Hanh’s the Miracle of Mindfulness

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
Thich Nhat Hanh

A beautiful and practical book on starting and sustaining a meditation practice by Thich Nhat Hanh. If you’re reading this review you probably know Hanh is one of the most important Buddhist practitioners alive today. His writings, courses, and political activism are legion, and the community that surrounds him broad and incredibly active. I’ve been an admirer from afar from many years (indeed, I have done legal work for his organization) but I haven’t really delved into his work until now.

This is a great place to start, accessible, clear, and gorgeous in its simplicity, it’s a perfect introduction to Hanh. Generally, I find myself drawn to the more scientific end of writings on mindfulness, but the sincerity and pureness of intention here drew me in and captivated me. I read the whole thing in two days.

If you’re looking to dip you toes into a mindfulness practice, you could do worse than starting here.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Chödrön’s Start Where You Are


Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

Pema Chodron
An accessible and clear introduction to foundational principles of Buddhism told through a series of Tibetan Buddhist maxims. Chödrön writes with compassion and clarity, and the structure of the book is elegant in its simplicity, taking one maxim at a time and reflecting on it.

I should have nothing but praise for this, especially as its considered one of the great introductory books out there. But it didn’t resonate with me. I prefer my Buddhism served up with the irony and anxiety of a Dan Harris, or the science of a Robert Wright. But that’s just me. If Tibetan Buddhism interests you, especially its aspects which focus on love and compassion, then this is a fine introduction. Perhaps I’ll return to it if someday meditation turns me into slightly less of an asshole.

Review: Hoffman’s Greeting from Utopia Park

Greetings from Utopia Park
Claire Hoffman

Mindfulness and meditation are having a moment. All over the business world people are extolling the virtues of a daily practice for productivity and mental health. This mainstreaming of meditation is being led by apps like Headspace (which I use) and the leaders of the mindfulness movement like Joseph Goldstein. But a rising tide lifts all ships and the perennially popular and controversial Transcendental Meditation (TM) is also having a moment.

This book, a memoir of growing up in the hot bed of hardcore TM practitioners in Fairfield, Iowa, gives some valuable insights into the TM movement, especially in its early years. These days, TM prefers to be associated with Hollywood celebrities and the health benefits which have been correlated with the practice of the discipline, but we should forget that for a while there TM and the Maharishi were more closely associated with attempts at “yogic flying” and meditating for world peace.

This book is a story of those years.  About what it means to grow up deep within the TM movement, with a single mom who spent hours a day in meditation, to be broke when those around you were wealthy, to want the secular pleasures of average teenager when your mother would rather you sat on a cushion. It’s a book critical of TM’s excesses, for sure, but not entirely dismissive of them. Indeed by the end of the book, we’re filled with doubts about the leadership of the TM movement, but also following the author as she attempts to learn yogic flying.

It’s a New Religious Movement memoir, and I’m a sucker for those, even when they’re poorly done. But this one is thoughtful, it is well written, and if you have an interest in TM, or what its like to grow up outside the mainstream, its worth the time.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Ide I.Q.

I.Q.

Joe Ide

Cat nip for the crime novel fan. Fast paced P.I. story set in Los Angeles with a compelling protagonist, I.Q. A genius, a high school dropout, black, socially insecure and from Long Beach. He’s an unusual hero in a genre more often populated by misanthropic ex-cop white dudes.  You won’t be surprised to learn its already optioned for a movie.

The plot, focused on the possible attempts to murder a rap star moves, and resolves in a way that is, while a bit over the top, not as absurd as many crime novel crescendos.

But rarely is it the plot that makes a crime novel fun. More often, it’s the detective, or the killer. And here, both are fun. Our detective is wonderfully fascinating. His back story tragic, his intelligence, inspiring, his personality quirks, related-able.  The killer is pleasantly psychopathic and, as is common in these books, a bit overdrawn. But this is a crime novel, and a thriller, its meant to be enjoyed at a breakneck pace for the clever asides, the telling anecdotes, the compelling action.  I enjoyed the hell out of it. If well written crime novels are your thing, you will too.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Okorafor’s Who Fears Death

Who Fears Death
Nnedi Okorafor

I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy for most of my life. I devoured William Gibson in my teens, got deep into new wave in my twenties, and learned the classics in my thirties. I’m not an expert in the genre, by any means, but I’m also reasonably well read.

