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Newsletter Number 55 • May 12, 2009

Books

Last month I did not review any books. I have read a number of books during the last two months. Some were better than others. None of them crossed the threshold of books I want to recommend to either readers interested in a narrow genre of books or to a general audience. What should I do?

I decided to think about the books that most influenced me during my life and then to choose among them the ones I would re-read today, or have read again in the last few years.

Some of my favorite books during my youth and adolescence don’t quite stand up to the test of time, but that does not mean I would discourage anyone from reading them. My old favorites include the ever popular Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger. Beau Geste was another truly great book, and if you get the chance you should rent and watch the original black and white film starring Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, and Robert Preston. That one is worth reading again now.

In my high school days Ayn Rand changed my political outlook. Not only did The Fountainhead, make a compelling case for the Libertarian philosophy; it was a wonderful love story. I wanted to be Howard Roark, and Dominique Francon was my fantasy woman. I would definitely read this one again today. Atlas Shrugged, also made a compelling political treatise, but it was more heavy handed and lacked the emotional pull of The Fountainhead.

Waiting for Godot was the play that I would have wanted to write, had I the ability to become a writer. Samuel Beckett’s work expressed all the meaninglessness and frustration of the world as seen by a nihilist. This is one I should read again today! I wonder what I would think of it now.

Later on in my life, as I approached my mid 20’s I became exposed to metaphysics and spirituality and became a “seeker”. There were two books which opened my eyes, my mind, and moved my soul. The first was Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramanhansa Yogananda. I think every spiritual seeker has read this book at least once, and Dena, my wife, and I have given away at least 100 copies during our lives to people whom we thought might be moved by it. For those who are ready, it is a book that is clearly life-altering. The other book which completely altered my life was There is a River, by Thomas Sugrue. It is the original authorized biography of Edgar Cayce.

I would guess that if one were to survey the general population of the US and ask who was the most important person of the 20th Century popular vote getters would include Freud, Einstein, FDR, or even Hitler to name a few. My vote would go to Edgar Cayce. I don’t want to make this an essay on Cayce, so if you have an interest please Google him. If you trust my judgment at all you will read There is a River. I will unequivocally state this book may be very life-altering and it ought to be read by everyone. Our review is available on our website.

In the last 10 years or so I have become very appreciative of and influenced by the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, as expressed by or interpreted by Nisargadatta and his disciple Ramesh Balsekar. Many of their books have been reviewed on our site. I Am That, by Sri Nisargadatta is almost Biblical in its depth and breadth. If you have never read Ramesh I am not sure where you ought to start, but I don’t think you can go wrong with Consciousness Speaks.

Finally, I would like everyone to read my favorite work of fiction. It is Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. To me it is the perfect novel. It has all the profundity of anything every written and is at the same time immensely enjoyable. It is one of the few books I read over and over again and enjoy each time, and it even makes me laugh out loud.

When we designed the website for 21st Century Books, we included a section called “books you cannot live without”. Here is the link. If none of the above whets your appetite please use this link:

http://www.21stbooks.com/categories/nolivewithout.html

There is a saying on Wall Street, “Sell in May and go away.” If you follow that advice this year you may be well-served, and have more time to enjoy some great books rather than fretting about your investment portfolio.

Wishing you all a very pleasurable spring,

Len Oppenheim

Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India

Beautiful and poetic… A journey back in time

Join award winning travel writer Rory MacLean as he revisits the famous hippie trail of the 1960’s and early 70’s.Beginning in Istanbul progressing through Afghanistan and India and ending up in Nepal He explores not only how the hippie’s lives were changed but how the native people’s own lives were reshaped by their encounters with the counter culture.

The differences between that period and the present are uniquely categorized by residents of Istanbul.

“We saw hippies as revolutionaries. Our women began to feel they had a freedom to act as they wished. Young villagers re-evaluated their culture. They (the hippies) showed that there was a way of finding peaceful solutions to problems. They helped us to see that the world belongs to the people: wherever you put your feet is home.”

“Now different Westerners come to Asia, first to Afghanistan, then Iraq, next I am thinking to Iran, to Syria and maybe even to Turkey….these visitors come not because they are open to different cultures…but because they are hungry for power , for oil.”

The author begins his magical mystery journey in Istanbul. In this gateway city to Europe or Asia (depending on where in the city you are standing) Rory meets a 70 something ex hippie, and with her in tow he begins his journey back in time

Upon reaching eastern Turkey his hippie friend decides to stay in a cave and our narrator continues his journey on his own.

Traveling to Iran he meets a successful businessman on his way to reunite with his brother. One brother has become a success in the material world; the other has forsaken materialism and eventually martyred himself in a car bomb, taking many innocent lives in a twisted act of spiritual cleansing.

As an interesting aside the author theorizes that the hippies traveling through Iran helped fertilize the seeds in the local population for overthrowing the regime of the Shah, laying the foundation for the Islamic fundamental theocracy that took over.

In Pakistan Rory meets an Islamic stand up comedian (A Muslim Henny Youngman) who mixes terror with one liners.

Traveling through India, Rory ends up at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Rishikesh ashram. There he spends the night in the deserted compound reminiscing of the Beatles time there and drifting to sleep with songs of blackbirds singing in the dead of night.

While in Rishikesh, he is befriended by an Ayurvedic physician who worked at Maharishi’s ashram and befriended the Beatles in 1968.

The book is filled with fascinating side stories…

including Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac;

How the Lonely Planet Travel Guide began;

The origin of the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan.

The naïve innocent time of my youth is recreated in all its tie dyed glory.

A time when we believed peace could be achieved on the material plane through the power of suggestion and action.

For anyone a beautifully rendered deeply moving travelogue, but for us ex hippies sitting at our mid life careers… we may regret ever cutting our hair.

Stop trying not to die” Allen Ginsberg

Death is the key to life. Death defines life, gives it shape and meaning and context.

Without a clear and honest relationship with our mortality, we live in a state of endless sprawl, a soupy gray fog that creates the hellish illusion of life stretching in all directions…removing all sense of urgency from life.” Jed McKenna from Spiritual Warfare

I said to Life,

“I would hear Death speak.”

And Life raised her voice a little higher and said,

“You hear him now.” Kahlil Gibran

We suffer many varied forms of minor deaths throughout our lives

Examples are loss of careers, relationships, youth, choices that no longer exist.

My middle age has brought me closer to my own end game… my final loss.

I have tried to reasonably make my peace with death...

Instead of letting it get to me... like some pesky kid playing hide and seek... a kid no one wants to find... I have finally learned to acknowledge his presence... so the incessant shouting “I am hiding here” finally can stop.

And Instead of finding a pesky scary kid... death turns out to be some kind of Indigo child filled with unfathomable wisdom.

Instead of an enemy I find a new wise friend…Through acceptance of ultimate loss I discover the rich emptiness that I have long ago forgotten.

Tony

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