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Newsletter Number 30 • April 6, 2007

Books

There is a void in my life between October and April. That is because the baseball season is over. I love baseball. I love to watch it, listen to baseball games on the radio, read the sports section during the baseball season and read books about baseball. My wife, Dena, hates the sound (she calls it the “drone”) of baseball from the radio or TV. I have tried to explain to her that baseball is perhaps the most perfect thing in all of God’s creation, and the very fact of the existence of baseball is absolute and incontestable proof that there is a God, because it is too perfect a thing to have been created by mankind. Baseball is where the mundane meets the divine.

A False Spring, by Pat Jordan is touted on its back cover as “One of Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 Sports Books of All time.” You will get no argument from me. This is a real gem, and one that every baseball aficionado must read.

Pat Jordan’s memoir covers about 2 or 3 three years in his life, from the age of about 16 to 19 during which time he went from being a highly recruited stud of a pitcher, and a bonus baby signed by the Milwaukee Braves, to a washed up has-been who skulked away from lowest of the low of the minor leagues.

Jordan is a very skilled writer. He is wonderfully observant about himself, his environment, his teammates, and the culture of baseball from the late 1950’s through the early 1960’s.

The book is about baseball, self-discovery, Middle America, the minor leagues, and ultimately about failure. Never has greater success been born of failure. The only thing I can fault about this book is that it ended. I wanted more and more stories, more and more anecdotes but, alas, all good things must come to an end. I give this one absolutely my highest rating.

Sometimes I read and recommend books which I think almost everyone would enjoy. Shantaram, The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime, The Thunderbolt Kid, and Skeletons on the Zahara are all examples that pop into my mind. These books, whether fiction or non-fiction, combine great writing, readability, tension, and a universality and are therefore likely to be enjoyed by almost all readers. Other books, because of their narrower focus may not appeal to everyone. Generally sports books have a more focused audience. (However, A False Spring, recommended above might appeal to non-sports fans because it is a story of youth and life in America in a unique age of innocence, and also because it is so well-written.)

I want to recommend The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet’s Lost Paradise, by Ian Baker. However I want to add the caveat that this book which is truly special and remarkable is not for everyone. I think you have to have an interest in Buddhism and in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, or you will probably not really like and appreciate this book. The reason I say that is that the story is a little slow and the writing tending a little bit towards the scholarly in tone. On the other hand the journey described is most remarkable, the photos fantastic, and this adventure of discovery is quite entrancing and even, I might say, mind-boggling.

This is a perfect combination of a physical adventure and a spiritual quest. If you have ever wanted to visit Shangri-La this is your opportunity. The author is an acclaimed explorer and this journey to the most hidden secrets (inner and outer) of Tibet and its Buddhism is exciting and enthralling. I want to thank the good friend who insisted I read this memoir. But again, I want to warn that the book is ponderous and might be especially suitable for those who are interested in both spirituality and a great trekking adventure. This book is an “epic” and does require the reader’s full commitment.

I just re-read Never Mind: A Journey into Non-duality, by Wayne Liquorman. Liquorman’s guru is Ramesh Balsekar (author of at least a dozen Advaita classics, most of which are reviewed on our website) and Balsekar, in turn, had for his guru Nisargadatta, revered by many as one of the most important sages of the 20th Century. Nisargadatta’s I Am That is regarded by many as the greatest spiritual work of the 20th century. Strangely, in this book, Liquorman notes that he could never really get into that book. Surprisingly I have felt that I Am That is an incredible work, but I too had trouble really “resonating” with it.

I think that if I were to recommend to someone who is not familiar with Advaita, a single book, it would be Never Mind. The book is brief, to the point, and is written with amazing clarity. Dena and I have spent time with Ramesh Balsekar at Satsang in his home in Mumbai, and I have read at least a dozen of his books. I have spent time with Wayne at Satsang in New York, and it was in anticipation of having Satsang with Wayne in Sedona, Arizona, that spurred me to re-read this book.

Ironically, it is my conclusion that Wayne’s two books, Acceptance of What Is, and Never Mind, are the two best books ever written about Advaita. The writing style is simple and pure. The logic is impeccable, and the anecdotes perfectly chosen. What makes this ironic is that being in Wayne’s presence and experiencing Satsang with him was not something I regarded as that special. On the other hand, while I did love Ramesh’s writings, I really feel Liquorman’s books are better, yet being in Ramesh’s presence and experiencing Satsang with him was very special for Dena and me, and we are drawn to go back to see him.

