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Newsletter Number 48 • October 8, 2008

Books

Rabo Karabekian! What a name! What a character! Only Kurt Vonnegut (who, in my opinion is head and shoulders above any other American 20th Century Author) could choose a name like that for his protagonist and write one of the greatest novels I have ever read!

Bluebeard: The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian (1916-1988) is right up there with Slaughterhouse Five, as the two best novels written by Vonnegut. I find Vonnegut’s novels to be immensely entertaining. That is very important, since I like to be entertained when I read.

Karabekian was a unique character; an artist and a collector, intimately tied to abstract impressionism (think Jackson Pollack). The book is about art, about war, about love, about society, and certainly about psychology and economics. What is so wonderful about this and other Vonnegut novels is that they are so much fun to read and yet so multi-leveled that it is like dining at an eight course feast. There is humor, joy, imagination, social commentary, satire and so much else that one runs out of words to describe the many flavors and nuances.

This is a spectacular novel, not to be missed by anyone! Vonnegut is inimitable, unique, and a true master of the “bon mot”. My only regret is that I will have to wait a few years to re-read this book and enjoy it again. (I have ordered three other Vonnegut works that I have never read, chosen based on the comments of my son, Mike, who got me to re-read Slaughterhouse Five a few years ago, and told me that Bluebeard is his favorite Vonnegut novel.)

My other son, Sam, turned me on to Bill Bryson. He is a wonderful writer of non-fiction. If you have not read Bryson’s The Thunderbolt Kid (reviewed here about a year ago) you have a real treat in store for yourself. I just finished reading The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, by Bill Bryson. Although it was written in 1987 it is perfectly timely now.

Bryson is wry and sarcastic. His observations about America compiled from a long solo road trip are priceless. Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson has lived most of his adult life in Great Britain. In 1987, at the age of about 36 he returns “home” and sets out on his odyssey. He covers all the states and has insightful and often scalding comments about everyone and everything he encounters. His writing skills and ability to use sarcasm and humor are outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it to everyone. I am not a good enough reviewer to do justice to his wit, wisdom, and insights, so read it for yourself and see what I mean.

Last month Tony recommended Kali Yuga Odyssey: A Spiritual Journey, by JT Ross Jackson, Ph.D. I took Tony’s advice, read it, and am very glad I did so. In fact, I think this is one of the best and most important books I have read in the last couple of years!

Spiritual Odyssey’s are among my favorite genres. Some are better than others because the journeys are more interesting or the writing is better, or the author is more credible. In this case I found that the journey was most interesting, the author was extraordinarily credible, and I could relate especially well to him because he combined his spiritual odyssey with a traditional marriage and family life as well his very successful and entrepreneurial career.

To quote from the preface by Rashmi Mayur, Ph.D.: “Kali Yuga Odyssey is an unparalleled account of a successful businessman, a brilliant systems scientist, a global visionary and an avid searcher of the ultimate purpose and truth of life.”

Mayur’s words are a pretty accurate summary of the character of the author and the nature of his journey. Jackson is Canadian born and became a naturalized Danish citizen who lives in Copenhagen with his wife and three children

I found his odyssey to be most interesting because of his eclecticism. He spent quality time with Stanislav Grof, Muktananda, at the ashram of Shri Bhagwan Rajneesh, at Findhorn, and some very quality time with Sai Baba, to mention a number of his highlights.

I resonated highly with the author because he came from a skeptical, scientific and business background. Because of his open mind, personal experiences, books he read, and people he encountered he came to be a spiritual seeker. I liked the fact that he was well-grounded in “traditional reality”, a success in life and business and became a force in “new age” solutions to our planetary problems. I enjoyed his insights and experiences, especially because I related to his “healthy skepticism”.

For me, the bottom line is that this is a must read, both for those who consider themselves seekers and for those who do not. This book is very fascinating because of the author’s experiences and his ability to put things into a cogent and rational perspective.

The final two chapters of this book: his “Conclusions” and his “Message for Contemplation” are among the best written and most well-thought-out explications of how the scientific method and objective assessment of facts and data make a totally compelling case for accepting and understanding a reality that is much more complex and much richer than the currently accepted scientific understanding of the physical world and what is possible and what is not.

I consider this to be a very important work. It is very enjoyable to read and very logical and scientific in its approach to complex events and paradigm shifts. I truly hope that as many of you as possible will read it. It is books like this, and our ability to help as many people as possible to discover and read them that makes 21st Century Books a rewarding and fulfilling enterprise.

Once again I have to thank Tony for insisting I read what proved to be a most wonderful book.

