“Death is serious,” wrote poet Howard Nemerov, “or else all things are serious except death.” Stacy Horn, the fortyish CEO of a floundering online service and a teacher at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, recently had what she calls an early midlife crisis, documented in her new book, Waiting for My Cats to Die (St. Martin’s Press, 309 pp. $22.95). Obsessed with death, she began researching the history of a ghost inhabiting her apartment, exploring cemeteries, and interviewing old folks, all to get a handle on negotiating the second half of her life. Her aging cats, she discovered, had diabetes, and her limited funds, which might have bailed out her business, were going to the vet in futile attempts to keep them well.
I may not be the ideal reviewer for this engaging volume; one of Horn’s interviewees is my mother, and I’ve been a member of her online community, Echo, for years. And I’m definitely not a cat person. Nevertheless, I’m awed by Horn’s tenacious research skills, which took her all over the metropolitan area in a search for evidence of the continuity and caring of the human race. An unusual memoir, Waiting focuses on just a few years, has a happy ending, and is about much more than her own shaky center. It’s real literature, designed, as Nemerov said in another context, “to keep out windy time and the worm.” —ELIZABETH ZIMMER
Celebrate the publication of Waiting for My Cats to Die at a benefit party, Friday, March 16, at 8, Westbeth Theater, 151 Bank Street, 212-674-5151 (RSVPs to Erica, at extension 525, are essential). The $20 admission fee, which includes free beer and hard cider and entertainment by the Loser’s Lounge, benefits the cat rescue organization City Critters.
This is not a self-help book, but you should read it anyway. Intimacy (Lauren Berlant, editor, University of Chicago Press, 455 pp., $25) is a readable collection of academic essays addressed to “a readership with a high degree of postgraduate education.” Aimed to disrupt commonsensical thinking about love, therapy, and the psyche (like, why does “getting a life” mean getting laid?), many of the essays weave sexy prose with theoretically sophisticated sociobabble.
Amid the scholarly citations of the usual, canonical suspects (Marx, Freud, Foucault, Marcuse), the editor has included an autobiographical poem by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (zero footnotes!) and a set of photos by Laura Letinsky called “Coupling.” Other topics range from the esoteric to the deadly serious, including Kantian sex, Das Kapital as marriage (that is, adultery) manual, diasporic intimacy, erotic vomiting, psychoanalysis as the ideology of American consumerism, public anxieties expressed “at the tip of the clitoris,” government statistics as therapy for the masses, and the legal status of the black woman’s uterus. —PABLO MORALES
Thanks to waves of immigration from the Far East, New Yorkers seeking alternatives to Western medicine have ample resources. The “Health and Fitness” chapter in Asia in New York City: A Cultural Travel Guide (Asia Society, 308 pp., $17.95 paper) offers an introduction to the topic, including detailed listings of providers. From Indian ayurvedic and Tibetan treatments to traditional Chinese medicine, it covers all the bases, with descriptions of exotic remedies like goo gee tse (berries eaten to counter dizziness). I learned that tui na is Chinese massage, that vets can treat depressed dogs with acupuncture, and that hospital patients perform qi gong (meditation combined with slow movements akin to tai chi) for physical therapy in China. The chapter on “Religion and Spirituality” is quite useless, with only the vaguest mention of the tenets underlying Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. While AINYC is handsomely produced, for spiritual guidance you’d best look elsewhere. —J. YEH
Dumb Like a Fox
If you feel empty inside (and not because it’s been six hours since your last burrito), it might be time to search for the meaning of life in Spirituality for Dummies (IDG Books, 358 pp., $19.99 paper), a chunky primer by Sharon Janis (a/k/a Kumuda—I kid you not). Despite cringe-worthy chapter titles like “Let Go and Let God” and epigraphs from Stuart Smalley and “Peace Pilgrim,” it provides a comprehensive rundown of the existential questions that Eastern spirituality aims to answer. Even skeptics can gain self-knowledge from the thought and visualization exercises strewn throughout the book, which demonstrate how to take a positive view of negative experiences and let go of emotional baggage—like going to a therapist, but cheaper. Janis explains meditation, yoga, and other practices in a chipper, down-to-earth style, using everyday analogies and many an exclamation point, that won’t scare off the novice. As for the accompanying CD of multicultural chants and songs, only hardcore seekers will be able to listen with a straight face. —J.Y.
Janet Bode and Stan Mack’s For Better or Worse: A Guide to Surviving Divorce for Preteens and Their Families (Simon & Schuster, 164 pp., $16) is an honest, moving, and useful resource for anyone trying to understand or cope with the effects of divorce. Bode, the late award-winning author, interviewed the most reliable source, the children involved—collecting stories, artwork, poetry, and advice from over a thousand kids, as well as information from parents, teachers, therapists, and others. Personal experiences shared by children show others they’re not alone, strange, or hopeless. The kids even reveal some benefits of having stepparents or stepsiblings, and tell of ways they overcame hardships. A section entitled “For Parents” includes personal accounts, advice from professionals, other resources, and productive ways to stimulate conversation with children while reading the guide together. Mack’s cartoons lighten up the reading experience for children, and may inspire them to express their emotions artistically. —ARIELLE FREEDBERG