**spoiler alert** No need to reinvent the wheel. Here's my Amazon.com review:
It doesn't matter whether what you tell people is truth or fiction, becau...more**spoiler alert** No need to reinvent the wheel. Here's my Amazon.com review:
It doesn't matter whether what you tell people is truth or fiction, because there's no such thing as truth, no real difference between fantasy and reality, so you might as well go with the more interesting story. That's "Life of Pi" in a nutshell. Sorry to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet.
Remember that season of the TV series "Dallas" that turned out to be just a dream? That's kind of how you feel after you've invested hours of your time reading page after page of a quite engrossing survival narrative, only to find out that it was all something the survivor made up.
Or was it? Ah, there's the twist that we're supposed to find so clever. But the officials from the ship company who tell Pi they don't believe his story are such hopelessly weak strawmen that the author pretty much forces you to accept the "better story." Pi, and, by extension, Martel, have no patience for the "dry, yeastless factuality" that the ship officials want, you see. Never mind whether it's closer to the truth -- it's just too boring, and we need colorful stories to make our lives richer. Besides, Pi and Martel say, as soon as something leaves your mouth, it's no longer reality -- it's only your interpretation of reality. So why bother grasping for the truth? You prefer the Creation story to the Big Bang? Then go with the Creation story, even if it defies logic and scientific discovery.
That's all well and good. Everyone likes a good story. But there's a time and a place for them, and the ship officials didn't need a story -- they needed to know what happened to their ship. To that end, Pi's entire tale is irrelevant anyway. And that, in turn, makes you wonder what the whole point of the book was. Other than, maybe, to laud the power of storytelling in a really hamfisted manner. Or to advocate for taking refuge in fantastical fiction when reality is too harsh. Or to champion shallow religious beliefs ("Why, Islam is nothing but an easy sort of exercise, I thought. Hot-weather yoga for the Bedouins. Asanas without sweat, heaven without strain."). Or to bash agnostics. Or something.
Be advised that this is not a book for children or the squeamish. Pi's transformation from vegetarian to unflinching killer, and Richard Parker's dietary habits, are rife with gratuituously gory details about the manner in which animals suffer and are killed and eaten.
The story promises to make you believe in God. Yet with Martel's insistence that a well-crafted story is just as good as or even preferable to reality, he leaves us not believing in a god of any kind, but rather suggesting that we embrace the stories that religions have made up about their gods, regardless of those stories' relation to scientific knowledge, since the stories are so darn nice, comfy, warm, and fuzzy in comparison with real life. Whether the God in the stories actually exists, meanwhile, becomes totally irrelevant. So ultimately, Martel makes a case for why he thinks people SHOULD believe in God -- it's a respite from harsh reality, we're told, a way to hide from life rather than meet it head-on with all of its pains and struggles -- and that's quite different from what he ostensibly set out to do. He trivializes God into a "nice story," a trite characterization sure to offend many readers.
Pi sums up this postmodern worldview by telling the ship investigators, "The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no?" Well, no, the world IS just the way it is, in all of its highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies, happiness and sadness. But Pi and Martel's solution is to avoid the whole messy thing altogether, pretend that the way things are don't really exist, and pull a security blanket of fiction over your head. Create your own reality as you see fit. That's called escapism. It's fine when you want to curl up with a good book on a rainy day and get lost in the story for a few hours, but it's a lousy way to try to deal with real life.
Pi would tell me that I lack imagination, just as he told the investigators they lacked imagination when Pi claimed he couldn't "imagine" a bonsai tree since he's never seen one, as a way of mocking the investigators' reluctance to believe in Pi's carnivorous island. (Nice cultural stereotyping with the bonsai, by the way -- the investigators are Japanese.) But you see the problem, right? It's not a matter of lacking imagination. It's a matter of conflating things that are obviously imaginary with things that are obviously real. They're not one and the same. It's ludicrous to suggest otherwise. You might as well say that the story of Frodo and the Ring is every bit as real as the American Revolution.
Pi also tells us, quite pointedly, that choosing agnosticism is immobilizing, while atheists and religious folks make a courageous leap of faith. Yet immobility is precisely where Pi places us, so that by the time the book ends, you're stuck not knowing what to think about what you've just read. Do you accept the original shipwreck story just because it's more engrossing, even if it's less believable? Or do you accept the plausible but boring story Pi gives to the officials after he's rescued? Fanciful religious allegories or cold, scientific recitation of facts that might come from the mouth of an atheist -- we're expected to pick one or the other.
But it's a false dichotomy. We needn't make a choice between embracing religious tales merely because they're more interesting or settling for the sobering realities of science and reason. We can go as far as our reason will take us and then leave ourselves open to further possibilities -- just as Pi himself suggests. That's not immobility. That's intellectual honesty -- an admission that I don't know all the answers but am willing to keep an open mind about whatever else is presented to me.
