ever so many BOOKS!
I'm kinda new to American
history. The detail in historical biographies like this utterly
astound me. Colors and materials of Dolley's dresses,
descriptions of the "white house" that was burned... miles of
quotes from letters to and from Dolley. Amazing what has been
saved, and how a good author brings a slice of history to life.
Golly, Ms Dolley, what an interesting life. Dolley could handle
everything but her son. (The old story.) Thank you,
What a super travel listen!
Only listened-- haven't seen tv series or the illustrated book.
My interest in the national parks has cooled since they became so
crowded--I tend to stay away out of respect to their survival.
This book brought me back to what astonishing works of love and vision
created this country's parks. Wow. I'm one grateful
benefactor. Amazing story.
Can't remember when I listened to
this--earlier this year-- only that it was one of the most utterly
delightful books, yet, and that's saying a lot. Listened to
several CDs twice. World history, as from the beginning of time,
is pretty much a black hole in my life. Wouldn't have a clue
where to start. Gombrich does. His kid's sized bites were
right down my alley. Didn't hurt that he has the lens of an art
historian, though it was written when the author was young. Can't
Didn't expect to listen to this
straight through to the point I sat in bed listening because I was
certain I'd be unable to renew it. (Of course I could; nothing
mainstream about my interests.) Completely taken back by the
popular author of Eat Pray Love.
This is the book she was meant
to write! (I admit I haven't read anything but EPL.) I was
so impressed by Committed and not having heard of it, read a few
reviews, one opining that the book was way too personal. Of
course that's why I appreciated it so much--not a text book, but life
experience mixed with research. Gilbert really helped this cranky
spinster sort through the pluses and minuses of pairing off like no one
else. Thank you!
usually listen straight through to history without switching to
something else for variety, but Ellis had me again as he brought
Washington to life. No doubt any number of us would like to kill
wife Martha Dandridge Custis for burning their letters. Otherwise
Washington's life (1732-1799) was fully documented, per his
intention. Amazing. Time to and from Minneapolis flew,
though nothing, nothing, nothing could keep me away in the wee hours of
the foggy drive home. I was drop jawed by yet another deliberate
life and it's lessons. The crazier the world gets, the more I
appreciate amazing lives.
New York Times review uses deep, brave and wonderful to describe
Skloot's book. I concur and add, compassionate.
The subject of cancer cells wouldn't be on my to read list. However, I wasn't far into listening to Immortal Life, when I started wondering why I liked the book so extraordinarily, was willing to put precious time and brain cells in a young writer's hands. Almost immediately began writing enthusiastic comments in my head. As Skloot's years of research went on--one reason I appreciated the book-- Henrietta's story is quite an Odyssey. The author could have been all over the place. But no, she wove the nearly impossible story that spans 50 some years admirably, as it unfolded, keeping the reader on course, focusing on her subjects, with just enough of her own personal involvement to make things real but not interfere. Keep raving (to myself of course)--this book doesn't need an editor--amazing!
It's also a work of genealogy and history (which I appreciate more and more). Undoubtedly it was the story's aspect of reconciliation that touched me most deeply. What a book! Could only have come out of hearts and minds willing to look beyond anger and money. Skloot's stupendous work of love is about love, fear, science, patience, families. She doesn't point blank say she was "called" to the project-- she doesn't need to. Immortal Life is about the most compelling voice for education I've ever encountered. And yes, it's about science. Eventually my burning questions about growing cancer cells were answered. Finally, where's God in all this?? The thread of religion is intriguing.
What a way to cross the country, listening to Dan Brown. The
author may be formulaic (sp?)--personally I think many novels are;
I loved his theology and history, which rang refreshingly true for
me. Horrified myself by getting sucked into a novel with
such suspense and horror as I traveled alone! I did not fall
asleep. Quite the writer, Brown. Found myself
chanting, I am an addict, I admit it.
Picked up this recorded
book for the drive to Wisconsin and had my socks knocked off. Why
hadn't I heard of this book (or had I!) Wowee! What a
writer--both the author and the subjects. And What a
reader!! I'm a hopeless memoir addict. Treat yourself to an
incredible WW2 story, if you can take another--I find it always
painful to revisit the horrors of war, even briefly. To learn and
hear this slice of history from the view of Warsaw--fabulous!
Utterly delightful and amazing. The author has done an incredible
job; I'll look for her other books.
wanted to read Iyer
for some time. This was on the shelf, and has done the
trick. I'd probably read anything he wrote, based on articles
I've come upon. Why not read about one of the more amazing
spiritual leaders in the world? Written by someone who
practically grew up visiting the Dalai Lama. The reader is in
very good hands.
wanted to read
this, having listened to several interviews with the author.
Turns out it's short. Although I'm wary of scientist-left
brainers, I was delighted by the author's human-ness and
compassion. Very affirming of the plasticity of the brain and
positive thoughts. Good to hear a scientist agree. As the
author says, she hopes anyone of a healing journey will read.
Thank you, Jill Bolte Taylor.
Book Club "made me read" Cutting for Stone, a novel. Thank you. I'd enjoyed his My Own Country, years back. Had a rough start with the plot, then with the uncomfortable, extensive detailed descriptions of female anatomical trauma in Ethiopia (if I remember right), then I fell into the characters and the story. How excruciatingly painful and human. I was terribly hooked by what?? Honesty? Of course Verghese knows his culture, anatomy, and the human mind. Didn't hurt that I'm fascinated with the experience of twins. It all came together wonderfully. I'm not an English major, but this must be a classic.
no idea what I was
getting off the shelf with either of these recorded book I grabbed for
the spring trip west. (Chucked two others immediately.) Taking Woodstock--wow! What a
behind the scenes story, excellently and personally told, 40 years
after the Woodstock festival I was very aware of. Than you Elliot.
Knew of Jeffrey Archer, but not that Paths of Glory was about George Mallory, filling out his 1924 Everest climb. Superbly told story of another passionate mountain climber, as though from the inside. Stunning.
title caught my eye
early on. Kevin's a remarkable young author with a story right
down my alley, hanging out with "the enemy". I still chuckle over
some of the stories. Enjoyed reading it "with" a buddy, getting
double mileage out of our delight. One very cool book, story and
writer, my opinion. May be a man's book but I thoroughly enjoyed
I'm delaying finishing this book whose review caught my eye (as so very many do!); don't want it to end. Slow start--clearly far far more about US runners than the Tarahurama tribe about which I hope to. First the reader has to get educated on the extreme "sport" of running--gulp. (The author's stories are reminiscent of the '60s stories of rock climbers I grew up with.) Any writer as funny as McDougall, is a winter winner, who fits right in with my old love of extreme adventure (with its extreme lifestyles--cringe), each more extreme than the last, in interesting venues. McDougall appears to have got as close as it gets to another tribe that has been pushed out by civilization. What a movie! My spiritual lens is on the shelf for this one, save to acknowledge once again the role of passion and simplicity. Down with shoes! Up with sandals!
In spite of myself, I got through another book club's novel (on CDs). Talarigo's understanding of the Japanese culture of family shame hooked me despite the uncomfortable subjects of leprosy and alienation. I was intrigued enough to google the author to get an idea how much was imagination, how much his experience. My take: he's maturing well. I'd prefer to read an actual inside memoir from a leper sanitarium. However, Talarigo's Pearl Diver was compelling enough to haunt me for weeks. I've wondered idly about about his Ginseng Hunter.
(Amazon) Reviews of Egger's Zeitoun describe well what an important, horrifying book this is--Katrina and politics-wise. Eggers straddles (perhaps most riveting books do) several worlds--notably two continents, and two faith and family backgrounds. Since I tend to read through a spiritual lens, I was interested in the role of faith and fear during upheaval; the husband's stability, wife's hysteria. Read as an inlander with an inexplicable love of the sea. The book is about as close as I've come to living with Muslims. Super interesting slice of history.
In the bleak midwinter, found myself sinking under Follett's rough historical epics. Stumbled upon Plouffe (who I hadn't heard of; Obama, I had). What a surprisingly uplifting read/listen. Just the thing for winter. Highly, highly recommended. Of course there were things I'd rather not know about politics and money. Amazing, heartening team story.
Swanson vividly brings to life John Wilkes Booth's escape over 150 years ago. He sensationalizes a few things--heard myself scoff not necessarily so, a few times. However, I never got bored. He accomplishes very well the mission to detail Booth's last weeks, as well as a review of Booth's role to this day. Due to the polarity of the times, some secrets went to the grave. Some were revealed as time went on. Swanson captures and creates a ripping good as best as can be known true story following Lincoln's assassination. He also re-creates one of the most memorably excruciating scenes I've read in some time (when Booth is surrounded in the barn).
Perhaps strikes me most, having just read Oates book, is the extremes of controversy over Lincoln. I'm under the impression, perhaps because of the political times we're in, that when alive, Lincoln was an loved as hated. By the time he was killed, it sounded like he was much more popular. Hauntingly ever thus. Most insightful.
My, oh my, how I enjoyed listening to more Simon Winchester. Hadn't realized he has a bit of a geology background and speaks some Chinese. Perfect to write about the 1904 San Francisco earthquake. Don't 'spose he's everyone's cup of tea, but I loved all the stories he wove together. I'd sign up for his classes any day. Great sense of humor as well as perspective. Write on, Winchester.
I was totally wrong (again) that this "older" book on Lincoln wouldn't be worth reading (lay opinion of course). Ended up thinking it was terrifically well written, remarkably balanced (now that I've read two out of the hundreds of books on Lincoln!!) Excellent detail especially about Mary Todd Lincoln. Thoroughly enjoyed Oates book. Must be becoming a Lincolnophile; just starting Manhunt about John Wilkes Booth.
Ignored my touchiness towards some of Kingsolver's family values (after all, her Animal Dreams remains one of the more important books of my life), and dived into the recorded book version of Animal Vegetable that she reads, just in time for book club. What a great summer read! Kingsolver's kinder than Pollen re politics of food, but just as no nonsense about what's going on. What an inspiring, interesting book. Oh, 3 readers is a bit rough but worth it. Anyone in the world will enjoy her turkey experiences, recipes.... Strangely my garden friends in Idaho have not heard of this awesome book. Particularly enjoyed the author interview at the end in which she describes writing as weeding. Yes! Excellent food for thought, thank you.
Enjoyed Team of Rivals so much, decided to face another epic on the back burner--Undaunted Courage. Since I'm not a good reader, size matters. When it comes to listening though, no limits. Per acclaims Ambrose does an awesome job bringing the Lewis and Clark expedition to life through Lewis. Wow. As a person who struggles with balance, appreciated how the author portrayed Meriwether Lewis' challenge living a balanced life. Fascinating close up of leadership.
Little did I know The Man Who Loved China was waiting out there. With my interest in things oriental and vicarious travel, not to mention a perhaps usual fascination with non traditional relationships, learning about Sinologist Joseph Needham (1900-1995) was a great match. I'm sure my teacher has mentioned him. Winchester came as close to answering my question--what happened to China--as I've heard, as he laid of "the Needham Question". As a sometime student of Taoism, Buddhism, qigong, today's China doesn't seem to fit with what we study. Ah so.
Being fascinated by both long long lives and short ones, enjoyed Krakauer's Into the Wild, about McCandless short life. So relate to nontraditional lives, and the struggle and imperative to live an authentic, respectful life. Although some reviews dismiss both Krakauer and McCandless, as a genealogist into sleuthing, I appreciate Krakauer's research--couldn't have been easy--and his straightforward presentation of McCandless' life. Understood why Krakauer brought himself into the book, somewhat as Ivan Doig might. I too am an extreme nature lover. My opinion: excellent book.
