Freedom in Meditation

Carrington, Patricia. Freedom in Meditation. New York: Anchor Press, 1977.

Reason read: January is traditionally the month everyone tries to hit the reset button. Yoga and meditation are high on resolution lists. I’m reading Freedom in Meditation in honor of good intentions.

The very first thing I learned about meditation while reading Carrington’s book is that meditation is not just meditating on a mat in a near-dark room. It is not sitting quietly and emptying the mind while incense swirls about your ears. Consider the clinically standardized meditation taught in two sessions. Or the Benson method which has supposed health benefits like lowering blood pressure and even a lowering of metabolism. In truth, meditation success depends on the personality. But also true to every kind of meditation locale and atmosphere (vibe, if you will) are important. Every technique recommends having plants nearby, the burning of incense and candles, maybe even bell ringing, but above all else, calm and quiet. Meditation can be seen as a rebirth, a companion to hypnosis even. Carrington goes on to to talk about the science of meditation, the therapist’s opinion of meditation, and even the misuse of the practice which I found interesting.

Author fact: At the time of publication, Dr. Carrington was a clinical psychologist who taught at Princeton.

Book trivia: There are only two illustrations in Freedom in Meditation. Both are showing you what to do with your hands during meditation.

Nancy said: Pearl mentions Freedom in Meditation first in her list of zen books. She says it is “probably the best book written about meditation” for beginners (Book Lust p 255).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 255).


To Lie with Lions

Dunnett, Dorothy. To Lie with Lions. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

Reason read: to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.

We are now deeper into the fifteenth century. The year is 1471 and Nicholas de Fluery is insistent on climbing to the top of the mercantile empire but as usual he has competition with the other “lions” of industry and he has bigger and more personal problems closer to home.
Niccolo kidnaps the child he believes is his flesh and blood away from his estranged wife, Gelis. This becomes a 15th century “war of the roses” when Nicholas and Gelis spar back and forth for control over their son. They have been at odds since their wedding night so both are skilled at harming each other and take great pleasure in it.
The title of the book comes from Nicholas’s skillful ability to play both sides of the game. For a while he literally serves two different kings at the same time.

My only gripe about this installment? Nicholas’s kid at times seems like a toddler and at other times seems older or younger. His motor skills and speech were not consistent.

Author fact: I believe I skipped an author fact last month. I’m going to skip it again since I have a couple more times to talk about Dunnett in later blogs.

Book trivia: as with other installments of the Nicholas de Fluery saga, To Lie with Lions includes a map of the region, an extensive list of characters, a genealogy chart, and an overview of previous plots in the story.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about To Lie with Lions since it is part of a huge series.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the same old chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79).


Amber Spyglass

Pullman, Philip. The Amber Spyglass. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Reason read: to end the series started in November in honor of National Writing Month (Fantasy).

In Amber Spyglass, the last installment of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Lyra, who started off as an ordinary kid in The Golden Compass, is seen as the most important child who has ever lived according to the church. Their fate depends on Lyra’s journey into womanhood. She may be important but she is also seen as a threat as she is in the position of biblical Eve as the temptress of man’s downfall. Heavy, right? Remarkably, young Lyra is on the cusp of introducing the concept of sin (Dust) to the world. She must be stopped before the Dust (sin=evil) takes over. When we first catch up with Lyra in The Amber Spyglass, she has been hidden away and kept drugged and sleeping in a cave by her mother (remember Mrs Coulter?). But. But! But, is Mrs Coulter all that evil? She acts the grieving mother as she recounts how she almost killed Lyra earlier.
This is an epic battle between good and evil with lots of fight scenes and dying declarations (just wait until you get to the land of the dead). The references to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden are laid on pretty thick, but Lyra is coming into her own as a young woman and she has an equally adulting young man as her companion…
The good news is that many of your favorite characters are back even if they died in an earlier installment. Iorek Byrnison the armored bear is back with his army! I was excited to see the bears and the witches but there are plenty of new creatures like harpies and ghosts. Probably my favorite characters to imagine are Gallivespians. They are small, slender spies able to ride hawks and dragonflies.

