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).


Daisy Bates in the Desert

Blackburn, Julia. Daisy Bates in the Desert: A Woman’s Life Among the Aborigines. New York: Vintage Departures, 1995.

Reason read: Australia Day is January 26th.

Julia Blackburn became fascinated by Daisy Bates quite by accident. In the beginning of her book Blackburn imagines Ms. Bates’s feelings and memories but by the middle of the book there is an odd shift in perspective and suddenly Blackburn assumes the role of Bates, talking in the first person as if she IS Daisy Bates. It was a little unsettling until I settled into the narrative…and then she switches back.
Through Blackburn’s words Daisy Bates became this larger than life figure; a woman trying to save the natives of Australia. At times it was difficult for me to understand her motives or her successes, but I learned to understand her passions. She truly cared for the people of the desert. 

Line I had to quote, “I suppose it would have been awkward to pack and easily broken and anyway the skull of a good friend would not provide much comfort when one was feeling lonely” (p 95). On a personal note, when my first cat was ailing I seriously considered taking her to a taxidermist for eternal preservation. I loved her that much.
Another line I liked, “The sky was breathing; I could feel the cavity of the night expanding and contracting around me as if I was in the belly of the universe” (p 122). I feel that way about Monhegan sometimes.

As an aside, I am not sure what to do with the image of naked women with dingo puppies tied about their waists.

Author fact: Blackburn wrote several books which won awards. The most successful were Thin Paths and The Leper’s Companions. Neither are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Disappointingly there are not a lot of pictures of Daisy Bates. The best one is of her on a swing.

Nancy said: Pearl called Daisy Bates in the Desert “fabulous” (Book Lust To Go p 28)

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz” (p 26).


Well-Read Black Girl

Edim, Glory, ed. Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves. New York: Ballantine Books, 2018.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this was the November selection.

I am not a Black girl, nor am I a girl anymore. So. So what am I doing requesting to read and review Edim’s anthology, Well-Read Black Girl? I’ll tell you why. As a librarian, I want to be prepared for anyone of any color, of any age, of any self-identified gender, anyone at all to ask me for a book recommendation. Librarians, take note: Edim puts together a well-crafted and thoughtful list of books to read. Like Nancy Pearl in her Lust books, Edim compiles recommendations for all types of reading: genres like classics, fantasy, science fiction, plays and poetry; or themes like feminism, childhood, and friendship. There is a book for that. And that. That, too. Despite the wealth of information in Edim’s various lists I actually loved the essays even more. Women with varying careers and backgrounds and life experiences weigh in on what book meant the most to her or had a lasting impact while growing up. You hear from not just authors, journalists and playwrights but an activist, an actress, a producer; people outside the realm of putting pen to paper. It is a joy they share their thoughts with eloquence and grit. Their stories truly bring a deeper meaning to the books they mention. Their words make you want to go back and reread the stories with a different perspective.

Interesting overlap – I had just finished reading Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund when I got to Barbara Smith’s essay, “Go Tell It.” When talking about her own childhood Smith remembers Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Carol Denise McNair.


The Turk

Standage, Tom. The Turk: the Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess Playing Machine. New York: Walker & Company, 2002

Reason read: Wolfgang von Kempelen was born in January. Read in his memory.

Picture a bygone era ripe with new inventions. This was the industrial revolution. Everyone is coming up with something practical to make life easier or something clever to wow the public’s imagination. Wolfgang von Kempelen’s creativity was sparked when he attended a conjuring show at the court of Austria-Hungary’s empress, Maria Theresa. Kempelen felt he could impress the empress further with his own ingenuity. She gave him six months to prepare a show of his own and at the end of the six months a mechanical Turkish dressed chess player was born. Outfitted with a high turban and a long smoking pipe, the automaton appeared to be capable of thought as he singlehandedly beat even the most skilled chess player at his own game. Kempelen allowed his audience to peer into the machine’s inner workings and yet they still couldn’t figure it out. the automaton became even more lifelike and mysterious when his second owner, Johann Maezel, introduced speech. The Turk, as the mechanical chess player became known, could talk! Instead of nodding three times, the automaton could tell his opponents, “check” in French further adding to his mystique. Like the boy who came to life in Pinocchio, the Turk was pure magic.
For eighty-seven years the Turk wowed audiences all across Europe and the eastern United States (Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston primarily) before a raging fire extinguished his career. The mystery was not the how the automaton worked. Not really. The bigger and better mystery was how, for all those years and kept by multiple owners, the secret did not get out.
It is sad to think the Turk is not squirreled away in some fantastic museum. I fantasize about turning a corner, coming into a dusty room and standing face to face with the mechanical man in a turban who could say, “echec.”

Author fact: Standage also wrote a book called The Victorian Internet and even though it sounds fantastic, it is not on my list.

Book trivia: There are some interesting and revealing illustrations.

Nancy said: Pearl said Turk is “a most entertaining account of a marvelous invention” (Book Lust p 150).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mechanical Men, Robots, Automatons, and Deep Blue” (p 150).


Female Eunuch

Greer, Germain. The Female Eunuch. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1971.

Reason read: Women’s Suffrage Law was passed in December.

In the 1970s this was a landmark book supporting feminist ideals. While the statistical data might be a little out of date, the rest of the narrative is sharp, funny, and in some cases, spot on. Even today. Through her seminal work Greer will take you through a sometimes sarcastic, sometimes sad, and always intelligent journey regarding every aspect of a woman’s world in the 1970s. She begins with the obvious, the female body and moves onto soul, love and hate. She ends with a powerful chapter on rebellion and revolution.

