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Newsletter Number 4 • March 7, 2005

 

Remember in grammar school after summer vacation, inevitably the first assignment would be to write an essay on what you did during your summer vacation? I have just returned from a winter vacation. We spent about 2 weeks in Cabo San Lucas, which despite the massive building and yuppification that has taken place in the 20 years since our family first went there, remains a wonderful vacation choice given its awesome natural beauty, fabulous weather, and still unspoiled and very warm and friendly native population. So, I have given myself the assignment to write an essay on what I read during my vacation.

Despite have been an English major in college, and having enrolled in a PhD program in English Literature after college; for the most part I no longer read much fiction. On this trip I decided to read mostly fiction, one book I had never read and a couple of which I had read and enjoyed in the past.

Tony suggested I read Martin Eden, by Jack London. Although he told me he thought it was one of the greatest novels ever written, I was highly skeptical. I vaguely remember having to read Call of the Wild, in either high school or junior high school and not liking it very much. Tony’s advice was right on target. I agree that Martin Eden is one of the best novels I have ever read. London’s writing skills are exceptional. He paints wonderful word pictures and generates incredible descriptions without excess verbosity or a ponderous style. The book has an interesting plot, fascinating characters, and describes a time and the people inhabiting it (the turn of the Twentieth Century), which I found most fascinating. The book deals with all the important issues, from sociology to politics, and from religion to philosophy. The main character is full of passion and love and even despair. On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate this a 10 and urge everyone to read it, with only one caveat. If you get the Penguin Book edition I would skip the introduction by Andrew Sinclair, and read it after having finished the novel. Martin Eden is a very rich and provocative book and I would think it would be a great candidate for a book club.

Despite the fact that I had re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five only about 2 years ago, I decided to read it again. The only thing that disappointed me was that I read it in about a day and it ended so soon. I continue to believe it is probably the most under-rated novel of the 20th Century. The life story of Billy Pilgrim is moving, pathetic, very funny, and touches upon many of the deep philosophical issues encountered by all thinking men and women. Billy’s sojourn on Tralfamadore and the views of time, space, and reality he learns from the Tralfamadorians are nothing short of mind-blowing and mind-expanding. I don’t know if Vonnegut ever heard of or studied Eastern philosophy, but this novel is the ultimate expression of Advaita Vedanta. I really love this book and will look forward to reading it again in another couple of years. Whether you read this book for his social commentary, philosophical implications or just for a good “yuk” I believe you will be very happy you decided to read it.

I discovered Hermann Hesse in college, when I read Steppenwolf for a senior seminar I was taking on Psychoanalysis and Literature. It was the perfect time in my life to read that book, and it almost became my Bible. As the years passed I read most of Hesse’s other works, a number of which are outstanding. (Last year, while staying in India, I re-read Siddhartha, and liked it much more than when I first read it more than 30 years ago.) My choice for this trip was Narcissus and Goldmund. This is a rather ponderous and heavy-handed treatment via an allegorical story of the dialectics between mind and feelings, spirit and flesh, logic and emotion and the eternal struggle between the philosopher and the artist. Because it is so heavy and rather slow moving this book is probably not for everyone. On the other hand, because Hesse is such a beautiful and mystical thinker and writer it is certainly worthwhile for many of us. Hesse is an extremely wise and experienced man and his deep philosophical insights and experiences with creativity and love all contribute to a meaningful book. I will leave you with a short message delivered by Narcissus (the monk/pure logician and philosopher) to Goldmund (the epitome of the sensual worldly seeker and artist) near the end of the book:

“You should not envy me, Goldmund. There is no peace of the sort you imagine. Oh, there is peace of course, but not anything that lives within us constantly and never leaves us. There is only the peace that must be won again and again, each new day of our lives. You don’t see me fight, you don’t know my struggles as Abbot, my struggles in the prayer cell. A good thing that you don’t. You only see that I am less subject to moods than you, and you take that for peace. But my life is struggle; it is struggle and sacrifice like every decent life; like yours too."

I read other books which I am not recommending, but do have one new non-fiction I enjoyed and would recommend to some, but not all of you. The book is My Life in Orange, by Tim Guest. Guest’s book is a memoir of his childhood growing up in the communes of “Bhagwan Rajneesh” a/k/a “Osho”. Rajneesh/Osho was an interesting and arguably important Guru, having tens of thousands of followers he dubbed as Sannyasins. Most people remember Osho best for his aborted communal effort in Oregon and the 93 Rolls Royce automobiles he owned there. More books have been published by and about Osho in India than any other author or subject. Rajneesh was a Gurdjieff like teacher combining his self-proclaimed status as an enlightened master with a mischievousness that could be instantly recognized in his eyes and mannerisms not to mention his controversial teachings and practices. If you don’t know much about Osho this would not be the book to start with. I would recommend the compilation of his lectures turned into a biography, Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic, reviewed and recommended on our website. This book is unique, being a child’s eye view of the world of ashram living, since the child was thrust in this situation as opposed to having made a willful choice. Guest does a great job of remembering anecdotes and he is a very fine writer. The book is entertaining, even funny is places, but overall it is a story of how parental seeking can result in a less than ideal experience for the child and his family. This book is quite unique and really is, as quoted on the back cover “an extraordinary memoir.”

A good friend suggested I read George Elliot. I remember not liking Silas Marner, as required reading in high school, but if anyone has any comments, pro or con, on other of her works, please send me an email. Or for that matter, if you have any comments about the above recommendations or any other books, I would love to receive some feedback. Contact me at leno@lisco.com. Len Oppenheim

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