Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Category: New Reads Page 1 of 15

Mao – The Unknown Story: New Read

Mao – The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. Six hundred and sixteen pages. I’m going to be here a while!

Mao book cover on a desert background.

I found two very different reviews of this book, at The Socialist and at The Guardian.

I’ve wanted to know more about Mao for a couple years now, mostly because I’m so fascinated by the communist revolutions in both Russia and China. It’s interesting to me that now we can read books by and about these leaders like Trotsky, Stalin, and Mao when for so many years so much was hidden away. I wrote a few posts about The People’s Tragedy last year.

But I wonder how much of it is true, how much is glossed over by one group (like The Socialist in the link above) or demonized (like The Guardian’s review). Reading some of Trotsky’s work and Stalin’s, as well as Marx himself, makes it even harder to believe anyone can think these men’s tactics were a good idea. “Cringe-worthy” is the newfangled term I’d give much of it.

I’m only thirty pages in this morning and I can tell this is going to be the version that vilifies Mao as and evil straight from the bowels of hell from birth. I’m reading it thinking, “This makes it seem that you could known he’d be a mass-murderer right from his early school days.” I’m sure that wasn’t the case.

It’s always curious to me that leaders like this, the ones that say they are here to protect and support the “workers,” that they never seem to BE workers themselves. They always seem to be university professors and young students.

And what about the people that follow and support them? Do they have any responsibility? I mean, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, didn’t come out of nowhere. They were set upon this earth with power over humanity that none other possessed, a supernatural gift so to speak. How do these things get rolling and keep rolling?

Which makes me think of the show I’m watching on Netflix right now. Have you seen Colony? I’m only at the end of season two, so don’t ruin it, but like The Walking Dead, it’s an interesting take on society and how we get into these messes.

Like I said, I’ll be reading this book for a while. I’m not fast reader, but at least it reads nicely. If you’ve read it, let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Read my final thoughts on this book at “DNF: “Did Not Finish” does Not Equal Failure”

Joseph Conrad is my next read: Lord Jim

I read by Joseph Conrad was “Heart of Darkness” in my early 20’s because I heard the movie “Apocalypse Now” was based on it and I’ve always wanted to read the books my favorite movies are based on.

I bought it and I read it but was lost. I didn’t see any similarities. I was too young? Ignorant? Not in the right frame of mind, maybe? Now I know I need to re-read it and watch that movie again. It’s a classic.

My next Joseph Conrad book.

When I saw another Joseph Conrad book in the giveaway pile, I snatched it up. I may not have seen the significance in “Heart of Darkness,” but I was sufficiently enamored by his style to want to read another of his books, even twenty-five years later. A paperback version of “Lord Jim,” with an old “$1.00” sticker on the front cover, is what I hold in my hands.

A side note to people selling used books anywhere: please, please, please, stop putting stickers on the front cover or over the old bar code. You’re ruining the artwork of the cover and making it hard for collectors to scan their books into their library apps.

Do you read the introductions to books? I typically don’t, but I fell into this one completely and I think it helped me get the context and historical importance of the book and author. Joseph Conrad wrote his books in his third language, English. Wow.

I started reading it over the weekend, and I’m about one hundred pages in right now. It took me awhile to focus and understand the language, but I’m loving it. It’s stressful, listening to Jim explain why he left a ship full of immigrants that he believed was going to sink. There you are, sure you are all going to die in a horrible way. Would you remain?

This is why we read fiction, to experience someone else’s reality. It helps us empathize and bond with our fellow humans.

And why is the integrity of a ships captain and crew so important, a sacred duty? Because no one would get on board, put their lives in their hands for several months voyage, if they couldn’t trust them. Since we don’t use ships in this way much these days, it never occurred to me. I suppose a pilot would need the same trust, but I never even thought about that either.

Have you read “Lord Jim” or any other Joseph Conrad book? Was it voluntary or was it assigned at school? Did you love it or hate it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Want to read more of my thoughts about the book, Lord Jim?
Does Our Conscience or Comrades Guide Our Actions?
Peace in The Motion of the Waves
Lord Jim & This ‘Cancel’ Idea

Prayer for the Dead – New Fun Read

Prayer for the Dead book cover on an end table.
“Prayer for the Dead” by David Wiltse (1991)

“Prayer for the Dead,” a cheap paperback thriller novel? Really, Michelle?