And then there was Dewey the Library Cat, who caused me to miss exits and drive extra miles, both coming and going from St Louis. Just to keep listening? I'm not supposed to be a pet lover, but I believe in libraries, community and transformation. Librarian Myron did a fine job of writing a chapter of her life that is going to interest more than cat lovers. Very glad she wrote Dewey.
A pair of titles gleaned from ads in Buddhist magazines. Razor-wire Dharma touched me enough to order a copy in the event that I can tempt anyone else to read it. Ha. Malone's book soared quickly to my list of all time favorites. Looked forward to reading a chapter or 2 or 3 or more each night, trying to drag it out as long as possible. As one reviewer wrote, I too count Calvin one of my teachers. Powerful, simple stories written inside Seattle area prisons that permit incense and this book to happen. I was pleased to find Lama Inge from Spokane mentioned. If I'm right both she and the author are German speakers.
DREAMS FROM MY
A story of race and inheritance (2004)
AUDACITY OF HOPE: thoughts on reclaiming the American dream (2008)
by Barack Obama
Turned out Barack reading his own (abridged) books lifted my heavy Easter spirits, as I drove to eastern Illinois to camp and attend Easter (church) services. Bummer they're abridged--he has better things to do than read books aloud? Sensed both books came from a refreshingly good mind. Feel better about who's at the helm of the seemingly impossible job of correcting the course of these United States.
Thirty-six CDs (perfect for the trip to Texas). Perfect for the winter spiritual blahs. Perfect for these political times. If I wasn't a Lincoln fan, I'm a devotee now. What Would Lincoln Do is my new mantra. What a book; what an author. What a man; what teacher. If it takes plagiarism to teach this nonreader history, so be it.
Didn't want to like this book either--too busy to read all these books! Wished it were a romance like it sounded. The review interested me a lot--the American West, family of grifters, parents loving and abusing, equal measure; children surviving and thriving. (Correction, listened by library Playaway.) Every bit as interesting as described. So consuming, I was out of commission for a couple of days, something I try not to do very often. Another amazing memoir--move over Angeles Ashes, for the American version--full of heart and truth, horror and resilience of the most subtle variety--the family. Remarkable. Read it. Or listen. I'm still pondering weeks later.
Often hope I won't like a book so I won't have to read it, but I usually do like books I've meant to read. This one's no exception. A young one, Tippett has had an interesting, remarkably sure footed, mature journey, well worth sharing. She's found a wonderful way to study theology: through conversations with people of faith. And now, of course I have a longer list than ever of people she has introduced! One book read, several added to the list!
For those of us who tend to think Little House on the Prairie might not have really happened, The Children's Blizzard is perhaps more than anyone might want to know about the notorious blizzard of January 1888 that hit the Dakotas and Nebraska. The author researched and brings to life a killer storm that overwhelmed immigrants, killing and maiming livestock and people, especially children. Interesting, but rather gruesome, the subject of freezing to death. 60 foot drifts! Perhaps I shouldn't have read it in December, but that's when it beckoned me. Global warming? Katrina? What's next! A haunting read.
This biography of one of Seattle's early strong business women was JUST the book to finish reading on the flight back to Seattle. I was hooked from the get go by Haley's compelling writing. Apparently she makes anything interesting--our mutual friend Marie says her book Sleek & savage: North America's weasel family is wonderful. This is a heck of a book. Anyone who can make buying television stations interesting has got something figured out. What a fascinating, old fashioned woman. I'm privileged to know people who knew her, and have played music at a jam session in one of her daughters homes on Lake Washington. What a dynasty. Recommended.
THE CAVE OF THE
the life of swami Abhishiktananda
by Shirley Du Boulay, 2006
MYSTICAL JOURNEY: an autobiography
by William Johnston, 2006
Irish Jesuit William Johnston and Abhishiktananda (Fr. Henri Le Saux, a French Benedictine), were among the Catholic priests drawn to the East after WWII. Johnston spent much of his life in Japan after 1951. Abhishiktananda moved to India in 1948 and died there in 1973. I read their stories avidly, but came away with the overriding impression of angst and agony, mixed with of course with satisfaction af having followed their hearts to the East. My personal opinion is that much of the subjects' restlessness and agony was due to the sometime Christian claim that Christianity is the only way to God, all other paths being false. In the face of meeting people who have found peace another way, have little interest in converting others, from whom there is much to learn, sincere evangelists apparently can be a bit undone. Both stories are testimonies to powerful universal paths to God, love and peace.
Good thing I said Cups of Tea would "probably" be The Book of the winter. Then again, Zigzag might move all the way up to an all time Top 20. One amazing double agent story and author; arguably the most satisfying book I've read in ages. Once again, not literature (whatever that is), but an author of wisdom, humor and compassion, telling the story of a human life whose character is as complex as it gets. Remarkably, all kinds of loose ends got tied up during the subject's life, which is full of detail, thanks to records that Britain's MI5 declassified after Chapman's death. Not the full why of it all, but grand psychology. Many stories leave us hanging all over the place. Not this one--it's full of resolution. The author believably relates what happened. Enjoy! Gold stars!
This'll probably be The Book of the winter. Book club read Three Cups last fall (and the book about the techy who decided to do good with his fortune). Both got rave reviews, so I added my name to the holds for the cds this winter. Like any favorite, I was soon looking for any excuse to drive anywhere to listen in the car. Again, not literature, tho it had its moments. Helluva story—Mortensen grew up in Africa, went to college in the states. Coming back from a K2 attempt he switched life gears, promising to build schools in Pakistan, later Afghanistan. It's written as told to, the only way such an obsessed life story would get told. I was on the edge of my seat, literally, with the stories of this Swahili speaking "infidel" respecting and gaining respect in a muslim world, learning and honoring other cultures and religions. Heart and spirit were well fed. Mortensen was in Pakistan when things got tense politically. The book ends as he meets and arranges to build schools in Afghanistan. Quite the physical and spiritual journey.
winter! Didn't/couldn't really read Esalen but gave it a
It was on the new book shelf at Illinois College when I dashed
parked illegally since there is NO parking-- to make copies, and see if
Illinois was still there (it was). Couldn't resist the
religion of no religion! --right on! --and the stunning cover
It's some book, a class act, chronicling the near impossible challenge
to both author and reader. Kripal clearly devoted one of his
to the task, musta been like describing a moving elephant. Good
Enjoyed the author's and participants understanding of symbols and myth.
Not being a tantric person, had the feeling I had no business trying or peaking at Esalen. Each night I, a vicarious observer, closed the cover, overwhelmed, vowing to bail. As close as I ever got to going to Esalen was hearing about a former friend (mormon, lesbian's experience work study in the kitchen. Brave woman. I'll never go there--though several times I'd looked into workshops and considered going; there was always something closer, more moderately price. The idea of hot tubs hanging above the sea was almost enough to drag me across country, an uptight midwesterner who'd walk a mile to avoid confrontation. Probably not, however... highly interesting.
Esalen--a remarkable melting pot, experimental recipe, still anchored by Murphy after all these years. Something works and continues to work at Esalen. (While other organizations come and go.) No one captures the flag. Hmm. Because of my interest in successful leadership and vision, kept turning esoteric pages, scanning. I was, if not off put, predictably overwhelmed by the history of experiments with drugs, sex and partnerings, forever wondering about the links/relationships to the obsessive, unstable, creative minds that taught there. All that religion, former and active priests and monks, stirred up with free thinkers and livers. Gad zooks. Plus the sea, cliffs, hot water--the history of an awful lot of body fluids hitting the Pacific. You gotta be jealous of all that full tilt living. I guess.
I'd known nothing about the political links to Esalen, staff ventures to the Soviet Union, negotiations, big name politicians who've retreated, visited, conferenced at Esalen. Body workers, psycho-ologists, philosophers, I'd heard about, but not politicians. Very, very interesting. Names were familiar, like Vladimer Pozner, interesting speakers I'd heard while in Seattle. Quite a chain of people I'd enjoyed or learned from over the years have been connected to Esalen, like Gabrielle Roth (not mentioned). And of course the idea of no religion as religion rings true to my experience. The ravings of anti- or non religious stands often equals that of evangelists, que no? Reading about Esalen's good enough. Soaking in Idaho's good enough, or maybe my own bathtub.
Even back in the midwest, still fascinated by Alaska fishing! Just interlibrary loaned another one of Field's books, having recovered from the shock of hearing her speak about the miracle of having children late in life on a fundamentalist radio station. Stick to the sea, Leslie. Enjoy vicariously living the oh so alive lives of fisherman, women in this collection. Surely I lived on the sea some life time. Loved reading about Holly beating ice off the boat out of Dutch Harbor, with a baseball bat AND loving it. Definitely fascinated by those who live full tilt, self realized, fully responsible lives. The more sniveling I hear, the more about rights and subsidies blah, blah, the more refreshing it is to read about folks who sew up their own cuts with needle and thread and keep working, the more I appreciate Alaska. Leslie does a great job editing and pulling out the essence of stories of amazing women, women with marriages and kids, running and fixing boats, hauling fish, making megabucks, taking risks--and loving it. Maybe because I'm also fascinated by male-female dynamics, the stories are irresistible!
These 3 memoirs helped me out of the hole I've been sinking into, perhaps since moving, trying to fit back into my old home town, losing sight of the magnificent God I'd learned about Out West. Needed to be reminded of the truth. Religion feels like such a battle--liberals and conservatives both forgetting the truth. God, or as Crossan calls it, The Holy, had shrunk. Needed Crossan's no nonsense, grounded clear thinking and Williams memoir of Glide Memorial Church to affirm my beliefs, which aren't often mentioned 'round these parts. Like Crossan's Long Way, Bad Dog is somewhat uneven. It's also somewhat brutal and powerful testimony of the power of human spirit to triumph. Thank you, thank you.
A librarian from Nebraska mentioned Old Jules had a writing by another sibling. Finally I interlibrary loaned and Univ of Chicago's 125 page copy arrived. Took all month to read it, not because it isn't great--it is. Like all my favorite writing, Sandoz story of homesteading in Nebraska is a master of understatement, a marvel of survival and teller of amazing, colorful western stories. The author is the 2nd child of Swiss German immigrants Jules and Mary, historian Mari being their first. What another world even the 1900s was from today. However do children survive parents. Some do, some don't. Mari and Jules Jr triumphed after growing up barefoot in the Sand Hills of Nebraska sand hills.
THE INNOCENT MAN: murder and injustice in a small town
John Grisham, 2006
POSITIVELY 5th STREET: murderers, cheetahs and Binion's World series of Poker,
James McManus, 2003
CRAZY HOSE; the strange man of the Oglallas
Mari Sandoz, 1942/1992 (books on tape)
These books on tape took me to and from Idaho this June. They sorta fit together on a weird spectrum that ranged from Afghanistan to Las Vegas, via two stories from Oklahoma. True crime being one of my favorite fascinations, I'll probably chew longest on Grisham's story of conviction and exoneration and the fine line between institutionalization and freedom, sanity and insanity. He does a good job. For images and making one squirm, Hosseini triumphed. Ach. Great books, all.
