Old Friend From Far Away, The Practice of Writing Memoir, by Natalie Goldberg

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Natalie Goldberg said of her book “Old Friend From Far Away”: “The experience I’ve had with writing this book has deepened over the months. Continually accessing my own storehouse of memories, I’ve found that the things usually lost in the busyness of day to day life have instead become part of my life now, enriching me tremendously. The practice itself has become the end, the reason for doing it.”

The book offers new perspective on memoir suggesting that it doesn’t have to be confined to one place, or series of events, but can be organized around themes in your life, challenges you have faced, and recurring patterns. Rather than teaching how to write a memoir it shows how to recover your memory through the practice of writing.

Goldberg tells us that to “write memoir, we must first know how to remember. Through timed, associative, and meditative exercises, the book guides you to the attentive state of thought in which you discover and open forgotten doors of memory.”  

She uses writing to explain how we can learn to connect with our senses in order to find the detail and truth in our memories.  We not only learn to find the truth but how to free ourselves from our past and change the way we think of ourselves and our lives. Thirty plus years ago her book “Writing Down The Bones” sold over one million copies and broke ground writing about with its view of writing as a Zen practice and this book still holds that view.

This is not a how to book but a book about who we are that is well worth reading.

click here to link to review of Writing Down The Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Quotes

“Too often we take notes on writing, we think about writing but never do it. I want you to walk into the heart of the storm, written words dripping off hair, eyelids, hanging from hands.” 

“The things that make you a functional citizen in society - manners, discretion, cordiality - don't necessarily make you a good writer. Writing needs raw truth, wants your suffering and darkness on the table, revels in a cutting mind that takes no prisoners...” 

“It is our hope that writing releases us. Instead maybe it deepens the echo. We call out to our past and the call comes back. We are alone--and not alone.” 

The Iliad, by Homer

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Ilion is the ancient name for the city of Troy. So literally, the Iliad means ''poem of Troy.'' The book Illiad was written by Homer in about 750BC and is the story of the Trojan war and nine years after it started the Greek army conquers Chryse, a town allied with Troy, and capture two beautiful maidens. One of the maidens is then claimed by Achilles as his own and the other is claimed by Agamemnon. The father of one of the women is the daughter of Briseis who a priest serving the god Apollo. A very large ransom is offered for the women but refused, so the Trojans pray to Apollo and ask him to send a plague on the Achaean camp.

With Zeus supporting the Trojans and Achilles refusing to fight, the Achaeans suffer great losses. Without Achilles help, the Achaeans fight on relying on Diomedes another great warrior, but they make no progress and are pushed back to their ships. Before long they are fighting the Trojans just to save their ships from fire and the end of their struggle seems close.

Patroclus convinces Achilles to let him wear his armor to fool the Trojans and to take his place in battle, wearing his armor. Patroclus presence on the battlefield in the armor helps the Achaeans push the Trojans away from the ships and back to the city walls but this ploy soon fails. Apollo knocks Patroclus’s armor to the ground, and Hector slays him.

Patroclus’s body is brought back and when Achilles learns that Hector has killed Patroclus his is filled with rage and agrees to rejoin the battle. The god Hephaestus agrees to make a new suit of armor for Achilles and he rides into the battle.

Hector has left his men outside the walls of Troy not expecting Achilles to rejoin the battle. When the Trojan army see Achilles coming toward, they run in fear back behind the city walls. Achilles kills every Trojan in his path and then confronts Hector at the walls of Troy. At first Hector runs but then with the help of the goddess Athena he is finally tricked to stop running and must fight Achilles. The battle is intense, but Hector killed and then his body is tied to Achilles chariot and dragged across the battlefield for days.

It takes an intervention from the gods to get Achilles to agree that Hector deserves a proper burial. Zeus sends the god Hermes to escort King Priam, Hector’s father and the ruler of Troy, into the Achaean camp to ask for the burial. Priam pleads with Achilles to take pity on a father and return Hector’s body. Deeply moved, Achilles finally agrees and returns Hector’s body to the Trojans. Both sides agree to a temporary truce, and Hector receives a hero’s funeral.

