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Learning to Fall


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Philip Simmons is associate professor of English at Lake Forest College in Illinois, where he taught literature and creative writing for nine years before being disabled. His literary scholarship has been published widely and his short fiction has appeared in Playboy, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, and the Massachusetts Review, among other magazines. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children.


Living fully in the face of a debilitating fatal illness is the challenge Simmons, then an associate professor of English at Lake Forest College in Illinois, faced when he was told in 1993 he had ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and had less than five years to live. As his illness progressed, a wheelchair-bound Simmons moved with his wife and two children to southern New Hampshire, near the rugged mountains he once had climbed. Writing in his cabin in view of an old dump, Simmons describes the wonders of nature remembered and still visible from his abode. He tells of his search for life's meaning in a variety of religious and secular texts, among them the story of Jesus, the philosophy of Zen, Sufi and Buddhist masters, medieval Christian mystics, Emerson's essays and the poetry of Yeats. In a wry disclaimer, Simmons notes that learning to live richly in the face of loss is a highly individual undertaking, and adds, "I'm not in the business of issuing directives, offering tips, imposing lists of spiritual dos and don'ts, or providing neat, comforting formulas." Indeed, his little book of thoughtful essays offers no easy solutions to dealing with suffering and sorrow, but it does chronicle how the experience of living at the edge can become an extraordinary connection to the eternal. Agent, Bob Markel. (Jan. 9) Forecast: Few books on loss and death manage to break out to a mass audience, but Bantam's promised publicity and advertising campaign may help this well-written chronicle of a spiritual journey make a strong showing in the marketplace. Xlibris published it last year to much acclaim. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) at age 35, Simmons left his position as a professor of English to return to his native New Hampshire. The author of numerous articles and one previous book, he has crafted essays out of his reflections, understanding, and observations of everyday rural life. Interwoven throughout is Simmons's theme of letting go as a necessary means of embracing life. With a knack for blending the esoteric and the mundane, Simmons presents his own insight into the well-known messages of Western and Eastern spiritual masters, such as Rumi, the Dalai Lama, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hahn, and Meister Eckhart. As a family man with a degenerative disease, he writes with a marvelous understanding of acceptance, always knowing that tomorrow you still have to do the laundry. Eschewing the saccharine found in other works of this kind, these engaging essays are recommended for public libraries. Andy Wickens, King Cty. P.L., WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Sometimes there is no difference between a book and a blessing. In Philip Simmons has blessed us all."
-- Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessings

"Pure poetry, tinged with irony and humor, in the voice of a present-day Thoreau whose Walden is his family, the landscape of New Hampshire, and a young body fading away. A deeply moving rhapsody on inhabiting the human condition."
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living and Wherever You Go, There You Are

"Philip Simmons writes with clarity and a passion for honesty, laced with wit. An extraordinary book."
-- Elaine Pagels, Princeton University, author of The Gnostic Gospels "Generous and genuine, like water from a deep well, halfway between a meditation and a dance, this book is an act of grace."
-- Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

"Learning to Fall is for anyone who loves life -- or needs to love it more.... A wonderful achievement."
-- Balfour Mount, M.D., Professor of Palliative Medicine, McGill University "Not only has Philip Simmons figured out the meaning of life for himself; with prodigious literary grace he has figured out how to tell us too. Required reading for Basic Humanity 101."
-- Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, author of Invisible Lines of Connection

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