Friday, February 10, 2006

Books by my bedside

Here's a sample of what I'm reading, and what I've recently read.
Some of these books have been by my bedside for months.
Some will go back to the shelves unread.
Some will change my life in one way or another, big or small.
The great thing about books is that if I have enough of them lying around, guests to my house think I'm very wise -- even if I know good and well that I haven't read half of them. :)

Bob Dylan, "Chronicles, Volume One" -- A beautiful book that reads like an exquisite extended lyric. I just finished this one. I'm not a huge Dylan fan, but I may just become one now.

Denise Chong, "The Girl in the Picture" -- You've seen that unforgettable 1972 photo of the little Vietnamese girl running naked down the road, screaming and in agony, after her village was napalmed. Her name is Kim Phuc and this is the story of her life and what has happened to her since that Pulitzer Prize-winning photo was taken. I'm about two-thirds done with this one. I always thought it was a U.S. warplane that was responsible for that fateful airstrike. Turns out it was a South Vietnamese Air Force plane. I'm sure it didn't make a damned bit of difference to Kim.

Fred Reinfeld, "The Complete Chess Course"
Fred Reinfeld
, "The Complete Chess Player" -- What can I say? I'm tired of getting whupped.

"Dhammapada: The Sayings of Buddha" -- Enough said. The translator, Thomas Cleary, is one of my favorites. For my money, he and Red Pine, another awesome translator of Chinese and Japanese works, are the best in the business.

Thich Nhat Hanh, "Old Path White Clouds" -- Haven't started this one yet.

R.H. Blyth, "Mumonkan"
Thomas and J.C. Cleary, "The Blue Cliff Record" -- Both of these collections of koans have been sparsely read. But after reading all the sniping and nonsense of late on some of the Buddhist blogs I visit, I may put these back on the shelf. Or burn them.

Alan Watts, "Become What You Are" -- Haven't opened this one yet, but have liked other books by Zen priest Watts.

Christopher Benfey, "The Great Wave: Gilded Age misfits, Japanese eccentrics, and the opening of Old Japan" -- Awesome book whose chapters are each devoted to a Western intellectual , adventurer, scientist, charlatan or mystic who was drawn to Japan after the country was forcibly opened to the West in 1854. As a sort of spiritual heir to this bunch, I could intimately identify with the things about Japan that captivated these people, comparing and contrasting their motives with my own. Three of my heroes -- Lafcadio Hearn, Theodore Roosevelt and Herman Melville -- are featured prominently, as are Percival Lowell (the man who discovered Pluto), John La Farge and Ernesto Fenollosa.

Kakuzo Okakura, "The Book of Tea" -- Written by a polymath who is featured in Benfey's book.

Pierre Francois Souyri, "The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society" -- The history of feudal Japan puts the most creative and imaginative soap operas to shame. The best part is, all this stuff really happened. I'm looking forward to starting this book.

G.B. Sansom, "Japan: A Short Cultural History" -- George Sansom wrote the book on Japanese history in more ways than one. He's considered one of the best scholars ever to write on Japan. Columbia University has established a professorship in Japanese history in his name. This book, which first came out in 1931, is still considered one of the best on the subject. The language is a bit dated, though, and this book isn't an easy read. I'm about a third done with this book. It's a lot of work.

e.e. cummings, "Complete Poems 1904-1962" -- Some of cummings' poems fly completely over my head. Others make me want to cry because of their beauty.

Gary Snyder, "Danger on Peaks" -- I like many of Snyder's poems and prose works. My decision to live in Japan was inspired in part by Snyder's own life course. I'm just about to start this book.

Seamus Heaney, "Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996" -- To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, the English gave the Irish their language, but the Irish showed the English how to use it.


Chris said...

Bob Dylan has always been a favorite of mine. I see him more as a poet than a songwriter, more as an artist with words.

Just for fun- a favorite

"The last of leaves fell from the trees
And clung to a new love's breast.
The branches bare like a banjo played
To the winds that listened best."

-Lay Down Your Weary Tune.

Michael said...

Hi Chris,

I'm sure you'd like his book, if you haven't read it already.

Green said...

I have a book by Thich Naht Hanh, "Anger".
After reading that book I felt very peaceful.
I will read "Old Path White Clouds", too.
Also I am interested in "The Girl in the Picture, you have been reading. Thank you for the information.

anu said...

I love Comics :) Astrix, Archies, Indian comics like Panchatantra tales, Aseop tales and Jataka tales.

Since last one year, i've joined a library. My sis gets two comics from there every week and we both read it.

Anonymous said...

I am influenced by your poems. I'll read a colection of poem in English. Thank you☆

Michael said...

Thanks Greensleeves, Anu, Miki!

Tor said...

Old Path White Clouds is a well-done telling of the Buddha's life story. I like that TNH used only Theravada source texts, despite his being a Zen monk. His point was that all of the ideas that separate the various branches of Buddhism can be seminally found in the Theravada plateau.



Michael said...

Hi Tor,

I never did understand the occasional antipathy and mutual contempt between Theraveda and Mahayana. Sounds like different fiddlers playing the same tune to me, and I'm not so sure they're different fiddlers, either.

Fran├žois said...

Having the same name as Pierre-Francois Souyri (cut the Pierre) I am also looking forward to read his book then.

Michael said...

Welcome to my blog, Francois, and thank you for your comment! I hope you enjoy M. Souyri's book.