Small Gods

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Now consider the tortoise and the eagle.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s kind of stream of consciousness, without any chapters… but if you’re okay with that, then there’s nothing else to stop you. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Outside of the Tiffany Aching books, I’ve never spent anytime in Discworld. I knew about it, of course, but I’ve never read any of the other ones. And this seemed like, well, a decent enough place to start.

It’s slow to start, and took a very meandering route to a plot. (I’m not entirely sure it really HAD a plot…)  There’s a god, Om, who used to be a Big Deal, and while he has a lot of followers (there’s a whole country and a citadel and a whole religion), he doesn’t have a lot of, well, belief. And so, he’s been relegated to being a turtle for a few years. That is, until he’s accidentally dropped by an eagle into the citadel gardens and meets Brutha. Who is just a simple novice. And who can hear Om talking in his head.

And he goes on an adventure (of sorts) to figure things out.

There’s a bit more to it than that, but it’s all a bit complex and somewhat convoluted. I will say this: it’s not Tiffany Aching, but Pratchett makes a person care about the characters. I loved Om and Brutha, and even some of the other characters. And he gently pokes fun at religion and theocracies and philosophy. It’s not my favorite Pratchett (give me the Nac Mac Feegle any day), but it was an enjoyable one to read.

The Tao of Pooh

taoofpoohby Benjamin Hoff
First sentence: “‘What’s this you’re writing?’ asked Pooh, climbing onto the writing table.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a primer on philosophy and the Tao Te Ching. If that sounds interesting, then it’s probably your speed. It’s in the Religion/Philosophy section of the bookstore.

Of COURSE one follows up Winnie-the-Pooh with The Tao of Pooh, right?

Right.

I’d read this once, a long time ago (probably after I was first married because the copy we have is Hubby’s), and honestly didn’t remember it much at all.

It’s an interesting hybrid of imitating the Pooh stories, an analysis of the stories and a comparison to the Tao Te Ching. I enjoyed the comparisons of Pooh to the principles of Tao, because it helped explain these admittedly foreign (at least to me) principles in a way I could understand. It reinforced the idea that meditation — the act of actively doing nothing — and being present in the moment are Good Things. And it reinforced the idea that not getting caught up in Ideas and letting your brain run away with itself is not healthy.

The only downside is that while Pooh (and sometimes Piglet) gets all the Praise, he kind of knocks Eeyore, Rabbit, and Owl, and I do have a soft spot for them. So it was kind of sad to see that, at least in the Way, they’re less valued.

Even so, it was a good reminder of helpful practices and good ideas that I needed.

Audiobook: The Inquisitor’s Tale

inquisitorstaleby Adam Gidwitz
Read by the author and Vikas Adam, Mark Bramhall, Jonathan Cowley, Kimberly Farr, Ann Marie Lee, Bruce Mann, John H. Mayer, and Arthur Morey
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils.
Content: There’s a lot of poop and fart jokes, plus a bit of a running ass/donkey joke. It’s also a bit, well, long, and some violent moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but it’d probably be good up through the 8th grade or so.

I’ll be honest here: I tried reading this one and I didn’t make it through the third chapter. It just didn’t grab me.

The story is this: in the 13th century there are three children who can perform miracles. And someone is asking about them, collecting their story. Told in stages by several people over the course of a night, it follows the children — Jeanne, a peasant girl who has vision; William, a super strong oblate; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with healing powers — how they met, their run from the church and then the king, with a showdown outside of Mont-Saint-Michel.

It’s a very religious story (which shouldn’t have surprised me, considering when it was set), but it also deals with race relations and bigotry and just oppression in general. I think audio was the way to go for me on this one. I loved that the different tale tellers had different narrators reading the tale, each giving it their own spin. It made the tale come alive for me. (Maybe this is one that’s better read aloud?)

So, I’m glad I gave it a second chance. It was worth it.

Siddhartha

by Herman Hesse
First sentence: “In the shadow of the house, in the sun on the riverbank by the boats, in the shadow of the sal-tree forest, in the shadow of the fig tree, Siddhartha, the beautiful brahmin’s son, the young falcon, grew up with his friend, the brahmin’s son Govinda.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s dense. And there’s some illusion to sex, though nothing graphic. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I picked this up because I was looking for something to fill out one of my last bingo squares, one on a religion I knew very little about. I picked Buddhism, mostly because it’s the one I know the least about (though I do know some). A friend suggested this, even though it’s written by a Westerner, because it’s an accessible read for Westerners about a Buddha-like character and Buddhist thought.

It’s basically the life journey of Siddhartha, a young, well-to-do man in India (I’m assuming). He starts out with everything and then gives it up to join the shramanas, a group the eschews material things in search of knowledge and nirvana. He leads that life for a while, until he sees a beautiful woman, and he gives up his path for the path of material things and love. He finds happiness for a while, but eventually gives that up for a simpler life of service and meditation by a river.

