Praise for FOUR MEN SHAKING : Searching for Sanity with Samuel Beckett, Norman Mailer, and My Perfect Zen Teacher

Circling Emptiness

Recalling his friendships with Norman Mailer and Samuel Beckett, a Zen student and writer grapples with a central Buddhist teaching.

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As I’d see after Mailer’s death, when I read his last book, the question of emptiness and nothingness never ceased to obsess him.

In his enthralling memoir, novelist and Zen Buddhist Shainberg (Ambivalent Zen) explores questions about writing, spiritual practice, and brain damage through his personal relationships with Norman Mailer, Samuel Beckett, and Kyudo Nakagawa. Shainberg points to an early turning point in his life when, during a session with a therapist, he was freed of his impulses and became able to accept the present moment with equanimity. After this experience, he writes of how he conceived of the main tension in his life: the twofold desires to create form out of emptiness, and to see emptiness as an underlying form. Shainberg spends most of the book teasing apart this tension. In his estimation, Mailer and Beckett responded to this tension differently: Mailer embraced form, struggling to make sense of the vicissitudes of the everyday; Beckett embraced emptiness, lingering in the void of meaninglessness. Lurking in the middle between form and emptiness—and calling Shainberg to return to the present moment—is the Zen teacher Kyudo Nakagawa. Shainberg’s enlightening memoir about three transformative relationships is accessible, deceptively simple, and wise. (July)

Link: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-61180-729-5

Beckett was right about Shainberg’s gifts as an observer.
— Harper's Magazine

From Pushcart Prize-winning author Lawrence Shainberg, a funny and powerful memoir about literary friendships, writing, and Zen practice.

”Inexplicably good karma”—to this, author Lawrence Shainberg attributes a life filled with relationships with legendary writers and renowned Buddhist teachers. In Four Men Shaking he weaves together the narratives of three of those relationships: his literary friendships with Samuel Beckett and Norman Mailer, and his teacher-student relationship with the Japanese Zen master Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi. In Shainberg’s lifelong pursuit of both writing and Zen practice, each of these men represents an important aspect of his experience. The audacious, combative Mailer becomes a symbol in Shainberg’s mind for the Buddhist concept of “form,” while the elusive and self-deprecating Beckett seems to embody an awareness of “emptiness.” Through it all is Nakagawa, the earthy, direct Zen master challenging Shainberg to let go of his endless rumination and accept reality as it is.”

- Shambhala

Shainberg’s enlightening memoir about three transformative relationships is accessible, deceptively simple, and wise.
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
Brilliant. And very moving.
— Mark Epstein MD, author of Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself
Where else can you find penetrating insights into the creative and spiritual complexities of daily life alongside no-holds-barred conversations involving literary icons Samuel Beckett and Norman Mailer? Four Men Shaking is engaging from beginning to end, and beyond.
— Rudolph Wurlitzer, author of The Drop Edge of Yonder and Hard Travel to Sacred Places
Shainberg has done the impossible: taken three entirely different lives and woven them together so they form a fourth—an honest, wide-eyed but sage narrator who can both thumb-wrestle and meditate. The book combines humor and wisdom in an original and totally engaging narrative. I read it with full pleasure.
— John Skoyles, author of A Moveable Famine and Secret Frequencies
Four Men Shaking felt to this reader a deeply necessary utterance, one effortlessly delivered after decades of rigorous preparation. By the time I finished it I was a fifth man shaking, and with gratitude.
— Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn


Link: Harper’s Article referencing FOUR MEN SHAKING - PDF download - Christopher Taylor

“Pietro Bembo, a Venetian poet and scholar, staked his first claim to fame in a short book he published in 1496, when he was in his mid-­twenties. De Aetnadescribed, in Latin, a hike Bembo had made to the top of Mount Etna in Sicily. Even in summer, he observed, there was snow on the peak.“