 The story presented in the Iliad only covers a few weeks in the final year of the Trojan war which lasted over 10 years. Homer is considered the author of"The Iliad"  but it is clearly dependent on an older oral tradition and may well have been the collective inheritance of many singer-poets over a long period of time. These singer-poets may have each brought more stories of the role of the gods in the plot?

Quotes

“Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another.” 

“Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.” 

“Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, now the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.” 

“We men are wretched things.”

Personal, A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child

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They find Reacher by running a small ad in the Army Times and he sees it and calls. The ad was simply 5 words center page in a boxed column printed in bold type: “Reacher call Rick Shoemaker.” The very senior Army officer who thought of this approach refers to him “Sherlock Homeless.”

It is an international assassination plot involving a sniper that Reacher had sent to prison over 16 years ago that beckons his service, but it does seem like a coincidence. He is paired up with another officer named Casey Nice (“Nice by name, nice by nature”).

The plot complicates itself, of course, when it seems clear that there are 4 possible snipers involved in the assassination plot and the world leaders are at risk in a coming summit in London. This pulls in security from around the world, but Casey Nice and Reacher just strike out on their own, of course. The do talk with some of their security counterparts and the see that they are all like the CIA, or the DGSE, or MI6 in Britain. Reacher adds, “But we’re all still KGB really. Old wine, new bottles.” 

The plot may suggest a predictable read but as usual Child is the master of plot and this story is one that will capture your interest.

Quotes from this Novel

“No one talked, but they all said plenty.” 

“But we’re all still KGB really. Old wine, new bottles.”

“SVR,” he said, which meant Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, which was their foreign intelligence service. Like the CIA, or the DGSE, or MI6 in Britain. Then he said, “But we’re all still KGB really. Old wine, new bottles.” 

Reacher tells us:“Socratic, they call it in college. All kinds of back and forth, designed to elicit truths implicitly known by all rational beings.”

“We both sat there mute, as if we were in a no-talking competition and serious about winning. ” 

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a novel, by Sherman Alexie

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Author Sherman Alexie’s has brought us an important story and meaningful look at real life today. This is a great book for everyone

Arnold Spirit Jr. tells us about his life as an Indian on the Spokane Reservation.  He was born with excess spinal fluid on the brain which he survived but he was left with a lisp and a stutter. He was far-sighted in one eye and near-sighted in the other. He is considered a geek. The other kids have bullied him growing up.  

Everyone was poor on the reservations, but Arnold said of his parents: “My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people.”

As a 14-year-old high school freshman rather than going outside where he was teased and beaten up, he spends a lot of time in his room drawing cartoons which illustrate much of this story. “I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods,” he says, “and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”

A teacher at school is the cause of Arnold being suspended from the reservation school. The teacher goes to his home and gives him a piece of advice: He tells him to get out of the reservation school saying  that he can do better. “The only thing you kids are being taught is how to give up,” the teacher says. Arnold transfers to Reardan High, 22 miles away in a small town full of wealthy white kids.

He excels in the new school, getting good grades and doing well on the basketball team.  He is half in a white environment and still half on the reservation dealing with its everyday realities

The author* shows us what hope is and why it grows with encouragement and environment.  A great book.

  • Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, was born in 1966. He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington.

Quotes

“I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That's right, I am a book kisser.  Maybe that's kind of perverted or maybe it's just romantic and highly intelligent.” 

“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,' I said. 'By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.” 

“Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they're the four hugest words in the world when they're put together.
You can do it………….I can do it……………………………………Let's do it.”

No Middle Name, The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories, by Lee Child

Why Lee Child? See note at bottom of review

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A collection of 12 stories with 2 from Reacher’s teenage years—especially good is the one in which 13-year-old Reacher finds himself an army brat newly arrived with his family in Okinawa faced with a neighborhood bully. That ends as expected but then he also saves his father and brother from problems and finds time and occasion to give a neighbor girl her first kiss. She asked how she did, and he told her it was a better kiss than the four other kisses he had previous experienced from 2 other girls.