I’m not sure I fully got what this book was supposed to teach me. It’s one of those that I think will be different at different stages of your life, and that multiple readings will lend to more insights. I’m glad I read it, even if I didn’t fully understand it. It’s definitely given me something to think about.

The Joy of Living

by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
First sentence: “When you’re trained as a Buddhist, you don’t think of Buddhism as a religion.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s pretty complex, and somewhat dull, so it’d probably appeal to those who have the patience for it. It’d be in the religion section of the bookstore.

This was for another bingo square. I initially picked it up to cover “a religion you don’t know about” (hard for me, actually) but ended up using it as “popular psychology” because this was less about Buddhism and more about the scientific benefits of meditation.

And there are many: Rinpoche draws upon Western studies proving that the brain is calmer and that people are healthier when you meditate. And he explores some of the Western preconceptions about meditation: how we’re often intimidated by it because it seems so, well, unattainable.

He gives some practical advice for meditating: shorter times, more frequently during the day. And I’ve tried to take some of what he said to heart. During my last “down” time (I suffer from intermittent depression; it’s not chronic, but it is there and it is real), I worked on being attentive to my feelings and breathing through the sadness. I won’t say it worked well (or even much at all), but I did manage to come out of the funk faster than in the past. I need to get into the habit (again; I used to meditate more often) of stopping and unplugging and just Be longer.

I did find that a lot of this was familiar to me through my experiences with yoga over the years. A truly mindful yoga practice (of which I am not doing right now; I still go to yoga, but it’s more about the physical movement rather than a mindful practice) will incorporate elements of Buddhist meditation, I think.

It has made me curious about Buddhism, though. I think I’m going to hunt down and read more.

Audiobook: Small Victories

by Anne Lamott
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: She likes the word s**t, and drops about five f-bombs.  Which kind of caught me off-guard. It’s in the religion/philosophy section of the bookstore.

I’ve been curious about Anne Lamott for a while now; she’s an incredibly popular author at the store. I was in between audio books recently and discovered this one, and it was delightfully short. I figured audio was a good way to experience her.

This is basically a series of short reflections on life, God, and the intersection of the two. For the record: Lamott is a liberal, which I don’t mind at all, and was very against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (Several of the essays are from around that time period.) She belongs to a church in northern California. She has a son, and lots and lots of friends, many of whom are suffering from serious illnesses. She has a good sense of humor, and is honest about her struggles with God, people, and just life in general.

In many ways, the words were just what I needed to hear: we’re all human, we’re all trying. God is in connecting with other people and reaching out to love them.

What I didn’t like so much, was Lamott’s reading of her own work. I understand why she needed to read her own words; it would have been odd otherwise. But Lamott read in such a way that it soundedlikeonereallylongsentancewithoutevertakingapauseorevenraisedorloweredhervoicewithsentenceinflection. When I concentrated to hear the words, I loved it. But her reading of them almost turned me off altogether. I’m glad I stuck it through to the end, for the thoughts and ideas. But, I wish Lamott had been a better narrator.

Shadow Scale

by Rachel Hartman
First sentence: “I returned to myself.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Seraphina
Release date: March 10, 2015
Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at work.
Content: It’s pretty complex, when it comes to keeping tabs on everything that’s going on, and it’s fairly long and slow-moving as well. It’s also more mature in its sensibilities, though there’s not much else that would put it in the Teen section (grades 9+). Even so, that’s where I shelve these.

There’s so much going on in this novel that, much like Seraphina, it’s kind of difficult to put all of what’s going on down on paper. (Or the internet, for that matter.) On the one hand, this is a straight-forward road trip: to help her friend Glisselda, who is now queen of Goredd, Seraphina goes on a quest to find the other ityasaari — those who are half-dragon, half-human. She feels that, if she gets everyone in one place, they’ll be able to create a mind-field to keep the renegade dragons out of the city. Seraphina initially thinks this will be a simple task: go into the surrounding countries, locate the ityasaari, get back to Goredd and they will all live happily-ever-after.

Thankfully for the reader, it’s not that simple. There are obstacles in Serpahina’s way, and not least of all is Jannoula, an abused, embittered, scheming ityasaari who has the ability to manipulate the humans (and dragons) around her. She is there every step of the way, adding conflict, tension, and suspense to Seraphina’s path.

Also like Seraphina, there’s much to love about this one. Hartman’s world-building is impeccable, and it’s fantastic to see what she’s done with the other cultures, religions, and people surrounding Goredd. The romance that was budding at the end of Seraphina is still here, but it takes a back-seat to Seraphina’s journeys and allows Seraphina to become her own strong woman independent of anyone else. That said, there’s some surprises by the end of the book, ones that I thought were thoroughly refreshing.

Speaking of the end, about two-thirds of the way through, I worried that Hartman wasn’t going to wrap up the story, but she pulled through. In classic high-fantasy style, she gives us an epic and truly fantastic ending, one that is thoroughly satisfying while staying true to the story, characters, and world she built.

Hartman is truly a writer to keep an eye out for. Whatever she touches is just amazing.