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Newsletter Number 13 • November 3, 2005


In 1964, during freshman orientation, I attended a lecture by James Shenton; (recently deceased) perhaps Columbia’s most popular professor. Despite the fact that I had never traveled abroad and had no plans or expectations to do so in the future, his talk about the great cities in the world made a lasting impression on me. He said there were three great cities in the world: New York, Paris, and one that is special for each of us. With an impish grin on his face that implied some really cool times had been experienced there, he said that the third city, for him, was Istanbul. I fell for his speech hook, line, and sinker, and decided that if I ever got the chance to travel I would go to Istanbul. I made it to Istanbul in 1971, 1973, and again in 1993. I had some very special experiences there, and it did become my personal “third city”. Then, in 2004, Dena and I spent a little over a week in Mumbai (Bombay) and were charmed and captivated by this magical city. I decided that Mumbai had become my “third city”.

Earlier this year I recommended Shantaram, a 900 page blockbuster first novel set in Bombay. Shantaram is now available in paperback. Numerous friends and customers have read and loved this novel and I cannot recommend it strongly enough, as I believe it is possibly the best novel of the last 10 or 15 years. I think if you read it you will want to go to Bombay or at least learn more about this city.

Now there is a book that fulfills that need or desire to learn more about Bombay. I highly recommend you read Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, by Suketu Mehta. This is 500 pages of non-fiction, written by a very skilled writer, who, with his family, as a teenager, left Bombay and moved to Queens, New York. Twenty-one years later, after a life of travel and writing, he returned to Mumbai with his wife and two young children.

The author chose to view the city from very unique angles. His interviews and stories are about the criminal underworld, murderers, cops, and gangsters. He looks at the lives of bar dancers, Bollywood producers, actors and actresses and finally an amazing wealthy Jain family of five who became total renunciants. This is an intricately woven tale of a city of 14 million seen through the eyes of those who are true “Bombayites”. This is not a page turner like Shantaram, but it is a great adventure for those who would like to know more about this unique city, its exotic culture and subcultures, and the people who make it the place it is.

The book is fascinating and riveting. The characters and events are bigger than life, and the book gives strong evidence once again that “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Suketa Mehta has created a non-fiction work that has the fascination and tension of great fiction.

Rachel Manija Brown has authored a unique memoir that I thoroughly enjoyed. All the Fishes come Home to Roost: an American Misfit in India is a marvelous title, and the book is more than worthy of this well-chosen title. When Rachel (then known as “Mani”) was seven years old her ex-hippie parents moved to a Meher Baba Ashram in a desolate part of India. Mani hated living there. This is a no-holds barred totally honest recollection of her unhappy childhood that is both fascinating and entertaining. Mani was precocious, observant, and quite a skeptic/cynic. It is a very unique story crafted by a very skilled writer. Whatever I might say to describe the unique charm, wit, and insight of this book will be inadequate to convey its essence. It is a “must read”.

There is incredible depth, humor, and wisdom in this story. Ashram life was more than interesting. Rachel, her parents, ashramites, and the pilgrims who visited all had stories that Rachel captures with insight and humor. Whether or not you have ever been to India, whether or not you have ever been to an ashram, this is a memoir that will captivate, inform, and entertain you. Rachel Brown (now about 35 and a professional writer) has a fantastic story to tell and she tells it with integrity, skill, and great humor.

I adore Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate physicist. Two of his books, “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman, and What Do You Care What Other People Think?” are among the best books I have ever read. These books are about Feynman and about life. They are not textbooks on physics. Feynman is one of the most interesting, eccentric, and lovable characters who has graced this planet with his presence. Everyone I know who has read these books has loved them. I bring this up because thanks to Tony I am now enjoying another treasure, Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman, edited and with an introduction by his daughter, Michelle Feynman. This book is very revealing of the man, who is accurately characterized and described on the book jacket as follows: “Here was both a showman and a very practical thinker…It is unlikely that the world will see another Richard Feynman” [Paul Davies] and “The more one reads of Feynman, the more one falls in love with his refreshingly enthusiastic view of the world.” [Alan Guth]

I am unabashedly in love with Richard Feynman. Everyone owes it to him or herself to read about this fascinating man. Start with Surely You’re Joking. If you order it from us and don’t like it, drop me an email and I will cheerfully refund your money. I will bet that after you read that one you won’t hesitate to read What do You Care… and then this latest treasure.

Before I turn the podium over to Tony, I would like to make an important point about our bookstore. Our mission is to be your local bookstore on the net. What we mean is that we want to provide the unique and personal service of the classic independent bookstore. All the Fishes come Home to Roost is a book I would never have discovered were it not for Tony who knows my tastes, discovered the book, and recommended it to me. Tony knows books, and has almost encyclopedic knowledge about many great books that are out of the mainstream. We hope our readers will browse our website to find books that suit their tastes and moods. We also encourage everyone to call Tony—(641) 472-5105, or email him at: books21st@lisco.com. Please use Tony. He is a great resource and he can help you to discover books you will enjoy and treasure.

Len Oppenheim

A question I am often asked by new customers is what books are important to me.

The following is a list of the books that have meant the most to me in my adult life.

These books may not be for all tastes, but personally I have derived much pleasure and knowledge from these much loved friends.

Please email or call me if you would like to discuss these titles further.

As fellow book lovers you understand the importance a book can make in one’s life. That is the impulse that created our store and website.

Spiritual Enlightenment—The Damnedest Thing, Jed McKenna

An irreverent look at what is and is not awakened consciousness. Hint, it is not what you think.

Silence Of The Heart, Robert Adams
Robert’s book has brought much emotional feeling and release to the reader. It is pure and unadulterated Advaita philosophy

Duet Of One, Ramesh Balsekar

Ramesh’s commentary on the Ashtavakra Gita (the bible of non-duality)
Is a must for every spiritual seeker’s library.

As It Is, Tony Parsons

Simple awareness is the ultimate truth of all existence. Tony’s words simply take you there.

I Heard God Laughing: Renderings Of Hafiz, Daniel Ladinsky
THE poetry book for the Spiritual journey. This is for you even if you do not usually enjoy poetry

Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment, Jed McKenna

Moby Dick: the greatest spiritual literature of the western world?
Jed makes an impressive argument in this the sequel to Spiritual Enlightenment—The Damnedest Thing

Martin Eden, Jack London

My favorite novel, a semi autobiography of Jack London’s life, transcends all of London’s earlier works; a must read for anyone who is awed by good fiction.

No one who has read this novel was left unmoved.

The above titles have all been very therapeutic, creating (each in its own way) a subtle change in my perception of myself and others.

Let me know what you think

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