Ryan Holiday’s “Stillness Is the Key” is an exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.
Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday 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.
(Holiday will speak and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information: bookpeople.com.)
A tender look at family life
In Jami Attenberg’s “All This Could Be Yours,” after the brutish family patriarch has a heart attack, the surviving Tuchmans (mostly) gather at his deathbed, each of them struggling to make sense of their past — and come to terms with their present.
“He was an angry man, and he was an ugly man,” the novel begins, “and he was tall, and he was pacing,” and this is how we meet Victor Tuchman in the moments before he collapses. And so the family begins to assemble: Alex, his daughter, a newly divorced lawyer, arrives in New Orleans from the Chicago suburbs; his long-suffering wife, Barbra, tiny and stoic, is already there. His son, Gary, is very notably absent, but Gary’s wife, Twyla — a family outlier, Southern and blonde — is in attendance, with her own family secrets. The novel takes place in one very long day but encompasses the entirety of lifetimes: Barbra’s life before marrying Victor and the life they led after; Alex’s unhappy Connecticut childhood and the growing gulf between her and her criminal father — irreconcilable, even in death. It encompasses Gary’s earnest attempt to build a stable family life, to escape his family through Twyla, and Twyla’s own search for meaning. Even the background characters have stories: the EMS worker who wants to move in with his girlfriend who doesn’t love him; the CVS cashier leaving for school in Atlanta next year. The Tuchmans won’t learn those stories, though, just as they won’t learn each other's, even the shared ones. Victor is the force that brings them together but also the rift that divides them. Alex wants the truth about her father, and Barbra won’t tell her; Gary wants the truth about his disintegrating marriage, and Twyla can’t explain. Prickly and unsentimental, but never quite hopeless, Attenberg, poet laureate of difficult families, captures the relentlessly lonely beauty of being alive.
Not a gentle novel but a deeply tender one.