As an aside, Pullman is a huge fan of the word anbaric. As far as I can tell it is derived from the Greek and refers to the electrostatic properties of amber. Yup.

Author fact: Pullman also wrote another trilogy of thrillers featuring Sally Lockhart.

Book trivia: Amber Spyglass wraps up the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Amber Spyglass.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romans-Fleuves” (p 208).


Fire Watch

Willis, Connie. Fire Watch. New York: Bluejay International, 1985.

Reason read: to make up for the missed short story in Time Machine, the anthology edited by Bill Adler, Jr.

Fire Watch is made up of twelve short stories. It is her first short story collection. The stories are as follows:

  • Fire Watch – favorite line, “The past is beyond saving” (p 35).
  • Service for the Burial of the Dead – imagine attending your own funeral. This is a dark story and probably one of my favorites.
  • Lost and Found – line I liked, “What else had he missed because he wasn’t looking for it?” (p 76).
  • All My Darling Daughters – probably the most disturbing short story in the entire book.
  • The Father of the Bride – the other side of a fairy tale.
  • A Letter from the Clearys – read this one two or three times!
  • And Come from Miles Around – everyone gathers for the eclipse of the century.
  • The Sidon in the Mirror – a creepy tale about copying someone to the point of being twins.
  • Daisy, in the Sun – a family copes of post-nuclear war.
  • Mail-Order Clone – you know the saying, “if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything”? Well, this is the blind leading the blind.
  • Samaritan – can you baptize an orangutan? The church treats him like a human so why not?
  • Blued Moon – a comedy of error after error about coincidences.

Author fact: Connie Willis went to the University of Northern Colorado.

Book trivia: There is a scene in the movie American President (starring Annette Bening and Michael Douglas) when Douglas wants to send Bening flowers; specifically the state flower of Virginia where Bening’s character is from. He ends up sending a dogwood which is reported to be a tree and a bush (“sir”). I was reminded of that scene when I found out there are two Fire Watch publications. It’s a book and a short story. I was supposed to read the shorter version in December, but the book is also on my list so what the hey.

Nancy said: nothing specific about Fire Watch.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 246).


Renunciation

Rodriguez Julia, Edgardo. The Renunciation: a Novel. Translated by Andrew Hurley. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1997.

Reason read: Puerto Rico’s Hostos Day is in January; to celebrate the birthday of Eugenio María de Hostos.

The year is 1753 in colonial Puerto Rico. Bishop Larra, desperate to bring calm to a slave population on the verge of revolt, arranges a marriage between Baltasar Montanez, a poor slave leader and Josefina Prats, the wealthy and white daughter of the secretary of state. The idea is to make the destitute population believe they can too can marry their way into wealth and equality; to calm black indignation and for a while it seems to work. There is peace in the community because if Baltasar can marry up…. Until Montanez’s true personality comes to light. He is not the hero everyone thinks he is. [As an aside, I tracked all of the different words and phrases used to describe Baltasar: enigma, hero, declasse, upstart, benefactor, traitor, puppet, emancipated slave, peacemaker, verbsoe, rhetorical, slightly pompous, of great intelligence, well-pleased, cynical, intruder, black, cane-cutter, handsome, a figure of profound historical significance…I could go on.] Here is a commentary on not only Puerto Rico’s political climate in the eighteenth century, but a study in human nature. Was the marriage orchestrated by Bishop Larra? Was the bride’s father involved from the beginning? Who holds the lie and who lives the truth?
A word of warning. Obviously, as most arranged marriages go, Baltasar and Josefina’s marriage is not a sexual one. Her enjoyment comes from peeping through the keyhole to spy on Baltasar’s legendary yet unimaginative orgies.

Author fact: Julia has received a Guggenheim fellowship.

Book trivia: The Renunciation is Edgardo Rodriguez Julia’s first English-translated work.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Renunciation “difficult but exhilarating” and if you are interested in colonial Puerto Rico you shouldn’t miss it (Book Lust To Go p 57).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Puerto Rico” (p 52).


The Good Times are Killing Me

Barry, Lynda. The Good Times are Killing Me. New York: Harper Perennial, 1988.
Barry, Lynda. The Good Times Are Killing Me. Canada: Drawn & Quarterly, 2017.

