This is very much an Alcoholics Anonymous inspired story. That isn't a secret, Stephen King, recovering alcoholic, acknowledge the book's AA roots in interviews promoting this long-awaited sequel to The Shining. In this book, he's conjured up the True Knot, a peculiar band of vampires who rather than drinking blood, inhale the "steam" coming off victims who die horribly, mostly at their hands. Cleverly disguised as retirees traveling America in motor homes, these vampires desperately seek steam the way a junkie joneses for heroin or an alcoholic craves a drink. Like other addicts, members of the True Knot do any evil things to satisfy their addiction. It is up to Dan Torrance, the boy with the shining from the 1977 novel who is now a middle aged recovering alcoholic, to stop the True Knot. He gets help from Abra, a teenage girl, who has a powerful shining but is being hunted by the vampires who want to kill her for her steam. The ending where Dan confronts the True Knot and his own secret issues from his drinking days, pretty much follows the standard for thrillers. Will Patton, the reader of the Audible version, does an excellent job with the voices, including the New England accents of some of Dan's cohorts. There also is some good AA wisdom in this book but it is hard to judge how those outside the 12-Step world will view it.
I don't want to get too mystical about this book but as another reviewer mentioned, I too lost interest in alcohol after listening to it. Perhaps finding a purpose in life is the magic.
Also, the section near the end on paradoxical intention provides the best guide I've ever heard for overcoming unwanted habits and troublesome neurosis.
From the minute I started listening to this book I found it a little sanctimonious for my taste.
It sounds a lot more like a Sunday sermon than a anything like a lecture on personal development.
So I did a little research on the Web and discovered the author was a Mormon. He made a career out of cloaking Mormon teachings in the guise of secular self help.
In another book written for people of his faith he wrote: “I have found in speaking to various non-LDS groups in different cultures that we can teach and testify of many gospel principles if we are careful in selecting words which carry our meaning but come from their experience and frame of mind.” [Divine Center, p. 240.]
All this might be well and good for those who are interested in Mormon concepts. But there is no indication during the almost three-hour talk by the author that he is affiliated with the Mormons and that his religion is source material for his teachings.
This seems disingenuous at best.
Cleverly disguised as an amateur detective yarn melded with a ghost story, Joyland is actually a sentimental coming of age story with an ending that could make a hard boiled mystery fan cry.
Set at a North Carolina seaside amusement park in 1973, the tale is told by Devon Jones, a University of New Hampshire student, who spends the summer as an on-the-job training carny. Told in the first person, Devon, in his sixties, is writing the story in 2013, looking back on a special year in his otherwise uneventful youth. The reader can imagine an old man with prostate trouble doing searches on Google Chrome to tell the story of a time when research was done in libraries using the card catalog.
The thriller-style ending hinges on phone calls that were made and not made on the old Ma Bell system. It would not make sense in the era of the iPhone. Keeping us in That Seventies Show time frame while typing the story on a Mac, is a credit to the abilities of Stephen King. Of course, the author was a young man in 1973 and is now 67, so along with the research, he knows the era he's writing about first hand.
And the book is filled with nostalgia for a lost world where college students met on the beach, not on Facebook.Young workers lived in rooming houses and joined older residents to play the Scrabble board game in the parlor.There was still a place for amusement parks that were funkier and less scripted than Disney World or Six Flags, although the Disney version was increasingly forcing old carny into bankruptcy.
The serial murders at carnivals and the ghosts left behind are really subplots to Devnon's coming of age story. He gets his first job away from his New England home. His college sweetheart breaks his first-loving heart. He discovers an unexpected talent for entertaining children. He befriends a dying boy and his troubled young mother.
Devon also solves a murder, loses his virginity, and almost gets killed. He is saved in the end by a psychic child, and a televangelist's wayward daughter, who looks like Ann-Margaret and shoots like Annie Oakley.
Joyland's story is sweeter and sadder than anything his fans may recall King writing. Maybe because it is so personal and the author is so much older than his 1973 alter ego. Maybe writing in the old pulp fiction genre, freed a side of King's creativity that he hadn't been able to tap into before.
Whatever storytelling magic is going on in Joyland, the reader gets the feeling that rich and famous and surrounded by technology, the author would still like to be flying a kite on a North Carolina beach in 1973.
What begins as a pastoral relationship between a young Methodist minister and a talented six-year-old boy slowly devolves into a nightmare.
The horror develops slowly as what appears to be a gift for healing and a fascination with electric gadgets leads to one of the darkest visions of life after death in literary history. Few authors have imagined that land of the dead in the graphic and ghastly detail King gives his readers in this book.
Ye of little faith might do well to skip this novel as a faint hope in Heaven may be shattered. Non-believers who expect life to end like a hard drive crash may finish this book hoping they are right. Nothingness would be preferable to the vision of the afterlife in Revival.
More than a horror story, this is a novel of irony. The title itself it ironic. A Sunday sermon and an encounter with an electric Jesus figure causes a young boy to lose all faith. Miracle cures have the Devil's own side effects. In the end, the lone survivor lives by the grace of anti-depressant drugs.