For those who have not followed through so many books our hero is ex-Army. He is a ex-military policeman, 6 foot 5 inches in his socks, 220-250 lbs. an a 50-inch chest. Hair: dirty-blond. Eyes: ice-blue.  (This is Not Tom Cruise so erase that image if you have it)

The twelve stories include Too Much Time, Second Son, High Heat, Deep Down, Small Wars, James Penny’s New Identity, Everyone Talks, Not a Drill, Maybe They Have a Tradition, Guy Walks into a Bar, No Room at the Motel and The Picture of the Lonely Diner.

I like the complete longer novels, and I think Child’s skill in building up tension and anticipation is actually better suited for them, but these short stories were great.

See Literary Section re Lee Child and his work and links to all the books reviewed here. Click Here

Quotes

“Waste not, want not, make do and mend, don’t make an exhibition of yourself.” 

“I was in the 110th MP,” Reacher said. “I’m not scared of PTSD. PTSD is scared of me.” 


“Without breaking stride Reacher head-butted him full in the face. Left, right, bang. A perfect ten, for style and content, and power and precision.” 

See Lee Child Literary Section

See Literary Section for Lee Child and also see links to all his books. Click here

The Literary Section will show that I read a lot of Lee Child Books. I also read a lot of John Steinbeck, C.S. Lewis , Maya Angelou, Stepehen King and other books. I have to ask myself on occasions why do I keep reading these Jack Reacher novels? Well Stephen King can be explained in part because he is such a good writer, and I like his approach. Lee Child seems to be a master at plot. That is my excuse and I will stick with it.

 

James Baldwin, a biography, by David Leeming

Is James Baldwin an intellectual? See note at bottom of review

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James Baldwin became a literary giant with his writings exploring racism, class distinction and sexual difference in America. He was best known for his books: Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanmi’s Room, Another Country, The Fire Next Time and The Evidence of Thing Not Seen.

“Blackness and whiteness do not matter,” was at the core message of James Baldwin confrontation of the black alienation in American society. He felt that race forced and shaped ever aspect of African-American life. His writings were accepted by the white community because of his view that racism hurt both sides. It not only softened their view but hardened some fellow black writers such as Langston Hughes who said: “Jimmy, I fear you are becoming a 'Negro' writer,”

Baldwin personalized the issue of race, transforming the issue of local conflict into one of individual conscience. He defended the arts saying they should not be reduced to tools of political writing. Baldwin’s approach resonated and led to his being the best known black writer of his times.

David Leeming was close to Baldwin and wrote the story of his life tying his thoughts and growth with the books and essays Baldwin was so well known for. Leeming is a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Connecticut. He personal closeness allowed him to include and focus on Baldwin difficulty in accepting his homosexuality, his attempted suicide in Paris in 1956 and his relationship with his unloving stepfather.

The book did a good job of seeing the development of Baldwins life and how it was part of his various writings but left many questions on who Baldwin really was.

Quotes

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” 


“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” 

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” 

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

 “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be” 

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”

Is James Baldwin an Intellectual?

James Baldwin approached race issues differently than most who spoke out in his time. He was out front on the idea that discriminating and hate hurt the haters as much, or even more , than the ones that were hated and discriminated against.

The question is does this insight really make him into a intellectual? Was his comments the result of intensive reasoning and deep thinking? Did he study our humanness, as Shakespeare did?

He did respond to conclusions about his own human condition but wouldn’t a better question have been “why do we hate others” rather than focusing on how we go about hate and why it hurts us?

Overcoming Addiction, The Spiritual Solution, by Deepak Chopra

Does it make sense to talk about a spiritual solution and then define spiritual as mystical? See note at end of review

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Deepak Chopra, M.D. sees the addicted individual as one having potential, and one who is just a misguided seeker.  The true object that we are all seeking he tells us is transcendence and he wants to show us how to reach this condition in his book “Overcoming Addiction, The Spiritual Solution.”

He suggests that addiction is manifest in a variety of mood-altering substances and that they can include alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, drugs, and even just food. Traditional approaches in dealing with addiction are negative, instilling fear as a motivator. Chopra guides the reader to replacing addiction with lasting sources of joy and spiritual fulfillment.

The spiritual is explained as being mystical, an advanced sense of self, beyond our normal self and reaching a point where we abandon the self. * (See note at end) To do this we need, according to Chopra, a new medicine: one in which mind, consciousness, meaning and intelligence work together to conquer self. He believes that a person may attain "perfect health".  He further develops this theme in another book, “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old.”

