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Newsletter Number 31 • May 1, 2007

Books

Frankly I did not read much in April. Dena and I bought a house in Cave Creek, Arizona and we have been very busy moving in, furnishing it and getting everything organized and in good working order. We are very happy with this house, and look forward to many years of enjoyment here where we intend to spend about 6 or 7 months per year with the rest in Fairfield.

Fortunately Tony keeps me up with all the good new books that I would like to read and every few weeks I get some new treasures in the mail. I look forward to many years of future reading pleasure both here and in Fairfield with Tony continuing to be my “birddog” as he uses the resources of 21st Century Books to discover the best books for myself and our faithful customers.

We don’t usually recommend magazines, but Tony sent me Namarupa, a unique publication with articles about India, its masters, and its teachings, along with many fantastic photos. I would highly recommend this issue (Number 6) for its excellent interviews and articles about Nisargadatta. There was a fabulous interview conducted by Claudia Turnbull, who many in the Fairfield community would know. She interviewed Naga Baba Rampuri. I think the interview is superb, and after you read it you may wish to read his book, Baba: Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Yogi. This is a book I found most fascinating and reviewed here a number of months ago

About a year ago two dear friends (both avid readers with exceptional taste) gave me a novel they thought I would enjoy. I finally got around to reading The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter. It is quite a unique and fascinating novel and I highly recommend it. The author is a Black law professor at Yale. This is a murder mystery, sociological commentary, and human interest story unlike any I have ever read or heard of. One of the things that makes it unique is that the narrator, a law professor, his dead father, once nominated to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, and his lawyer wife, now in the running for a judgeship on the US Court of Appeals all come from the upper crust of the Eastern Seaboard Black community.

The book has an intricate plot, fascinating characters and is written from a perspective unlike any other book I have ever read. The writer has opened up a whole new understanding to people like me who never thought about what it was like to Black and Aristocratic both intellectually and socio-economically. It is a joy to read. I am surprised it did not gain greater popularity. Perhaps the fact that it is 600 pages long and at times very detailed and intellectual prevented it from being a runaway best seller. In any event I rate it very highly and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had a vivid dream the other night that Dena and I were visiting with Richard Feynman. Feynman is dead, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and one of the most fascinating people who have walked on this planet. I loved his two books, reviewed on our site and recommended before. If you have not read them take this as a sign to do so. This is one of those deals where I will offer a money back guarantee to anyone who reads them and does not like them. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character is the one to start with. After that, you must read What Do You Care What Other People Think: Further Adventures of a Curious Character. Feynman is curious, adventurous, brilliant, and intensely funny. If you have yet to read these books, you have a big treat in store for yourself. As always, just click on the title and you will be linked to the reviews.

Len Oppenheim
Now I will turn the podium over to my son…

Book reviews by Sam Oppenheim.

Hello again! I’ve been reading up a storm this year (2007) and have some great picks to share. Most are about exploring people and places; they are enjoyable narratives and really serve to open one’s eyes, mind, and heart.

After finishing The Kite Runner (Which was absolutely incredible and deserving of all the critical acclaim and bestseller status) I began an Afghanistan kick, picking up Come Back to Afghanistan about a west coast teenager who goes to help his father, a state governor in Kunar, Afghanistan, rebuild the country. This is a very interesting, but not easy read. I put it down for a month, yet it is overall rewarding to read if you have an academic interest in modern Afghanistan.

The Places in Between, on the other hand was absolutely fantastic! Written by a Scotsman who walked across Afghanistan after 9/11, the author revels in depicting ironies, humor, tragedy and characteristics of people, places, and animals you have almost no hope of ever encountering in your life. It is the pinnacle of modern travel writing. He is an excellent writer, well versed in the local languages and history, and I recommend this book without any reservations.

Another travel memoir I read was Bones of the Master which deserves the praise and recommendations previously made in this newsletter. I followed this with Eat, Pray, Love also incredible, and perhaps the quickest, most enjoyable read of 2007! Another unconditional recommendation! Another repeat recommendation is Skeletons of the Zahara which I found independent of my father and recommended to him only to find he had also read it! What a fun-to-read swashbuckling story of adventure, starvation, and survival against difficult odds in a strange land.

Soon after I watched the movie, “The Namesake” I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories Interpreter of Maladies which was very pleasant and full-bodied. Her stories each delve deeply into the emotional reality of one or more characters in a very open-hearted, fully-developed, and clearly written fashion. In fact, it is a bit voyeuristic to read.

Speaking of short stories, I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s newest offering “Memories of My Melancholy Whores”, which, at 115 pages in large font, was a one-sitting affair and enjoyable. I recommend it, both because it may be his last book, and because it is filled with his characteristically descriptive, beautiful, yet surreal prose.

Before I began reading about so many foreign people and cultures, I started 2007 reading the excellent bestseller Devil in the White City, an historical novel written about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, H. H. Holmes. Alternating chapters between the construction of the fair and the depravity of Holmes brings the reader fully into two sides of life at the turn of the last century. It is incredibly well-written and so engaging that I became mildly obsessed with the world’s fair. Afterward I read White City Recollections a reprint of a travel journal written during a visit to the world’s fair, illustrated with photos, and rented a DVD documentary. The novel itself was much better than the accessories, but all were worth my time and I heartily recommend the Devil in the White City.

After hearing the NPR story about him I bought Ishmael Beah’s Long Way Gone, This is a memoir about his life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. It is now in Starbucks, but don’t let that discourage you – it is an amazingly hopeful, well-written engaging memoir about survival and growth. It is a human drama filled with everything that makes for good reading. Although war is awful to read about, the horrors of war are mostly glossed over, and only a few sections are difficult to read through – he concentrates on writing about survival, escape, hope, helpful people, friendship, love, and rebirth.

Finally, I want to end with a word on graphic novels. I’m sure many readers have never heard of or picked one up, but I have, and I do recommend them. Graphic novels are illustrated comic-book style books, usually black and white and longer than 100 pages. It is a refreshingly different pleasure to read a well-written book in this fashion. Recently I read Persepolis, a critically acclaimed memoir about growing up in Iran during the Cultural Revolution. It is excellent and I hope some readers expand their literature and cultural horizons by checking out this book. If you like the genre, Maus is the famous holocaust memoir graphic novel that is of equal quality and importance, illustrating Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. Additionally, many by Frank Miller (300, Sin City) are also excellent as is Eric Shanowar’s Age of Bronze which is a faithful, heavily researched version of the Iliad but is incomplete, as he releases one book (of 10) every 3 years.

Happy reading

Sam Oppenheim

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