Yep. And what brought my attention to it? The chilling title and it was free. What can I say? I’m easy.

I’m on page 108 and it’s exactly what I thought it would be. Not a bad book, but it’s fairly predictable so far, like watching a Netflix crime drama. It starts off with creepy suspense, there’s some cat and mouse, some sexual tension and release, and, of course, any leads that they find, no matter how obscure, are exactly what they need to catch the bad guy. That last bit is what makes me roll my eyes. I’ve been on the receiving end of police work like that. It’s a sore spot.

It is entertaining, I’ll say that. And since I’m already reading two informational books that I’m trying to digest slowly, this will help give me a break between the more difficult reads. I don’t have to think much about this book. It’s the one to read for half an hour with my coffee. It’ll wake me up before I get to the meat, an appetizer.

I don’t think there will be many posts about this book in the coming days. I haven’t underlined or starred a single sentence. I have made the occasional comment about its crime drama similarities and the obvious, the good guy shares some of the same mental traps as the bad guy, hints.

I’ll keep reading it though. Maybe there will be a surprising twist to it?

Do you read novels for fun? I usually read horror, like King or Koontz, when I’m in the mood for entertainment. Horror/thriller novels are fun reads, scarier and more suspenseful in print than on the screen almost every time. Have you read Prayer for the Dead or anything else by David Wiltse? I’d never heard of either until I saw it in the free pile. I honestly just loved the cover. It reminded me of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. Jeez…that reminds me. I read that when I was in high school and it terrified me. I should read it again!

Read my final thoughts on this book at the post, Crime Drama Classic: Prayer for the Dead. Yeah, I liked it.

Listen Like You Mean It: Another New Read

“Listen Like You Mean It – Reclaiming the Lost Art of True Connection” by Ximena Vengoechea is my next read and I’m very much looking forward to it. It seems to be exactly what I need right now!

"Listen Like You Mean It" book cover on a desert background.

Something I have very hard time doing is listening in a conversation. I’m a talker. I’ll talk all. Day. Long. Non-stop. In fact, just yesterday I spent literally all day talking. I talked on the phone with one person as I drove down to have breakfast with another. I talked on the way to lunch with another friend. And then on the drive home with someone else. Once I got home, I talked about the whole day with my husband and talked with my son about his day as well.

Did I run out of words? Nope.

Can you guess what my biggest complaint is about the world? My immediately family will laugh and tell you, in my voice, without hesitation, “No one is listening to me! I feel so disconnected!”

Enter, “Listen Like You Mean It.”

Will this book help me out? Thirty-five pages in and I’m thinking, yes.

My first note in this book was, “I wonder if I can make reminders for myself, like a tattoo on my hand or a button on my purse.”

Two quotes from the first pages that have shown me that I’m on the right track:

“When we are on autopilot, we hear enough of what the other person is saying to hold a conversation, get our work done, keep in touch with our friends, and stay polite with our neighbors and shopkeepers.

…we tend to react based on how we wish to be treated, rather than respond to what our conversation partner is actually saying or in need of.”

“We may, for instance, assume that others relate to things in the same way we do, our of a desire to bond over a “shared” experience (You had a pet as child? Me too. It was great, right?).”

That’s me. I know I’m doing it and I’m believe that I’m doing it to show you that I’m just like you. We have something in common! But not everyone is telling their story to connect that way. They may feel upstaged or not heard.

Another thing I don’t do well is ask questions and get people to explain what they mean or how they feel. And that is a direct result of my surface listening. I’m only listening enough to connect what you’re saying to something I have done or felt, then getting ready to tell my side.

The very thing that I do to connect with others is the thing that makes most people feel unheard and discouraged from adding to the conversation. I’m creating my own feedback loop!

Listen Like You Mean It is going to be a game-changer for sure…if I can only remember to implement what I’m learning!

If you’d like to read along with me, go get the book at Thriftbooks.com and leave me a comment. I can’t wait to hear your stories!

Read more posts about this book!
Patience and Trust: Not Every Thought Is Essential
Listening Skills to Practice
Final Thoughts

New Read: Returning to Silence


I’ve been looking forward to reading Returning to Silence!

