Sunday, December 26, 2010

My 2010 in Books, Part 4 (Honorable Mentions)

The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation and Commentary, by Edwin F. Bryant. If you have any curiosity about Indian philosophy, I highly recommend this book. Bryant surveyed all the commentaries on Patañjali, including not only various Hindu schools, but also Buddhist and Muslim commentaries, and incorporated the material in this comprehensive volume. Highly recommended.

Personal Memoirs, by Ulysses S. Grant. I read this book out of a curiosity raised by frequent reading in Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog on A must for those interested in US history or the US Civil War.

Turtle Feet: The Making and Unmaking of a Buddhist Monk, by Nikolia Grozni. My new all-time favorite "spiritual" memoir, Grozni's slow awakening to the pretensions and underlying reality of spiritual pursuits in the Himalyas is funny and rich.

My 2010 in Books, Part 3 (Books That Affected My Life)

Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This book spells out the keys to a 'flow'mentality, at work and at play. Essential reading.

Think for Yourself!: An Essay on Cutting through the Babble, the Bias, and the Hype, by Steve Hindes. An essential book on critical thinking. It helped me to rethink my beliefs (or lack thereof).

The End of Overeating, by David A. Kessler, MD. By looking at the reasons behind current US obesity trends, Kessler is able to make solid recommendations for individuals trying to fight the overeating habit.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My 2010 in Books, Part 2 (Non-Fiction)

Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. In trying to discover why a tribe of sandalled indigenous Mexicans happen to be the greatest long-distance runners on the planet, McDougall also uncovers the problems with the modern running shoe, how our ancient ancestors ran down their food, and some things that bring simple joy to living. Also, he tells a really good story.

Losing My Cool, by Thomas Chatterton Williams. Williams immersed himself in the middle-class black approximation of thug life hiphoppery in his middle school and high school years, but soon learned it was a dead end. His father's relentless influence, and his father's huge library, led Williams back to a love of learning. This is perhaps the best memoir since Lac Su's I Love Yous Are for White People.

The Gun, by C. J. Chivers. An excellent history of automatic weapons, and in particular the AK-47. Chivers explains how this weapon, more than any other, including the Bomb, has changed the face of our world.

My 2010 in Books, Part 1 (Fiction)

Ghost Radio, by Leopoldo Gout. A creepy, atmospheric ghost story, steeped in a middle-class urban Mexican-American milieu. In some ways, this novel is as much a meditation on music, noise and teen rebellion as it is on meaning in life, and on what haunts us.

Let Me In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. By far the best vampire novel I read this year (I read five). It starts out creepy, and the horror just grows. What's more, to the very end I remained conflicted about the role and survival of the original vampire. The plot twists add to the tale.

Secret Identities, edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow and Jerry Ma. A seminal collection of Asian-American superhero comics. Fun, enlightening, and well crafted. If you love comics, you really ought to have this book.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

3 Secrets about Me

Three secrets about me:

1) Sometimes I get very, very frustrated that parts of my body ache and/or refuse to work right, usually because of age;

2) I miss cuddling more than sex; and

3) I still want to start an "old school" gay family, i.e., the kind in which all the members, who cross the generations are recruited into it.

Culture, History and Language

For several years I collected books on religion. Whichever religion had intrigued me at the time, I had collected books on it. Over the years I amassed quite a library of books on religion, particularly, but not exclusively, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity (especially Mysticism), Judaism (especially Kabbalah), and Paganism. I had not come close to reading all the books I collected. I figured books were investments in the future, and that I would be reading and studying these books for years.

Then suddenly this past summer I woke up to realize that I did not know whether or not God exists, and that I would never know for sure one way or the other, and that I did not have the will nor the wherewithal to make myself have faith in God. I acknowledged my own agnosticism. And my interest in religion (insofar as I was trying to figure out the meaning of life) plummeted. All these books I'd amassed to help me study and understand the meaning of life no longer had that value for me.

This realization not only shifted my emphasis for my library, but shook my confidence in my studies. For a while there I really didn't know what to study. I tried studying philosophy for a while, to continue to search for meaning in life. But I rather quickly realized that any meaning my life would have would have to be made (rather than discovered) by me. Philosophy is still of interest, but it no longer is an indispensable study for me.

I decided I needed to find an emphasis for reading and study.

This weekend I realized that what interests me far above all else is the combined studies of History and Culture. History without Culture is merely a recitation of a series of events; Culture without History is merely an attempt to freeze life into a museum exhibit. Neither works without the other. My insight came from reading a very good book on the Cherokee ball game, anetso. Anetso is a cousin of lacrosse, and the author examines the history, culture and religion surrounding anetso's practice and exhibition. But one interesting point he makes is that Westerners tend to study European and Euro-American religions historically, while they tend to study non-European religions culturally (and therefore ahistorically). In other words, the study of religion in Europe is part of the fabric of European history; however, outside of Europe (and European America) it is viewed as the province of Anthropology, and thus more related to an attempt to see it statically, as part of a museum exhibit.

To remedy this all around, I feel that whether I'm studying religion, sports, the media or whatever, I would do well to view it as a study of Culture and History. In truth, one does not exist independent of the other.

I've acquired several good books recently that fall in line with this new emphasis in studies: one on the changing meaning of jihad, one on the War of 1812 in North America, and just today a history on the killing of Crazy Horse (a personal hero of mine). I'm also weighing studying the Cherokee language, as part of connecting to my family's history (but that is for another post).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Looking Forward

Time marches on. Good. In my lifetime we've seen an increase in tolerance for gays, but a corresponding increase in civic disengagement and mindless demogoguic populism, especially on the right. It is what it is.

But on a personal note, I will be glad to see the end of 2010. With such things as Manuel's nose wound, the blizzard week, Mom's several health issues and surgeries, the bedbug war, a rather dismal social life, 2010 was the worst year I've had since 2006.

I'm also looking forward to the end of my fifth decade of dwelling on this planet. After much reflection I've concluded that my fifth decade was the worst decade of my life, with the losses outweighing the gains. I expect life to get better. I expect to do better myself. I just have so much to gain.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Report from the Illness Room

Some people, when they get sick, get sad and then they whine. These people usually were as healthy as a horse growing up. I grew up getting sick often (due to massive allergies, hayfever and asthma). I learned how to be sick - that in essence I have to put life on hold and wait the illness out. So when I get sick, I tend to get bored and angry, and then bitchy. And that's why I tend to cocoon when I get sick. No one needs to be around a sick, bitchy man.

I do not want to be bitchy, so I've been trying to keep myself occupied. When I'm feverish, I cannot read very well. Still, in my more lucid moments, I managed to finish reading Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. I cannot decide whether I liked it or not. I enjoyed to first parts more than the latter parts, I think. I've gotten through a few more pages of Chivers's The Gun, too.

Television has been of limited use, but I've kept up with my stories, e.g., The Vampire Diaries, Burn Notice, Supernatural, etc. But Syfy's movies have been their usual awfulness, and the other channels just aren't cooperating with me either.

The internet has been a lifesaver this time around. I've watched shows (The Venture Brothers, Community), surfed and reblogged on Tumblr, and built a playlist on Hypster.