Wayne would explain this phenomenon by the concept of “resonance”. Somehow we are all tuned and attuned differently. Just as Wayne and I did not resonate with I Am That while many others think it is the most important spiritual book of the 20th Century, there are those who resonate with Wayne or Ramesh and those who do not. In any event, as a full understanding of Advaita would conclude, in both cases the world is perfect just as it is.

If you have any interest in Advaita I would say you absolutely must read Never Mind. I would also highly recommend Acceptance of What Is.

Ironically, while Dena and I were disappointed with the Friday night Satsang with Wayne, we were totally won over on Saturday. The gathering was far more intimate, the discussions far more personal, and most importantly the whole afternoon resonated with love, truth, compassion, and humor. If you ever get a chance to do Satsang with Wayne I would highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunity. It proved to be a very uplifting and enlightening experience for both Dena and me.

Last month I asked for suggestions from our readers for books of fiction that I might enjoy. I have not yet had a chance to read any of them, but I thought I would provide the suggestions for the use of everyone. So here goes, the people who provided these brief reviews are serious readers, thoughtful people with good taste, but I have not included their identity since I did not ask for their permission.

I’m also reading “The Interpretation of Murder” which is a mystery but involves, Freud, Jung and old NY. It may not be your taste, but I’m really enjoying it. I also would recommend to your readers, any book by Arturo Perez-Reverte, a Spanish writer. His bestseller was “The Club Dumas” but I loved the swashbuckling tale of “Captain Alatriste” and then the follow up “The Purity of Blood” – suspense, adventure and period pieces of 17th century Spain.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Barry. I love almost all Wendell Berry but this one was achingly tender. a simple man, a simple world but rich in the complexities and beauties of the heart and of Life.

Dalva and its sequel The Road Home...by Jim Harrison...gritty and real. You fall in love with the characters trying to make their connections with one another. also beautiful in depiction of place and one’s connection to "home"

Modoc by Ralph Helfer....a true story? or not. no one knows for sure...but an amazing stranger than true story...it should be made into a movie!

those mystery books that take place in Laos...yea, Colin Cotterill:
The Coroner’s Lunch
The Thirty Three Teeth
Disco of the Departed

if you like those, you’d probably like the books by Eliot Pattison...mystery novels that take place in Tibet, starting with "The Skull Mantra"...there are several/..all good
(this series is a little more "intense" than the Laotian one. the politics and drama of the Chinese occupation .etc)

a few that are non fiction:

Mao’s Last Dancer. a memoir

The Kindness of Strangers, a collection of inspiring travel tales of unexpected human connections. and goodness. Some great writers are included.

Notes From a Century Before, a journal of British Columbia by Edward Hoagland...SOOO beautiful. depicts a place and way of life that are disappearing. gorgeously written...I sighed audibly!

and I could go on and on

Oh, for a good light-but-substantive-read. Isabel Allende’s novels

I’ll stop here.

Two releases of the past few years that I have loved are -

Snowflower and the Secret Fan,” by Lisa See, a redheaded Chinese American. Her mother, whom you may have heard of, is writer and book reviewer, Carolyn See.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” is a stunner. The author is a Chinese filmmaker who expatriated to France. The original version was written in French, and it was an overnight sensation in France. This is a “small book.” Sorry, I don’t have the author’s name at the ready. It has been made into a movie, too.

Enjoy.

In response to your request for good books I have a couple of recommendations but you would probably not enjoy them unless you could relate (as my husband and I do) to the “north country”. These books were written many years ago when Canada and Labrador were still quite unpopulated. Anyway, one is titled True North by Elliot Merrick.

(There are many many books with this title, be sure you get the one by this author). The other is called Wilderness Wife by Kathrene Pinkerton. (There are also many with this title but only one with this author.) This latter one is out of print I believe but the FF library has a copy. One could easily complain about the writing style or lack of some details with either of these books, but you can’t complain that they don’t give you a genuine feel for what life was like in that cold country so many years ago when people worked hard for a living and just to stay alive doing what needed to be done. It was great reading about a life that was not all that long ago and not all that far away.

I really want to thank the above contributors. Though many of the recommended titles of fiction are not on our website… you may phone us and we will be happy to get them for you.