There were lots and lots of quotations to chose from. Here are some of my favorites, “In any case brain weight is irrelevant, as was swiftly admitted when it was found to operate to male disadvantage” (p 93), “Most likely a sued Other Woman would have to ask her husband undertake payments for her” (p 118), and “Genuine chaos is more fruitful than the chaos of conflicting systems which are mutually destructive” (p 234).

Author fact: Greer is extremely funny. However, when she admitted to being groped in Female Eunuch it prompted me to do a little more digging about her life. I was a little surprised by her 2018 thoughts regarding punishment for convicted rapists. It’s an example of how Greer thinks, always pushing boundaries.

Book trivia: Female Eunuch is chock full of various quotations, the most being from Mary Wollstonecraft’s oft-quoted work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (also on my list).

Nancy said: Pearl called The Female Eunuch an influential political book from the early ’70’s” (p More Book Lust p 121).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “I am Woman – Hear Me Roar” (p 121).


This Blinding Absence of Light

Ben Jelloun, Tahar. This Blinding Absence of Light. Translated by Linda Coverdale. New York: New Press, 2002.

Reason read: This one was chosen a little off schedule. I needed something for the Portland Public Library 2018 Reading Challenge for the category of a book that has won an International Dublin Literary Award.

This book was a hard, hard , hard read. Based upon true events, it is the story of an inmate of the Tazmamart Prison. Aziz was a soldier who took part in a failed assassination attempt on King Hassan II of Morocco. Hassan ordered his political enemies to be held in an underground desert concentration camp where they were kept in 6 x 3′ cells devoid of light or proper ventilation. Aziz and twenty-one other prisoners locked away without proper food or sanitary conditions. Many men went insane or died from uncontrolled illnesses and starvation. After nearly two decades in captivity, only four survived their experience. Because Ben Jelloun takes Aziz’s experiences and fictionalizes it with a first person narrative the story becomes even more intimate and heartbreaking.
If you are ever wallowing in your own pathetic cesspool of pity, try barricading yourself in a darkened room with only a hole to piss and crap in, a ceiling less than five feet from the floor, no heat or air conditioning with only a bucket of water too filthy to drink and starchy food too filled with maggots to eat. Or, if you are short on time just read this book. Your little life can’t be as bad.
Here is the heart of the story, “The hardest, most unbearable silence was that of light” (p 51).

Lines that stopped me short (and there were a lot of them), “What does a man think when the blood of other men runs down his face?” (p 6), “I felt death making itself at home in his eyes” (p 12), “Strangely enough, becoming time’s slave had set him free” (p 29), “It was a question of chance: you tell yourself you have plenty of time, you save a few books for later…and forget to read them” (p 68), “That night I tried again to sleep on the bed. It was just too comfortable for me” (p 181).

Author fact: Ben Jelloun has also won the Prix Maghreb award in 1994.

Book trivia: This Blinding Absence of Light won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2004.

Nancy said: Pearl said This Blinding Absence of Light is “a difficult, soul-destroying read” (p 162). Interestingly enough, someone on Wikipedia said prisoners were not “actively” tortured. I find this really interesting. The decision to withhold light and food IS a form of active torture. True, these people were not tortured with acts resulting in pain but they faced starvation to the point of eminent death. I’m guessing the author of the Wiki page has never been hungry to the point of starvation; has never gone without light; has never experienced confining and unsanitary conditions for an extended period of time or faced the threat of scorpions stinging them in the dark. As Ben Jelloun said, “the entire body had to suffer, every part, without exception” (p 3).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes: Morocco” (p 162).


Lost Moon

Lovell, Jim, and Jeffrey Kluger. Lost Moon: The Perilous Journey of Apollo 13. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Reason read: On December 18th, 2018 NASA scheduled a rocket launch.

Lost Moon reads like a drama. The language isn’t bogged down by rocket science verbiage even through at the time of publication Jim Lovell was a famous astronaut and Jeffrey Kluger was an adjunct instructor (in other words, two really smart men). You pretty much know what is going on at all times. Lost Moon is suspenseful even though factually you know how it all turns out in the end. You should know, if not through the news (because you lived it), then because of the movie of the same name (because it starred Tom Hanks and won a whole bunch of awards). Here’s a ten second recap: On April 11th, 1970 Apollo Lucky 13 lifts off into space. By April Lucky 13th an oxygen tank explodes and the crew abandons the mission and Odyssey and moves into Aquarius. Two days later, on April 15th, a battery explodes in Aquarius. A day later a helium disk bursts. A day later, six days after liftoff, Aquarius splashes down in the Pacific ocean.
One of the most interesting facts I learned after reading Lost Moon was the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space. Article five of the document talks about ensuring the safe return of space travelers clause. In the event of an unplanned or off-target landing in hostile territories the space traveler would be safe and not be punished, imprisoned, or held responsible for the emergency landing in their territory.
Second interesting fact – astronauts are “star sailors.” I like that a lot.

Author fact: Jeffrey Kluger is a senior writer at Time magazine. Jim Lovell was also a Navy captain.

Book trivia: There is a great section of photographs in Lost Moon. The cover is of the blast off. “Because of the incredible speed of your rocket, your trip is short.” If you don’t know, don’t ask!

Nancy said: Pearl said “though you may have enjoyed the movie, don’t miss the book…it brings  a new dimension to the now familiar account of heroism” (Book Lust p 158).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Moon’s My Destination” (p 157).