I’ve been thinking about starting a meditation practice for awhile now and last month’s Relovution reminded me of that. So, I’ve started one. I’ve been using Stop, Breathe and Think. And, it hasn’t been too bad!
So, for this month I’m going to talk about two books that are of a the Buddhist/meditation perspective. (One that I just listened to and one that I admittedly read awhile ago).
Awhile back I read When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. I was having a rough time because it was winter and I had sinus infections that I couldn’t shake and I was pretty bummed out. And, the title just caught me. It seemed pretty apt for my situation (because I’m overly dramatic so, of course, my life was falling apart because I never saw the sun and I was on antibiotics). Two things from the book stuck with me: the idea that even terrible situations have something to offer us (other than their terribleness) and that we should practice loving-kindness. Loving-kindness has a particular meaning here and refers to a practice of gentleness, compassion, flexibility and forgiveness. Mostly I remember that this idea of loving-kindness (maitri is the word Chödrön used for it) means being gentle and as someone who can be sharp tongued, being reminded of the importance of gentleness is always something I need. Chödrön talked for a long while about starting this practice with yourself. Yes, you mess up sometimes. Yes, you are uncomfortable. Yes, things hurt and you can’t always fix them or make them better. But, you can be gentle with yourself. You can be gentle with others. You might not be able to make something better, but you can, at the very least, not make it worse by being hard and inflexible. This book is full of discussions of Buddhist practice and how practice is important in difficult times.
The second book for this month isn’t actually a book. Mindful Living is a series of audio recordings of lectures given by Thich Nhat Hahn at a retreat that have been compiled for our listening pleasure. This audio recording is a nice example of what the audio format can do that you don’t see in books. It is really neat to be able to hear the monk’s words in his own voice. I enjoyed the lectures. My favorite of the lectures talked about thinking about what your face was like before you were born. We, none of us, came from nothing so it is an interesting exercise to ponder where we came from and how we have been influenced by things. I liked all of the little reminders of how to be mindful and how to make reminders to be present and to enjoy the experience of being you.
This is was interesting audiobook and I recommend it if you know a little about mindfulness and you are interested in expanding your understanding of it.
So, there you have it. One book and one lecture series both of which are worth a look! Yay!
The third book for my pop cultural assignment has brought me back to some much more familiar territory: The YA novel. As much as I love Maureen Johnson’s series Shades of London I haven’t actually read any of her other books so I was pretty excited to be assigned this.
One day, Ginny gets a letter from her recently deceased Aunt Peg, that she should buy a plane ticket to London and pack for a long trip. So she does and starts on a trip of a lifetime. She is given 13 little blue envelopes that she can’t open until she is told. She can’t call, email or journal while on the trip. She is supposed to live in the moment. The letters have two purposes, 1. show Ginny what her Aunt has been doing for the last two years since she just left New York without a word and 2. explain why she did what she did. Aunt Peg sends Ginny all Europe, from London to Greece. Now if this was my aunt, I would be a little pissed that I was sent all over without a clear idea of where I was going next but that’s me. Ginny is a smart girl that is a little bit of an introvert. So doing this is quite the undertaking. It forces her to branch out of her comfort zone but also say good bye to her beloved Aunt. On her adventure, she meets playwright and actor, Keith. Keith is pretty much the opposite of Ginny. He is out going and not afraid to meet new people. Ginny is immediately attracted to him and asked him to come along for parts of her journey. He helps her come out of her shell and supports her coming to terms with the death of her aunt but it’s her journey and ultimately she does it on her own. In the end, Ginny leaves Europe more confident in herself but at peace with the death of her Aunt. It was a satisfying ending.
And yet there is a sequel. The Last Blue Envelope takes place few months later.
Before Ginny could read the last letter, it was stolen along with her backpack in Greece. Even though, she figures out part of what was in the letter when she finds her Aunt’s paintings I don’t think she was fully ready to let go of that summer, partly because she never got to read that last letter. Well, miracles of miracles a boy in London emails her and says that he bought her backpack while in Greece and has her letters. So she once again goes to London to retrieve it and since she is there, she tries to pick up with Keith even though their communication has slowed as of late. As you can imagine, their reunion doesn’t go as planned when she discovers that Keith has a girlfriend and to make things worse, Oliver drops the bomb that there is another piece of art her Aunt has left for her to find. She once again travels all over Europe without knowing where she is going and what she’ll have to do. The last time she did this she was mostly alone, this time she has Oliver,( who basically blackmails her into sharing in the profits of the sale of her Aunt’s work for the letters) Keith and Keith’s girlfriend Ellis and it’s full awkwardness. We didn’t get to know that much about Keith in the first book as he came and went in the narrative. In this he is much more present and honestly, he would drive me crazy if he was my friend. Ellis is sweet and it’s hard not to like her even if she is the girlfriend. It is Oliver who probably understands Ginny the most. True, he had the benefit of reading her letters (ok that’s not so great) but he knows when to be quiet and when to talk. He’s not a bad guy if you can get past the whole blackmail thing. This book wasn’t as good as the first. I was satisfied with how the other one ended. Yes, there was some unfinished business. The stolen letter and the are they dating are they not ending with Keith but life is full of unfinished business and I believe that Ginny ended a better person than where she began. At times it felt like all of this was meant to have a sequel and other times it felt like it was put together to capitalize on a popular book. Also the ending wasn’t as great. Yes, once again Ginny is in a better place than she was when she began but once again there are relationships left up in the air. It’s like Miss Johnson is leaving it open to write another book even though the letters are all gone.
I liked the first better then the second but I enjoyed them as a whole. They, however, are not as good as her Shades of London series, which is definitely worth the read.
On to the final book of my Pop Culture Homework Assignment. Let’s do this.
I have this idea that I can improve my language skills by reading in the language. This is not a crazy idea. But, I use it to justify a possibly crazy and weird habit. I love buying books that I have already read that are translated into a language that I am studying. I recently used my desire to be a better Spanish speaker as my excuse for walking past the Juan Rulfo, Octavio Paz, and Gabriel Trujillo (only one of those three whose work I’ve actually read in Spanish…and one I’ve not read at all) in a Mexican bookstore (Mexican bookstore as in a bookstore in Mexico and not as in a bookstore that specializes in Mexican books or a bookstore owned/operated by Mexican people or a bookstore that caters to the interests of Mexican people. Although, the other interpretations are also probably true) heading straight to the YA and sci-fi/fantasy sections to see what’s there that I’ve already taken a bite out of.
I have a favorite little bookshop in San Cristobal de las Casas. It was one of the first things I found the first time I was here doing research for my dissertation, so I was happy to find it again. This time they had a lot to choose from. There were translations of books I really want to read (Graceling) and I thought about breaking my rule and trying something new. But, there was also Harry Potter and C.S, Lewis and Tolkien. The one I finally settled on was none of the above. I picked up a translated copy of my favorite Neil Gaiman book (maybe my second favorite? I did really enjoy the Ocean and the end of the Lane.) Coraline.
The story is just as I remember it. And, either my Spanish had improved or this book is at a lower reading level than I remember. I recommend picking it up. It is a story about magic, family and growing up all in Gaiman’s quirky style.