Revival is an old man's tale, told by the innocent six-year-old boy, who through an odd combination of good and bad luck has survived to be 60. Like the author, who is 67, the narrator has lived through too many catastrophes to have much faith in anything beyond the mundane helpfulness that makes day-to-day living bearable.
This is one of the finest audio book productions I've ever heard. Stephen King tells us in the interview at the end that he was an early adopter of what were then (early 1980s) called "books on tape." And he loves them. In this production, he not only reads his novel, he wrote songs that are professionally performed to enhance the atmosphere of the book. Readers of the print version will miss that.
On the surface Bag of Bones is a ghost story. But it is also a meditation on the writer's craft. The decisions a writer makes for his characters interact with the choices all humans make in living their imperfect real lives. One ghost that may haunt King is the ghost in the machine of every novel he has ever written. And intriguingly, every novel he has ever read.
In the end, Bag of Bones is the story of a novelist who knows too much and too little at the same time. In that, he is not unlike his readers.
The only spooky thing about Mr. Mercedes, the latest book by Stephen King, is the way the author channels James M. Cain, the father of hardboiled crime fiction.
There are no zombies in this book.
No evil clowns or little girls with psychokinetic powers. No satanic armies unleashed by biowarfare experiments. No forces of good and evil fighting for the future of a disease ravaged world, No ghosts in empty hotel rooms.
There are no wormholes for time travelers.
There is nothing but 2014 hard core American reality.
Mr. Mercedes is an old fashioned hard-boiled detective yarn. It is what Cain or Dashiell Hammett might be writing if they were working in the social media world.
In keeping with the tough guy genre, the book does not take place in King’s more romantic locales -- haunted New England, stark and stormy Colorado or sunny but sinister Florida.
This is a Rust Belt novel set in an unidentified city where all the good union jobs went south decades ago. Most of the characters are either folks hanging onto a dwindling middle class dream or lost souls living on the riches made by capitalists who built industrial empires that now only exist in trust funds and memories.
If there were ghosts in this novel, they would probably be Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford.
Now, the heavy industries have been replaced by strip malls with yogurt shops and takeout chicken joints. The shopping centers are anchored by big box electronics stores holding neverending sales of unwanted DVDs as they teeter on the edge of brick and mortar bankruptcy.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this landscape would be too drab and depressing for most readers to bear.
But Stephen King works his storytelling magic even in the dingy dreamscape of the Great Recession.
As with the original hardboiled detective stories, Mr. Mercedes is character driven.
We first encounter Bill Hodges, a recently retired homicide detective, sitting in the living room of a lonely suburban house. He watches daytime television and nurses beers while playing with his revolver, contemplating the end of a seemingly meaningless existence.
King has an eye for the little details that define a character and the segment of popular culture he lives in, so his fictional people seem to live and breathe as we do.
“When Hodges returns to his chair with his small bundle of mail, the fight-show host is saying goodbye and promising his TV Land audience that tomorrow there will be midgets. Whether of the physical or mental variety he does not specify.”
I liked Detective Hodges right away.
Maybe because he reminds me of all my fellow restlessly retired baby boomers suffering from what-exactly-do-we-do-now syndrome.
As King’s original 1970s readers hit their 60s, the author, who just turned 67 himself, wisely introduces anti-heroes retirees can identify with, so they don’t feel the author has left them behind.
Retired Detective Hodges is that character in this book.
He is lured out of his torpor by a twentysomething (how perfect is that?) evil computer geek with a mundane name, Brady Hartsfield.
There is deep darkness in Brady’s mind and King understands what it is: :Every religion lies. Every moral precept is a delusion. Even the stars are a mirage. The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That’s all history is, after all: scar tissue.”
As the novel opens, Brady drives a stolen Mercedes into a crowd of job seekers, killing eight. As the story progresses, he is planning a suicide bombing in the midst of 3,000 concert goers.
Unlike terrorists, Brady has no politics. He just wants to kill a lot of people.
The plot is complicated but not complex as Detective Hodges works to stop the psychopath before he can kill again. This cat-and-mouse chase is told alternatively from the point of view of Hodges, the point of view of the psycho killer, and the point of view of God or the author, whomever you chose to believe. The manhunt plays out both on the mean streets of a dead-end city and in the more sinister haunts of social media.
Covering the American diversity bases, Hodges, who is more at home with a TV remote than an iPad, is joined by an unlikely duo with high tech skillsets: Jerome, a bright middle class African American high schooler with Harvard ambitions, and pathologically shy Holly, a teenage case of arrested development in a middle-aged woman’s body. Her battered but brilliant mind requires Winston cigarettes and Lexapro to operate at peak efficiency.
This detective trio and the psychopathic killer move among pre-teen girls in screaming love with a boy band, unemployed victims of random violence, underemployed high school graduates, greedy families living off inherited wealth, a once beautiful woman drowning in Vodka, plus gangbangers, mobsters, arms dealers, self-important security guards, and cops, who, as the genre requires, are not the brightest bulbs on the tree.