THE CLOISTER WALK
Kathleen Norris, 1997
BLUE HIGHWAYS: a journey into America, 1982
William Least Heat Moon
First listened to Cloister Walk in 1997 after going to my first workshop with qigong master Ken Cohen, held at a Benedictine center in St Paul, Minnesota. Have "re-read" it several times, and most everything else Norris has written. This awesome spiritual biography is high on my list of spiritual favorites. This return listening was even more meaningful and helpful, having just moved across the country (as she has done). What a writer, what a thinker. Anyone who has the ability to come up with memorable descriptors like "surpassingly strange", bring religion to life, and tell family stories well, is my kinda writer. Reading Kathleen is like having a spiritual director. Amazing Grace: a vocabulary of faith (1999), and Dakota: A spiritual geography (2001) are also fine. I'd like to hear from Kathleen now that she's moved back from South Dakota to Hawaii.
As long as I was returning to favorites, listened to the local public library's "unabridged" 5 tape version of Heat Moon's wonderful 10/11 - 16.5 hr cassette road classic, Blue Highways. (Evidence of a shrinking universe?) About finding what you didn't know you needed to find by wandering. Heat Moon reminds us, Homer sings that nothing is harder on mortal man than wandering. He also reminds us Black Elk says everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. Needed to hear those bits of wisdom as I wandered across Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
THE DEVIL IN THE CITY: murder, magic and madness at the fair that changed america
Erik Larson, 2005
A little haunting, this bloody true story, perhaps because it took place not far away, in Chicago, although a century ago. Larson does a super job of recreating the drama of the 1893 World's Fair. Amazing. I was fascinated by names and connections, imagining one of the husbands that survived working for my great grandfather in Gilman, Illinois. Who knows. A terrific slice of history, pun intended. I hate it when my to read list just gets longer and longer!
TEACHER MAN: a memoir
Frank McCourt, 2005
My first in-house Jacksonville Public Library read, hailed me from the large print collection. (Worked good for reading one night in the toyota!) As a devoteé of Angela's Ashes (one of the few fans I know of), fell easily into more McCourt. (Though as I recall I hadn't clicked with 'Tis.) Teacher Man's not Ashes--I tend to think there's only one stunner in each of us--but it's more McCourt. His extreme honesty and insecurity kept me reading. In my wildest dreams I can't imagine his life, especially teaching high school in New York City (not anywhere in the world can I imagine teaching, let alone teens). I read Teacher Man the same way I read Taxi from Hell (about driving taxi in NYC), subjects light years away. Brave man, McCourt, taking on inner city teens and living to tell, good stories, both NY and Irish, interspersed with lots of "McCourtese". He's a hero to my way of thinking. Only a wild man from the slums of Ireland would be so prepared for the attitude loaded American teen. I guess it's McCourt's use of understatement I enjoy so very much, that makes him who he is. I missed his reading voice--the way I'd "read" Angela's Ashes--though I could almost hear him.
FIRST LADIES: an intimate portrait of white house wives
Margaret Truman, 1995
Recommended by a "stranger" in the audio books section of the library where I stood meeting the local collection for the first time, thinking to myself--I've read all these! (Of course no one's really a stranger in a small town.) Took the advice; she was absolutely right. What a delightful writer! Truman went from first lady to first lady, not chronologically, but telling a story. Didn't wanna miss a word. What a great way to look back through American history, via the eyes of a president's daughter with her special connections to the White House. Terrific!
NATURE NOIR: a park ranger's patrol in the sierra
Jordan Fisher Smith, 2005
A strong email recommendation from long time Boulder buddy Ben (slowed by a smashed ankle), brought in the title this winter. Weeks later a copy came down from Naperville. The intro suggests Smith's story's an original. Indeed an insightful memoir-- law enforcement public lands ranger--but not in a "glamorous" national jewel of a park, but from something of a lame duck river drainage, heavily prospected since the California gold rush, slated to become a reservoir. I'm grateful Smith shared some of his experiences; they're simultaneously everyday, compelling and haunting in their authenticity and ordinariness. He's a wonderful writer and this is but the tip of the iceberg. If you can survive the American River drainage, you can do anything. We'll see.
VOWS: the story of a priest, a nun, and their son
Peter Manseau, 2005
Manseau too was interviewed on NPR; jotted title. A copy came from Quincy. Especially with interlibrary loan titles I've only "heard about", checked out for only a few weeks, I always hope they read fairly easily; they usually don't. From the get go, this was definitely not going to be one of those. Vows is far more than the family story of Manseau and his religious parents. It's Catholic history, Boston and beyond. Clearly sex and abuse can't be untangled from Catholicism. As a recovering anti-Catholic who wants to think and speak good things about all religions, the book was painful in it's close look, honesty and research. One of the reviewers comments on the love of Catholics for the church that doesn't necessarily love them back. That's what Vows is about. Remarkable book and story; I'm keen to take a look at Manseau's web magazine, Killing the Buddha.
WAKING: a memoir of trauma and transcendence
Matthew Sanford, 2006
Happened to hear Sanford being interviewed on NPR's speaking of faith as I groggily headed to Psalms class one "early" Sunday morning. Sat up straighter as I turned the radio up and up, listening to the mind-body language of yoga. Months later, after I was approved for a public library card, Lincolnshire IL loaned Waking, and I dug in between Christmas and New Years, that week Judith Lasater recommends focusing on restorative yoga practice. The story of how a 13 yr old boy whose body was wrecked came to teach yoga from a wheel chair is right down my alley, as I anticipate offering my first series of classes in Illinois and review teaching people not poses. I'll be thinking aloud more on this book on my Yoga Lessons web page, and perhaps One Power, where I'll wondered aloud where in the world was spirit in this mind-body story?
EAT, PRAY, LOVE: one woman's search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia
Elizabeth Gilbert, 2006
Gilbert's memoir is a bit of a dramatic spill-it-all-divorce memoir, but it's worth reading. Right away I found myself hoping I'd remember some of her pithy wisdom. (So far, nothing has flashed back, darn it!) After surviving her personal angst of the opening chapters, I was relieved and entertained to get to the promised food of Italy. Gilbert is indeed a woman who can make friends with a sphinx, an enviable gift she uses well as a travel writer. Couldn't have survived Italy if she hadn't committed to celibacy in Italy. Laughed aloud often. As a some time spiritual wanderer enjoyed Gilbert's insider guru-ashram tales of India enormously. Hard not to be jealous of a beautiful blond who also experiences spiritual phenomena! Her description of her ritual letting go on an ashram rooftop, under the stars, is worth the price of the book.
Part 3 takes place in Bali, Indonesia--re-meeting a medicine man; a woman healer, and return to sex via a South American business man with silver tongue and hair. Noted the native healer recommended sex for longer lasting knees and Gilbert's response "not yet" to whether she's married. Loved the medicine man's instruction to meditate with a smile. Good read, as they say. What's next, Liz? We'll be hearing more from this young, emotional, lucky, fast living world traveler with another marriage and daughter in her palm.
GOING THE DISTANCE
Ken Norton, 2000
Finally borrowed a copy of local hero Ken Norton's book. (No library card, ya know). I'd gone to hear him speak as part of Illinois College's homecoming week and saw one beat up human. Who's Kenny Norton? World boxing champion during the '80s; played and beat and was beaten by Ali in Yankee Stadium during a controversial ruling. He was a year ahead in high school, an awesome athlete. It's the honest story of a small town handsome black athlete who made it very big in California, and on the world stage. Then had a severe car accident in 1986. What kept coming to me is what comes to me a lot from my perch as an elder--live by the sword, die by the sword. He had it his way. Most of us do. We gotta learn, eh? He spends time here in Illinois, where his mother still lives.
THE DIAMOND CUTTER: the buddha on managing your business and your life
Geshe Michael Roach, 2000
Won't ever be able to forget this convicting and clarifying book. Roach presents ever practical ancient Buddhist texts in a relevant way--to the making of money and financial success. If I ever doubted how life works, the author's own story about working in the diamond industry in New York and around the world, with his choice of Buddhist texts are irrefutable. What a valuable teacher he is. Buddhism answers classic questions about the meaning of life, right living, in just enough of a different way that dark corners light up. No wonder its teachings endures, and yet, the reader learns that the Buddha predicted a time limit to its relevance, which I found fascinating. Impermanence includes the teachings of the Buddha. Ponder how the mind works from the Eastern point of view via imprints and emptiness; see what you think! No wonder I can't leave Buddhism alone! Alas this is the first library book I've probably destroyed in the eyes of the library. Well worth replacing the copy I got wet; offered to buy the old one.
MEMOIRS (audio books):
PLAN B: further thoughts on Faith
Anne Lamott, 2005
BLUE LIKE JAZZ: nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality
Donald Miller, 2003
(SEARCHING FOR GOD KNOWS WHAT, Donald Miller, 2004)
MAMA MAKES UP HER MIND: and other dangers of southern living
Bailey White, 1993
After a couple months hiatus from reading, couldn't stand it and interlibrary loaned Lamott's Plan B to read on a plane trip back to Boise. The perfect companion for 12 hours of airports, Lamott, with her short spiritually "overt" (her term) essays. Yum. The one on teaching a writing class at San Quentin was as interesting as I'd hoped. Lamott's always real, honest, ironic, interesting. None of that, yah, yah, know where she's going. Much is familiar, maybe, but never like Lamott. I.e., I've never been on a cruise, let alone with a priest, a paranoid and 2 early teens. Noo. But I do love bread pudding and creme brule as much as the author. And have family issues as strong as hers. Izza must read for the overtly spiritual, and perhaps those who can't bare us!
I've starting to call these stories like Lamott's and Bailey White's Mama Makes Up Her Mind, which I enjoy so very much "yin-yang" snapshots. They have such satisfying balance. Bailey White's glimpses of life from Georgia are pure gold.
In August, while on the road, finally read Miller's Blue Like Jazz, sent to me from the east coast and recommended by high school mate Ann. How right she was. Miller writes: "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. . . . I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened." Most excellent stories about wrestling faith and the paradoxes of church, from the west coast, midst folks not very fond of religion. Brave man. I'll look for more by Miller, and keep up my own scribbling.
I did, and read Searching for God Knows What February 2007. The copy came all the way from Alpha Park Library, Bartonville IL, wherever that is. Jesus-y as he is, I have to like Miller, because fundamentalists don't. He's got to be doing something right! Every time he writes the unwritable truth about how repellent contemporary Christians/Christianity can be at the same time we tells how tremendous it is I want to shout Right On. I'd like to hear him speak. Imagine--another unoffensive Christian!
Bruce Sterling, 1994
Science fiction being way outa my comfort zone, brother Jamie's book has been collecting dust (like much in my life) since he we connected at the time of mom's death. Determined to read little brother's recommendation now that I'm packing up, dealing with unfinished business, stepped in cautiously, reluctantly. Although I didn't grok the future and techno talk-- the only other science fiction I've ever read was Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land--doesn't sound right, some equally huge hit--I did read Heavy Weather to the best of my shallow reading ability. (Remember trying to widen my horizons by reading my lone sci fi book back in ~1970 while carpooling from Boulder to Denver, to the accompaniment of the NPR news theme music.) Able to get the drift; obvious why heavy reader Jamie passed it on to me. Wait, wait--Frank Herbert's Dune! Water!
Synchronicity after coincidence leaped off the page. No wonder Jamie chose the book for me. From little brother with big sister to mom's Troup relatives; strained family relationships; emotional disconnection; timely predictions about weather. Read on, glad I'd finally faced Heavy Weather. When a terrific 4th of July evening storm cut our electricity I was reading the F-6 chapter.