The question is: Can one return to someplace they’ve never been? “Silence” is not a word anyone would associate with me.

Returning to Silence book cover on a desert background.
Returning to Silence
Zen Practice in Daily Life
by Dainin Katagiri (1988)

From the Foreword:

“It is not a book to ‘get through.’ It is a book to live in. Many books are read in pausing from life, when you take some time off, when you escape, put everything on hold. This book is such; when you live in it you are more outside it, more in life. Read it a little and keep it near your places. Let it be a friend. Let it help you to keep the trivia in perspective.”

And that is what I’ll be doing with this book. I have started a new reading journal just for this book so that I’m not rushing to fit it into my current one, along with others. I have it here with my journal and instead of reading Medium or other blog posts and news after breakfast, I’ll take a dip in this pool.

I’ll also be trying something new here. I feel like I’ve lost track of my purpose for blogging. I’ve begun to chase something, instead of experience a journey. In the coming week, I plan to revisit my “About” and “Home” pages and attempt to communicate exactly why I’m here, or at least create something less restrictive than what is currently posted.

On that note, here’s the first quote from this book that caught my eye.

“If you study Buddhism thinking that it will help you, that means that you use Buddhism for your ego, for selfishness. No matter how long you do this, it is egocentric practice. If you continue to practice like this you will never be satisfied, because desire is endless.”

Why else would you read something, other than the hope that it will help you or others? What I’ve read of Buddhism in the past seems like one contradictory statement after another. Let go to hold on. Quiet to think? Or quiet to let thought go? Focus to unfocus. I’m confused, but I keep reading.

Small snippets, like “desire is endless” comfort me. The more you get, the more you want. We all know that deep down. There is no perfect or enough, always the drive to more and better. Isn’t that the drive that has gotten the human race where it is now? And contrary to popular belief, I think we (in general) are better off now than we were when we lived in caves and grass huts.

How do we return to a silence that calms our hearts and helps us appreciate the world we live in? How do we learn to love the world around us and everything in it?

Have you read Returning to Silence? You can find it at Thriftbooks.com if you’d like to read it with me. I’d love to hear your comments.

Read my next post about this book at “Renewed Practice of Emptiness.”
“Attachment Thoughts on Returning to Silence”
“True Nature, Driving, and New Podcasts”
“Connection and the use of Rituals”
“Zen Habits and This How ’bout Heat, Man?!”

Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt

How did I get to Eichmann in Jerusalem? Through Netflix’s new “Play Something” button. Let me talk about that for a moment.

Eichmann in Jerusalem book cover on a desert background.

When I used to get bored, maybe a little tired, and just didn’t feel like doing anything, sometimes I would plop myself down on the couch and turn on the TV. I didn’t really care what was on. I just wanted to sit there and zone out awhile. Pick up the remote, flip through the channels. No, not sports. No, not talk shows. Hold on…this is decent. Sometimes I’d end up watching the whole thing, sometimes just a few minutes.

I can’t do that with streaming. I have to scroll through and pick something. And that, my friends, is an activity, and I’m trying to avoid activity. Now what?

Enter “Play Something.” I’m always amazed when things like this happen. What? I’m not the only one in the world that wants to just turn it on and see what happens?! Wow!

So, I try it and the first thing that comes on is “The Eichmann Show.” At first, it doesn’t seem interesting, even though it is about one of our family’s favorite subjects, World War II. Then we get sucked into it. The whole family is crying. We are talking, arguing, discussing philosophical shit. And I’m poking around the interwebs wondering if there is a book to tell me more.

And that’s where this baby came from. By the way, go watch that movie but be prepared. It’s rough. But it’s not just about the trial. The history of news television, sensationalism on tv, and people’s attitudes at the time of the trial was very interesting.

We watched that movie back in December and I’m just now getting to the book. I’ve been looking forward to it because of its author’s supposedly controversial thoughts on the trial. Reading the Wikipedia article about the book, I’m afraid it’s going to be a rough one. Much of what the author was pointing out about Eichmann and the Nazi regime seems to be commonplace in our current times, something I’m afraid to point out for fear of backlash, which is unnerving, given the backlash Arendt got for not just what she wrote about but how she said it.

