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September 10, 2012
The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery
by Vetering, Janwillem van de
I’ve read and enjoyed many of Janwillem van de Wetering’s murder mysteries featuring the Amsterdam cops, but my favorite book by this wandering Dutchman was his first, a memoir about his stay in a Zen monastery in Kyoto. No mystical halo glows over the abbey or its residents. The same goes for Wetering--on a bus in town, he uses his elevated powers of concentration to persuade a beautiful woman to rub up against him--but he is for the most part an earnest student of meditation, while most of the young Japanese monks are there because that's where their families sent them. A lot of them take periodic trips into town to spend time with prostitutes and otherwise amuse themselves. Sometime after reading this book, I spent a couple months at a Zen abbey, and the abbess there, who had trained in Japan, expressed contempt for monasteries where this sort of behavior was allowed. Had she read The Empty Mirror and been irritated by it, or was such laxness rampant in Japanese abbeys?
Strangest thing of all about this down-to-earth book: I found it inspiring.
— Recommended by Glenn Halberstadt, Information Technology
September 3, 2012
by Winslow, Don
Once you’ve read a book by Don Winslow, you know what to expect: something totally different than his last book. This is one author whose style changes from book to book, who takes chances with his prose and isn’t going to get trapped in that rut of writing the same book over and over, thank you very much. Savages is gritty and raunchy and has moments that had me saying, “I can’t believe I’m reading this.” It’s about two likeable small-time marijuana dealers in southern California and their girlfriend, O. Reading it, I kept asking myself if there was any possibility that Winslow hadn’t taken his research into the drug trade a little too seriously. But Winslow is such a terrific writer than he manages to make the reader care about Ben and Chon and O. Sure they’re criminals, but compared to the guys they’re up against, aren’t they pretty doggone likable? Apparently so, because a movie is said to be in the works, directed by Oliver Stone and starring John Travolta.
— Recommended by Cheryl Holtsclaw, West Indianapolis Library
August 27, 2012
by McGarrity, Michael
Hard Country traces the years between 1875 and 1918 through the eyes of one family, the Kerneys, and their friends, enemies, and neighbors, both fictional and historical. The book opens brutally; John Kerney, within one day, acquires a son and loses his wife, brother, and nephew on the lonesome plains of West Texas. Leaving his son, Patrick, in the care of his bereaved sister-in-law, he ends up working his way into New Mexico Territory as a trail hand, finally establishing a ranch in the Tularosa Basin. Written with care, compassion, and an astute eye for beauty, the novel not only portrays a family (the good, the bad, and the ugly) through parts of three generations, but the politics and history--both human and natural--of the state they call home. Readers please note that this book is closer to the works of Larry McMurtry and Ivan Doig than those of Zane Grey. Followers of McGarrity’s Kevin Kerney police procedurals will find immediately that this is part of the back story of McGarrity’s modern day detective.
— Recommended by Miriam Guidero, Glendale Library.
August 20, 2012
Lincoln: A Novel
by Vidal, Gore
Gore Vidal’s death on July 31st made me think of his 1984 novel about Abraham Lincoln, which I read shortly after it was published. The story is told from different points of view. As always with Vidal, nothing is sacred, no tradition goes unchallenged. One character remarks that Lincoln may have split a few rails in his time, but he was always a lawyer and a politician. Yet I have to say that despite all the debunking in the book, despite the revisionist view of Lincoln, I had a greater admiration than ever when I finished the book. All these years after reading the book, I remember the astonishment of one character when he realizes how fiercely focused Lincoln is on maintaining the union. And I remember the difficulty with which Lincoln speaks about his wife's developing mental illness. When you look at a collection of Vidal quotations that was thrown together on the web at his death(http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/01/gore-vidal-best-quotes), he might come across as a snide guy. And okay, he could be that. But Keith Burris wrote an interesting essay about Vidal and William Buckley (http://blogs.providencejournal.com/ri-talks/this-new-england/2012/08/keith-c-burris-vidal-and-buckley.html); and this novel is a winner.
— Recommended by Glenn Halberstadt, Information Technology
August 13, 2012
Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West
by Wickenden, Dorothy
What could have propelled two young Society women from New York to leave their privileged lives and travel west to teach homesteaders’ children in early twentieth century Colorado? These women, Dorothy Woodruff (the author’s grandmother) and her close friend Rosamond Underwood, were both wealthy and well-educated but seemingly drifting through life, spending time in Europe, doing charity work, meeting suitable men. But in the summer of 1916 they learned of two teaching jobs in the remotest area of the Colorado Rockies. Thus began nine months that would change their lives. Their experiences there were both physically and intellectually challenging but both women seemed undaunted by it all. The novice school teachers learned much from the tough homesteaders whose lives were hard and laborious. Their year in Colorado transformed their lives as well as the lives of their students and their families. Nothing Daunted is a glimpse into two separate ways of life at the turn of the last century when eastern gentility met the wild west.
— Recommended by Kim Vanderwilt, Lawrence Library