Still don't know why anyone would spend time making up or reading stories when real life is stranger than fiction, but I guess folks enjoy the challenge. Can't imagine having a mind so flexible! Glad I took Jamie up on his recommendation; good insight into his incredible facile, yet steel trap mind.
Memoirs (all audio books):
AN HOUR BEFORE DAYLIGHT: memories of a rural Boyhood
Jimmy Carter, 2001
MY INVENTED COUNTRY: a nostalgic journey through Chile
Isabel Allende, 2003
SELDOM DISAPPOINTED: a memoir
Tony Hillerman, 2001
Great listening to and from Seattle. Just what I needed as I uproot to the Midwest, various versions of sense place. Jimmy Carter's memoir was wonderful, but Hillerman's was out of this world! Yet another unforgettable book this long reading season. Cannot recomment "Seldom" enough. Later. Now I'm escaping into Hillerman country. I almost didn't keep pursuing Hillerman after I listened to Finding Moon. Then Wailing Wall was excellent; People of Darkness, outstanding; Hunting Badger; Sacred Clowns; Coyote Waits. Hooked on Hillerman!
THE JOHNSTONE FLOOD (audio book)
Also great listening as I drove to Seattle in the rain!
HUGHES: the private diaries, memos and letters : the definitive biography of the first American billionaire
Richard Hack, 2001.
In keeping with my winter lives of the rich and famous theme, plunged onward, listening to 15 CDs about Howard Hughes, long, well documented, bizarre life. Despite indications that the author wrote hastily, and the reader didn't research pronunciation of Tonopah and other names, Hughes held my attention to the end. Some of it out of horror--business and political dealings, obsessions and phobias--mainly just because reality is so unbelievable. So many folks willing to play with Hughes. Amazing.
MY SISTER'S KEEPER: a novel
Judith Picoult, 2004 (recorded books)
Finally found the author listed on the Jacksonville Illinois Public Library web site under book club selection. (Quite a number of books by the same title.) Turned out to be the novel about a family who had a genetically selected child to be a donor for the one with leukemia. Afterwards I wondered why I'd listened to so many tracks detailing medical procedures--obviously something near and dear to the author. Reticent about novels, I was willing to try, due to early Track 3's honest opening dialog about how their are a multitude of reasons for having children, many unflattering. That hooked me. Picoult certainly creates interesting, strong characters and plot, and bold dialogue. However, I never lost the sense of formula writing. Kept wondering why was I reading this novel and what was I learning, particularly in light of the ending. Despite the characters saying the unsayable, I kept thinking real life was more interesting and believable. I wasn't uplifted, but I was entertained. I admit I looked for excuses to drive the car so I could listen to My Sister's Keeper!
DOUBLE EXPOSURE: a twin autobiography
ONCE UPON A TIME: a true story
BLACK KNIGHT, WHITE NIGHT
IT SEEMED IMPORTANT AT THE TIME: a romance memoir
A MOTHER'S STORY
THE MEMORY BOOK OF STARR FAITHFULL, 1994
Gloria Vanderbilt; Thelma Furness
More survival reading for a gray winter. Put onto Vanderbilt stories by Marcy in Seattle. Needed and found something almost as compelling as Sky of Stone! though otherwise utterly different. Most fascinating--the incredibly complicated lives of the rich and famous, rescued by Gloria (the daughter's) astonishing honesty. Could this really be all one person?
FOO: A JAPANESE-AMERICAN PRISONER OF THE RISING SON . The secret prison diary of Frank 'Foo" Fujita
Frank Fujita, 1993; U of N Texas Press
Raced through this book borrowed from WWII buff Ron in Oregon... but I couldn't! What amazing details from a kid from Oklahoma and Texas with a Japanese dad's record of 3-1/2 years as a POW. Based on a diary stashed in a wall in Japan and returned years later. Talk about indomitable human spirit! Fujita, a born artist, was captured on Java, 3 months after the start of the war. Someone made the right decision to record Fujita's experience in a book, with original cartoons and sketches by the author. Remarkable isn't sufficient but will have to do.
WHAT AM I DOING HERE
Bruce Chatwin, 1989
THIS TRAVELER'S LIFE
Eric Newby, 1982
Moved Chatwin's book around with me for years. Currently sorting through life for one last major move back to the midwest, sorting through books unread. Essays published the year he died. So this is Chatwin of Songlines fame. What a fantastic mind, life. Makes my head explode to try to read these essays. Hope there's a copy at Jacksonville Public Library, just in case.
Every time I've tried to get ride of Newby's travel essays, I read another one and can't. Maybe because he's one of the first travel author's I encountered--acquired A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush--in Banff, ~1970, I've been delighted by Newby. Later I was fascinated by the story of meeting his wife while a prisoner of war in Italy. While in Seattle, on a sailing book jag, found Newby's earliest book, The Last Grain Race; loved it even more, and looked for a hardback copy for years, until I realized it was more or less a collector's item. When he spoke at Elliott Bay Books ~1989, brought along my old copy of A short Walk to autograph. I was disappointed he barely recalled writing The Grain Race, the story of sailing on the Moshulu 1938-1939, published in 1956! If I leave my Seattle Public Library book sale copy of This Traveler's Life behind, it better be in Jacksonville!
SKY OF STONE: a memoir
Homer Hickam, 2001
Not since Lusseyran's And There Was Light has a book had me so hooked! Portioned out chapters, read after midnight. Sonny Hickam: Incomparable Storyteller. Who's heard of Sky of Stone? Thank goodness I noticed October Sky had a sequel. As I say about any book I love: what a totally satisfying book. Psychology, geology, nature; compassion, competition and resentment; romance, humor, tantalizing food; wise, colorful, real, terrific characters, human and animal. First class. Reads like fantasy, but author calls it memoir. Don't miss.
A FARM BOY REMEMBERS: autobiography of his early life
John James Bushnell, 1995
Son Dale Bushnell and wife Maudie L Bushnell compiled and published John James Bushnells reminiscences, which were lent to me by distant relative Marcy, named for John's mother's family! John recollects his own arrival, Aug 13, 1911, into a growing South Dakota farm family. By 1917 he was harvesting grain with his dad. How he remembers the names and temperaments of the horses and mule (his favorite horse) teams, is a wonder. His detailed records and descriptions of farm machinery and procedures are amazing--planting oats and corn; ordering a box car of apples from Michigan, neighbors. He's a colorful, earthy writer, with astonishing humor, whose dates, names and dialogues, meal descriptions, etc. one just doesn't question. Sisters Phila and Bee; brothers Jesse and Earl; migrant thresher Ezra Parson. The family moves; John goes to school in Mitchell. Family and community split over pastors, while John is in high school! He works, works some more, and plays.
Part 2 - September 5, 1930 John leaves S Dakota with sister in law's brother Godfrey, for the Northwest, taking a lifetime of survival skills. Via South Dakota connections, John works apple orchards, traveling often by rail, during the coming depression, doing a string of interesting jobs while staying true to himself. Story after story unfurls, with detail, humor and compassion. How I would have like to have known this remarkable, fearless "renaissance" man, whose love of high climbing began in barns and took him into the world of concrete and construction. His sunny nature blessed his wife and kids, and helped him through the ups and downs of numerous business ventures. His full, long life ended in Oregon Dec 4, 1995.
AN OUTRAGEOUS WOMAN: a true story of shrimpers, politicos, polluters and the fight for Seadrift, Texas
Diane Wilson, 2005
Turns out Wilson's a modern disciple of Gandhi!!! Hadn't known that. Her book was not an easy read thanks to her extremely colorful style that kept me continually backtracking for subject and verb. But oh, what a story. First time I've so clearly watched the movie at the same time I read the book. Doesn't get any better! I'd absolutely love to hear her read or speak. Certain she has more to write. Whatawoman. Whatamind. What a study of environmental challenges, people and reality.
READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN: a memoir in books
Azar Nafisi, 2003
No wonder "Lolita in Tehran" has been called a classic. Listened nonstop over the holidays; miles flew. Fiction will never be the same. If the author can peek? this nonfiction reader's interest in fiction, and the middle east, she's done something remarkable. Because of Nafisi, I'm struggling through Pride and Prejudice, an unhappy camper! What a superb writer, amazing woman. Her tale of Persia becoming Iran, told from both an insiders and outsiders perspective is, again, most remarkable, both personally and historically.
LUCKY STARS AND GOLD BARS: a world war II odyssey
Karen Sladeck, 2003
Lucky Stars was on display at California Lutheran University library when I visited last August. (So why was I startled that the hero of the book retired from CLU?) Eagle Public Library borrowed the 500 page tomb from Everett Public Library, WA. Dug in.
The author ably edited and linked together her father's 400 remarkable WWII era letters and photographs, which her grandparents saved.
Once started, couldn't turn back. The ordinariness of Lyle Sladek's story from South Dakota farm to the world via the Army, hooked me. What a window on the past! What an unaffected, intimate story! The author's choice of the Shakespeare/King Lear quote is perfect: “It is the stars, The stars above us, govern our conditions.”
An extraordinary treat for those of us without family letters, particularly from WWII. A life affirming book about "the good ol' days 60 years back" that's both historically and socially interesting, and a great pleasure.
KRISHNAMURTI: star from the east: the making of a messiah
Ron Vernon, 2000
Made a note of the title while visiting the Theosophical Society in Ojai this summer. My first attempt to locate it yielded a small book on the Christmas star. Interlibrary loan finally did the trick. Krishnamurti's yet another spiritual teacher I've meant to look into. Reading this biography doesn't make me want to run out and read him or join the Theosophical Society--learned they're not perfect! However, the book captures an amazing chapter in the history of east-west spirituality. Krishnamurti influenced many. Krishnamurti I learned was influenced by very many. Manipulation was never far from my thoughts. What I learned will help me read any Krishnamurti I come onto with eyes wide open. Truly, little is ever stranger than real stories, both Krishnamurti's and the Theosophical Society's (of which I am most fond). The Theosophical Society single handedly put me on the spiritual track with their generosity and love and appreciation of both nature and meditation. I'm forever grateful to Edith for meditations on the chapel porch at Indralaya and for Andrew for sitting in the basement of the Seattle Theosophical Society. Also grateful to the Seattle Theosophical Society for their library and solstice events. The world of spirituality and religion opened gently before me, without judgment. What a gift. But Krishnamurti? To understate, his was journey of tough love, though I was left with the impression he held his own. A strange and wonderful chapter in the world of metaphysics. Yes, I'd like to read more.
WONDERFUL LIFE: the burgess shale and the nature of history
Stephen Jay Gould, 1989
Meant to read the water soaked copy I picked up in a donation bin while in Spokane, but surrendered it years ago. Last summer I was sharing intellectual puzzles with old college friends when I mentioned that I ponder ways life might develop. George immediately brought up Gould's Burgess Shale book I'd always meant to read. Hastened to library and actually put nose to pages shortly afterwards. I've only read a little Gould--could this be his best? He manages to stir science sleuthing, history, geology, evolution and biography with his own theories into a readable stew! He plunges into this awkward stew and takes it on, from British Columbia through the Smithsonian into labs and politics of academia. A wonderful story of science and people, with mention indeed of the highly popular movie by the same name. Tempting to say "brilliant", at the very least an awesome and amazing story to a once upon a time geology student who couldn't get enough paleontology, right down to a conodont seminar.