Finally, I would like to highly recommend that every serious reader purchase a “Mini-reader’s journal”. I wish I had done this my whole life. I have very few regrets in life, but this is one. Dena and I picked one up at the LA gift show, and since then I have been writing in this journal the title and brief comments about every book I have read. It is a great idea.

We sell these at the bookstore, and you can call Tony or Sharon to order one. 800 593 2665. While you are on the phone or at the store you might also buy what we believe are the world’s best candles. Made of pure beeswax, they last a very long time, and have almost miraculous powers of purification. Ask Tony or Sharon about them and they can describe their size, shapes, prices, and qualities. I have never been much of a candle user, but these are very special.

Reviews and comments by Len Oppenheim

I have just recently been introduced to 2 books about spiritual travels to India. They are written in a similar vein as Holy Cow and Eat, Pray, Love (one of my all time favorites)

The first is the book I am currently absorbed in. Sleeping In Caves: A Sixties Himalayan Memoir by Marilyn Stablein. This is the author’s memoirs of her travels, along with her lover, to India and Tibet. Marilyn is an artist who dropped out of Berkeley in the 60’s to pursue her spiritual quests. Along the way she meets spiritual icons such as Ram Dass, Kalu Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama (find out the Dalai Lama’s feelings on the spiritual values of LSD). A fascinating look at the culture of India through the eyes of a 60’s counter culturist.

The second book is a more reverent look at the spirituality of India: Pilgrimage to the Mother: A Woman’s Journey to the Source of the Ganges, by Alakananda Devi.

The author, Alakananda, is an English Doctor and former Catholic novice. In the early 80’s she takes a spiritual journey to the source of the river Ganges. Along the way she explores ashrams and holy cities meeting some of the greatest saints of India, including Anandamayi Ma. She encounters a goddess as sensuous as a courtesan, falls in love with an ex-hippie Buddhist, and learns the secret teachings of the spiritual importance of women. This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in the spiritual yearnings of a seeker and her ultimate realization of the spiritual path.

For a good book that deals with the relationship between neuroscience and Buddhism, I recommend Train your Mind/Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley with a forward by the Dalai Lama. The book’s main premise is that it’s possible to change the structure and function of the brain therefore altering how we think and feel. Begley shows us that the brain structure is not fixed in stone and can undergo dramatic physical changes, even changing the actual neurons.

By studying Buddhist monks, the author shows the power of focused attention (mindfulness) in changing dramatically the physical function of the brain, allowing wholesale change that heals trauma and compensates for disability.

I never considered a book on Jyotish (Vedic Astrology) as a prime gift item... that is until now.

The latest book by William Levacy (author of Beneath a Vedic Sky and Beneath a Vedic Sun) Vedic Astrology Simply Put: An Illustrated Guide to the Astrology of Ancient India is a gorgeous hardcover introduction to Jyotish. The book is filled with beautiful rendered Vedic Art custom created by master artists in India, This title is a very easy to understand guide to Vedic Astrology that also doubles as a beautiful art book

We have two sale items this month.

The first is a beautiful book on Hindu Architecture: The Vastu Home by Juliet Pegrum. Beautifully illustrated and filled with practical tips for restyling any home according to the ancient system of Vastu, this is highly recommended.

We have purchased a closeout of this book at a great price. The usual retail price is $21.95. Our price is $9.98 while supplies last.

Also on sale is The Palani Panchang (Hindu Astrological Ephemeris) for 2007. It is normally priced at $20.00, and is now $11.95. The Palani Panchang is an ancient science that helps in knowing when to synchronize your actions with good times to help you reduce obstacles and increase your chances for success.

April is the month I first fell in love. I was a senior in High School and boy did I get hit hard.

Looking back now to that innocent time back at Plainville High School I was certain that she was the one I would marry and live my life with. But life is never our plan to live and work out and so life has its own reason and agenda.

I realize now that my life is being lived and has always been lived in spite of me. This realization can bring one either fear or a deep peace. Looking back, all the seemingly incoherent patterns of my life now make perfect sense and produce a whole that can only be seen when life is observed as a witness.

So my life was directed and I find myself here and now writing this in Iowa from a computer at a bookstore which I used to own and now manage. Which of my decisions led me here? I realize that it was none. I was held by hand and brought to where I am with total abandonment on my part and that loving hand will be with me always.

Happy April

Tony (a fool for the creator’s love)

Tony

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