Reason read: January is Barry’s birth month. Read in her honor.

This is a unique book that took me all of two days to read. When it ended so abruptly I thought there was some kind of scanning mistake (I was reading it as an ebook). I was startled. So much so that I borrowed a print version just to make sure I didn’t miss out on something. Then I read it again. And again.
Edna Arkins is a child is trying to grow up in the tumultuous 1960s. Her white neighbors are fleeing her urban Seattle neighborhood as other ethnic groups take up residence. She herself is white and doesn’t understand their prejudice. Told from the first person and using music as her Polaris, Edna struggles to work out her rapidly changing adolescence. In response to confusing and callous adult racism Edna forges a taboo relationship with a Black girl named Bonna. She thinks Bonna is beautiful. What is most captivating about Edna is her awkwardness and honesty as she navigates through changing relationships. I wanted Bonna and Edna to conquer the world together. I wanted them to break down just one barrier; to get one adult to accept and understand their friendship. My fervent hope for a happy ending made the truth that much more difficult to swallow.

Lines I liked, “I could always tell the difference between God and a streetlight” (p 11), and “Like all it was was any black girl slapping any white girl who had mouthed off to her, something that happened every single day and would just keep on happening, world without end” (p 139).

Author fact: Barry in known for her graphic novels.

Book trivia: The last section of The Good Times are Killing Me includes a thirty-four page “music notebook” full of biographies of famous and not-so famous musicians and styles of music. The illustrations are fantastic.

Nancy said: Pearl said Good Times are Killing Me touches on the themes of childhood and adolescence.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Confessional: I deleted Good Times are Killing Me from my list because it is not a graphic novel. Pearl could have included it in the previous “Girls Growing Up” (p 101).


Cold-Blooded Business

Stabenow, Dana. A Cold-Blooded Business. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 1994.

Reason read: Alaska became a state in January.

Disclaimer: A Cold-Blooded Business is part of a series and since this is my first Kate Shugak mystery I feel like I jumped into it blind.

Kate Shugak is a private investigator for the Anchorage District Attorney’s office. In A Cold-Blooded Business her assignment is to go undercover at RPetCo, short for Royal Petroleum Company based in Prudhoe Bay up in the Arctic Circle. John King, CEO of RPetCo wants to know who has been dealing cocaine to his employees on company time. His main concern is overdoses are on the rise. There has even been a death by drowning linked to drug use. “Get that dope off my slope” he urges poetically.

Small pet peeve. Teeny tiny, really. On page 142 Kate is yearning for peace and quiet since her boyfriend’s young son, Johnny, “had the television on from the time he woke up till the time he went to bed.” However, not even eleven pages later Kate’s exposure to television is described as limited to Bernie’s television at the Roadhouse “eternally tuned into a basketball game” or Bobby’s set which existed “solely to be hooked up to a VCR” (p 152 – 153). I probably wouldn’t have squawked if the contradictory details weren’t so close together.

As an aside, what irked me from the beginning is that Kate is supposed to go undercover as a roustabout on the slope but within her first week on the job she meets a former medic/acquaintance from another job and a trooper who knows her name. She has to lie and say she’s no longer an investigator. Later she rushes to the first overdose on the job. Bursting into the room she encounters the victim is her cousin and he’s just as surprised to see her as she is him. Finally, Cindy Sovaluk, a woman she meets in the sauna turns out to know her grandmother. So much for undercover when four different people know your name or are related to you!
As another aside, are yearling bears really harmless enough to tug on their tails?

Author fact: Stabenow lives in Alaska and definitely knows the culture. That’s the obvious. What isn’t as obvious is just how many books Ms Stabenow has written. Check out her website here.

Book trivia: A Cold-Blooded Business is part of a series. I counted nineteen Shugak mysteries and I’m only reading two.

Nancy said: Pearl said Cold-Blooded Business is “her favorite Shugak mystery” (Book Lust p 18).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the unimaginative chapter called “Alaska” (p 17). I would have riffed off a Phish tune and called it “Alaska? I’ll Ask Her”.