BLOWING ZEN: finding an authentic Life
Ray Brooks, 2000
Started reading Blowing Zen last year. Picked it up again, savored and finished while tenting in Bear Valley this summer. While my old school buddies were hiking, several afternoons I holed up in the tent and read. What luxury. Brook's story of learning shakuhachi flute while living in Japan is terrific. He moved from teacher to teacher as they crossed his path, shifting with culturally correctly protocol. His story of his 60 day shugyo/disciplined undertaking to hike Mount Takeo and practice shakuhachi, describing folks he met, from traditional monks to camera clubs, is a modern day classic. In the heat of enjoying the book, I started to share how the author met a running monk who'd undertaken running 26 miles a day for 100 days! I was quickly cut off by one of my rational scientific buddies whose nephew once ran a marathon. “It cannot be done day after day.” I've learned not to defend myself from scientists.
Super book. Went home and pulled out the author's CD “Hollow Bell”, which I hadn't realized I had in my mountain (speaking of which) of CDs.
SONGS OF THE GORILLA NATION: my journey through autism
Dawn Prince-Hughes, 2004
Thanks to down time in the tent (above) I was able to dive into this book I picked up at Northwest Folklife Festival in May after being stunned by the author. I scoffed to think the hip looking woman speaking called herself autistic. If she is, then I am too, I concluded with relief. That would be me, laughing inappropriately, unable to have healthy relationships (although Prince-Hughes seems to have succeeded), etc. Her story is quite something for any number of reasons. Her journey to know herself is yet another remarkable one; as is her gift to observe and understand gorillas; her gift of scholarship; and ability to write prose and poetry, and to share her life tastefully. It could have been written for drama, mercifully was not. Her profound understanding of the social role of male (she calls them “men”) gorillas struck me as as keen a truth of the role of men in human society as out there anywhere. It just happens to mesh well with my own possibly equally autistic (whatever that means!) view. If you're “into people”, read on, enjoy.
THE COALWOOD WAY
Homer Hickam, 2000; Recorded Books, 2001
West Virginia rocket boy Homer Hickam (October Sky)'s memoir of his last year in high school should be an American classic, required reading. 'I remember every word', Hickam boosts. Exceptional storytelling, read by the right reader, makes for an awesome book on tape I didn't want it to end. Note: devastatingly funny world class moonshine episode.
THE PRISON ANGEL: mother antonia's journey from beverly hills to a life of service in a mexican jail
Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, 2005
The title pretty much tells it. How could I resist this new book, although I returned it before finishing. I'll be back. A California woman who leaves husbands, kids and grandkids to live in a border jail, is a story I gotta hear. I'm obviously vicariously fascinated by those who can't resist the call of love and compassion and receive joy.
OFF THE MAP: a journey through the Amazonian wild
John Harrison, 2001
I love this sort of book. Escaped from reality, drove to the hills, read for a day. The (true) story of John and wife Heather paddling up the Jari and Mapaoni Rivers of Brazil, portaging over hills into French Guiana/Suriname, down River Maroni in 1991 is in the tradition of the modern day English adventurer who needs an adventure. The Harrisons chose no radio or stove but take rice, dehydrated meals for "many months"--almost enough it turns out--rifle and ammunition. They are experienced, but not initially "in shape". They're savvy travelers or they wouldn't be able to tell their story, or it might be left in a journal to be found later, like French predecessors Maufrais . Harrison writes with an unusual touch of environmental awareness. Probably most amazing is how a marriage survived.
INTO TIBET: the CIA's first atomic spy and his secret expedition to Lhasa
Thomas Laird, 2002
Laird tells the story of the unnamed First Star on the CIA's Wall of honor. Reminiscent of Mary: a flesh and blood biography, facts are in short supply, nearly totally missing. Because Mackiernan's work is still considered so "sensitive", 50 years later, little has been released and still no one's talking. If they do, there's no way of knowing what's true, who worked for who. It can't be determined; as years go by and players die, the true story of US role in Chinese invasions of Tibet and adjoining countries is being shredded by time. Laird, writer/photographer, based in Katmandu for 30 years, digs and interviews; he compiles what he can about CIA/Americans in China and Tibet in the '40s and '50s. The story involves uranium for bombs; requests for arms; communism, politics, double agents, McCarthyism and more. Scary stuff.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA: the tragedy of the whaleship Essex
Nathaniel Philbrick, 2000
Looking for a ripping good Halloween story? Try this excellent re-telling of the sinking of the 238 ton whaler Essex which left Nantucket in 1819. The author ably recreates the fascinating history of this Quaker owned and operated-for-high stakes sailing schooner in search of sperm whale oil, and it's small crew that included black slaves. The 20th century surfacing of the cabin boy's memoir fills omissions of earlier books. This is the real story that inspired Melville's Moby Dick.
FATHER JOE: the man who saved my soul
Tony Hendra, 2004
Had to get past the bio as a Monty Python script writer, National Lampoon satirist and comedian. Didn't sound like my kinda person. If Hendra hadn't grown up Catholic in Britain, don't know if I could have done it. But memoirs of honesty, religion and good writing generally hook me. Maybe because Hendra's a Cambridge educated writer, his dialogs and descriptions are awesome; I was off and running, keen to learn about his childhood mentor, Father Joseph Warrilow, Benedictine monk from Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight, who he met in 1955. From the early Bootle affair to Father Joe's death April 27, 1998, I read on. Skipped descriptions of Hendra's successful script writer career making fun of everything and everyone (not being familiar with or an appreciator of comedy such as National Lampoon). Read with intense interest Father Joe's loving but clear guidance during Hendra's struggle with things of the world, intermittent visits back to Quarr over the years. Father Joe was not afraid to mention pride or selfishness in the midst of love. Hendra overcomes his uneasiness, reconnecting with his spiritual roots as Father Joe's body declines . Hard not to be "jealous" that Hendra had such a Father in his life. Grateful that Hendra recreates Father Joe's words for all of us, the words of an unconditionally loving Father, shared with humor, wisdom and above all holy love. I agree with the reviewer who said this is memoir will be Hendra's masterpiece.
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS: the true story of the man who unlocked the secrets of the aurora borealis
Lucy Jago, 2001
Science and obsession. The life of the scientist who pursued Northern Lights from Greenland to Asia.
ON WHALE ISLAND: notes from a place I never meant to leave.
Daniel Hays, 2002
Memories of this book I never meant to forget kept coming back, but the title eluded me. (Unsuccessfully dredged the web for back-to-island family stories by Idaho author). Took a head librarian's to come up with it. As soon as I opened it I was reading away with awe and respect. Whatabook. What courage, honesty and adventure! What a writer, or maybe it's what an expressor of thoughts. I love the way the author knows himself as well as he knows the sea. How he survives himself, marriage and step-fatherhood, windstorms, dumb dogs, prosac, and loves it all. Adore this book. Better get my own copy since I can't remember the title!
Re-read January 2005
MARY: a flesh and blood biography
Leslie Hazelton, 2004
Ah, a book, by a wise woman--if photos are to be trusted--look at her picture! Straight way ordered Hazelton's Mary after hearing her speak last May. Felt goose bumps when she asserted it would only be logical that Mary was a dark haired healer. Of course. Not an easy book to read (or write), since-- what is known about Jesus' mom? Nada, just endless controversy about virginity, no facts out there. So Hazelton painted a fine picture of the time in which Maryam (as she would have been known) lived. She flushes in the picture with logical, credible, practical details, based on having observed and met tribal descendants plus scholarly research. The author lived in the Holy Land, spoke with ancestors, observed. The result of course flies in the face of popular portrayals of the mythical madonna who rarely shows a dark eyed, olive skinned middle eastern face. Detail after detail rang true to me. Perhaps the "lost years" of Jesus are due to interpretation of chronological events, not lost at all, making Maryam and her son, both younger than generally thought. Hazelton's story filled many formerly uneasy gaps for this reader. Let me know...
GRACE NOTES; the waking of a woman's voice
Heidi Hart, 2004
Found this, among other delicious looking books in the spiritual section on the new shelf. Always hope a book will be blatantly dreadful (to me) so I can quickly return it to the library. Rarely. Ended up "forced to read" much of Hart's book. Had to read about a woman who has sung with Jewish reconstructionists, breathed through tonglen practice with her mother; sat in the center of Salt Lake's Sacred Harp Singers; found and read and distant Connecticut cousin's dairy; visited Utah Benedictine and Trappist monasteries; lived in New Mexico and Nevada; knows Hildegard of Bingen, reads more poetry and memoirs than I ever will. And sings and sings, a family of singers. Joins the Quaker church with the blessing of her husband. All this while staying in her Mormon marriage and family! Had to at least peak at this remarkable journey! Hard read, due to all family moves, history and flash back and forwards, not to mention all the stepping stones on Hart's spiritual path. (A woman after my heart.)
Ultimately the book is about truth, which is why I hung in there, cheering. Gleaned two gems (among heaps of treasures) from this widely read and venturing "ordinary" woman. Annie Dillard's "It's madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church. We should all be wearing crash helmets". And a quote from a wise (Quaker) Friend: "Unless you speak the truth there never will be love.".
THE SHIPPING NEWS
E. Annie Proulx, 1994
SEA ROOM: an island life in the Hebrides
Adam Nicolson, 2003
Over solstice in Oregon, scanned Nicolson's book about life on the sea isles of Shiante in the Hebrides, off Scotland. His islands, inherited from his father, now given his eldest son. What with my fascination with those northern isles, not to mention the heresy of ownership, had to at least read a few chapters about what it would be like to walk those blustery rocky islands, let alone "own" what is in my mind "un-ownable". Interesting to learn there are enough sunny warm days to run naked and come upon picnicking boaters! The islands have been inhabited over the years; the author/owner shares stories of archeological history and digs, from gold to sheep. Huh! All of it--interesting!
Fiction slipped into my heart again via books on tape for holiday travels. Shipping News promised sea breezes. Proulx's winner turned out to be just the ticket this Christmas, a surprisingly gentle story of transcendence and redemption after a rough start. Rought start on both this listener's part and the lead character's. Definitely not my kinda guy. If the tapes case hadn't promised Newfoundland, I'da never have made it through the unpleasantness of the first tape. Just about didn't, but I got tired of life with John Adams and circulated tried another Shipping News cassette.
Things got more interesting when Quoyle, his miserable kids and aunt finally headed north in the station wagon. They slept in and by the car on a rough road, and found the old family home still standing out on a rocky point. I rather liked how the no nonsense aunt and her rather clue less nephew dealt with each other and the unruly kids. At a believable pace they all find themselves coming home, getting on with life, healing. I liked it, listened to the last drop. I'm about to give up looking for that final cassette I brought into the house to enjoy!
December 2004/January 2005
IN THE WILDERNESS: coming of age in unknown country
Kim Barnes, 1996
'Bout time I read an in-house/Idaho memoir. Wow. Quite the book, thank you, Kim. She writes bravely about Oklahoma roots, puzzles of parents and growing up in the logged valleys along the Clearwater-Lochsa River; life, death, sex, mixed with suddenly meeting Pentecostalism while young. If this isn't wilderness, what is! She describes the seemingly sudden family move downstream to the "city" of Lewiston, rebellion, confusion and love masterfully. No answers, just survival, life in the raw.