Soon Dena and I will be heading for Arizona, for our winter sojourn. We will miss all of our friends in Fairfield, and the unique attributes of this very special town in the Midwest. One of the things I will miss most is the ability to go to the bookstore, look around, see, feel, and touch the new publications and chat with Tony about what he and others most highly recommend. Fortunately I can rely on Tony to feed my reading addiction by sending me books all winter long. I hope more of you will come to our store or call or email Tony and allow him to enrich your lives. Friends from the East Coast and the West Coast have told me how many great books Tony has recommended to them that they would not have discovered without him. If you call him you might be pleasantly surprised to learn how eclectic his tastes are, and how highly encyclopedic his knowledge is when it comes to fiction and non-fiction.

I hope everyone enjoys a wonderful fall and winter.

Len Oppenheim

Our beloved Vernon Katz (who helped Maharishi on his commentary of the Bhagavad Gita) has written a fascinating autobiography of growing up in World War II Germany: The Blue Salon and Other Follies. Local writer Jimmy Moore has written a review that can do Vernon’s book more justice then I ever could. Please read this wonderful review at

http://www.iowasource.com/books/2008_09_vernon.html

If you enjoy memoirs, then you will love Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

This is a heart wrenching autobiography of growing up Muslim. The author has not only a fascinating story, but she is also a moving writer who captures her story with powerful vivid imagery.

Reading her description of growing up In Somalia and Kenya, we experience the culture of Islamic tribalism through the eyes of the author.

The importance of clans, the Islamic faith and deep family ties and how they played such a great factor in one’s life is told with page turning intensity.

From enduring female circumcision to escaping Somalia during its civil war, the experiences related in this autobiography hold your attention throughout.

In one nail-biting chapter, the author actually braves going back to war torn Somalia to help her family escape from a refuge camp; bribing officials enduring lice, scorpions and snakes, she is able to escape for a second time.

One of the more fascinating characters in the book, besides the author, is her father. He is a revolutionary fighting the government of Somalia. He is jailed for many years. Finally, he is able to escape through the efforts of a sympathetic guard. He is married to a number of women and has children spread out through Kenya and Somalia. This aspect of the culture is accepted by all, and the various wives learn to endure and be civil to each other.

Ayaan’s father’s progressive decision for her to learn English at an early age as opposed to her mother’s more repressive views is one of the factors that allowed her to escape a life that was stifling her selfhood. Her rejections of her past as well as her outspoken political views have resulted in death threats. The author now requires permanent bodyguards.

This is a brave, brave book.

It is a 5 star memoir.

It was 25 years ago this month that the story of 21st Century Books & Gifts began.

Silly me, if I think I had anything to do with this. If anyone it was probably my Grandmother.

So the story ends in Iowa but begins in World War II Lithuania.

The Germans are retreating and the Russians advancing… my future family are in a horse drawn carriage driven by my Grandmother. She valiantly leads the horses over a bridge that will be bombed a few minutes after my family leaps to freedom.

After escaping from the advancing Russians, my family find themselves in Germany in a displaced persons camp. My future father a security guard, my future mother sewing clothing...both learning Spanish for their eventual resettlement in Argentina…then fate interceded My Father’s cousin agrees to accepts responsibility and South America is replaced by North America. And off they settle to my future… My father, my mother and my older sister. and then a year later 1951 finds me in Hartford Connecticut, born during the last gasps of President Truman’s administration...

So many things beyond any of our power or will shape us and lead us to directions whose cause and effects are unfathomable.

Yet to put this entire show into proper perspective we must go beyond all the stories of our lives.

There are moments when I sit in a peace that is complete. So much so that there is no person or event that can add or subtract to that experience.

This peace….
So simple… beyond all the complexities of our lives
Independent of any person, career, place or environment

Independent of lovers, prophets, spiritual teachers, political leaders

Yet in that peace

I give thanks and honor all the people and events that led me to this moment for they are all found in that peace

I give thanks and honor all the people and places that will lead me from this moment on for they are all found and completed in that peace.

There are many new chapters to come, yet they are not mine to write… only to live.

At times I wonder where I would be now if my grandmother had not crossed that bridge… well I guess that’s another story.

Love

Tony

PS On a personal note, one of my earliest remembrances of the book store… my first holiday season as novice retailer—Christmas Eve night 1983 and the cash register was $ 400.00 richer. Boasting to my friend (who had at one time owned a jewelry store) of my great fortune, I will always remember the funny look I got.

Photos

21st Century Books & Gifts
Oct 1983-Oct 2008

Thanks for the memories

For T

The door you held open. I walked in alone,
Time went and now your are timeless
Your love eternal
Freed for all

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