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Newsletter Number 24 • October 11, 2006

Books

21st Century Book’s claim to fame, after serving the Fairfield community for more than 25 years, thanks to the skills and knowledge of our manager, Tony Kainauskas, has been to discover and promote many superb books—usually out of the mainstream press—that have relevance to personal growth, health, self-realization, and the path of seeking to improve one’s life and/or transcend the mundane. However, we are a traditional bookstore and purveyors of printed matter in all categories. Last month my theme was secular and this month I have been drawn back to the spiritual side.

Among the great books that Tony discovered and helped to bring to the world’s attention are The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, and Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing, by Jed McKenna. These are two of Tony’s all time favorites, and if any of our readers who have an interest in self-realization and/or enlightenment have yet to read these modern “classics” I would highly recommend they do so. If you have not read them feel free to peruse our reviews before deciding.

In 2001 my son, Sam, and I went to the Maha Kumbha Mela in India the world’s largest gathering of humanity, and a kind of spiritual Woodstock. We stayed in an encampment hosted by the Himalayan Institute. The program was lead by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, spiritual leader of the Himalayan Institute, and successor of Swami Rama. Pandit Tigunait demonstrated great depth of knowledge and understanding of the Vedic tradition. I just read one of his books, The Himalayan Masters: A Living Tradition. It is a book I highly recommend to those who are interested in the Vedic tradition, its masters, and their teaching.

In addition to the excellent introduction and conclusion, there are eight chapters, each covering a different master; his life and his teachings. While this book is definitely geared towards the intellect and the philosophy of these masters, the writing includes the best elements of story telling. As a result the book is very smooth, easy to read, and the messages of the masters come through loud and clear. If one bought this book and only read the chapter about Shankara, one would be getting more than one’s money worth.

I rate this little book as a real gem and quite a treasure.

Among my favorite categories of books are biographies or autobiographies of spiritual masters and/or seekers who encounter masters. In these categories my all time favorites (all of which are reviewed on our web-site) include Autobiography of A Yogi, by Yogananda, A Search in Secret India , by Paul Brunton (This is possibly the best “seeker’s journal” ever written, and was even recognized as a great book by the mainstream New York Times, and is so charming that we will offer a full money-back guarantee to anyone who orders this book from us.) and Living with the Himalayan Masters, by Swami Rama.

Thanks to a tip from Tony I just read This House is on Fire: The Life of Shri Dhyanyogi, as told by Shri Anandi Ma. I had never heard of Shri Dhyanyogi, an incredible saint who died in 1992 at the age of 114. This book is, in my opinion, a new spiritual classic and is a “must read” for those who appreciate stories of unique enlightened masters.

It is truly a great joy to read the story of a reasonably contemporary saint, complete with photos and first person recollections, that is so filled with light and love that it can provide the reader with very deep inspiration.

Shri Dhyanyogi is the authentic master of Kundalini MahaYoga. The story of his life and his influence on his followers is not only fascinating and compelling, it will certainly serve to inspire.

I treasured the time I spent reading this book, and give it my very highest recommendation!!

And now I will pass the podium over to my son Sam full time teacher and part time reviewer

Len Oppenheim

This summer I had the pleasure to finally read a lot of great books. First, I read three books by Bill Bryson, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. (In fact, I’ve read 75% of his oeuvre and I’m attending his lecture tour for his newest memoir next week.) Clearly I’m biased, but with good reason: His books never fail to keep me company and always succeed at making me laugh. If they were women, I’d marry one of them!

This summer I started by reading “The Mother Tongue,” his history of English. It was brilliant, scholarly, and extremely entertaining. From the chapter about spelling to the section on curse words, I couldn’t put it down and found it related directly to everyday conversation. By the way, did you know that one of the ONLY words a 1500’s English speaker would understand from your modern vocabulary is ‘Fart?’

Next I read his travel memoir on Australia, “In a Sunburned Country,” and finished with his recent bestseller about science, “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” His Australian memoir was as enjoyable as anything else he’s written and made me desperately wish to have time and resources to explore “Down Under” someday. Likewise, his science-for-the-layman review explains with hilarity and witty attitude the history of science and a bunch of great facts, characters, and important discoveries. I would unequivocally recommend Bryson to just about anyone; just pick up the title that most interests you.

Two of my new friends in India, an Israeli and a Russian,both recommended “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami. In fact, one of them said, “I’m jealous of the joy you will have in reading it for the first time.” He was right. It is an incredibly entertaining, easily read, fascinating semi-autobiographical novel about coming-of-age in 1969’s Tokyo. While the whole book is just linguistically beautiful (thanks to author-approved very careful translation), many portions are emotionally complicated and downright dark, dealing with depression and suicide. I couldn’t believe men and women were experiencing casual sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll in Japan concurrently with the West. But overall, the novel is just so touchingly evocative and poetically well written that when Norwegian Wood was first published in 1987 in Japan, it immediately sold over 4 million copies, and Haruki Murakami became incredibly popular and famous. Now, I relish the joy of introducing you to Murakami’s writing.

The final two books I read were previously reviewed by my father last year: “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts, and “India: Mirror of Truth” by Steve Briggs. Both were especially close to my heart because I felt like I understood every word intimately because I have also spent so much time traveling and living in India just like those authors. Briggs’ book is an enjoyable, very spiritual autobiographic experience to read and follow along with, whereas Shantaram reads like an epic love-story-swashbuckling-adventure although it is also a non-fiction autobiography.

In fact, Shantaram is one of the most beautiful examples of prose I have ever read, but at 900-pages it is a behemoth that requires dedication. Still, it is worth buying just for the first few hundred amazing pages. It is especially unique because it was written by an escaped convict who hid out in the underbelly of Bombay, but what makes it terrific is the colorful turns-of-phrase. Perhaps the best way I can describe this book is by directly quoting a distinctly beautiful passage: “I’d learned more about her in that exhausted, murmuring hour than in all the many months before it. Lovers find their way by such insights and confidences: they’re the stars we use to navigate the oceans of desire. And the brightest of those stars are the heartbreaks and sorrows. The most precious gift you can bring to your lover is your suffering. So I took each sadness she confessed to me, and pinned it to the sky.” (p.386) And how about this for a uniquely vivid turn-of-phrase: “I heard a guttural gasp of air from deep in his throat. It was a sucking sound, like the lifting of a flat stone from the moist clay on the edge of a riverbed.” (p.67)

Honestly, these books were all a real pleasure to read, and I think you'll enjoy treating yourself to one of them.

Sam Oppenheim

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