While I've had some engagement with Zen and Tao in the past (with books and lectures by Alan Watts, in addition touching the perimeters with Stephen BWhile I've had some engagement with Zen and Tao in the past (with books and lectures by Alan Watts, in addition touching the perimeters with Stephen Batchelor - whose endorsement this book carries) I've been wanting to delve a little more into the tradition for some time.
I picked my copy of 'Zen in Plain English' from a bookshop beside Tsuglagkhag (the Dali Lama's temple) in McLeod Ganj. Considering the store had a fairly immaculate selection, I gambled on this purchase despite there being very little information online about it.
Honestly, I'm underwhelmed. The book is quite small to begin with, but when large type and huge borders/margins are added you're left with a text that is a more suitable length for a medium-sized article. On this front I feel a little cheated.
As for the content: Schuhmacher touches lightly on the formation of the Zen tradition, the Zen patriarchs (lineage), and ever-so-briefly on some of the techniques and practises. While some of this was mildly interesting, it simply wasn't enough to merit either the purchasing or the reading. (Oddly enough, Schuhmacher post-script provided some of the most engaging writing in the slim volume.)
If you're looking for a very concise, quick introduction to Zen then perhaps this will be of use to you. As for myself, I found the treatment too shallow....more
A rather curious book broadly in the tradition of Bildungsroman (a novel of seeking/education/enlightenment, with which I most associate Hermann HesseA rather curious book broadly in the tradition of Bildungsroman (a novel of seeking/education/enlightenment, with which I most associate Hermann Hesse’s work). It deals with one man’s stay at a high altitude medical institute, his journey of self-discovery and his battle against institutionalisation. In parallel is acts a commentary on the human condition and modernity.
‘The Magic Mountain’ is difficult to summarise. It entertains a huge number of ideas. Mann plays with psychotherapy, self-actualisation/self-discovery humanism, time, love and death, suffering and disease, philosophical speculation, nationalism, duty, monarchism, and music, manipulating each as themes and symbols in this complex and ambiguous work.
I will say that I found the first quarter of this book rather boring. In this section Mann’s writing (translated into English from the original German) seems stiff and overly formal. The flow is almost painful - but now I can’t help but suspect this was used as a literary device, mirroring the stiff and formal world of the protagonist’s youth. I found it so taxing that I almost put the book aside, but I am very happy I kept with it.
Some people have criticised this book for being too much a ‘book of ideas’ rather than a believable novel. Personally I cannot see this as much of a criticism; I prefer novels that attempt to pass on complex or important messages, and give free reign to discussions of ideas.
**spoiler alert** Steinbeck considered this book as his magnum opus, and its easy to see why. East of Eden is an ambitious novel that covers huge grou**spoiler alert** Steinbeck considered this book as his magnum opus, and its easy to see why. East of Eden is an ambitious novel that covers huge ground in its 600 pages.
The plot, though expansive and veering, centres around the fortunes of Trask and the Hamilton families across three generations, rotating upon questions of questions of paternal love, good and evil, whether a man is born or bred, the origins of hatred, the power of individuality, the creativity of the human spirit, and the operation of the psyche (in love and trauma).
Steinbeck deploys the somewhat uncommon technique of barefaced exposition - that is, rather than allow the reader to discover characteristics of an individual he simply provides a backgrounder on their history or guide to how they see the world.
In Steinbeck’s best moments this allows him to provide great depth to his characters, painting a picture of how their psyche operates, or providing detail of their philosophy. On a few occasions, however, the application comes off as a little forced or unnatural (I’m thinking in particular of Will Hamilton’s exposition).
I can’t help but have some reservations about the Kate / Cathy character. She does not come across as wholly believable. Steinbeck admits that he does not understand Cathy, and this is somewhat apparent. Her inner monologue lacks grounding or depth. Was she simply “born evil”? Perhaps she is a device to offset the concept of ‘timshel’ - the idea that we can always choose who we are and what we do; that we are not mere puppets of flesh and ancestry.
Critics have said that this novel has a moralising aim, and that this is a flaw. I have absolutely no issue with novels that seek to tackle deeply human questions, or that use characters to explore concepts.
While 'East of Eden' may not be a flawless novel, there is no question that it still remains an excellent one. It’s many peak moments more than atone for its handful of shortcomings. Recommended. ...more
Of varied quality. Rushdie is at his best when discussing India (its writers, its politics, its history), artistic freedom or his own experiences. OccOf varied quality. Rushdie is at his best when discussing India (its writers, its politics, its history), artistic freedom or his own experiences. Occasional pieces on foreign politics are insightful, but primarily not so. Some of the shorter and more shallow pieces could have been culled....more
While I can't be sure, I suspect my enjoyment of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting was hampered somewhat by average translation.
It felt more scatteWhile I can't be sure, I suspect my enjoyment of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting was hampered somewhat by average translation.
It felt more scattershot in approach than some of the other Kundera books I've read (The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Life Is Elsewhere). The form is slightly more experimental - a series of semi-connected scenes that are tied up with an almost essay-like address towards the end of the book.
As ever there are some delightful digression from Kundera, though they at times delve into the ridiculous and the absurd. Still a fairly enjoyable read....more
I always find it difficult to endorse books that feature a protagonist I dislike. In Gunter Grass' 'The Tin Drum' Oskar almost drove me insane with hiI always find it difficult to endorse books that feature a protagonist I dislike. In Gunter Grass' 'The Tin Drum' Oskar almost drove me insane with his delusional egoism and pettiness. I couldn't stand him, and that had a big impact on my enjoyment-of and perception-of the novel.