With this book, I’m going back to taking more time, looking up words I don’t know well, and reading more background information when I need it. I plan on summarizing each chapter for myself and seeing if I can integrate more of the book into my life, and forget less of what I read. I’ve found myself rushing through a lot of books lately in the hopes of upping my end of the year tally. I tend to be a little obsessive sometimes and this one aspect of reading has gotten away from me this past year.

Have you read Eichmann in Jerusalem? Did you watch The Eichmann Show? Want to read along with me? Go get the book at Thriftbooks.com and let me know what you think in the comments. I’ll be posting my thoughts later this month after I finish reading.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My latest “New Read” is another used book I picked up on a whim. Why did I snatch up The Book Thief by Markus Zusak from the free used book pile? Let me count the ways!

  1. I vaguely recall it being a movie.
  2. It has “book” in the title.
  3. Nazis!
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak book cover on a woodpile.

When I choose a new book to read, I usually try to write a few words before I even read the first pages, but I was on a writing hiatus and refused to open my laptop until today. I started reading it over the weekend, so I’m pretty far into it at the moment.

On page four, the note “already hooked” is penciled in. I am. Death is the narrator. Make that reason #4 to read it. And the language. I’m melting! Here are a few examples:

“After a collection of minutes, the smoke exhausted itself.”

“…each person stood and played with the quietness of it.”

“…the passengers slid out of it as if from a torn package.”

Holy. Wow. There are more. And it isn’t overdone, flowery stuff. Those words are put together in a way that creates an image in your mind instantly, the way perfect fiction should. I wonder, though, how they will create that in the movie. Will is just show you with actual pictures? I don’t think it will be the same.

And, yes, I know, movies never are the same, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. They are someone else’s interpretation of the words in visual form, much like the words I write here are mine in the form of my own words.

Side note: I don’t think watching a movie that is exactly like the book would be interesting. In fact, I know it wouldn’t. When I see that a show I’m watching is based on a book, I usually go running for the book to see if I can get another point of view on the story, or more details. But these shows, a limited series of a dozen hour-long segments or more instead of a two-hour movie, follow the book so closely that there is no need to read the book. It’s redundant. The Last Kingdom comes to mind.

Further side note: I love that. I’m completely enamored with this new TV format, streaming services producing a limited series based on a book or period of history. It’s freaking awesome. We recently binge-watched Versailles and loved every minute of it. No, it’s not completely historically accurate, but it’s fun to watch and then look up things and read more, find out what really happened. It’s like a springboard to create the interest needed to search out more information.

There was a new War & Peace that came out recently that was so awesome that I was excited to share it with my non-reader family. We enjoyed a story together, with me filling in some of the details that were missing from the show.

Anyhow, is it strange to read a book wondering how they will create the same feeling in a movie? I’m excited to find out, but I’m trying not to rush through reading it.

As per usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak? Have you seen the movie? Would you like to read it along with me? Jump over to Thriftbooks.com and pick up a copy. And don’t forget to leave me a comment!

A Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber

A Theory of Everything. That sounds promising!

A Theory of Everything book cover with coffee and laptop.

I know I said I’d write a few initial thoughts about a book BEFORE I start reading it, but I have a confession. Yesterday, I just wasn’t in the mood to write anything. In fact, I was considering giving up the whole enterprise, again. There are days, many, many days, that I just don’t see the point of any of this. And I spend a lot of time at it, time I could be using to things that are more…productive? Like painting the house or making those quilts that I told my sons I’d make.

I love to read, and I love keeping track of what I’m reading. It’s fun, for me anyway. I’m not sure anyone else in the world needs to come along for this ride, but what if one person does want to? I need a better attitude. I can’t let a lack of praise and applause stop me from doing what I love!

Once again, I’m back at it and A Theory of Everything might be encouraging. Like I said, I started reading it yesterday and today I’m already two hours and 58 pages into it. The first chapter was interesting, but I’m getting bogged down. It’s a little repetitive and confusing, but it’s still interesting, so I’ll keep going.

The idea of levels of development isn’t new to me. It’s something most parents know something about, right? I hope. Children progress through their development pretty much on their own with some support form a stable family. I also believe we continue through this development all our lives. But this book looks like it’s going to say that generations of people are also moving through these stages and each generation builds on the other. Fascinating.