LIFE OF PI, Yann Martell, 2003
GOD'S SECRETARIES: the making of the king james bible, Adam Nicolson, 2003
Although I'd rather have been reading the tempting titles above, at the 11th hour before book club, started reading Life of Pi. At the 12th hour, the book on tape came in; listened to remainder. Enjoyed author's initial spiel on religion, after which point I got confused by who-what-where-when. Liked his biological/animal facts, but the more I read, the less I trusted him as zoologist (the more I "trusted" him as storyteller?). When the author's relatively young, cosmopolitan life is considered, the way I couldn't follow who was narrating just what, makes more sense, though I don't "trust" him more for it. Kicked myself for my choice (recalled lack of enthusiasm for my former nonfiction picks) of fictional Pi just because it had been recommended at a CA yoga workshop and I'd not got to it. Limped to the end, feeling the author had simply copied true sailing survival" stories I'd read. Suddenly perked up at the end--world class ending! Yup, to be fair, mighty clever, big splashes of wisdom and truth and several belly laughs. Particularly liked "chest sore from pain and fear", chapter 3.
Following Sunday night book club, found myself starting to seethe about wasting time! Discussion hadn't made me feel better about my choice--maybe worse! My life is not better because of Pi! As Helen Hanff said, I want to read about someone who was there! Not made it up! Perhaps I'm even more resentful since attending an October writers conference whose bottom line at times seemed to be, like any other biz, write for the market.
I'm illiterate in the sense of not having studied literature, more or less incapable of reading The Classics. Since I was scarcely able to read until long out of college, I took no literature classes. (Don't ask how I graduated without reading or giving speeches; there was a way before requirements came down.) Hardly a classic, wanting to read about the King James translators, bumbled into Nicolson's God's Secretaries over the holidays. Inquired of fellow retreat hot tubers if anyone knew what "Jacobean England" meant. No one did, but one suggested I probably shouldn't be reading the book if I didn't know. Remarkably safe, classic response, however intended; but not good enough in my silent opinion. Stick to what you know, Jeannie--contemporary spiritual biographies (however I got there!), 20/21st century American language and confusion. Stay out of the past, Jeannie. But of course I'm drawn more and more back to history and roots. I'll die peacefully without meeting Socrates, Plato, Ovid, James Joyce, Hugo and friends. But now and then I'll be venturing back. I'll look up Jacobean England and plod onward in search of readable history and historians. [Sonia Henie's tutu! Jacob means James I's reign! Aw, come on historians, give us a break! No wonder I preferred math.]
FRAGMENTS OF GRACE: my search for meaning in the strife of south asia
Pamela Constable, 2004
Continuing "foreign affairs self education", my pick for the middle east, Fragments of Grace, arrived. Just what I'd wanted--a readable, if dense and intense, first hand report of the events in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka--by an experienced, wise human who was there, observing, listening, questioning. However, no wonder I can't keep up or understand world events! Every few months, days, weeks or hours, Constable flew (and I believe continues to fly) to hot spots to report for the Washington Post. Definitely more than I could or wanted to keep straight! No wonder I choose to observe the big picture, since it more or less never changes (hassles all over the world)! Constable is right--making sense of the details is fascinating, challenging; but the sense of deja vu is undeniable, especially for an experienced foreign correspondent who's been there and done that for 20 years. In this world there is suffering--vividly, compassionately, frustratingly described by the author.
Although some might not feel Constable's personal story and thoughts interesting, professional or appropriate to include at interludes, I found them important. It was important for her as an unbiased reporter too, to reflect on her life. The book would have been unreadable by this reader without her humanity, interjected, and at times, explored.
"Fragments" had to be about world religions, war and peace and meaning of life. I'm now more perplexed than ever about Islam, fundamentalism, fanaticism. I keep thinking Muslims have nothing on Christians in Ireland, or Africa, etc. however the scale of terrorism in south Asia is beyond words (ultimately, like all terror). Small or large, simple or complex, cruelty and terrorism, words and actions, all stem from profound dysfunction, confusion, misunderstanding. Since people have killed and continue to in the name of Jesus, or Mohammed, or.... that can't be the answer. Peace has got to lie deeper than that. Constable gave me food for thought, images and stories for a long, long time.
DARK STAR SAFARI: overland from Cairo to Cape Town
Paul Theroux, 2003
Feeling the need for updates on the turbulent continents, looked for writers I trust. Turned to Theroux for Africa. Let Mr. Paul, as folks called him on the road, describe and help me understand what the heck's going on! Theroux headed out one February from Cairo, took dreadful minibuses, trains decrepit to luxurious, dugout, truck, a plane, to revisit the content that kicked off his travel and writing life in the '60s. Ended up at the tip of South Africa. Like so many books--remarkable, remarkable. Now 60 years old on a continent of short, cheap lives, Theroux was sometimes greeted "old man", sometimes "brother". I agree with the dust jacket claim: "Truly a brave and courageous book." Fascinating to read Theroux's first hand interviews with people of all walks of life. He relates what could be the finest, fairest dialogue with a missionary about selective interpretation of the Bible I've ever read. Extremely helpful to have the conundrum of world aid support put into perspective by someone on the ground, who lived in Africa once, speaks languages, knows history and customs. On the literary front, I'm inspired to read Gordimer, whom Theroux visits, along with several authors and books references.
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE: my climb out of darkness
Karen Armstrong, 2004
Remarkable, remarkable. Couldn't sleep the night I read Armstrong's descriptions of her sense of disconnection from the world, following 7 years in a convent. I'd wanted to know more about the author of the History of God, who didn't seem to be religious herself. Was she making fun of religions I'd wondered. Her story answers that and much more. How extraordinarily honest and how extraordinarily well she knows herself! What a joy to read her clear writing! Now to back up to Through the Narrow Gate.
WILD IVY: the spiritual autobiography of zen master Hakuin
translated by Norman Waddell, 1999.
Ken Cohen mentioned Wild Ivy last spring. What spiritual mind and discipline comes out of Asia! Read with fascination Waddell's translation of Hakuin Zenji's rare-for-Japanese-zen-teachers, spiritual biography. Awesome to read of a monk/teacher's life (1689-1769) moving about Japan, practicing and studying the path of enlightenment. How to sit, sit, sit, included invaluable tips and pieces of the puzzle for maintaining physical strength.
DON'T LET'S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT: an African Childhood
Alexandra Fuller, 2001; Books on Tape 2002
Truly a remarkable book, wonderfully narrated. One never knows what others' lives are like until one looks in through a memoir. Amazing--what a tough childhood, moving around British African colonies during civil wars-- Rhodesia! Zambabwe! Incredible descriptions of Africa, family scenes, struggle and hope. Speaking of hope, I hope Fuller writes more.
FIELDS & PASTURES NEW: my first year as a country vet
Dr. John McCormack, 1995; Books on Tape 1996
Must have listened to this shortly after it came out. Recall loving the tapes so much I went right out to find a used copy of the book (no luck). I shrieked and laughed out loud as I listened to McCormack's veterinary tales from Choctaw County, Alabama, 1963. What a remarkable man! I'm a bit leery about vets, since learning how much James Herriot embellished his stories. Hope McCormack's tales happened just like he tells 'em.
Needing to lighten up life this spring, when I noticed Fields & Pastures on the shelf, had another listen driving back from Seattle. Clearly the same copy, since numerous times I had to pry the tape out, smooth it out, again and again. It's well loved and should be. You might wonder what a notorious anti-pet curmudgeon's doing listening to vet stories. Uhh... people keep animals. From my point of view, a man/the author who can laugh at being called everything from veteran to vatican, who can make peace with home grown doc Karney Sam Jenkins (who doctors cows with the holler tail, by slitting the tail, packing it with pepper, and tying off with a handkerchief), who can fix people as well as animals, is someone I admire. I love a book full of wisdom, kindness and humor, which this one has in spades. Credit goes to reader Barrett Whitener who brings every Miss Ruby and Joe Bob fully to life, without over dramatizing.
Treat yourself to a visit to Choctaw County sometime. McCormack's a first class story teller, writer and human. Books don't get any better than this! Better check to see if he's written anything since!
BY THE GRACE OF THE SEA: a woman's solo oddessey around the world
Pat Henry, 2003 (McGraw-Hill)
The review caught my eye in a recent alumni news; borrowed and renewed Ketchum's copy. Not a quick read. How could an 8 year, 80,000-mile, solo circumnavigation of the world be condensed in one book! The coincidences of a woman my vintage, who once lived in Jerseyville, Illinois, and Bloomington, attended the U of Illinois, and also had a brother spelled Stuart, were too much not to arouse my curiosity. Similarities halted however--Pat Henry is ambitious in the fields of men, marriage, family and career, and fearlessly sailed around the world single-handed. Me, I merely grew up in Illinois, love the sea reading about adventurers! A woman who carried Louse Hay around the world in a 30some foot sailboat, read among other things Kathleen Norris (without sharing any comments with the reader however), held my interest enough to return the book late. What an adventurer!
Not only did Pat travel to worlds and islands I'd never heard of, she repaired Southern Cross as waves broke, dropped and dragged anchors, tangled with customs and Greek men, corresponded with a host of folks, and painted and sold paintings as she went! All the while she seemed to struggle for peace of self image, family relationships, bankruptcy, affairs, and money, money! In this stew, I listened for spiritual depth. Pat was sure she was accompanied by angels--no doubt about it--but stopped there. She cycled from dining with the rich and famous to despondency seemingly continuously. Her inner search seemed almost as endless as the ports, harbors and miles she traveled. Her interest in history and architecture make for wonderful descriptions. I particularly loved her descriptions of skies and colors at sea and her self awareness of her ability to solve problems and fulfillment working on her own. I envied her strength and related to her need to connect with others. Ultimately she realized she's doing exactly what she loves--traveling single-handed, setting an example, particularly to women, to follow their dreams. She has.
THE DESERT PILGRIM; en route to mysticism and miracles
Mary Swander, 2003
End of each day, I just sigh at the stack of unopened books by the bed and turn off the light. Gotta at least look through that interlibrary loan! I've given up on Jung's Memories; it'll be there when I'm ready. Dying to read Stephen Levine--ha ha--and a new Jesus book.
Spiritual autobiographies always seem most doable, when everything has impending due dates. Fairly quickly I sense whether one's "a go". Swander's prologue opens in Father Sergei's church in New Mexico--an auspicious beginning from my view. Skimmed through detailed descriptions of the pain and disappointments of the Iowan author's car crashes, diagnoses of deteriorating health, even details of remarkable friendly support in her life.
Perked up with the author's decision to teach in Albuquerque one winter, combined with willingness to delve into matters spiritual. Barrios, curandos, herbs and rosaries, stories of Hildegard, Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross are down my alley. Swander interweaves her New Mexico experience with reminiscences of living with and caring for her dying mother an Iowa motor court during her college years. I'm grateful she shared her Albuquerque adventures, connections and intimate exploration of suffering and mysticism. Imagine a monk/spiritual coach saying, "Today, most people practice what I call 'microwave' Christianity... a few minutes when it's convenient, then dump it." She writes honestly, warmly and well. Americans suffer a host of spiritual and chronic dis-eases; Swander writes for many.
While a bit hard on "New Age" and traditional ways--I weary of enduring intellectual bashing--at least it wasn't the same old Catholic bashing. When it came to Chihauhuas nipping at her ankles, I admired her patience! Ended up greatly enjoying the story of Swander owning/reclaiming her Catholic roots and moving towards faith, all before springtime and her return to Iowa!
John Grisham, 2002
(book on tape)
Perfect company for the drive home from the holidays. Does Grisham just keep getting better, or what!
When I put in the first CD, little did I know Grisham was going to take on so many of the same moral issues my family has dealt with this past year--death of the final parental, inheritance, sibling "stuff". Rather more interesting and dramatic, nat.