Of course there is no reason why literature featuring flawed or dislikable characters can't still be excellent, but I have to flag my own bias here. How can I recommend a book whose characters I find more irritating than engaging or thought-provoking?
'Life Is Elsewhere' returned me to this difficult position. The book focuses primarily on a young poet, Jaromil, and his changing relationships to society, art and women (particularly his mother). In the beginning he is a potential poet-prodigy bursting with talent and enthusiasm. This Jaromil I grew quite fond of. He reminded me of a character Hermann Hesse might create.
But as the book progresses, Jaromil makes many questionable choices motivated by pettiness, jealousy and insecurity. He moves from the dream-like and aspirational world of the poet to the cruel, "real" world of power and politics. I won't reveal anything more on the book's arc other than to say that in the end Jaromil had become someone that I hated, and I found this transition dispiriting. (No doubt Kundera's intention.)
Kundera is at his best when he digresses from the plot to follow historical anecdotes or philosophical musings. His prose can flow beautifully, which render his ambitious pronouncements on the nature of humankind as intoxicating as they fantastic. Some of his observations of the dynamics between mother and son were brilliant.
This is an engaging and well-constructed novel that perhaps deserves four stars - but Jaromil's lapse into pettiness still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth that pushes me towards three. What a shame there are no half-stars to be had. Still worth your time....more
A beautiful, heartfelt meditation on nature and country.
Never before have I come across a writer who can convey a sense of place so powerfully. ThrouA beautiful, heartfelt meditation on nature and country.
Never before have I come across a writer who can convey a sense of place so powerfully. Through Winton's words you can feel, smell and taste the land, which is not inert, but rather pulsing with memory and meaning from both from the author and the traditional owners.
Landscape is the prism through which Winton reflects on our changing relationship with our island nation, from the era of purely indigenous habitation, through to the bruising arrival of the colonialists, and onward into the 'post-colonial' era of the future.
Island Home profound and impressive achievement, touching at times on history, botany, geology, anthropology and psychology. Through it I began to understand what it means to both shape and be shaped by our surroundings.
This utterly unique book has both inspired me as a writer and deeply moved as an Australian. ...more
I’ve waited many years to gain a copy of this book. It did not disappoint. Steadman is at his absolute best, and Hunter shows he still had some fightI’ve waited many years to gain a copy of this book. It did not disappoint. Steadman is at his absolute best, and Hunter shows he still had some fight left in him back in the early 80s. Plenty of frenzied madness for the whole family to enjoy. The final pages had me in stitches:
"We came in wild and bellowing, Ralph. They said they could hear me screaming about a half mile out. . . I was shaking the war club at the drunken bastard Norwood on the pier and cursing every booze-crazy incompetent son of a pig-fucking missionary bastard that ever set foot in Hawaii. . . People cringed and shrunk back in silence, as this terrible drunken screaming came closer and closer to the pier. . ."...more
In ‘The Snow Leopard’ Matthiessen recounts his time accompanying the naturalist George Schaller on an expedWhat a captivating and utterly unique book.
In ‘The Snow Leopard’ Matthiessen recounts his time accompanying the naturalist George Schaller on an expedition in Nepal and greater Tibet.
For Schaller the trip’s objective is to collect scientific data on the mating habits of Himalayan blue sheep, as well as to search for the elusive snow leopard - a creature that had only been glimpsed a handful of times by Western eyes.
Matthiessen, however, joins the expedition for very different reasons. Primarily he is on a spiritual journey, hoping to engage with Tibetan Buddhism as well as to regain psychological stability after the very-recent loss of his wife to cancer.
With winter approaching their search takes them on an arduous trek from Pokhara northward through the inner Dolpo region of Nepal to Shey Gompa.
The curious mix of objectives makes this no generic piece of travel literature. Matthiessen, a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, frequently reflects on his experiences in reference to the teachings of Zen, producing captivating and powerful insights in the process. He is also a knowledgeable botanist, describing the plants and animals around him with impressive variance. Comparisons to the nature writing of Charles Darwin or Henry David Thoreau are certainly not unwarranted.
Matthiessen’s prose style is quite poetic, and is liable to veer off into sentimental mysticism. If overdone this could be seen as a weakness, but with enough balance Matthiessen’s exploration of his inner self is almost as captivating as the majestic landscape around him. While one could criticise him for his frequent projection of his inner states onto the mountains, people and weather around him, we should afford Matthiessen some understanding: this is a man who is suffering physically as well as psychologically, and openness concerning his inner demons is refreshing and much appreciated.
It was aiight. Hemingway's brash, straight-forward style makes for an easy read, but also seems to render his characters emotionally stunted.
There isIt was aiight. Hemingway's brash, straight-forward style makes for an easy read, but also seems to render his characters emotionally stunted.
There is but one full-formed character in the book; the protagonist. His love, Catherine, is so one-dimensional she seems unable to utter anything aside from "Aren't I a good girl?"
Hemingway ably captures the confusion, futility and tragedy of war, but the run-on sentences, and overly simplistic style (which leads to Hemingway frequently repeating cliches, even within the same paragraph) took away from my enjoyment. This does not fill me with a desire to read more of his work....more
‘In An Antique Land’ hops between a historical reconstruction of a 12th-century Jewish merchant, and a travel/cultural narrative from the author's vis‘In An Antique Land’ hops between a historical reconstruction of a 12th-century Jewish merchant, and a travel/cultural narrative from the author's visits to a few quiet villages in Egypt's Nile Delta region.
Ghosh’s unassuming character alongside his ability to capture the warmth and intimacy of village life make the travel narrative enjoyable, while his strength as a storyteller and historian allows him to piece together the cosmopolitan life of a merchant in the 12th Century....more