King pushes this avalanche of humanity down the mountain of his 448-page story.
Once it gets rolling, it is unstoppable.
And Will Patton's reading is pitch perfect.
If you are looking for an historical overview of teachings on compassion in the major religious and philosophical traditions this book is a fine choice.
Karen Armstrong is perhaps the best religious historian writing today for a non-academic audience. Her short biography of Buddha is excellent.
She has also written other histories and biographies covering religious traditions and their leaders.
This book seems something of a departure. Here she is not only writing about teachings on compassion in religious traditions, she is also offering a 12-step program for readers seeking to enhance their own compassion.
On the historical side, Armstrong offers interesting insights into how most religious traditions developed a version of the Golden Rule. This includes a humorous story about Hillel, the Jewish sage who was a contemporary of Jesus.
Armstrong tells us: "It is said that a pagan approached Hillel and promised to convert to Judaism if he could recite the entire Torah while he stood on one leg. Hillel replied: "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary."
To an extent this is also true of Armstrong's book which might be seen as an extended commentary on the history and value of practicing the Golden Rule.
However, her attempt to come up with a prescriptive 12 steps for practicing the Golden Rule seems an over-reach.
It lacks a key message that Bill Wilson put in the original 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. After noting that none of the AA members were perfect practitioners of the steps, Bill noted: "We are not saints."
Too much of Armstrong's 12 step program appears aimed at turning readers into "sages," her term for saints. I am skeptical about how many flawed human beings will be able to follow Armstrong's steps to become more compassionate. Living the Golden Rule in daily life is a goal so lofty that it may be a case where the seeker is more likely to find frustration rather than fulfillment.
Also, this book appears to have been written prior to the Great Recession and speaks to lifestyles that only a few lucky people now live post-2008. (This is a problem with a number of popular spiritual books that predate the crash.) People struggling to get by in the post 2008 economic reality in the U.S. may find Armstrong's 12 steps a little out of touch with the survival mode many workers find themselves in today.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a glamorization of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. People outside AA might confuse them with popular self-help formulas offered on cable TV.
Bill Wilson's 12 Step program, developed for hopeless drunks in the midst of the Great Depression, was never intended to be a diversion for affluent Yuppies seeking to up their spiritual game. Working the 12-Steps of AA is a tough way to recover from a life-threatening disease.
To expect an average reader to follow 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life may be a misunderstanding of the pure desperation required to work the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
My bottom line would be that this book is good as history but the program it offers is unlikely to work for people struggling to hold a job and feed themselves and perhaps a family in post-2008 America.
Krishnamurti is entirely different from any of the other teachers who came out of India in the past two centuries.
In this public talk recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in March 1972, he makes three things clear from the beginning: he does not consider himself a guru, he is not representing any religion, and this talk is not an entertainment.
His speaking style while dynamic may take some time to get used to because it is as unique as he is. He frequently refers to himself simply as "the speaker" and he implores his listeners to pay attention, listen closely and not accept what he is saying as coming from an authority.
Krishnamurti message cannot be distilled into a book blurb. The most that can be said is that he sought to empower his listeners to become spiritual lights unto themselves rather than relying on the authority of a teacher or holy book.
His talk is intended to lead the careful listener toward self discovery.
He asks you what are the facts about yourself when you step away from relying on the dogma of religions or the techniques of meditation teachers?
Even the careful listener to this talk and any talk by Krishnamurti will benefit from playing this audio more than once. There is a depth here that blossoms with repeated listening.
Many thanks should go to the producers of this digital re-mastering of a live recording made with 1970s analog technology. Krishnamurti's distinctive voice is clear and the usual background noise from such public talks is kept to a minimum.
Expect to learn about yourself if you listen carefully. But do not expect to be spoon fed second-hand spirituality.
Matthieu Ricard, a Tibetan Buddhist monk with a PhD. in the biological sciences, probably qualifies as a genius on many levels. His genius certainly shows in his creation of the most listenable audio meditation program I have ever encountered.
Most meditation audios I've listened to tend to start with long involved explanations, Ricard comes right to the point in plain English that is free of spiritual jargon. His guidance is broken up into segments that are less than five minutes long. You can listen to all 49.5 minutes in one go. Or you can listen to a segment and when the meditation chime sounds you can stop and reflect. This makes it ideal for someone who may only have a few minutes during a busy day. Take your iPod on a five minute walk and listen to Ricard tell you a little more about how a meditation practice may make you a happier person regardless of your outside circumstances.
As Ricard says: “It is the mind that translates good and bad circumstances into happiness or misery. So happiness comes with the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred, compulsive desire, arrogance and jealousy, which literally poison the mind. It also requires that one cease to distort reality and that one cultivate wisdom.”
He realizes this is not easy to do. You have to work to develop the practice of happiness. But when you consider that the alternative may be a miserable life, the practice is worth the effort.
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