Lately, something interesting has been happening, not only have we seen an explosion in the popularity of writers of color (and women of color specifically) but I think we’re seeing more and more books like this one, set an place uncommon in science fiction (Africa) and dealing with an uncommon set of genre tropes (here, both high tech gadgets and magic).

This a book about a girl with magical powers and a high tech gadget who uses both and more to fight a dictator in post-apocalyptic Africa. Is this SF? Is it Fantasy? Is it something in-between? Who cares. Its well written, its challenging in its ideas about the future, and it puts front and center voices too rarely heard in SF and its worth a read. But and still, this isn’t a perfect work. The writing is strong, and the plot moves, but I found some of it a the story a bit over done. This is often a criticism I have – I like my poetic touches very light—so other opinions might vary.

If current trends in science fiction is your thing, then this is worth a read. Something is happening here, its worth paying attention to.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Book Review: Lew’s This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared

This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation

Allan Lew

A meditation on the Jewish High Holidays by one of the most important reform rabbis of the last fifty years. A deeply honest and moving book. The most spiritually moving piece of literature I have read, maybe ever.

As close readers of this website know, I converted to Judaism a number of years ago. The reasons for that conversion are complex and personal and hard to explain. Since converting, my relationship to Judaism has ebbed and flowed. E and I have always attended high holiday services, but if I’m being honest, I haven’t always approached them with all that much awe. That’s changed in the last couple of years. It’s changed in part because my son now attends a Jewish school and we are now much more involved in a Jewish life. It changed because we became members of a powerful, progressive synagogue with an incredibly dynamic rabbi. And it’s changed in part because I am older, with a life more complicated and perhaps more in need of spiritual solace.

And it’s changed in part because of this book.

One of the things that initially attracted me to Judaism was the way in which it welcomes an engagement with the spiritual through the intellectual. This book is a wonderful reflection of that type of engagement. Lew takes you through the Torah’s proscriptions for the various holidays, he explains how our traditions and rules came to be, and why, but he never lets you forget that this is more than an intellectual exercise. It is more than an obligation. It is a complex apparatus designed to allow us to engage with ourselves (and for some of us, our God) is a real, visceral, and perhaps transformative way.

If you come to my synagogue for the high holidays, you’re going to see a variety of expressions of Judaism. You’ll see the egalitarian orthodox minyan. You’ll see the various kids services, in all degrees of wild, you’ll see bored teenagers waiting for it to end, and others with their heads deep in their siddurs. One thing you’ll also see is numerous people with this book beside them. Next year, once again, I’ll be one of them.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

 

Review: Flynn and Gerhardt’s The Silent Brotherhood: The Chilling Inside Story of America’s Violent, Anti-Government Militia Movement


The Silent Brotherhood: The Chilling Inside Story of America’s Violent, Anti-Government Militia Movement
Kevin Flynn
Gary Gerhardt

The first on the scene book about the “the Order”, a white supremacist criminal gang that robbed banks to fund the white power movement and was involved in the assassination of liberal radio DJ Alan Berg. Told is a kinda trashy style, the book is still a very useful look into the formation of a relatively successful (though eventually doomed) white supremacist criminal cell.

 

Founded by Robert Jay Matthews at his rural Washington state farm, the group existed for approximately three years, before being taken down with the use of a government witness. All its known members are now in jail or dead. In the time that it was functioning, the Order raised millions of dollars for white supremacist organizations, and killed at least one man. While white power organizing has become much more sophisticated since the days of a group of men plotting shit in a barn, this book features many of the same themes (and some of the same people) as we see today.

 

Recommended for those interested in understanding the enemy.

 

 

* aka “Silent Brotherhood” or the “Bruder Schweign”.