On Books and Reading

On Books & Reading


I usually recommend reading a book before seeing the movie version. However, I am re-thinking my position after watching Ron Howard’s film, In the Heart of the Sea. I’d just finished the book by Nathaniel Philbrick and loved it—about the ramming and sinking of the whaleship Essex by an enraged sperm whale in 1820, the inspiration for Melville’s Moby Dick. I was eager to see what Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) would do with it.

The film was certainly spectacular, with gee-whiz special effects and a taut tension running throughout, but I realized that I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t read the book first. I was continually distracted by the film's departure from historical accuracy. “That’s not right,” I would find myself thinking. “It didn’t happen like that.” “They made that part up.”

To make matters worse, there were all these rude people sitting around me in the theater, going, “Sh!-Sh!-Sh!”

May 19, 2015

Reading Dickens' unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Hurrying to see how it doesn't end.











April 12, 2015

The shortest book review I ever read was for David Leavitt's 1998 novel, The Page Turner--"It's not."

I admire Leavitt's writing but suggest that one would do better to start with his novel, The Lost Language of Cranes (1986), or his short story collection, Family Dancing (1984).


February 24, 2015 

I like this time of day:

In the late afternoon, the books in my living room begin to glow, appearing golden, as if revealing their true value.

Erasmus, the Renaissance humanist, famously wrote: "When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes."

We all have our priorities.

(He also less-famously wrote "Your library is your paradise." 

I have at times turned to my books, whether seeking enlightenment or entertainment, insight or solace, or simply to enjoy the company of great minds, and have thought, "Welcome to Paradise.")




January 15, 2015

This past year a Facebook friend posted her ten favorite books and invited me and others to share ours as part of a continuing chain. I quickly jotted down my definitive list, but then, fearing it might appear pretentious (Plato? Really?), failed to post it. (I have since lived with the guilt that the entire chain probably collapsed because of me.)

As a way of atonement—and safe in the knowledge that probably no one will read this—I post them here.

Books are like people one meets along the path of one’s life: Most make little impact; some are memorable; a few touch us deeply.

And some transform us. We are changed in the encounter. They become markers on our spiritual journey, part of the soul’s DNA.

This is not intended as a recommended reading list. Such "favorite books" lists are very personal, individual and idiosyncratic. These books are postcards from my life’s journey.


The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

The first time that the distant Past spoke to me in its own voice--and whereby I found a soul mate from the sixth century.


Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I first read it in middle school, and then again several years later in high school, amazed that it was the same book: this boys’ tale of adventure and survival had become a dark meditation on human nature.


Phaedo (On the Soul) by Plato

The book that taught me how to die. I would later build Socrates’ attitude toward death into both Emily Hargraves and Tales of Tokyo.


The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevski

My vote for the Great Russian Novel, it’s the story of four brothers: the gentle monk Alyosha, the disillusioned intellectual Ivan; the drinking and whoring sensualist Dmitri; the bitter nihilist Smerdyakov. My college literature professor proposed that each brother was seeking God in his own way--and my narrow understanding of the spiritual quest was shattered forever.


War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The other heavy contender for the title of Great Russian Novel, it took me four attempts over many years to get into this leviathan. But once I broke through the dull opening soiree scene, I couldn’t put it down.


The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis

This is the book that made the character of Jesus come alive for me—portrayed as an emotionally disturbed young man, driven mad by the Divine, until he comes to understand and accept the purpose of his terrible spiritual destiny. His final temptation on the cross still causes shivers within me.


The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I find characters in most historical novels to be really just modern selves dressed in period costumes. Eco showed what it was like to see the world through the medieval mind. At the core of the book is a dialogue between Brother William (Reason) and the Inquisitor (Faith), which showed me that an entertaining mystery could also be a book of ideas.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

A man, accompanied by his twelve year-old son, takes a motorcycle trip across the country in search of his past while wrestling with the big questions of life. Genre-bending (or blending), it was personal memoir, mystery, and philosophical reverie.


Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

This simple tale of the Buddha taught me the narrative power and beauty of allegory.


The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

My favorite book from late childhood, and probably the first real page-turner I ever read. I was fascinated less by the story of the count’s terrible revenge, than the education and transformation of Edmund Dantes while imprisoned on the Chateau d’If.