September Book Reviews

Reviews by Len Oppenheim

During the last month or so I have had more time than usual to read, and I have read at least a half-dozen books (three of them were quite short). I enjoyed these books, but when I thought about which one or ones I would recommend in our September newsletter I began thinking about reading and the time spent reading and why I and/or most people read.

For me, reading is kind of an addiction. I go into the bookstore and like a kid in a candy store my eyes grow wide and I find all sorts of goodies I want to devour. My guess is that for most people reading is a much more selective process. Most people don’t have much time to read and they want to invest their reading time very wisely. That makes sense to me. So, I decided that instead of recommending some decent books which I enjoyed I would go back to the archives and recommend a few books that I think are so special that everyone must read them. If you don’t read these books I really believe you are missing out on really outstanding experiences. Most of the books I am recommending I have read more than once and will probably read again in the coming years.

My first recommendation is on the current best-seller lists. In fact I recommended it last month. Since then I have had feedback from friends and family and universally it has met with great enthusiasm. If you want to be inspired, uplifted, engrossed, and captivated please do not go another day without reading Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. You can read my review by going back to last month’s newsletter.

Have you played the “game” of answering the question: “If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, from the 20th Century, who would it be?”? I have played with this idea on many occasions over the years, and the answer has not always been the same. Today my answer would be Richard P. Feynman, author of Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character. Feynman was a truly unique and captivating human being. A Nobel Prize winning physicist, a “professional” safe cracker, a legendary professor, and so much more, Feynman’s autobiography or memoir is funny, honest, revealing, and enlightening. After you read it, and you must, go for his other book, What do You Care What Other People Think? Click on the title for a link to my reviews of both books.

If I didn’t choose to have dinner with Feynman I would likely choose Einstein. I guess I have this “thing” for physicists. Einstein needs no introduction. The recent biography, by Walter Isaacson: Einstein: His Life and Universe qualifies as perhaps the best biography I have ever read. Isaacson is not a physicist (but his father was) so the math and physics in the book are readily understandable by the layman. Einstein was an absolutely fascinating human being and this book is thorough as well as being a page-turner. If you like Einstein even one-half as much as I do you will also want to own a copy of The New Quotable Einstein, collected and edited by Alice Calaprice. This book is like magic. You can open it to any page and be entertained and enchanted. I keep a copy on desk and thumb through it whenever I need some insight or inspiration.

I do read fiction. For many years I thought that The Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoyevsky was the greatest novel ever written, with Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy a very close 2nd. A couple of years ago, after re-reading Slaughterhouse Five, because it was one of my son Mike’s favorite books, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five has become my favorite novel of all time.

I have become very interested in the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, especially as expressed the writings and teachings of Sri Nisargadatta and Ramesh Balsekar. I don’t think Vonnegut was a student of Advaita, and I doubt he ever heard of Nisargadatta or Balsekar, but I think this brilliant novel is not only laugh-out loud funny, a deep and meaningful social commentary, but is also the best expression of Vedanta on the planet. That means, in my opinion it outshines the great classic, The Bhagavad Gita.

In terms of novels written in the last few years, my two favorites are Shantaram and Kite Runner. If you have not had the pleasure of reading them you have a great treat in store for yourself.

It has been a very delightful summer in Iowa, and from what I hear, also on the East Coast. I hope autumn brings more good weather and lots of good times for everyone.

Reviews by Tony Kainauskus

Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos is a real gem. Lonely lost characters that bond with other lonely lost souls, become part of something much greater than themselves. Add in some references to old Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart/Katherine Hepburn movies and you have an evening of reading that will be savored. Love Walked In (A New York Times best seller) is sweet (but not to an overcooked sweetness) and intelligent, with sharp humor. If you are looking for a positive uplifting read, then this story is one you will enjoy thoroughly.

The story of a young lonely woman, highly educated yet managing a café, and her unexpected friendship with an 11 year old girl, (whose mother is slowly losing her mental capabilities) is my recommendation for the pulling of the strings of your heart read of 2008. The nature of various relationships we as humans experience is examined with a cleverness of writing that you cannot be anything but touched by. The writing is lovely in style and the passages ring with truth about loneliness and deep love.

This is a romantic yet literate novel, brilliantly executed. Marisa’s book may be considered more appropriate for a woman reader, but then again I enjoyed it tremendously.

Some days a door opens unexpectedly and our lives change forever.

The novel is being made into a film starring Sarah Jessica Parker.

If you have any interest in personal anecdotes of being with Swami Muktananda, Sai Baba, Rajneesh, various healers, fortune tellers and other representatives of the mystical world., then I suggest you read : Kali Yuga Odyssey by JT Ross. JT has a deep scientific background, having received a degree in Engineering Physics. This is a story of his personal quest propelled by his deep curiosity for things of the spiritual realm. He begins his story with encounters with the renowned psychiatrist Stanislav Grof. With Grof the author has a powerful experience of elevated consciousness.. This dramatic shift causes him to seek answers which lead him to encounters with many varied teachers and exponents of mysticism.

His trips to ashrams in India and to various other power centers such as Findhorn in Scotland, makes this a welcome edition to any spiritual seeker’s library. My favorite sections were the ones in Muktananda’s ashram in India and the intense therapeutic session he encountered with devotees of Sri Rajneesh (Osho)

The writing can be a little dry at times, but the book does maintain one’s interest throughout.

The author is currently one of the founders of Gaia Trust. The trust gives grants to over 80 ecological projects in 20 countries and has established a network of eco-villages.

As is Len I am also a book addict (sometimes reading several at one time) here are my favorite spiritual reads.

My all time favorite is Silence of the Heart by Robert Adams

This is followed closely by Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing and Spiritual Warfare; both by Jed McKenna.

I round this out with Duet of One by Ramesh Balsekar

Please click on the titles for our reviews.

The blank space always intimidates me… It asks for a part of me … I fear of giving out too much. Yet what responds to the emptiness only seems to come from me, but I have no volition. Words appear and fill up the void leaving me in awe of the power of creation. Who is the one who gets the credit…the blame? When will I learn to fully trust?