The ideas in the book are interesting but didn’t really address what the human spirit is, in this reviewer’s opinion.

Quotes

“If you want to do really important things in life and big things in life, you can’t do anything by yourself. And your best teams are your friends and your siblings.” 

 “Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention.”

“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” 

 “The greatest mystery of existence is existence itself.” 

 “The highest levels of performance come to people who are centered, intuitive, creative, and reflective – people who know to see a problem as an opportunity.” 

“Meditation makes the entire nervous system go into a field of coherence.

Does it make sense to talk about a spiritual solution and then define spiritual as mystical?

Maybe Chopra means what he says when he suggests that the spiritual “can be explained by the mystical” suggesting the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender? Calling the spirit mystical seems like he is dodging his own issue?

Is he saying the intellect itself is only physical? If we can take what we learn with us into the next life then the intellect needs to be spiritual as well.

Mysticism is a belief that union with, or absorption into the Deity, is possible; but that implies that the spiritual is not already within us as humans?

If our spirits are within us then we can find the solutions buy building on our spirits to overcome weakness.

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I'd Rather Be Reading, The Delights And Dilemmas Of The Reading Life, by Anne Bogel

 

A little book that we ought to read once or twice a year to really reinforce our love of books. Not that reinforcement is needed but it nice to hear all our own thoughts put so well.

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Anne Bogel tells us, no surprise here, that the most common question she gets is “Can you recommend a great book?” The question comes she says, “Because I’m a writer, certified book nerd and all-around bookish enthusiast, people ask me the question all the time.” Her book reminds us that there are “few one-size-fits-all prescriptions for reading life.”

The book offers 21 chapters. I was surprised at how interesting the one on “How to Organize Your Bookshelves” was. Her chapter on “The Readers I Have Been” and “Coming of Age” offer interesting insight into how we change because of what we read, and the one on “Again for the First Time” discusses why a good book, when we return to re-read it, will always have something new to say. It’s not the same book and were not the same reader.

“A good book, when we return to it, will always have something new to say. It's not the same book, and we're not the same reader” 

I suspect that when I re-read this book I will find it different and it will have a new updated message for me, so I plan to do just that.

Quotes

“When we share our favorite titles, we can't help but share ourselves as well. Shakespeare said the eyes are the windows to the soul, but we readers know one's bookshelves reveal just as much.”

“Yet she wondered if her experience was cheapened because she’d read it before she lived it,” 

  “A “great” book means different things to different people.” 

“C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Friendship . . . is born at the moment when one man says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” 

Gone Tomorrow, A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child

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Early one morning on a nearly empty Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue subway car Jack Reacher notices a woman passenger he suspects is a suicide bomber. She matches the 12-point profile perfectly, but he dismissed the thought. “Not because of racial profiling. White woman are as capable of craziness as anyone else.”  He thought the timing was wrong and that it had “tactical implausibility.”

He was wrong, and it led to him finding himself on the trail leading back to the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan in the 1980’s.

The story takes place mostly in New York City and has an urban poetry in the way the streets and buildings are analyzed like it was just a jungle to traverse using strength and guile to win.

Child continues to surprise us with the twists and turns of his plots but “Gone Tomorrow” , book 13, introduces in an unexpected way how we see evil manifests itself.

See Literary Favorites Section: Lee Child click here

Quotes

“Delta is full of guys who can stay awake for a week and walk a hundred miles and shoot the balls off a tsetse fly, but it’s relatively empty of guys who can do all that and then tell you the difference between a Shiite and a trip to the latrine.” 

“Look, don't see, listen, don't hear. The more you engage, the longer you survive.”

“Delta is full of guys who can stay awake for a week and walk a hundred miles and shoot the balls off a tsetse fly, but it’s relatively empty of guys who can do all that and then tell you the difference between a Shiite and a trip to the latrine.” 


“Look, don't see, listen, don't hear. The more you engage, the longer you survive.” 

""Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in his shoes. Then when you start criticizing him, you’re a mile away and he’s got to run after you in his socks." 

Will The Real Jack Reacher Please Stand Up

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