Kept hoping Grisham'd do something so outrageous I'd eject the CD with a scoff and turn it back to the library, but he never crossed that line. Instead he kept me on the edge of the car seat, looking for excuses to drive around town in order to continue listening to how the exquisite moral dilemma he'd set up unfold. Little interests me more than resolving matters of conscience. The dance between brothers Forest and Ray Atley(sp) was and is superb food for thought. Lemme know what you think.
SURVIVING the ISLAND of GRACE: a memoir of Alaska
Leslie Leyland Fields, 2002
The author suggests she was pushed to tell her story. I'm grateful to pushers and the pushed. What a labor, what a book! Matters of the heart mixed fully with matters of the body. Having visited Alaska and cowered at the strength and fearlessness of the women, I loved reading an intimate story from the warmth and safety of my dry home. No storms raging or hauling water in buckets.
In this world of ultimate thrills for attention and entertainment, it was a pleasure to read of lives lived on the edge naturally (my opinion, of course). Reviewer Kathleen Moore put it well when she wrote Fields refuses to glamorize a life lived close to the edge. Indeed an honor to hear about a woman and her marriage, so old fashioned, grounded and square, she's "far out". It did my bruised heart and psyche good to spend time with what often seems like out of fashion values--friendships and love; hard, hard work; commitment; simplicity; religion guided lives; neighborliness; forgiveness; good guys and gals. Mindful living in a fast paced world.
I'll read Field's poetry with new eyes.
SMALL WONDER: essays
Barbara Kingsolver, 2002
(book on tape read by author)
Despite having bailed outa Kingsolver, over her defensive raptures on motherhood and sex, I know from Animal Dreams how good she can be. Borrowed Small Wondersagain recently. Unfortunately on the ultra basic CD player I chose in penance for indulging in a unthinkable splurge of a $400 car stereo (I think they may be called "units" now) which I finally gave up trying to have repaired, I can't even fast forward or reverse! If I cudda, I wudda skipped some of her parenting essays as well as reversed others for closer inspection. All by way of saying it was probably good that I had to listen to some things I might notta if I'd been technically up to speed.
I am now happy to let Kingsolver speak for my views on tv. "No one gets killed in our house", she explained, by way of writing about how desensitized we've become, along with how she deals with pressure for tv from her children. I couldn't have explained or written better about the insidiousness of television. Appreciate her taking time to write through what I know to be true, but haven't articulated. Right on, sister. Thank you. You've got credibility. Kingsolver also uses breath taking words like "inordinate" when referring to loving her daughter. Even I can't resist.
For the sake of understanding collective unconscious, I sat through her essay on 9-11. I also sat through tender essays on her mother. Unlike motherhood which merely causes me to roll my eyes, hearing her express this love was personally excruciating. May all mothers be blessed with daughters who love and appreciate them as much as she! (Mine wasn't.) May all daughters be blessed with mothers as understanding as the author! If I didn't know better, I'd be reminded of fiction!
Re: fiction. Kingsolver's essay on what makes a good short fictional story was especially wonderful. Hadn't realized how interested I was, how long I've puzzled. Brushed aside her surrounding details about how she overloads her life in order to wait out publishers and listened for how she decided to judge a pile of short stories. She called it something like sifting gems from sand (I paraphrase). Now I know we're both on guard when authors use "science" fiction such as full moons every two weeks. Ultimately (if I got it right) she decided good short stories help us understand the heart. Of course. Thank you. I'm gonna quit reading books and stories that don't go there in the first 20some pages, with more confidence than ever. Just like Barbara Kingsolver.
I'll leave politics and motherhood to her; she excels where I have no business. She also excels at writing about the angst of modern life--haves and have nots; homeless and affluence; greed and poverty, kindness and cruelty, on and on.
From a totally different angle, Kingsolver's essays delight me. It's an enormous relief that this former nonreader who failed comprehension tests, avoided English classes, writing, speaking and the classics like the plague, until long out of college, can now enjoy and seemingly track a successful writer's essays. I'm happy to witness that one can learn to enjoy reading and writing without dealing with wildly famous writers like Virginia Wolf, James Joyce, DH Lawrence, Faulker, Hemingway, the Gatsby guy, not to mention Tolstoy, Dovskievski et al. No could read. Luckily, there are other word paths to enjoy.
VENTURE to the INTERIOR, 1951
The HEART of the HUNTER, 1961
JUNG & THE STORY of OUR TIME, 1975
Laurens van der Post
Might not have started reading Van der Post again if book lover Chan hadn't asked about Jung, which led to van der Post's story of Jung. Since I'm at the library in Eagle, or on the computer most days, when Chan points to a title on the By the Same Author list or on the back cover, I just "click" or fill out an interlibrary loan request. Especially with interlibrary loans, if he says one was “ok”—high praise from him--I feel I ought to read it too, so the pile by my bed grows. Unlike me, Chan reads quickly and avidly, in his second language!
Particularly enjoyed Venture to the Interior. Took a while, for both reader and writer literally to get to "the Interior". Van der Post had to fly over 7000 miles to Africa, making untold number of hops to get to the remote tracks of land in Nyasaland, old British Central Africa. One expedition to the peak of Mlanje; the other into the Nyika Plateau of Zululand. Van der Post's are not tales of bumbling white men in Africa. However, even for one as at ease and familiar with Africa, the challenges of overnighting in crowded cities, transportation and connections are make for adventure after adventure, even as they still do today. His details of scenery and encounters are wonderful. Does he remember it all or make it up?
This was addressed in his book about Jung. He explains that like the Bushman he grew up around, he trained his memory to hold generations of stories, never taking a note--whether colors of the sunset, conversations, menus or dress! He tells of assembling travel companions, porters and supplies; the final expeditions by comparison, are short, historic, personal, intense. What I like about van der Post at this time in my life is his biggest adventures are his own interior ones, his search for meaning and his sense of intimacy with nature and people. In Interior he writes of the split in ourselves that produces a split in the pattern of our lives. I read through the night, hungry, satisfied, delighted and challenged. What a man, what a life. His understanding of human nature, strength, illusion and frailty are profound. His passion for wilds, nature, unsurpassed. His description of a night of native drumming on the foot of Nkawozya (mountain) is incomparable. Period.
I think I read The Heart of the Hunter earlier. How could anyone forget the Bushman mother holding her baby up to the stars? Not me, anyhow! More unique and perspective travels and observations among Bushmen on the edge of extinction, colliding with civilization. His experience with and understanding of the "mind" of the Bushman is invaluable. I treasure van der Post's ability to express compassion.
Took a long time to read Jung and the Story of Our Time. It's one to read and reread. Hadn't known much of Jung. The copies Chan and I borrowed had been underlined here and there. Whoever did it, had done a pretty good job, Chan commented. Jung's was quite a man, and van der Post is was quite a match to write of him. Here's just one quote from Jung I copied into my journal.
“After hobnobbing for months with witch-doctors and delving into their witchcraft, I was amazed on my return to Zurich how many witch-doctors and how much witchcraft there was in it and the Swiss mountains and beyond; and until I have learned all I can about them too I do not feel I have the right to go back.” [to Africa]
Reading Jung and van der Post over the holidays was a life saver. Two men who explored the heart of the meaning of life. I needed that (I always do) to help keep me sane in an insane world. To affirm it's not traveling all over the world that's important, but the inner journey. Thank you Sir Laurens and Carl Jung.
THE CURVE OF TIME
M. Wylie Blanchet, 1961
Sometimes I'm afraid if I re-read a treasure I'll be disappointed! The only time it's happened was with Little House on the Prairie, which if I reread with the eyes of the young girl who first read Wilder, would no doubt again enchant. (Rather than sniffing at Laura's submission to Ma and Pa during my family rebellion daze.)
A reissued paperback of Blanchet's memoir, with a stunning watery northwest sunset cover photo, caught my eye in Eagle Public Library's recent returns. Dare I revisit this favorite (my own copy of which is somewhere in the garage)? Not sure when I first read Curve of Time or who put me onto it. Definitely before I moved inland.
Within a few sentences, it all came back why I'd love this Canadian classic. Blanchet writes the way I like to read--simply, subtly, succinctly. The subject matter--plying the waters of the Canadian coast--is near to my heart. Blanchet's stories are much more than those of the antics of a widow with 5 young children spending the summers in tiny Caprice. The mystery and history of pacific northwest sea life of every sort is seen through keen eyes.
I'd forgot the description of the Indian village of Mamalilacoola, which I saw by sea kayak about 1982, a memory which recently came back as a lifetime high. Although I winced to think of Blanchet's son playing with an Indian skull, the spirits of the Indian camps they visited generally hustled them on their way.
Every time I visit salt water, I look for a sea horse, like the one Blanchet kid's swear they once saw. But I'd forgot one of my favorite kid's stories--Henry the whale and Timothy the seagull--came from these pages! In a former life as would-be storyteller, I'd practice squawking like Timothy.
What a treasure! Read for yourself the gift Blanchet left unfinished, but good enough.
SHOES OUTSIDE THE DOOR: the story of desire, betrayal and excess at San Francisco Zen Center
Michael Downing, 2002
Indeed a daunting task: compiling and telling the history of American's first Zen Center--San Francisco Zen Center--from arrival of beloved founding monk Shunruy Suzuki from Japan to it's current co-abbotting system by both men and women for 3 meditation centers. Truly a stygian task--weaving as many stories as players/meditators into one book. Downing probably used double negatives more than I've ever experience--how could he not! That's Zen--Not Always So. Nothing is absolutely true except change. "Kill the Buddha." For example (my words)-- this was not the problem; but neither was it not not the problem!
The story of San Francisco is probably a classic tale! I admit I am fascinated by power and scandal, particularly in a forum that personally interests me--the spiritual arena. However, I like to think my higher interest was reading about the challenges of community, particularly when it strains and appears to break, rises again wiser, learns and realigns, I glean for clues to the elements of successful communication, peace, growth. The old mediator--m-e-d-i-a-t-o-r--in me, is fascinated by "what went wrong". We've got a meditation community right here in Boise that I watch struggle with issues of power and communication.
SIR VIDIA'S SHADOW: a friendship across five continents
Paul Theroux, 1998
Interesting, interesting, if you're as obsessed with studying friendship like I am. Geez, Theroux is good. Enjoy him in spite of myself. Can't not like someone so honest, even if from the point of view of a woman, I'm glad he's at least a continent away. Now that he's written and I've read the roots of his writing career via the story of his mentor and friend Vidia Naipaul, I'm going "Ahh" and "I get it". He's given readers much much insight into who he is and what he admires in writing. Off to try Naipaul again--A House for Mrs. Biswas is my first choice.
OUT OF THE BLUE: women, men and the oceans they fish,
Edited by Leslie Leyland Fields, 2001
Leslie Leyland Fields selection of 19 essays by writers of the sea (and not just a token female), gutted and fillet lives before the reader. Diving in, the reader can see what makes us tick-- money or mothers, drugs, sex, family, friends or love; something known or unknown; bodies, minds, or machines.
Recalling the fantastic first essay I opened to--winter urchin diving off Maine--I just couldn't turn the book back to the library without more. Finally, Out of the Blue went to the mountains with me, where I couldn't break camp until I'd devoured the last story. These are Authors with a capital A, who not only use words well, perhaps extraordinarily, but live boldly (perhaps excessively) as they share their ocean experiences. I was fed something it turns out I was hungry to read, if not experience, in the middle of a society obsessed with food and quick fixes. Talk about human potential! Are these exceptional people or adventures? Read on.