Seems better than saying you might as well just accept the better story since it really makes no difference. That's laziness. And it doesn't make for a very good story. (less)
Tara Brach leads a weekly meditation class in the metro D.C. area, and I've been to several of them. Her sessions inspire just as much calm and assure...moreTara Brach leads a weekly meditation class in the metro D.C. area, and I've been to several of them. Her sessions inspire just as much calm and assuredness as this book does. Tara is sort of like the anti-Dr. Phil. Instead of screaming at you about what an idiot you are, Tara puts a comforting arm around you, like an old friend, and using a combination of psychological techniques and a gentle form of Theravada Buddhism, she shows us how we can stop living with doubt, regret, and fear and lead a happy, fulfilled life, with a clarity of mind that we can then use to reach out to others who are mired in the same delusions we once were. Me, I'm still working on all of this, but Tara offers you the tools to help you get to a better place, if you're only willing to make the effort.
Some might argue that Tara's approach is too lightweight. Fair enough. It's not for everybody. I'm sure some people WANT Dr. Phil to smack them around. Different personalities need different approaches. Tara fills an important need for those who appreciate a gentler approach to getting themselves whipped into psychic shape.(less)
As this gem of a book points out, "Buddhism without beliefs" is a redundancy. Batchelor cuts to the heart of what sets Buddhism apart from other world...moreAs this gem of a book points out, "Buddhism without beliefs" is a redundancy. Batchelor cuts to the heart of what sets Buddhism apart from other world religious traditions: It encourages practitioners to question, to penetrate, to rigorously examine everything -- even the Buddha's teachings themselves -- and not to take things on blind faith. In other words, just because a religious leader hands you a doctrine and tells you to believe in something, that isn't good enough. The goal of Buddhism, after all, is to slice through our daily illusions and see the world as it really is, not as we want or hope it to be. We can even take this approach toward such Buddhist cornerstones as karma and rebirth. Batchelor recommends an agnostic but open approach toward the concept of literal reincarnation, for example. That seems to be a healthy approach.
It's also an important message to convey as Buddhism tries to take a foothold here in the skeptical West, where casual observers might see Buddhism as esoteric or exotic. Buddhism has indeed accumulated many practices and rituals -- and even unfounded beliefs and speculations -- in the centuries since it left India, and Batchelor asks us to look through those trappings to return to the kernel of Buddhist teaching. Anything else threatens to sway us from the Path and throw us into the world of clinging to illusions. A fine job.
Part of Gurdjieff's spiritual philosophy was the importance of cultivating a clear, focused mind, staying psychically awake, and giving your undivided...morePart of Gurdjieff's spiritual philosophy was the importance of cultivating a clear, focused mind, staying psychically awake, and giving your undivided attention to whatever activity you happened to be undertaking. That's why Gurdjieff wrote "Beelzebub's Tales" in the manner he did.
This is not light summer reading by any means. If you don't completely and intensely immerse yourself in this book and its utterly bizarre world, you'll get lost somewhere in the first paragraph. And you'll probably give up in frustration after the first few pages.
I'm not kidding. Dense sentences bursting with clauses and asides go on for line after line after line. You'll stumble across invented words that aren't defined until several chapters later. Eventually, just getting through the book becomes a battle of wills against Gurdjieff. Will you prevail, or will the book?
If you make it to the end, he probably would have welcomed you as a student of the Fourth Way. If you don't, well, there are certainly other ways to achieve inner harmony that aren't so mentally draining. I mean, I love a good challenge, and I tip my hat to Gurdjieff for creating such a dense thicket of a book, but this is truly only for a select few, with lots and lots of patience.(less)
Well, I went into this book hoping to find out why the states' borders have some of the funny twists and turns they do. And as far as that goes, it li...moreWell, I went into this book hoping to find out why the states' borders have some of the funny twists and turns they do. And as far as that goes, it lived up to my expectations.
This kind of stuff fascinates me. Pretty much anything to do with American history commands my attention. And sure enough, everything you could want to know about the states and how they got carved out is all in here. The drawing of the Mason-Dixon line ... attitudes toward future states post-Revolution ... surveying mistakes (some of which were fixed and some of which weren't) ... how things like slavery and gold and access to waterways affected borders and state sizes ... even little tidbits about border skirmishes. Being from Michigan, I knew all about the Toledo "War" and the ensuing gift of the Upper Peninsula, but I wasn't aware that other states had their own dust-ups about where to draw their borders.
