Andrea Miller’s roundup this issue features books on yoga, parenting, and our connections to animals, plus the new novel by Silver Linings Playbook author Matthew Quick.
THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW
By Matthew Quick
Harper 2014; 304 pp., $25.99 (cloth)
In her final days, Bartholomew’s mother believes (or pretends to believe) that he’s Richard Gere. And being a mama’s boy wanting to make his mama happy, Bartholomew pretends right back. But the contrast is stark. Unlike the celebrity Buddhist, Bartholomew has never slept with a model (or anyone, for that matter). He isn’t passionate about any cause; he doesn’t even have a job. Then his mother dies, and as Bartholomew is putting aside her lightly used undergarments for the local thrift shop, he finds a form letter from Gere urging the boycott of the 2008 Olympics held in China. In his grief, Bartholomew writes to the movie star, sharing his deepest, saddest secrets and his spot-on observations about faith, power, and propriety. Gere never writes back but letter by letter Bartholomew creates a life for himself and—along the way—has a host of quirky adventures. The Good Luck of Right Now is a charming epistolary novel by Matthew Quick, the author of The Silver Linings Playbook.
ZOO BURBIA: Meditations on the Wild Animals Among Us
By Tai Moses
Parallax Press 2014; 272 pp., $14.95 (paper)
In becoming a backyard farmer, Tai Moses found herself at odds with nature. Although chickens are supposed to like eating slugs, the three she’d bought preferred corn and yogurt, so slugs were free to voraciously chew her garden. Weeds, deer, caterpillars, and raccoons were likewise a constant threat. One day, spying a deer nibbling her irises, Moses realized that they were not actually hers. Wild animals had always lived on this land, but now they were hemmed in by streets. While she had other means of getting food, they did not. Moses gave away her chickens, pulled up her vegetables, and set about turning her yard into an informal animal sanctuary. As she explains it, the world is rife with problems that we cannot solve, but we can all plant our backyards, balconies, and community gardens with native plants, which can in turn support native insects, birds, and animals. And while these plots of land may be small, they add up to something big. Zoo Burbia—a book woven through with Buddhist teachings—is a heartfelt collection of first-person essays about the relationships between humans and animals.
A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Raising Emotionally Resilient Children
By Krissy Pozatek
Wisdom Publications 2014; 200 pp., $17.95 (paper)
MISADVENTURES OF A PARENTING YOGI
Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting
By Brian Leaf
New World Library 2014; 240 pp., $14.95 (paper)
Shantideva, an eighth-century Buddhist sage, once remarked that in order to protect our feet from injury, we can either try covering the whole Earth with leather or we can simply put on shoes. According to the licensed clinical social worker Krissy Pozatek, the most prevalent parenting style today is analogous to option one. With all of the best intentions, many modern parents attempt to shield their children from any and all difficulties. Unfortunately, cushioned from discomfort, these children do not acquire the life skills they need to be self-confident, adaptable, resourceful, or emotionally resilient. Brave Parenting is about how to give kids a pair of proverbial shoes. The first step, Pozatek counsels, is to teach children how to experience difficult emotions, such as sadness, anger, and failure, without reactivity. And to teach that lesson, she says, we first need to learn it for ourselves.
The memoir Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi takes us into the home of Brian Leaf, a father of two who is attempting to integrate parenthood with his spiritual life. He concludes that, though little kids look awfully cute doing cobra pose, they don’t need yoga, as they are already relaxed and present. Yoga, however, does help him open his mind and see his kids as they are, rather than how he’d like them to be. While Leaf is a dad of the ultra “granola” and loving variety, he has a sense of humor about it. Paying $400 for used cloth diapers, planting the placenta under an oak tree, and wrestling babies into car seats are all opportunities for him to poke gentle fun.
LIVING WITH A WILD GOD
A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Grand Central Publishing 2014; 242 pp., $26 (cloth)
Growing up in a staunchly atheist family, Barbara Ehrenreich became a non-believer, a rationalist, the sort of person who always asked “why.” Nonetheless, as a teenager she had a series of what might be called “mystical experiences,” which she had no framework for understanding. Ehrenreich clearly remembers the first one. She was at a horse show with her family and, feeling bored, she wandered off. Then, without warning, she found herself under the pale late summer sun, staring at a tree, but with all meaning, inference, association, labels, and words erased. The word “tree” was gone, she says, “along with all the notions of tree-ness that had accumulated in the last dozen or so years since I had acquired language.” Yet, she continues, “even with all human attributions—the words, the names of species, the wisps of remembered tree-related poetry, the fables of photosynthesis and capillary action… there was still something left.” Now some fifty years later, Ehrenreich explores her “dissociative” episodes through the lenses of science and psychology, philosophy and religion. And she does so with an exquisite use of language.
Life and Poetry of Lotus Moon
Translation and biography by John Stevens
Echo Point Books & Media 2014; 182 pp., $14.99 (paper)
Rengetsu is widely considered to be one of Japan’s most remarkable female poets. Sadly, her life was marked by tragedy. She was born in 1791, the love child of a courtesan and a samurai, and was given up for adoption. Her first marriage was to a womanizer and drunk, while her second marriage—a happy one—ended with her husband’s untimely death. By the time she was forty-two, all of her children, plus her adoptive mother, father, and siblings, were all dead. Rengetsu ordained in the Pure Land Buddhist tradition, but in Japan there were virtually no nunneries so she was forced to fend for herself. While she was an accomplished Go player and martial artist, being a woman without means, it wasn’t possible for her make a living using these skills. She settled on making and selling pottery, which she incised with original poems, and her work proved to be both compelling and distinctly her own. This new volume presents a moving sampling of Rengetsu’s poetry and art. “Listen closely,” she wrote. “At this mountain temple, / The sound of the wind in the pines / And the whistle of a kettle / Are the voice of Buddha.”
ZEN AND THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES
By Ruben L.F. Habito
Orbis Books 2013; 237 pp., $25 (paper)
Íñigo Lopez de Loyola was the sort of man who swaggered around in tight hose and boots with a dagger at his waist. He got into duels and flirted with court ladies. Then, at age thirty, he was badly wounded during a battle and suddenly understood the pointlessness of his old pursuits and thereby dedicated himself to God. Íñigo Lopez de Loyola became St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is a systematic program of contemplative practice, that is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality, but these exercises can also be embraced by people from other spiritual paths. As a former Jesuit priest who is authorized as a Zen teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition, Ruben L.F. Habito is uniquely qualified to unpack the Spiritual Exercises from a Zen perspective.