As usual, I did a quick search of the internet for information about the author. The first thing I thought when I started to read the book was, “I wonder if this guy is still alive and, if so, what does he think now?” This book was written in 2000. Twenty-one years later…eek…things have really changed. Internet communication has grown exponentially, and I feel like we’re even farther from actually connecting with each other than we ever have been.

I found Ken Wilber’s website, but it wasn’t very helpful. I found a nice overview of Integral Theory at Daily Evolver. And an interesting article by Mark Manson (another my favorite authors) called The Rise and Fall of Ken Wilber.

Anywho…looking forward to the rest of this interesting book. Have you read it? It’s available at Thriftbooks.com if you want to read along with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

The Plot Against America book cover on a Joshua Tree background.
Took advantage of that beautiful desert sunrise light this morning!

Oooooohh…Nazi story! I’m always ready for Nazi stories, mostly because my boys are big WWII history buffs and it gives me something to say, “Hey guys! Look at this!” or “Is this true?” They know everything.

The Plot Against America is an alternative history, so it will be extra fun. I’m hoping it’s not one of those stories about how if we had just done this one thing differently, everything would have been so much better. Or a story about why it was right to get involved and save the day like we did because the U.S. was so completely innocent and anti-Nazi party right from the start.

History looks so simple from the present. We can look back at the moves that were made with the information that we have right now and think we could have done it better or worse. But the truth is that we can’t possibly know. There are just too many variables. The results of each choice change the next group of choices in ways we can’t predict.

I picked up the book, started to read the back cover, as usually do only to be reminded of the The Man in the High Castle. I loved that show, but I don’t think this book will be all crazy sci-fi. It sounds like it might be more politically based. What would have happened if we had a different president and didn’t join the Allies to fight against Hitler?

This is another book picked out from the great book redistribution event last year. I didn’t know anything about it other than what’s on the cover. A quick internet search as revealed that it was made into an HBO mini-series last year…that I’ve never heard of. So much to watch that never comes across my Netflix “suggested for you” feed.

And so many apparently famous authors that I’ve never heard of! I was just reading about Philip Roth and found a “scathing” biography about him. It sounds damn racy and I’m thinking of adding that to my wishlist. I think I’ll read this book first though. If I like it, I’ll read another one by him and then the biography.

Have you read The Plot Against America? Did you know about the mini-series or Philip Roth? Am I just that clueless, or are there just so many things to know about that it’s inevitable that many things fall through the cracks of awareness?

Go over and get the book at Thriftbooks.com if you want to read it with me and tell me what you think!

“In The Beginning” by Alister McGrath

I picked up “In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture” by Alister McGrath off the TBR pile this morning and I’m already loving it…as usual.

I love Christian church history, and this looks like it’s going to be far more than I thought it was going to be. I’ve always been curious about Christian history, as in, “How in the world did we get where we are?!” But it’s a complicated topic in that there is a lot of bias in how it is presented to the world.

When I read something written by a non-Christian, I get the sense of hostility and contempt. As if they are only writing the book to disprove the religion’s stances on life. Or there is the feeling of, “Oh those poor dumb people that believe it this shit.” It’s a turn off. I’d like a book written with respect if not reverence and belief.

When I read something by an actively believing Christian, there’s a lot of glossing over the subject. Depending on the author’s sect, they steer the narrative around certain pieces and towards proselytizing instead of informing and educating. This is also a turn off because I’m really curious about the actual history, not the spiritual significance.

Here is the thing. I believe that there is something bigger than us and that “god” is bigger than any book written by humans. I don’t believe we (humans) need to change the message for the listener. I don’t believe we need to hide certain aspects until people are ready to hear them. I don’t believe that humans can mess up god’s will toward others.

If it is real, then it will get to us how it gets to us, and I firmly believe that it gets to us in many different ways, tailored for each and every one of us in our own language and time. It’s a personal journey, not fit for anyone else in this realm of consciousness.

Which leads me to this question. Why bother speaking/writing about it? Why bother discussing it at all? Because that is how humans work. It’s how we discover and learn. It’s how we were created. And, in my opinion, how “god” speaks to us.

I’m really looking forward to reading this! Have you read “In the Beginning” by Alister McGrath? If you want to read it, run over to Thriftbooks and get it. We can chat about it later!

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