get As) and at his least authoritative
when making the occasional contradictory
pronouncement. For example, in an early
section he declares that love “goes on and
on”; then, much later, he tells readers that
love “does not last forever.” Lehrer also offers
statistics that, though interesting, seem a bit
off topic, such as the number of soldiers who
died in the Civil War (750,000, 2 percent
of the population). Alcoholics Anonymous
gets lengthy notice because recovering drink-
ers who help others, typically by serving as
a sponsor, are nearly twice as likely to stay
sober. No guide to romance, Lehrer’s study
is, instead, a look at the benefits of love in
many forms in which he presents a strong
case for spending quality time with children
and other loved ones. —Karen Springen
Walking with Plato: A Philosophical Hike
through the British Isles.
By Gary Hayden.
July 2016. 240p. Oneworld, $29.99 (9781780746562). 101.
Among the thousands who have braved
the thousand-mile walk from John o’Groats
in northeastern Scotland to Land’s End in
southwestern Cornwall, none has measured
his or her steps more thoughtfully than
Hayden. Though only his wife, Wendy, ac-companies him on his three-month hike
through the countryside, readers will marvel
at the range of writers who open his mind
to new perspectives on that unfolding landscape. During that journey of body and
intellect, the author and his readers travel
from footsore reflections in the early going
on how Epictetus rejoiced in bodily pleasures to later recollections while approaching
Inverarnan on how Kierkegaard walked
himself out of depression. Lying on his back
contemplating the stars above Greenhead,
Hayden remembers how Hildebrand Jacob
expatiated on the sublime, and surveying the
pastures near Coleshill, he savors Tennyson’s
lush description of rural vistas. Finally, the
end of the trail occasions melancholy musings on how Basho intuited the transience
of all things in a single cuckoo’s cry. A
compelling reminder that serious reading sustains—even transforms—lived experience.
Reflecting on Death, Mourning, and the
Afterlife in the Jewish Tradition.
By Hillel Halkin.
June 2016. 240p. Princeton, $27.95 (9780691149745).
Literary scholar, premier translator of He-
The Book of the People: How to Read
brew and Yiddish literatures, depth reporter
on modern Israeli life, and on the far side
of 75, Halkin is just the man to condense
the riches of Jewish thanatology. He demon-
strates from the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud,
and the wealth of Jewish mysticism, phi-
losophy, and literature that Jewish thought
about what lies beyond death and how rela-
tives and others should react to death has
evolved in rich interaction with the cultures
that surrounded ongoing Judaism. Indeed,
whether the concept about death be the per-
sistence of a soul, afterlife in a blank place
such as Sheol or something like a heaven
or hell, divine judgment upon death and/
or long after it, or reincarnation, Judaism
has refined outside influences rather than
created. As Halkin proceeds to traditional
Jewish practices in response to death, such
as preparation and burial of the corpse, sit-
ting shiva, praying the kaddish, and other
mourning rituals, he injects more of his own
experiences. What begins as analytic history
ends in deeply moving, reflective memoir.
By A. N. Wilson.
June 2016. 224p. Harper, $26.99 (9780062433466). 221.6.
Books about the history of other books
have become a bit of a trend (Maureen
Corrigan on The Great Gatsby, Kevin Birmingham on Ulysses), and now acclaimed
novelist and biographer Wilson (Victoria,
2014) adds this fascinating look at the enduring appeal of the Bible to the short list.
The story of the Bible is incomplete, Wilson
posits, without an understanding of how this
collection of poetry and stories has become
a living thing through its relationship with
readers. In describing the efforts of myriad
historians, archaeologists, and other scholars
to understand what the Bible is and what it
means, Wilson argues persuasively that the
oft-debated question of the historicity of
biblical events is not as important as the effect the book has had, and continues to have,
on individuals and societies. Wilson offers a
thoughtful work that will have readers pondering their own relationship with the Bible.
Grace without God: The Search for
Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a
By Katherine Ozment.
June 2016. 304p. Harper/Wave, $25.99
Ozment uses her own story to chart the
growth of the secular movement. She is one
of the religiously unaffiliated, or Nones, as
they are called; in 2015, nearly one-fourth
of Americans considered themselves nonreligious. Like many people of her generation,
Ozment was raised in a religious environment but left it behind as a young adult. As
the subtitle indicates, this book describes
her attempt to find meaning and purpose
in secular America and, essentially, to answer the question, “What happens when
we let go of religion?” She discusses moral
authority, the Golden Rule, the common
good, religious literacy, Death Cafes, the
comforts of science, and the mindfulness