I didn't have what it took to live from the sea this lifetime, but I must have been there, once upon a time, because my fascination with those who tie bowlines in the dark, has already led me to salt water. Reading through these fish guts of life was extraordinarily satisfying.
Thank you Leslie Leyland Fields! What a collage.
IN BUDDHA'S KITCHEN: cooking, being cooked, and other adventures in a meditation center
Kimberley Snow, Shambala 2003
Yes! Snow is an English major. Chapters from her struggle towards self knowing are real, relatable, told with humor. Her kaleidoscope of life--rather all over the place--including a name-has-been-changed CA meditation center--is angular but endearing. May jerk reader around a bit; don't expect flow, though it's there. The view from the kitchen is honest and worthy. Several glimpses into the meditation center touched me deeply --Laughing Lotus Sutra and Jizo. Snow definitely has stories and insight worth passing on; writes wonderfully. However I am almost beside myself wondering who the Lama from Idaho is? Thanks, Kimberley. Enjoy.
INNER PASSAGES, OUTER JOURNEYS: Wilderness, Healing and the Discovery of Self.
David Cumes, 1998
Read Cumes (referenced in Yoga Magazine again) because he's South African and has visited the San Bushman of South Africa, whose spirit is near and dear to my heart. Two things caught my attention: p. 36 - Martin Buber said, “All men have access to God, but each man has a different access.”
p.68 - “It was only when the white men came that wilderness existed”. Luther Standing Bear
I was reminded faintly of the book that has probably touched me deeper than any in the world-- Laurens Van der Post's A Mantis Carol. Immediately got on the web and found it in Butte MT.
(extremely academic; not recommended)
The WAY OF THE RIVER: Adventures and Meditations of a Woman Martial Artist
by BK Loren, 2001
Hello BK Loren,
Your essay about the deer snagged me in Yoga Journal a while back, because I enjoyed it and I'd written a faintly similar personal essay about standing with Great Blue Heron while qigong-ing, as I call it, a few years ago. Boulder author, eh, I thought, “suspiciously”. Last month I finally got your book via interlibrary loan outa Idaho Falls.
Hadn't read too many pages before your story about “This is my arm, this is my leg”; a “flare” went up. She's gotta know Gao Han! Read on, appreciatively, feeling more and more certain, until you mentioned Ken. Yup, had to be! The very best thing was to read and find someone else who believes Ken Cohen's compassionate teaching and knowledge are unparalleled. Completely agree.
Except that I don't have a martial arts background or practice, it's just something I know to be true, even from this outpost in Idaho, where I have no support along that line. When I decided to explore qigong, I hadn't met many teachers, before I heard Ken's Way of Qigong on audio tape and knew this was what I was looking for. Flew to Minnesota for workshop. Yes. Only get to one maybe every year. Primarily for moral support!
The funny thing is, I lived in Boulder 1968-75, around Colorado for 13 years. Left a piece of my heart there, am happy to return. Had fun following your descriptions of an area I once knew well.
I meet each Boise area teacher who offers tai chi or qigong, but after Ken, haven't found a comfortable match where I don't violate my root teachings. So I mainly practice Ken's philosophy in my mind. I do however teach yoga since the right teachers, to keep me practicing steadily, were near from time to time. Qigong is always with me. “Invite stillness in”, I've been saying lately at the beginning of “gentle” yoga classes at the “fitness” club!
Great writing and sharing. Thank you. And thanks for listening, if this gets to you! Good Practice!
With a bow,
Sunday June 29, 2003
...I read with pleasure your piece about standing with great blue herons. It takes courage to write--and courage to stand with herons. I wish you the best in both pursuits, as in all other searches your heart embarks upon.
Be well in body, mind, and spirit,
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
by Bo Lozoff, 2000
In case you ever think you're from the wrong planet--What a book! Already wise beyond his years, Lozoff's maturing wisdom is indescribably affirming--a clear voice for a confused world. Read it! Believe not what you hear in the media, this is how to create a life that works. Tough love matured by wisdom, truth and love. The founder of the Prison-Ashram Project out of North Carolina assimilates the essence of all the religions and preaches simple truth and kindness. The most helpful, wonderful book I've read in ages. Thank you Bo Lozoff.
WE'RE ALL DOING TIME,
by Bo Lozoff, 1985
A worthy '60s classic about taking meditation and yoga into the prisons by Bo Lozoff, founder of the Prison-Ashram Project out of North Carolina. Remarkable prison correspondence between Bo and wife and prisoners. Straight talk from both sides. The truth about change and being owned by emotion.
SIBERIA BOUND: chasing the American dream on Russia's wild frontier
by Alexander Blakeley, 2002
Sometimes you read a book so good you can't stand not to tell somebody right now. And so it is. When I finally sat down hungry to read, exhausted after a "relaxing" vacation that didn't have room for reading, I was soon in Siberia with Blakeley, chuckling and smiling. Some people just have their act together; it's a pleasure to read about it. Especially at a time when sharing tales of dysfunction seem to top a lot lists.
Blakeley shares his background in economics, with his search for happiness that led him straight to Siberia after college and the wall came down.
What impressed me most is that Blakeley learns from life; he doesn't keep going around and around like a hamster, if I got the expression correct. He learns about love, relationships, business and the meaning of life and he moves on respectfully. He shares these easily and honestly. Be prepared for a fine love story, lots of laughs and great intellectual puzzles.
WHAT a pleasure!
February 18, 2003 jth
NAVY WINGS OF GOLD
by Robby Robertson, 2004
1919: the ranger, the cook and a hole in the sky
by Norman Maclean, 1995
My father was born in 1919; he died in 1977 before reaching 60, when he could leave Air Force retirement to mom. Like so many of his generation, he took his responsibility for supporting the family seriously; he worked worked long hours, in his own office. I didn't know him well. When pastor Tri began talking about his dad's reminiscences as a Navy pilot in his new book, Navy Wings of Gold, my ears perked up. This month, I read Robby's story, noting with interest he too was born in 1919. He probably went into the service about the same time as my father, who rarely mentioned his experience as a pilot in Africa. Robby's flight training in Alaska and the Navy wouldn't have been exactly like my dad's, but I couldn't help thinking that a lot of the intense experience of training with a group might have been similar: the adventure of flying, growing up fast, being under strict authority, of making fast friends, of losing so many fellow pilots.
I had never read such personal reflections of the WWll, especially from the air. They're probably out there. I see this man in church most weeks; he could be my father. I was quite touched by his taking time to write up his experience, look up and interview fellow flyers.
Although most of his story is training, logistics, he wove in his "impulsive" war-time marriage to the woman he's with at church. He also looks back, marveling at the slim chance of getting through, pondering who survived and why, and how many, many colleagues were lost and disappeared, often in training, not infrequently killed by their own troops, but also on missions over in the Pacific. To this child of the '60s, this was a HUGE war. I was closer to the Vietnam and still feel the loss of men my age, literally and psychically, but this was a World War. Big, and horrible. And my father, like so many, was a small part. I'm sure it made him who he was, a hard working man, dedicated to family and community. It was like reading the story I never knew of my dad.
At the same time, without consciously realizing it, I'd finally checked out Norman Maclean's "1919: the ranger, the cook and a hole in the sky" from the library--book on tape. Once again, Maclean left me breathless. What an extraordinary storyteller. What a precious slice of life, of growing up, of the West, he captured. The summer my father and his twin were born in Illinois, Maclean was spending his 17th year tromping trails of the newly created Forest Service on the Montana/Idaho border. His story of growing up, under the authority of an old fashioned head ranger-packer, has the elements of a perfect thriller: real life.
August 2002, jth
from the archives
STRANGER in TIBET: the adventures of a wandering zen monk
by Scott Berry 314 pages, printed in Japan, published by Kodansha International Ltd, 1989.
I'll long remember author Scott Berry's delightful sense of humor as he describes the amazing adventures and misadventures of his controversial subject, Kawaguchi Ekai. Kawaguchi's travels began in 1897, while he was a young Japanese Zen monk. The book chronicles Kawaguchi's arrival in the “forbidden” city of Lhasa in 1901, via a marvelously zigzagged route.
Unlike many travelers to Tibet, Kawaguchi's unwavering passion was learning and practicing Buddhism. Tibetan, Chinese and Sanskrit were among the languages he mastered in order to fulfill his mission, pass as a native pilgrim and collect religious scriptures.
Once on the road Kawaguchi stayed in homes, tents and monasteries, occasionally spending a winter night out in the open. Unlike many travelers, he sought company; otherwise he became hopelessly lost. After crossing icy rivers he coated himself with clove oil and took herbal remedies. Along the way, he recorded daily life as well glimpses of unique rites. His record of Tibetan disposal of the dead is invaluable.
Piecing together the wanderings of this colorful but infuriating monk could not have been an easy task. Often, instead of recording the details one awaits, Berry tells us Kawaguchi would merely write “…while in India I got to know… the Dalai Lama…”! Still, A Stranger in Tibet abounds with the best of Kawaguchi's records, gleaned from the author's extensive scholarly research, his travels and his study of Kawaguchi's and his contemporaries’ works.
Berry gives the reader the whole Kawaguchi. Often outrageous, bumbling, frustratingly judgmental, inconsistent and bigoted, Kawaguchi was irresistibly sincere, endearing, humorous and brave. Ultimately Berry paints an ever-so-human portrait. Despite unbearable faults, Kawaguchi's spirit must have captured many. Members of the Kawaguchi Society still pay annual tribute to the abstinent monk with a drunken evening.
Although it is decades later, Berry is the editor Kawaguchi never had. He has done a fine favor to biograph the remarkable and controversial life of traveler who was nearly lost in the cracks of history. At a time when many of us are searching for meaning and passion, it is fun as well as fascinating to read the story of a man who, right or wrong, had so few moments of doubt about his life's calling.
12/92 for which I rec'd a gift certificate from Elliott Bay Books, Seattle!
AN UNREASONABLE WOMAN: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas,
by Diane Wilson, 2005
ALL TIME FAVORITES to revisit:
A Heaven in the Eye, Clyde Rice
Old Jules, Mari Sandoz
And There was Light, Jacques Lusseyran
Bones of the Master, George Crane
Mantis Carol, Laurens van der Post
Lightening Bird, Lyle Watson
Thank You and OK, David Chadwick
Lone Cowboy, Will James
West with the Night, Beryl Markham
Night Country, Loren Eisley
SPIRITUAL/Most Influential BOOK LIST
Jacques Lusseyran - And There was Light
Kathleen Norris - Cloister Walk; Amazing Grace: the vocabulary of faith
Karen Armstrong - Spiral Staircase (autobio)
Henry Nouwen – Road to Daybreak
Thomas Merton – Seven story Mtn; The Intimate Merton: his life from his journals.
Ronald Rohlheiser - Holy Longing: the search for a Christian spirituality
Gloria Benish - Go Within or Go Without (Montana author)
Laurens van der Post - Mantis Carol and others
Marlo Morgan - Mutant Message Downunder
Bo Lozoff - We’re all doing time, and It’s a wonderful life
Leslie Leyland Fields - Surviving the Island of Grace: a memoir of Alaska
Jordan and Sullivan - Prison Angel: mother antonia’s journey from Beverly hills to a life of service in a Mexican jail.
GREAT SPIRITS WHO CHANGED MY LIFE
Henry David Thoreau – Walden
Norman Mclean - 1919: the ranger, the cook and a hole in the sky