Each state's entry will take you only five to 10 minutes to read, so it's an easy book to tackle. But oh, is the writing dull. Dreadfully dull. And repetitive. You might as well be reading a Wikipedia entry, just with better grammar and (as far as I can tell) more reliable sourcing. But if you can get past that, you'll have yourself a nice little encyclopedic reference covering a swath of American history that no one else has probably thought to document all in one place.(less)
I grew up in a small Michigan town named for an Indian chief who gave his life to save the white settlers there. More importantly, my own ancestry inc...moreI grew up in a small Michigan town named for an Indian chief who gave his life to save the white settlers there. More importantly, my own ancestry includes some Cherokee and Blackfoot blood. So I've always taken a special interest in American Indians and their struggles to maintain their identity, their dignity, and even their lives. That's why I was attracted to Russell Means' story. This libertarian Lakota is as mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore. Not content to live as a broken spirit on a reservation, where he saw his people living in squalor, slaves to addiction and reduced to living on meager handouts from an indifferent government, Means led demonstrations and occupations at Wounded Knee, Mount Rushmore, Alcatraz, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs office, both to bring attention to the plight of Indians and to shake up the often-corrupt tribal bureaucracies themselves. Whether his activism helped or hurt his cause is up for the reader to decide, but his bravery and determination are never in question. (less)
The George Clooney movie "Leatherheads" was based on this true story of the nascent days of pro football. I'm as much a football historian as I am a f...moreThe George Clooney movie "Leatherheads" was based on this true story of the nascent days of pro football. I'm as much a football historian as I am a fan, so I love stories like this. It's hard to look at the billion-dollar industry the NFL has become and imagine that it once existed as a minor diversion in small Midwestern cities -- places like Green Bay were once the rule, not the exception -- while most people looked at it scornfully and didn't even consider it a "real" sport. College ball was king in those days. Teams struggled to scrape up enough ticket revenue to even pay the players back then. If it weren't for hotshot former college players like Ernie Nevers (and Red Grange, and Johnny Blood) coming along to give pro ball some credibility, the NFL may never have survived. That's the premise of this book, and it's a convincing story, even if the narration is kind of bland, relying on a recitation of the facts and figures from each season more than on colorful anecdotes about the fascinating characters who played ball in those days. That's the only failing of this book, but it's still a compelling peek into the pioneering era of pro football in America.(less)
This book is a cautionary tale, a stinging indictment of a culture that's lost its way. But believe it or not, it's absolutely hilarious, as long as y...moreThis book is a cautionary tale, a stinging indictment of a culture that's lost its way. But believe it or not, it's absolutely hilarious, as long as you aren't afraid to have your cherished beliefs held up to scorn and ridicule, and as long as you're open to learning a lesson from it. In short, if you can laugh at yourself and at what we've become as a society, you'll have a fantastic time reading this imposing book.
In chapter-and-verse form (complete with an intercolumn reference), Laird lays out the history of the world from the perspective of an intellectually lazy modern mind that's been educated by TV and has been conditioned to think in terms of short-term gain and instant gratification. If you've ever seen Mike Judge's excellent movie "Idiocracy," you'll have some idea of the perspective from which this book is written.
Laird seems to think this sorry state of affairs began with the baby boomer generation. The messiah of the "New Testament" equivalent of the book is Harry, a con man who came of age during the era of the hippies and preaches a narcissistic message of "Desire, Certainty, and Blame." Get what you can, jump to conclusions, and if something goes wrong, it's somebody else's fault.
When the rot set in is open for debate, of course, but when you read this book and then look around you at a postmodern world where the most important thing in people's lives is who wins a reality show, and the hottest debate is which presidential candidate doesn't wear a flag pin on his lapel, you can easily get yourself depressed and say that Laird got it right. In fact, as you cringe at the toxic mixture of ignorance and indifference in the narrative, it is not a huge stretch to imagine having just such a conversation with some halfwits whom classical education failed miserably. You know the type -- they couldn't tell you the first thing about American history if their lives depended on it. They probably couldn't find America on a map of the world, for that matter. Hell, they probably couldn't even spell "America" if you spotted them the vowels.
In Laird's story, these people are the punks, and in a cruel twist, the only hope for saving humanity is in their hands. Of all people, these violent, semi-literate thugs have taken it upon themselves to set the world right again. You get the sense that the task is too big for them, but at least Laird offers us some glimmer of hope, however faint it may be.
Laird saw all of this coming back in 1991. Heaven only knows what kind of book he would have written post-9/11. (less)
Decent, but not great, overview of a sport that's more complex than it looks at first glance. The book is a little sparse on explaining penalties, for...moreDecent, but not great, overview of a sport that's more complex than it looks at first glance. The book is a little sparse on explaining penalties, for one thing. The title also isn't clear -- this is about rugby union exclusively, and there's not even a mention that rugby league exists as a separate code. Not a bad book to have at your side while you're watching a match, but don't expect to learn much more than the bare basics.(less)
A spiritual classic about finding your own way. This book helped me find the courage to move on from the spiritual tradition of my parents. It was als...moreA spiritual classic about finding your own way. This book helped me find the courage to move on from the spiritual tradition of my parents. It was also the inspiration for the classic Yes epic "Close to the Edge." No, really, it was. So it holds a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons. (less)